Gemar Mills’ (pictured) resume reads like someone who is much older. At 22 years old, he was already a high school math teacher at Newark’s Malcolm X Shabazz High School, eventually creating a 70 percent standardized test pass rate; by 25, he was the school’s department chair of Mathematics. Within a year of acquiring the position, Mills improved the math department’s functioning from 17 percent to 26 percent.
With his rapid progression, Mills was able to become the school’s principal at 29, in the 2011-12 school year.
But he had his work cut out for him.
During the 2010-11 school year, students pulled the fire alarm 119 times, many academic rankings placed the school near the bottom, and only 19 percent of students were proficient in math, according to High School Proficiency Assessment testing.
Watch Mills discuss how Malcolm X Shabazz High used to be:
Even the teachers had, had enough: only 75 percent of educators showed up to class on a daily basis. By school year’s end, only 20 students made honor roll; enrollment fell to 810 students, down from 1,200 two years prior.
Mills began turning things around by implementing a no-nonsense disciplinary plan.
A dress code went in to effect, banning items such as leggings and cargo shorts; students were greeted by a metal detector; and a 20-minute convocation welcomed students back for the new year, addressing issues such as poor test scores and shootings.
And the results have been immediate: By the 2011-12 year, Shabazz’s overall language arts proficiency rose from 48 percent to 61 percent and math proficiency rose from 19 percent to 27 percent.
“Mills is great,” Duane Grant, a parent whose daughter attends Shabazz, told the NJ Star Ledger. “He’s definitely turned it around. He deserves all the accolades. I feel safe now sending her here.”
The 30-year old also placed more emphasis on sports to help steer students away from negative influences. As a former defensive line for Montclair State University, he has placed football mottos throughout the school, including a variant on Under Armour’s “We Must Protect This House!” slogan. Students also read other slogans, such as “We Must Protect The Brand!” and “If You Are Not A Bulldog, Then You Are Dog Food!” that are designed to foster a sense of community among the youth.
Asked by Black Blue Dog what his ultimate goal as principal is, Mills says he just wants to be remembered:
“My ultimate goal is to build a legacy. When I die that my name will live on. The things that I’ve done for my culture, for my people — it’ll live on. Decisions will be made based on things that I’ve done to empower my generation and generations to come. “