Gemar Mills is PhinisheD/FinishEdD but nowhere near done. This Paterson
born educator is a modern day Joe Clark with concrete outcomes and a
clear vision for the next generation of leaders. Dubbed the turnaround
Principal, Dr. Mills significantly improved scholar achievement at
Malcolm X Shabazz High School in the heart of Newark, New Jersey’s South
Ward. He recently founded a new school “College Achieve Paterson,” and
Dr. Mills has been featured on Sports Illustrated’s award-winning series
“Underdogs,” NBC’s “Positively Black,” and the Emmy award-winning
documentary “Saving Shabazz.” Also, a series of articles were released
by The Atlantic, Fortune, and Crain’s Business Magazine authenticating
the school’s turnaround. I recently connected with this astounding
visionary and discussed his doctoral journey, the highs, and lows of
opening a new school and his latest publication.
What are the details of your latest book and the inspiration behind it?
I got hired as principal of Malcolm X Shabazz on August 31, 2011, only a week before school began. Being the fourth principal in four years, I knew that 180 days was all I had to turn the school around. The book tells the story of the 180-degree turnaround I needed in life, which prepared me for those 180 days at Shabazz. I wrote the book to provide explicit strategies on how my team and I transformed the school.
Everything you will read in this book comes from my obsession with learning and doing anything I could to ensure that our youth are afforded the opportunity to receive a high-quality education despite the chaos and adversity they face in their daily lives.
With the knowledge contained in the book, coupled with a “By any means necessary” mindset, anyone can be the transformational leader they aspire to be. I am asking readers to take a journey with me as I revisit my first school year as a high school principal.
I know school districts are looking for transformational leaders, not leaders who have transferred from one school to the next. All children deserve to experience a school where the culture is stronger than any social group outside its walls.
Between my determination to ensure student success and the fact that my team and I accomplished something as significant as the Shabazz turnaround, I felt it was important to share the things that worked, with any educator interested.
What were the reasons you decided to open your own school?
My ultimate goal is to build a legacy. The things that I’ve done for my culture, for my people, the impact that I have made on education, it will live on after my soul exits my body. Decisions will be made, in the field of education, based on things that I’ve done to empower my generation and generations to come. The inception of the “College Achieve Paterson” is the product of the words I shared in the previously. Our mission is for every College Achieve Paterson student to be prepared, excel, and graduate from the top colleges and universities in the nation. The methods selected by my team and me to achieve our mission will be codified and shared with school districts throughout the country and prayerfully across the world.
What were the challenges you faced in the process?
Challenges are inevitable in anything new. I can recall getting a call on New Year’s Day from the building manager and him saying “hey I just wanted to let you know that water is pouring out the front door of the school.” I immediately headed to the school and found that a pipe burst in one of our classrooms, water traveled to three classes, the central office, and main lobby. I had to repair the damages before students arrived the following day. Most school leaders would put a call into their facilities manager. However, as a startup school, I do not have that luxury. Thus I spent the remainder of my new years day ensuring that a plumber, cleanup crew, and electrician made the necessary repairs to open the school the following day. Thankfully, I have been able to mitigate many challenges through the hiring of a staff that travels the spectrum of experience at various levels, which provides the appropriate balance of energy and wisdom.
What is the long-term plan for the school?
The long-term plan for the school is to ensure that we achieve the mission we have established and expand. My growth plan over the next four years increases our student population from 276 to 960. After four years I will assess our performance, if the data reflects success, I will consider expanding to other cities in and outside of New Jersey.
Tips on how others can reach and exceed their goals?
The year 2017 was huge for me I set out to accomplish two goals, which were becoming a doctor and founding my first school. I achieved this by doing the following:
1. Narrowed my focus from many things to one or two.
2. Learned to say NO to things that did not align with my attention.
3. Prayed daily, reflected often and thanked God for every blessing no matter how big or small.
4. Stayed far away from toxic people and negativity. I focused on wins and lived in possibility.
I share my tips in hopes that someone reading this can use them to expedite their journey to achieving their goals.
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