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New principal making her mark
Walking through the hall of Jackson Learning Center in a bright dress and heels, Renee Robinson would have once stood out in a school that didn't seem to have such a bright future. Now, the school's new principal has created a vision that's already bringing vibrant changes to the building and its students.

Robinson, a Florida native with more than 17 years experience working with both regular and at-risk students, has embraced the challenge of the 29 middle and high school students at Jackson Learning Center.

"My passion is the inner-city area. I call them 'at-promise' kids, not 'at-risk' kids, because everybody can't do what I do. Not everyone can motivate kids who show a serious lack of interest, but I work well, for some reason, with kids who've had a hard life," she said.

"When I saw this position open, I thought all day, that's Renee Robinson. I feel like I'm a born leader. I like working with the ones who are challenges, because I see challenges as opportunities."

And at the center, that's exactly what Robinson has created for students. This is the last opportunity for Glynn County students before they could be expelled. They are often chronic misbehavers, or have done something seriously wrong.

"Just because you're here doesn't mean there are not high expectations. This is a last resort and you have an opportunity here. If you chose not to come, we understand, but you're going to be so limited because you can't go back to the traditional setting," Robinson said.

Using her background in intervention training, Robinson, along with school system administrators, entirely reworked the center's expectations before the new school year started. On a daily basis, students have a chance to prove that they want to be back at their base school.

A new creed and a new philosophy are prevalent in the building as students work to earn points throughout the day, with a potential for 100 points every day. As students move up from point levels of bronze to silver and beyond, they continue to stay motivated.

Students are also encouraged to dress appropriately. Robinson carries around quick-tie plastic bands for anyone whose pants are too low.

"These kids may want to come to school, some may want to eat breakfast and just leave. How do we keep them here? The big picture is hope. These kids come in here and I tell them, they're forgiven. You have a clean slate," Robinson said.

"We've made short-term goals. The big goal is to get them back to their base school, so we've created an eight-week goal for them. December is too far for them to see, that's even far for me."

Schools run on nine-week periods, so after the eight weeks are up, Robinson and a committee will take the ninth week to review whether or not a student is ready to return to a base school. To do that, a student will need to have earned at least 3,000 of 4,000 possible points, as well.

So far, Robinson says she's seeing positive results.

"We want these kids to see themselves moving up every day. Some of these kids need that. As adults, we need validation sometimes, why would we think children don't? The more they hear that, the more we'll see these commendable behaviors," she said.

Students can lose points for bad behavior or lack of initiative in each class, and they don't have an opportunity for any points if they don't show up. Robinson says she can already see it motivating students to attend and tame their behaviors. Knowing that every class period is a new opportunity has helped.

"At the end of the day, these aren't model students, they've had some difficulties, but they've got a chance to prove themselves. You can already hear students talking to their peers about what day they'll be going back to their school, becoming positive influences on their peers. They'll say, 'I don't just want to go back to GA, I want you to back go with me,'" she said.

Though Robinson has brought a new atmosphere to the school, she says she hasn't done it alone.

"The staff seems to be extremely happy, they want to be here as well. We're doing this all as a team. I'm not doing anything by myself," she said. "Every teacher is certified.We're not baby-sitters. This is a school; it's a place of learning."

SBlt Reporter Sarah Lundgren writes about education and other local topics. Contact her at, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 322.

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