New principal Agee brings "passion" to Brainerd High
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- It's a new day at Brainerd High School, but not without some controversy. As part of a grant application from the state Department of Education, Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith agreed to replace Brainerd's entire leadership team. That move ruffled some feathers in the community and among School Board members, but new principal Uras Agee says he's ready to take the school to new heights.
It won't happen overnight. According to the most recent round of test scores, Brainerd High ranks among the bottom five percent in the state. With a high population of low-income students and constant teacher turnover, Brainerd needs attention and stability. Agee is the latest in a long line of administrators tasked with turning around a troubled school.
Agee is a big man with big goals. The former UT-Chattanooga defensive lineman (1991-94) is back in town after several years in Atlanta-area schools. He says he's never backed away from a challenge, and he feels Brainerd is ready for his style of leadership. "We have a quest to be the best," Agee said. "We say, why not Brainerd? We want to be among the elite high schools, we want to be one of the best in the state."
In recent years, Brainerd's student achievement scores have declined, earning some unwanted attention from state education officials. It's considered a "priority school," and in order to qualify for a $600,000 state "Innovation Zone" grant, Brainerd and two other schools (Dalewood Middle and Woodmore Elementary) had to make a change at the top. Charles Joynes, who was appointed principal in 2009, was reassigned to Ooltewah High as an assistant principal. All three of Joynes' assistant principals were also moved to other schools.
Dr. Marvin Lott, the school district's director of high schools, was principal at Brainerd from 1999-2004 and is familiar with the school's needs. The school has long battled a negative public image stemming from a low-income population, occasional gang issues, an increase in teen pregnancies and poor graduation rates. "This isn't about cleaning house or anything like that, there were some good people here," Lott said. "We just want Brainerd to begin an upward drive. We have to improve the scores, so we thought bringing in some new people would be best for the school and the district."
Lott favored Agee for the school's top job, even after reading blog posts from DeKalb County, Georgia alleging that Agee had a bad temper while at his previous job at Columbia High School. Agee was principal there for two years, after serving as an assistant principal for several years at Tucker High School. Lott said, "Those bloggers are anonymous. Anybody can say anything on the Internet. I've talked with a lot of people down in Georgia who know Mr. Agee and saw what he did for Columbia. These are people who will show their faces and sign their names. That school is a mirror image of Brainerd, and he did a good job bringing up their scores, and meeting their benchmarks."
Agee said he was hurt by local media reports criticizing his hiring and lending credence to the bloggers. "I have family here, and some of the media here were saying bad things about me before I even got here, before anyone could meet me. Did I make some mistakes? Yes. You don't work as a teacher, coach and principal for seventeen years without making some mistakes. I've learned from my mistakes. Like I've told my teachers, you don't want somebody who has never had to deal with some stuff. I've been through some things."
Responding to rumors that he would have been demoted had he stayed in the DeKalb school district, Agee said, "I had already decided to come back to Chattanooga before the school year was over. I have a lot of ties here, and always wanted to come back some day. A new superintendent came in down there, and they always change people around, not necessarily for bad reasons. One principal can retire, and they'll move three or four others around just to try something new."
Lott said, "We interviewed about 29 people for various principal positions in the county, and Mr. Agee is the best fit for Brainerd High School. He's head and shoulders above the rest. He's very passionate and has a lot of compassion for kids."
CONTROLLING THE PASSION
Agee admits to having to work on "controlling my passion." He said, "You look at me, I'm a big guy, a former football player. That can intimidate some people, but I've learned to use the right tone of voice. I'm approachable. The reason I wanted to become a principal is because I can help more young people that way, and that's my passion in life."
One of the things he's most passionate about is how students present themselves with their dress and their speech. He says he will enforce a dress and conduct code that will help students on the road to success.
"You may be a great student, but the way you dress may be holding you back," Agee said. "Those saggy pants, or those inappropriate clothes don't make a good impression. We want Brainerd students to be well groomed and to speak well. That's how you get ahead in life."
NEW LEADERSHIP TEAM
His new administrative team includes three assistant principals. Glenn Perry is a longtime teacher at Howard High. Agee says he's already "leaning on" Dr. Paul Smith, the Howard principal who has been credited with engineering a turnaround at that school, "and Mr. Perry has been there to see how it happened." Former Dalton wrestling coach and Hixson High assistant principal Charles Mitchell and Dr. Jacqueline Cothran, who has taught at Dalewood Middle and Washington Alternative School, round out Agee's new team. Each will have input into discipline, attendance and curriculum issues. "I want them to be well-rounded in all areas," Agee said. "Each of them will be a great principal someday."
The new principal says he'll be meeting with parents and students soon to share his goals for Brainerd High. The first day of classes is Monday August 13.
ABOUT URAS AGEE
Agee was born in Chicago, and his family later moved to Talledega, Alabama. He chose UTC after being recruited by Buddy Nix, the first of three football coaches he would play for with the Mocs (the others were Tommy West and Buddy Green). "I loved playing for UTC and playing on Chamberlain Field," he said. "Those were good days. I got to play with Terrell Owens and some other good athletes. We had some great teams."
After trying out for the New Orleans Saints, he began his teaching career in Hamilton County schools in 1995, teaching special education and coaching football at Hixson High until 2002. "Nubby Napolitano was my principal, and I was able to be assistant coach under some great head coaches. Two of my players were Daniel and Josh Bullocks, who went on to the NFL, and are still my good friends. They're the kind of people I want to bring here as good role models for the young men of Brainerd."
He followed Hixson head coach Dan Duff to Rockmart, Georgia for a year, and then signed on as an assistant coach at Tucker High School. He worked his way into an administrative training program, becoming assistant principal in 2007. In 2010 he was named principal at Columbia High School before accepting the Brainerd post.
Agee holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Special Education from UTC, a Masters degree and Specialist of Education degree from Tennessee Tech University.