Hemelt: ESJH principal, football coach inherit opportunity

Published 7:49 am Friday, May 4, 2018

In the matter of a week, Christopher B. Mayes and Brandon Brown have become two of the most important people in St. John the Baptist Parish.

The duo was named principal and head football coach, respectively, of East St. John High — the largest school in St. John Parish.

A different approach was taken during the hiring process of these two positions, opening the door to public forums and updates on position finalists as the effort played out.

They are tasked with turning around a school that has faced a near-constant public relations problem in the very community it serves.

East St. John High was most recently rated a C school by the Louisiana Department of Education based on 2016-17 academic performance, a result that contributed to the overall school district’s score dropping 1.4 points and landing a collective grade C, as well.

When continued poor play on the football field matched a departing principal, April 2018 became a time to set ESJH on a path with new leadership.

Mayes is stepping in as principal following two years as principal and school director at KIPP Delta Public Schools in Blytheville, Ark.

According to Mayes, KIPP Delta enjoyed a 100 percent high school graduation rate with all seniors accepted to at least one university. He said the school’s average daily attendance was 96.5 percent and reduced its suspension rate by 50 percent during his tenure.

He previously served as a principal intern in Baton Rouge and Chicago following his time (2014-15) as an assistant principal at Career Academy in East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools.

A concern raised by some in the community is Mayes’ seeming job jumping that has taken place in the last 11 years with stops as an instructional coach and literacy specialist at Firstline Schools in New Orleans (2013–14), English and math teacher and 504/SBLC coordinator for the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (2010–13) in Bridge City and performing arts director, English and math teacher for New Orleans Public Schools (2007–10).

Most of that can be attributed to what it takes to aggressively seek opportunity in the field of education. What Mayes and our community have now, hopefully, is a position worth establishing roots at.

That sense of personal obligation certainly is embedded in the new football coach and athletic director — Brandon Brown, an ESJH graduate and 100 percent Wildcat. Spend 10 minutes talking to him and that is easy to understand.

While I have not enjoyed the pleasure of speaking with Mayes, it was great to catch up this week with Brown. I had to practically beg him for football nuggets; he was more interested in talking academics.

“No. 1, we’re going to be graduating all the kids in our athletic program,” he declared almost immediately. “If we can graduate kids, we are going to win football games, basketball games and every other sport. I want to be able to help kids in the athletic arena and help them for life. A successful Wildcat program means putting successful individuals into the world. If we are doing that, the wins and loses are going to take care of themselves.”

Brown is insistent that East St. John High stand out as the parish’s flagship school.

“Speaking with Mr. Mayes, he shares similar goals,” Brown told me. “Rome wasn’t built overnight, but it was built by those working day-in and day-out, brick by brick. We’re going to strap our boots on and go to work. We don’t just want to build a solid athletic program, but a solid school, an A school. It goes back to the graduation thing. If we are an A school, we will be an A athletic program.”

Both men face challenges in their new positions but certainly deserve our support.

What a wonderful opportunity they now have.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.