The decision to become principal of West Charlotte High School in 2022 was a no-brainer for Orlando Robinson.
Though he was gifted the opportunity weeks before the 2022-2023 academic school year, the rich history of the school was a draw to the new high school principal.
“I was familiar with West Charlotte. Everybody knows West Charlotte,” Robinson told QCity Metro. “This is a diamond in the rough. There is a lot of pride around the school.”
Academic achievement concerns are an immediate need at the school. The year prior to Robinson’s arrival, West Charlotte landed on the district’s low-performance list with a graduation rate of 65.4%.
Robinson said he believes improvement starts with bringing “joy” back to West Charlotte.
Since his arrival, Robinson has aimed to improve student engagement by increasing pep rallies, adding new clubs and implementing incentives-based activities.
Robinson said when he first arrived, a number of alumni reached out about how they get more involved with the school.
To keep alumni informed, the school began hosting monthly community partnership meetings to discuss the school’s needs and how people can get involved, Robinson said.
Robinson said alumni have been “huge in filling the void” for funding incentives.
In addition to donating to the school– for student and staff incentives, campus cleanups, and more –, alumni can also volunteer through mentorship and tutoring students.
Ella Dennis, a 1966 graduate of West Charlotte, was a member of the school’s National Alumni Association. The group was established to preserve the school’s history and now aims to continue its mission with the help of Robinson.
“We have generations that are coming up and don’t know the history [of the school],” Dennis told QCity Metro.
Dennis said Robinson has endeared himself with alumni for his willingness to get graduates more involved.
She said she is confident in Robinson’s ability and hopes he’s the long-term solution as principal.
“I think Principal Robinson is at the helm, and he is not afraid to make the changes that need to be made,” she said. “He can make this school a model school that makes people want to send their children to the school.”
Student outcomes and engagement
Robinson said behavior discipline was another key issue that needed to be addressed when he arrived.
Not fond of suspending students, Robinson said he aims to build relationships with kids and their families to address the root cause of the issue.
Robinson said keeping students engaged is a key tool to combat the issue, which led to the implementation of incentives to motivate them, Robinson said.
Last year, he gave students “VIP cards” if they excelled in class to eat lunch in the Omni, a secluded area on the second floor of the cafeteria.
The school has also implemented the Tardies, Attendance and Behavior (TAB) initiative.
At the end of each month, staff members nominate 40 students for TAB, 10 from each grade level, who have excelled in these three areas. Nominees then attend a party hosted in their honor.
At the end of the school year, West Charlotte also hosts a Decision Day pep rally for its seniors to celebrate post-graduate college and career choices.
“We believe it’s important to incentivize our scholars,” Robinson said. “Those incentives encourage [them] to try a little harder in class.”
Extracurricular activities and clubs
Robinson said he’s been more intentional in learning of West Charlotte’s history and student activities that have since been stopped.
On the first day of school, Robinson has staff show students a video detailing the history of the school.
Since becoming principal, he’s brought back clubs like theater, poetry and book club. Robinson has encouraged staff members to sponsor clubs for students to get involved in.
There’s also the first week of school pep rally to recognize fall athletes and get students excited before the first football game.
“That first home football game had a huge turnout that night,” he said.
Last year, the school reinstated the student-versus-staff basketball game.
The school has not released a yearbook since 2013. They plan to start a club in the near future, Robinson said.
Senior Camille Duncan said the “overall culture” of the school has changed since Robinson took over as principal.
Her favorite memory has been the end of the year lū’au, where students who excelled academically get to enjoy food and games for a day on the football field.
Duncan, a member of the school’s Student Government Association and this year’s Miss West Charlotte, said students can feel more empowered through school clubs.
Duncan told QCity Metro she has also noticed fellow classmates becoming more engaged in school activities.
“It pushes you to be more involved in school and academics because you have those [incentives] to look forward to,” she said.
West Charlotte concludes its homecoming week with a festival and parade ahead of the game on Friday.
The school hasn’t had a home homecoming game since 2019 due to Covid and school renovations.
Robinson expected a big turnout with the success of the football team, currently 6-1. He said it’s important for the city to recognize their pride in athletics, but the school as a whole.
“‘Restoring the Roar’ is about bringing back that pride for not only the people from the school but for the community,” he said.