Previously: When Jallon Brown showed up in Annapolis with a proposal to create a public charter middle school, she wasn't greeted with open arms. To catch up on previous episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.
Jallon brown puts out dozens of sharpened pencils for the fifth-graders who are about to arrive for the first day of summer school. She also lays out a stack of letters addressing her new students. "Welcome to KIPP Harbor Academy! This will be an exciting and educational year."
Suddenly, the 31-year-old first-time principal realizes that, after spending hundreds of dollars at Staples, she has forgotten to buy lined paper. How will her 90 students complete their first assignment?
Jallon, who's still scrambling to find a permanent building for the school and hire a math teacher and a special education teacher, quickly sends someone to a nearby store. For a long time, she's feared that a real disaster might occur on opening day. "About a month ago, I had a bad dream," she says. "Only about 10 kids showed up for the first day."
Now she peers out of a second-floor window at Annapolis Area Christian School -- where she's temporarily leasing classroom space -- and glimpses a yellow school bus. The kids are here, she says.
Soon Jallon, who lives near Arundel Mills Mall with her 6-month-old son and her fiance, stands in the library before an audience of hushed children. "I've been working a long time to get you here," she says. "Raise your hands if you're excited to be here." Almost every kid does. "Now raise your hand if you're scared." Jallon puts her own hand up.
The pressure Jallon faces is enormous. For months, the Anne Arundel County school board seemed poised to reject Annapolis's first charter school, which would be publicly funded but independently operated. But the board finally endorsed KIPP Harbor Academy, thanks in part to the reputation of the Knowledge Is Power Program, a nationwide nonprofit that has opened dozens of high-performing charter schools across the country. Jallon tells her students, who come from Annapolis's toughest neighborhoods, that "our mission is to get you into a great college."
Almost immediately, she meets her first real challenge of the day: two malcontents who are refusing to learn one of the school's motivational chants. "How-do-we-get-we-get-good-grades?" goes the opening line.
Jallon, who has just finished preaching the virtues of teamwork, orders the pair out into the hallway. When the doors close behind them, Jallon erupts. "Why are you not participating?!"
"I don't know," says one boy.
"I don't know is not an answer," says the principal.
"I don't like to sing."
"Oh, that's fine because I don't like to sing, either. But we're not singing." We are chanting, she says. But the distinction doesn't seem to make the boys any more pliant. Jallon finally wrings a promise from both of them to participate. "I want to see you try," she says.
She sends the first boy back into the room. Just as the second one is about to rejoin the group, Jallon glances at his dangling shirttail. She snaps, "Oh, and tuck in your shirt."
She doesn't care if she sounds mean, she says later: "Students say that I'm mean all the time. I'm not offended by the term 'mean,' though I'd prefer 'strict' or 'disciplined.' "
Back in the library, the two boys feebly chant, moving their mouths just enough to avoid another scolding.
-- Tyler Currie