Community Connection: MPS Metcalfe's Principal Gladney is 'always there'

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Getting elementary school students to pay attention isn’t exactly easy, but Melinda Gladney has created a way to connect with students.

"We are all about positivity in Milwaukee," said Gladney. "I was determined."

Her path to the front of the class, first, as a teacher and then as principal, began when she was a student at Marshall High School, volunteering during her senior year to help younger students.

"I just want to make sure that they could just take A, B, C blocks and put them in order before the end of my time there," said Gladney.

Melinda Gladney

She wrote an essay about it and caught the eye of people who thought she could make a difference. It wasn't long before Gladney had a change of heart about her major.

"I just it changed from, ‘Oh, I want to be able to see the world and be the next Oprah Winfrey,’ to, ‘I want to be able to help the children of today and be able to do something different,’" said Gladney.

Her 27 years with Milwaukee Public Schools hasn't been all smiles.

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Melinda Gladney

"It’s not what I expected it to be back then," said Gladney. "It looked so calm and easy."

When she applied to be principal, she was turned down several times. Then finally came her chance to connect with a school that was totally disconnected.

"At that time, for the state report card, the school met no expectations," said Gladney. "I said, 'Well, if I can't make a difference at Metcalfe, then you guys can move me.'"

It took commitment. Glandney transitioned from teaching to helping teachers function in the classroom and finally, to principal.

"So I would have been the seventh principal in that 10-year span," she said.

She’s now spent 13 years as principal at Metcalfe, and she’s making a positive impact. If there’s any doubt, just ask former student Tamari Robinson.

"She’s been a great support system for us," said Robinson. "The area the school is in it’s not in the best area."

Melinda Gladney

Shy and unsure, Robinson needed support. She found it in Gladney.

"When I was in the sixth grade, I won a writing contest for the school, and it’s because she pushed me to write the paper," said Robinson. "I didn’t think that I would do good enough to win the contest, but you know, she actually like, you know, convinced me to get there."

Now, at 19, that encouragement is helping her get patients to where they need to go at Froedtert, where she landed a job as a transporter after her first year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  She’s majoring in chemistry with minors in business and Japanese.  Still, it’s Principal Gladney who knows the right language to help her through.

"Even now, if I need to go to Ms. Gladney and talk to her, she’s always there," said Robinson.

Gladney wouldn’t have it any other way. Her connection with students is creating strong members of the community, along with strong parents.

Melinda Gladney

"I’m not just raising the kids," said Gladney. "I’m raising their parents, as well. A lot of them are like, ‘What should I do? I’m sending ‘em to you cuz I don’t know what to do.’ It’s not that they don't want to be able to support their kids more. They just don't know how because somebody didn't do it for them along the way. That bridge was broken."

As for how to rebuild that bridge, Gladney said this: "That is my ask. My ask is I want the community, I want parents to get involved."

Principal Gladney is trying to make it easy with a first-ever awards ceremony that closed out the school year. The hope is to keep the parents and kids connected to the school even though they’ve left for the building for the summer.

"They just need a hug, someone to listen to them," said Gladney. "These are my kids. I don't have kids of my own. I love every last one of them. Metcalfe is my heart. I wouldn’t change it for the world."