Nehemirah Barrett was appointed as the new associate principal at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie in late July after working for the Madison Metropolitan School District as a school counselor at Cherokee Heights Middle School for the past 9 years.
He moved to Madison from Mound Bayou, Mississippi when he was five years old and attended schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). His career in school districts in Wisconsin began when he was a custodial worker for MMSD.
“Fast forward to 2012, I became a custodian for the Madison (Metropolitan) School District (MMSD),” said Barrett.” I worked there for about two and a half years, I was cleaning up everything and it got boring to me. At the time, I had a daughter and I wanted to be at home with my kid at night.
“The interesting thing about that, working at all 52 Madison schools, I would hear these conversations that teachers were having, conversations about their rough days and dealing with certain students,” he added. “I remember thinking, ‘I wonder if they tried this, that, or that?’ I would just think about how I would support them if I were in that role, if I was a teacher.”
While reflecting on his time as a student in MMSD, Barrett talked about noticing the lack of diversity in staff and administration. His English teacher at Madison Memorial High School positively impacted him and inspired him to pursue a career in education. After that, he became the President of the Future Teachers Club at his school and dreamed about what type of teacher he would be to students.
“In ninth grade, I finally saw my first African-American teacher,” said Barrett. “It was two of them. This guy was recently out of college. He was young, super funny, and I could relate to him. And he stayed on the Southside with us, so I know he had some experience being in that neighborhood. He was an English teacher and I remember looking at him like, ‘Man, that seems like a cool career. He’s doing it, and it seems like something I want to do’.”
He was inspired to help Black students like himself. Barrett credits the Grow Your Own Program in Madison that provided him the opportunity to become a teacher/administrator at a school in Madison. The application process was extensive and the 100 people applied, 20 people were interviewed, and Barrett was one of the five chosen. His goals, then and now, are to advocate for students and families and encourage them to grow inside and outside of the classroom.
“You know, I want all my students — especially my students of color — to have some academic achievement in literacy and math,” said Barrett. “I want all my students to be able to read and write. I told him I wanted us to figure out how we can meet the needs of our families, especially our Black families. They’re often marginalized, and they need to have a seat at the table.
“We need to listen to their voices and it’s important that we build relationships with these families. Especially our Black families and all families, right? I’m not excluding any other group, but to be real Black families need support,” he added. “Our kids need to be pushed to know that they could be successful. Think about where I came from. From having a 2.5 GPA to graduating on time and having two degrees — a bachelor’s and a master’s. You can achieve anything. It’s possible if you want to do it.”
For more information about Mr. Nehemirah Barrett and the students, faculty and administration at Patrick Marsh Middle School and other schools within the Sun Prairie School District, click here.