YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – When Sonya Gordon last lived in Youngstown, she was Sonya Crues. Twenty-five years later, she’s coming home to be the new principal at East High School — her alma mater.
Gordon admits it’s not the same East High she graduated from. The building’s different, the culture’s different, the students are different.
“But we are looking at changing the whole process of learning, that it’s not ‘sit and get’ anymore. Kids have to be actively involved in their learning.”
She has a plan in place to change the culture at one of the worst-performing schools in Ohio.
“We have to build a culture where we support each other. Where there’s trust, respect, and responsibility,” she said. “Not just with the adults because I need everyone to understand that it’s not just myself, it’s not just the teachers but we need the students. We need the community to get involved but we also have to spend that time up front, talking to students and parents about, ‘What does that look like?'”
The sidewalk in front of the home on McClure Avenue where she grew up remains but there’s no sign of the house.
“Gosh, it had to be six years ago, just to see if the house was here and it wasn’t here anymore,” Gordon said.
McClure Avenue is eight blocks from East High, where she graduated in 1991. Gordon said she was the second-best basketball player on a good team.
But one of her most vivid memories was the racism she experienced when she lived in Kentucky.
“I remember my mom being told — and I get emotional when I talk about this — you know, your daughter might not be cut out for college. I was 6.”
Gordon did graduate college and she became a teacher, eventually becoming principal at Akron Buchtel High School, which had problems similar to East.
“It was a school that was a priority school, much like East, and we had great success and that school is no longer a priority school.”
She spent two years as a consultant before the principal’s job at East opened up.
“I woke up at 3:00 in the morning, probably two days before the posting closed, and I said, ‘If not me, then who?'”
Gordon said all of the East High memorabilia — which is stored in a warehouse — will be coming back. Eventually, she’ll get to items like the trophy case.
But a bigger priority is making sure her teachers want to be in a school like East.
“Working in an urban school when you have students that come with other issues, so learning may not be the first thing,” she said. “You have to have individuals who want to be there.”
Sonya Crues Gordon is married with two boys. She lives in Macedonia — between Cleveland and Akron — and plans to commute back and forth.