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Jenkins, Robinson Blend Backgrounds to Help Students

Pushing Children to Succeed is Key

Frank Jenkins, principal at Herndon Middle School, was the product of a Catholic education in Washington D.C. Loretta Robinson, his assistant principal, attended segregated schools in the sea town of Portsmouth.

While their backgrounds are polar opposites, they share the same goal, to inspire their young charges to be the best they can be.

"She is willing to do whatever is necessary to help the kids," said Lisa Lombardozzi, Herndon Middle's PTA president. "Dr. Jenkins is wonderful. He is one of the most supportive principals."

<mh>Doing Your Best

<bt>When Jenkins was in school, the only segregation was when it came to children with special needs, who were separated from other students.

"[Archbishop] Carroll [High School] was 85 percent white, but it wasn't something we paid any attention to," Jenkins said. "When I graduated, there were eight sections, A was the smartest students. There were not any students of color in A. There were two in B and three in C. I was in C. I knew people looked at me differently because I was near the top, but I spent a lot of time studying. I had to work. My teachers mentored me."

Jenkins, also an athlete in school, said mentoring was important to all of the students succeeding, a philosophy he still shares.

"My job is to be a mentor. We give gold medals if the students get all As," Jenkins said. "It's something to aspire to receive, realizing all kids can't get As, of course."

Jenkins said all his students have the potential to make the honor roll, but if they don't, as long as they do their best and not settle for anything less, they should be proud.

The 25-year education veteran also likes to keep things light, constantly joking with staff and laughing with students as he walks through the halls.

"He feeds us," Lombardozzi said. "Like at the Health and Hearing Screening Day, he got us pizza and he is always helping me set up for events. He is always there to support the kids and he loves and supports the PTA."

<mh>Hop on the Bus

<bt>It was his mother and teachers that steered him toward a career in education, where Jenkins taught math and was a counselor before becoming an administrator at Hughes Middle in Reston then Herndon Middle School.

Jenkins said transportation and the dress code — always shirt and tie, no tennis shoes — were the biggest differences between Catholic and public schools.

"Transportation was the public bus. I went to school with kids from embassies that would pull up in their limousines. Nobody would talk to them at first, because it took awhile to get to know them," Jenkins said. "We all socialized on the bus to and from school. Everyone else walked."

As principal, Jenkins said it is important to pass along the importance of education to his students.

"As an administrator, you don't look at the kid. You look at what they did as far as academic achievement. You look at whether they are working up to their potential," Jenkins said. "If you are an A student, you don't settle for less than an A. If B is the best you can do, then work for a B."

<mh>Pioneering Spirit

<bt>By comparison, Robinson's educational experience was the exact opposite of Jenkins. She attended segregated schools up until junior high school. While she was in high school, the schools integrated, but staff only.

"In high school, we had two staff members that were white and they seemed to fit in," Robinson said.

When she joined the Fairfax County Public Schools 30 years ago as a 21-year-old special education teacher, the tables were turned. Not only was she teaching students that were 17 and 18 years old, she was the first black teacher at Fairfax High School. During her tenure, the most black staff members the school had at any one time was three.

After that, she moved to Edison High School in Alexandria, where Robinson started its special education program and oversaw a department of mixed race. It was there she also got a taste of what it was like to be an administrator.

"I was always put into leadership roles. That's what led to me becoming an administrator," she said. "I worked hard and put everything into it."

<mh>Remember

<bt>"When you look at her, she doesn't look like a firm person. She looks so sweet," Lombardozzi said. "Unfortunately, as assistant principal, she deals with kids that get in trouble. She can be firm, but fair."

It was an experience in grade school that led to Robinson's career.

"In seventh grade I was so inspired by my home economics teacher and I wanted to be a home economics teacher. Of course, I never taught home economics," Robinson said.

She also credits her close-knit family with helping to shape her into the administrator she is today. She said it is important for people to know where they come from.

For that reason, when students ask about racism, Robinson recalls a time when she was in college and had a job at Rose's Five and Dime. She was taking the bus to work one day and there were some Klu Klux Klan members in the store's parking lot. As the bus approached, one of the members began walking toward the bus. Robinson said she was afraid of having to walk past the man to get to work. The bus driver, however, refused to leave until the man had left.

"I think it's important to know who you are," Robinson said. "I talk to [the students] about relating to each other and resolving conflicts. It's important for them to see for themselves the growth process."

<mh>More Role Models

<bt>The Fairfax County Public School system is full of black role models including Kathleen Barbee, assistant principal of Langley High School in McLean and Fairfax High School assistant principal Magurtha White.

Barbee grew up in a small farming and blue-collar town in Tennessee where she was one of five black students in her high school graduating class of more than 100. Her parents instilled the importance of education into all their children, telling them a college education was necessary for a black person to succeed in America.

After graduating from Fisk University in 1987, also in Tennessee, where she first came in contact with racism from the lighter-colored black students and professors, she accepted a job with the Department of Defense and taught American children in Germany. She returned to the United States last summer to complete her doctorate.

"She exudes enthusiasm. She is a straight talkers and she has a great rapport with the children," said Beth Reisig, Langley PTSA co-president. "She's terrific. I'm thrilled she's here. She's a breath of fresh air."

White attended segregated schools while growing up in Virginia, Thomasburg in Brunswick County to be exact. She first went to school in a two-room schoolhouse that had close ties to the local Baptist Church.

"Everyone knew the 'Star Spangled Banner,' the 'Preamble to the Constitution,' 'The Gettysburg Address' and religious hymns," White said.

It was also a close-knit farming community where everyone knew everybody else, which made it hard to get in trouble in school White said, because the whole town would know it.

White began teaching in integrated schools in Farmville 31 years ago, then the city of Alexandria and finally she settled in Fairfax 24 years ago.