Breedlove's goal: Take students to next level
Anyone who has ever worked with Monroe High School Principal Brad Breedlove knows that he brings his passion to work every day.
“I love coming to work. I love getting out of my car and walking into this building. It’s a lot of fun. It’s hard work, but those things that are most valuable in life are the things we work the hardest for.”
Breedlove, chosen in January as Regional Principal of the Year (which advances him to vie for the title of Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year), took over the helm as principal at Monroe High School in the summer of 2012.
Breedlove’s goals for Monroe High School are simple. He wants his students to be able to stand head to head and toe to toe academically with students from any high school in the nation.
“Why can’t Monroe High School be the trendsetter on what education looks like in an urban poverty setting? Why does it have to start in New York City or California? Why can’t this be the epicenter of it all?
“We want to change the face of what poverty looks like in education,” Breedlove said. “It does not have to mean failure. It can mean success. It can mean greatness. But it only comes with hard work and creativity.”
Breedlove uses his own life experiences to build a bridge of understanding with students. “No one in my family had ever gone to college. I’m from a very small town in Florida. I didn’t know if I’d go to college. I was a good athlete and I liked that part of school, but ‘who wants to sit down and study’?”
His father had different ideas. “My dad was a fireman who hung drywall on his days off. One day he took me out of school and let me come to work with him, hanging dry wall. He wore me out! At the end of the day, we threw our tools in the back of the truck and he said, ‘Now, do you want to feel like this the rest of your life?’ He made his point.”
Breedlove got a football scholarship to Duke University. “My freshman year at Duke, I got eaten alive. I was not prepared for that type of rigor. My counselors told me, ‘You’re going to have to study four times as much to get the same grades you’re getting in high school.’ I had to learn how to learn at that pace, with that much rigor.”
He graduated from college in 1994 and played a year of professional football with a Canadian league. In the 10th game of the year, however, his career ended with a knee injury and he went to work in finance.
His interest in education was born when he started volunteering as a high school coach. Going back to school to get an education degree led to a teaching job at Sun Valley High School.
He then became an assistant principal at Monroe High School in 2005 and was named principal at Weddington High School in 2007, where he remained for five years.
When he was named principal at Monroe High in 2012, the graduation rate was 73.7 percent. One year later, it rose to 84.4 percent. “We did a lot of work that first year. We’re still plugging away.
“It was so important to give this school a shot of adrenaline to get this school grounded in academic success. Everybody knows our athletic success, but if you ask someone about our academic success, they’re not going to know anything. We have got to be known as an academic institution, first and foremost.”
One of the first things Breedlove did was to start the Red Hawk Academy, which focuses on English and math. Rising middle school students, with needs in these areas, were identified and placed in the academy.
“The jump from eighth grade to ninth grade is so big for students,” he said. “We focused on English and math because these are the building blocks to everything we do in school.”
Another priority for Breedlove was after school tutoring, which offered its own set of unique challenges as 85 percent of his students rode the bus. “If you don’t have any way for the students to get home, they’re not going to stay,” he said.
So vested in the importance of this after school tutoring experience, Breedlove dipped into the school’s savings to fund it. “We used that money to fund transportation, the tutoring, the snacks, all of those things to really push the academics. We tried to take away the excuses of not being able to stay for lack of transportation.”
One of the biggest challenges for his students is attendance. Students who miss more than nine days fail for the year. “What do you do with these students who have failed? Do you just kick them out on the street? They’re not going to come to school if they’re not going to get any credit.”
Knowing that often these students were leaving school to go to a job to help support their families, Breedlove began a night school at Monroe High so that students could continue their education when they failed due to absences. “This keeps them involved with their education.”
With the graduation rate increasing 10 percent in one year, Breedlove’s effort paid off. But he isn’t satisfied with the 10-percent increase. “What if, out of 100 students, you’re one of the 16? Then it’s not so awesome. We always want to push the envelope to find ways for students to meet that goal for graduation.”
A lot of what Breedlove does is to motivate students and their parents for academic success. “I enjoy that aspect. Maybe that’s the coaching aspect that I’m used to.
“These kids are smart,” he said. “They are winners in every way. They can do these things, but they’ve got to put forth the effort to be in attendance, to get that doctor’s note when they’re sick. If you put your mind to it, you can do whatever you choose.”
Breedlove and his teachers use a lot of positive reinforcement such as Red Hawk cards sent home monthly to celebrate student successes, AB honor roll school pizza parties, and the annual Principal’s Breakfast during which teachers and parents celebrate students successes.
“It gets pretty emotional,” Breedlove said of the breakfast. “The teacher comes up with his student and talks about that students and all that he’s accomplished. Some of these students haven’t had a lot of success, but now they’re being recognized in front of their teachers, in front of their peers, in front of the school, just going above and beyond. The teacher is crying, the student is crying, the parents are crying. It’s awesome.”
One of the strengths of Monroe High School, Breedlove said, is its school pride. “There is a lot of school pride at Monroe High School. To be able to witness the adversity that some of our students face and the success they come away with is truly amazing. We have multiple teachers who went to school here and now they teach here. It’s very nice to see.”
The success story is that student who, in spite of his struggles, walks across the stage and takes that diploma in hand. “They’re supposed to be doors open to them when they walk across that stage,” Breedlove said. And that’s a promise he plans to keep.
• This article was written by Deb Coates Bledsoe, Union County Public Schools Communications Coordinator and provided courtesy of the UCPS Communications Office.