New Oxon Hill High principal rings in year with big hopes
Administrator wants to bring higher standards, stability
When Oxon Hill High School students begin their first day of class in August, they'll notice a big change — a new principal.
Jean-Pail Cadet, who lives in Hyattsville, said he has already set an agenda for his first year at the 1,900-student school, including increasing the graduation rate from 85 percent to between 90 to 95 percent.
School parents and staff said they are eager to build a strong administration after years of frequent principal turnover, as the school has seen four principals since 2005.
Oxon Hill High community members also hope to improve the school's reputation and student behavior, as problems such as robberies and truancy have sometimes overshadowed the school's academic success.
Oxon Hill High was named to the America's Top Public High Schools list by Newsweek magazine for 2009.
Cadet said high expectations are something that was instilled in him at a young age. He credits his humble upbringing for his goal-driven perspective on life and his rise through academia.
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native, who is in his early 30s but declined to give his age, came from a single-parent home, where his mother was a Trinidadian immigrant who worked three jobs to support he and his two sisters.
Cadet said his mother always encouraged academic excellence, and he and his sisters did so well in school that they all entered college by the age of 16. It was during his freshman year at Morehouse College in Atlanta that Cadet said he felt academically unprepared for college. Realizing the missteps in his own education, he said he was inspired to become an educator to aid other young minds.
"I told myself that I didn't want anyone else to feel [unprepared]," Cadet said. "There isn't that much preparation for higher education [in high school]."
Despite his stumbles in college, Cadet was already on the fast-track. By the time he became an English teacher at Forestville High School at age 21, he was already using his own experiences to make the content more relatable to the students. When teaching Romeo and Juliet, he'd often compare the play's feuding families to warring communities in Forestville. He used the material to make students question why they were getting involved in neighborhood quarrels.
"I didn't quite know what to expect," he said of his first years of teaching. "What I got was something interesting."
Cadet's interest in student behavior continued as he pursued his master's and doctoral degrees in 2005 in education with coursework in psychology and sociology at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He eventually became a regional peer mediator coordinator for county schools, excelling at resolving student conflict before being placed as assistant principal at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville in 2005.
"I knew after Cadet's second year [at Northwestern] that he was ready" to lead a school, said Jerome Thomas, principal at Northwestern High School. "Dr. Cadet is a perfectionist, but he understands the human soul."
Cadet is already busy strengthening ties in the school community at Oxon Hill High. During his first week on the job in early July, Cadet met with the school's PTA and other community groups.
"My instincts tell me that Dr. Cadet cares about kids," said Michelle Gaston, the school's PTA president. "The PTA wants to have a stronger relationship with the administration of school. We will stand behind him."
Cadet has already won the support of his predecessor, former principal Deborah Franklin, who is still working in the school throughout the summer.
"[Cadet] is ready to take the top position," she said. Adding that after seeing the revolving door of principals in and out of the school throughout the years, "it's such an exciting time," she said. "There is something different this time around."
Meanwhile, Cadet is crossing days out on his calendar as he counts down to the first day of school.
"I feel excited. I feel anxious and slightly overwhelmed — I'm ready," he said.