Warren Easton Principal Earns an “A”
Craig Mulcahy Photo
Willingness to be a nuisance isn’t a trait normally associated with leadership, but it works for Warren Easton Charter High School Principal Alexina Medley.
During Medley’s 11-year stint as principal of the city’s oldest public high school, Warren Easton has achieved an “A” rating from the state, and its “on-time” graduation rate ranks among the city’s top performing public high schools. She’s the first and only principal Easton has had since a group of alumni won a charter to run it after Hurricane Katrina.
“We’ve made one hire,” says Bill Hatchett, a Foundation Board of Directors member. “And she hired the rest.”
In a recent letter to supporters, Arthur Hardy, president of the Friends of Warren Easton Foundation, also praised Medley for the school’s seventh consecutive year of graduating 100 percent of its senior class, a measurement that does not include pre-senior year delays or dropouts. “We do what we have to do to succeed,” Medley says. “I make a nuisance of myself. I am quite good at that.”
Maintaining a nearly perfect graduation rate requires constant student monitoring. Medley tracks down truants and personally brings them back to school. In cases of missing Hispanic students, whose immigrant parents move frequently, she gathers new addresses from school chums.
For the most difficult situations, a police escort is sometimes necessary, she says, as well as trips to court. In one case, sources told her that a missing male student had shacked up with an older woman in a house just behind the school’s sprawling, red-bricked campus on Canal Street. With a few coaches along for support, she pounded on the door and ordered the boy back to school. Once dressed, he complied and eventually graduated, Medley says. A picture of the young man resides in the school office along with scores of other smiling graduates.
Such recoveries were common in the first few years, she says, but once word got around that the “crazy” principal would show up at the house, the number of such visits dwindled.
All the drama has paid off. She has danced with former President George W. Bush in the school’s court yard; collected generous donations for scholarships and the restoration of the ornate auditorium; and the Lady Eagles basketball team won a 2015 state championship, the first girls team from a New Orleans public school to do so.
Best of all, of course, are the outstanding graduation rates and test scores that have made Easton the “most popular” among New Orleans public school applicants. NOLA.com reported recently that 2,500 students have applied for the school’s 250 open seats.
The six-day-a-week taskmaster part of Medley’s makeup is mostly hidden beneath a soft-spoken demeanor. But in the halls, when encountering a stranger or unaccompanied child, an ever-so-slight edge sneaks into her voice, revealing the protective toughness that has led to Warren Easton’s success.
Running a school of a thousand teenagers wasn’t her original goal in life. When she left her native Bahamas to attend school at Xavier University, she planned to study pharmacy. After a few months as an apprentice in a hospital, however, she decided to shift to education. So far, she’s spent 39 years steering children toward their futures. “I’m a public servant at heart,” she says, “That’s why I’m not a pharmacist.”