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Issue Date: October 2007 Issue


Takeover + Makeover = Success?

When Eugene Sanders took over as Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO, he decided to implement some radical ideas, including making over the dress code. Will the changes produce results? We’ll likely have to wait on that one. But with a new school year upon us, the more uniform look is easy to see.
Colleen Mytnick with additional reporting by Kate Bigam
“Tuck it in. Tuck it in.”

Each morning, that’s the chorus world history teacher Anna Hogan belts out, her soprano echoing through the halls, reminding students at John Marshall High School that the days of baggy shirts, bare bellies and exposed boxers are over.

Starting this school year, all students were required to wear shirts with collars, knee-length skirts, pants or knee-length shorts in solid colors. Belts are mandatory for pants with loops. Shirts must be worn inside pants. No hats. Of the 1,950 students at John Marshall, only 13 did not comply with the new dress code by the third day of school.

The dress code will “eliminate variables” that take away from a student’s education, says schools CEO Eugene Sanders. Teasing. Peer pressure. Fighting. He’s heard of kids who didn’t come to school because they didn’t have the “right” clothes. Under Sanders’ new leadership, the district moved out of academic watch this summer. It’s his goal, by 2012, to be the first urban district in the state to earn an “effective” rating. The new dress code is just one change he hopes will make that happen.

“We could have stayed the way were, simply maintained,” Sanders says. “Or we could produce ideas that shake the foundation.
“We decided to go maybe a bumpier road.”

So how has the new look gone over? We stopped in at three schools — Wilbur Wright Elementary and John Marshall High School on the West Side and John Adams High School on the East Side. The kids looked neat, even if the boys did buy their pants a little big and the girls their shirts a little small. The principals were happy. All but one of the students we spoke with said their parents were pleased.

And the kids?

They’ve got lots to say. Read on for a chat with nine students — as well as photos taken before and after the makeover. If by the way, you notice that every one of the students from John Adams had their shirts tucked in, it’s because the principal was present for the photo shoot.

Destiny Khay
Second-grader at Wilbur Wright
Favorite color: Light blue
Her trademark: Wearing two different color socks
What she likes about her before look: The flowers and butterflies on her shirt
Fashion highlight: Her mom taking her to get her ears pierced for her sixth birthday
On her wrist: Her lucky string, just like the one her grandmother wears
On her feet: Air Jordans. “He played basketball,” she explains, “but he’s old.”

Arrianna Riggins
Tenth-grader at John Adams
Pre-dress code: Nearly all her clothes were from H&M or by Rocawear and Akademiks.
Less $$$: The pants she’s wearing in the before photo are by Baby Phat
and cost $68. In her after shot, her navy pants, purchased at Mr. Alan’s Shoes & Sportswear on Euclid
Avenue, cost $25.
Hair hues: After trying out red, blue, violet and green hair weaves, Arrianna says she was “ready to go back to her plain black hair.”
Future plans: To be a model, actress or photographer
On the new dress code: “I’m OK with it, but I don’t love it. I know we came here to get an education, but I think we should get to have a little fun.”
Will the dress code cut down on fights? No. “It wasn’t about clothes. It was about something else,” she says. “There’s still madness going on.”

Devon Davenport
Fifth-grader at Wilbur Wright
Off day: Devon makes sure we know he’s wearing his old “playing around” Jordans in his “before” photo. He actually owns 25 pairs, most much nicer than these. He had his first pair of Jordans before he could walk.
Moving on: He wants a pair of the new LeBrons, which he says are better than Jordans.
Family fashion: Everyone’s into shoes: His mother’s favorite sneakers are by K-Swiss.
Dress-code advantage: “You can just get dressed. You don’t have tofind nothing that matches.”

Willie Brown
Eleventh-grader at John Adams
Did Sanders pay him off?  When asked what he thinks of the new dress code, Willie raises his index finger to his temple and says, “It makes it seem as if we’re coming to school to learn. I like it. I think I look better in dress code.”
His future:  Aspires to open his own business.
Inked: Willie has an unfinished tattoo of a cross on his forearm. It’s for his father, who died last year from a heart condition.
His only problem with the dress code: “Tucking in my shirt.”

Sha’fearia Williams
Eighth-grader at Wilbur Wright
Putting her look together: Sha’fearia begins by picking a color and building her accessories around it. She has “too many bracelets to count.”
How she describes her look: “Different, casual, pretty”
Thoughts on the dress code: “It’s OK,” she says flatly. “I always accessorize.” Which is the strategy she says all her girlfriends use to keep their style.
Best place to buy accessories: Claire’s

Raymond Campayne
 Tenth-grader at John Adams
Hair today … In his “before” photo, Raymond wore his hair big, but “my mom wanted me to cut it because she said I wasn’t doing anything with it.” He decided to braid it instead.
Career ambition: Computer animation
False hopes: Teachers and administrators who think the dress code will change kids’ behavior are naïve, he says. “They think all the kids are going to start acting good.”
Harder to focus in his new clothes: “I feel stupid,” he says. “I’m thinking about it all the time, worried if I look good. I don’t like it at all.”

Victor Diaz
Ninth-grader at John Marshall
Color caution: Wearing the wrong color in the wrong part of town causes people to assume you’re in a gang, he says. His favorite color is red, but he always wears it with blue and other colors to avoid being jumped. “If the dress code keeps gangs down,” he says, “that’ll help.”
Shoe status: Jordans are better than LeBrons, but Timberland boots are good in winter.
Financing his look: Victor pays for his own purchases by mowing the lawn ($5) and taking out the trash.
On the new code: Like most boys we spoke with, he says it’s just easier. In his school, flashy belts are a common way to add style. Victor, who rotates between the two pairs shown in his “before” and “after” photos, blings things up a bit with earrings.

Mercedes Doss
Eleventh-grader at John Adams
Favorite places to shop for clothes: Forever 21, Aéropostale
Financing her look: Mercedes works at McDonald’s.
Working ahead: She is taking classes at Cuyahoga Community College for college credit.
Her dream job: Being a model. Nursing is her backup.
On the dress code: “I have no problem with it,” she says. Though it limits her somewhat, she says it’s “better than waking up trying to decide what to wear.”
 
Timothy Griffin
Eleventh-grader at John Adams
 Style icon: He tries to emulate the look of R&B artist Trey Songz.
Underneath it all: His regular clothes, he admits, give off a “street vibe.” But Timothy says he’s more interested in schoolwork. His GPA, he says, is always above a 3.0.
Future ambition: In this order: NFL football player, actor, sports journalist
Shoes!: Timothy can’t count how many pairs of shoes he owns, because “shoes is my life!” His favorite are Nike Air Force Ones, and if given endless money, he’d buy as many pairs of shoes as possible.
Which explains … Why he once didn’t have enough money for the bus. He spent it all shopping.
Mom’s thoughts: “She feels like she’s spending more money, because we can’t wear our old clothes,” Timothy says.

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