The ah-ha moment: While majoring in special ed at Indiana University, Emily Masengale attended a lecture by the head of the Teach for America program. Thrilled to feel “deeply aligned” with what she heard, she applied, was accepted, and was assigned to one of the largest public high schools in St. Louis.
Guiding principal: During her second year, she was invited to be part of a team tasked with launching an alternative school. By her third year on the job, she was named St. Louis teacher of the year.
Not too cool for school: Simultaneously, she attended grad school in education administration at St. Louis University. Then came a call about a new principal fellowship in Indianapolis, a partnership between Teach for America and Columbia University. Masengale became the first—and only—fellow in the program in its first year. It led to an assistant principal job in School 91.
Thesis must be the place: Her master’s thesis involved designing a new school. “I saw it as an exercise,” she said. But soon she put it into practice when a call came from Christel House. “What are your thoughts about high-school dropouts?” was the question that caught her attention.
Back in the game: She graduated from her program on a Sunday and started work on Monday. Initially a staff of one, the school now has 19 on the payroll serving 200 students. Another school has broken ground at the former Central State Hospital site.
Misconceptions about her students: “A lot of people think ours is a population that made bad choices in high school. ‘You make your bed, you lie in it.’ But I challenge people to get to know them. Think of the toughest situation you’ve heard about a kid going through in high school and multiply it by 10. And they are choosing to go back to school. They aren’t under compulsory education laws. It’s courageous. They are incredibly inspiring.”
The good fight: For fun and relaxation, Masengale works out at Title Boxing.•