Assistant principal leaving for Scott County high school

Thursday, June 28, 2007
Al McFerren, assistant principal at Central High School, joked with students during the lunch break Tuesday. He is leaving to become principal at Scott County Central High School. (Fred Lynch)

Cape Girardeau Central High School assistant principal Al McFerren is passionate about education. It's a way out of poverty and a tool to a better life, he says.

For the past five years, he has sought to motivate students to excel at Central High School. But he's leaving to take a job as principal at Scott County Central High School at Morley, Mo.

This is his final week of work at Central. With his departure, the school district will have no black administrators.

Interviewed in his office earlier this week, the 53-year-old McFerren talked about his career in education in the Cape Girardeau School District and the need for black role models in the public schools.

Mark Bliss: How many years have you been an educator in the Cape Girardeau School District?

McFerren: In the district, I am finishing up 11 years. I started in 1996 in the district. I was director of the alternative school for one year. For five years, I was a juvenile detention teacher. ... I have been assistant principal at Cape Central High School for five years.

MB: What do you remember about the start of your career as assistant principal?

McFerren: I reported to work as assistant principal. They had satellite offices at the junior high school. [Construction was being completed on the new high school and McFerren helped unload equipment at the new school.] Man, we started sweating from that first day. It was definitely grunt work.

MB: Why did you take the job as assistant principal?

McFerren: It was basically because I wanted to work with a broader range of students. ... I felt the time was right for an African American to break ground and try to give Cape Central High School something it had never had. [McFerren was the first black assistant principal at the high school.] I wanted to be a role model for African-American students. But I also wanted to be a role model for Caucasian students.

MB: Are you concerned about the lack of black administrators in the Cape Girardeau public schools?

McFerren: It concerns me. I think that the schools should mirror the community to a certain extent. ... Our kids need to know that there are people like themselves. ... There are only two African-American teachers in the high school.

MB: Why are there so few black educators employed in the Cape Girardeau School District?

McFerren: I am not sure that it is made a point of emphasis to recruit more minority teachers.

MB: You could have sought good-paying education jobs elsewhere. Why did you remain with the Cape Girardeau School District?

McFerren: I passed up the job as principal of Cairo (Illinois) High School two years ago. I wanted to stay in the state of Missouri.

MB: Where did you grow up?

McFerren: I grew up in Lilbourn, which is a little town in New Madrid County. Both my parents had a third-grade education. [His parents raised 11 children.] All of us graduated from high school, and four of us from college.

MB: Do you understand the challenges that low-income students face?

McFerren: I was a teenager before we got inside plumbing. ... When you are talking outside toilets, it doesn't get more impoverished than that.

MB: Across the country, black students graduate from high school at a lower rate than white students. The same holds true at Cape Central. Why is that the case?

McFerren: Until you get to the sixth grade, there are very few problems. Generally, the parents of this generation, not necessarily just African-Americans, are just getting overwhelmed. There is the influence of drugs and hip-hop and how we refer to each other. There seems to be a lack of respect. It is not acceptable.

MB: What can parents do?

McFerren: Please monitor more what your kids are listening to and promote more reading. I know not every home has a computer, but they have a book. ... Impress upon your kids to do their homework.

335-6611, extension 123

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