Known as “the turnaround principal,” Dr. Gemar Mills is an author, an educator, and the subject of an Emmy Award-winning documentary, “Saving Shabazz: The long-shot battle to transform a failing school.” The documentary, along with the book Most Likely to Succeed by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith, chronicled Mills’ work as principal at Malcolm X Shabazz High School in Newark, New Jersey.
Dr. Mills, born and raised in the city of Paterson, New Jersey, always possessed a fervent affection to provide urban youth with an alternative perspective on life. As a high school student, he quickly acknowledged the significance of becoming an educated African-American male in his community. He sought empowerment through education, where he discovered its positive attributes and its significance to personal and societal development.
He went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in Math Education from Montclair State University. In 2005, Dr.Mills began teaching math at East Side High School in Newark, New Jersey. While working full-time, he began his graduate studies at American Intercontinental University, where he earned a Master’s of Educational Leadership. A true educational scientist at heart, Mills earned his doctorate degree in administration, policy, and curriculum from Seton Hall University.
Starting as a math teacher, in just two years, Mills became chair of the math department at Shabazz and, in two more years, rose again to principal at the age of 27 – making him the youngest principal in the high school’s 100-plus year history.
With a history of low test scores (only 46 percent of students were proficient in language arts, just 19 percent in math), violence (in media, the school was referred to as “Baghdad”), declining enrollment and non-attendance, when Mills took over Malcolm X Shabazz, it was described as “one of the most troubled schools in the Newark Public School District” and was “considered the worst performing school in New Jersey.” It was also threatened with the possibility of closure. In four short years, Mills accomplished what many thought “unthinkable”: attendance skyrocketed, the halls became safe, and student test scores improved dramatically. As noted by a feature article in The Atlantic, “Over the course of four years, Mills raised the percentage of students proficient in language arts to 74 percent, the highest jump in the city. In math, 37 percent were now proficient. By pushing students to think more seriously about their futures, Mills increased the percentage of graduating seniors matriculating to four-year colleges or universities from 23 percent to 46 percent.”
Dr. Mills is the Chief Executive Officer of Education League, working on about 50 campuses across America to reinvent the structure of the nation’s schools. Establishing sustainable school turnarounds at prodigious speed. He is also the Chief Academic Officer at College Achieve Public Schools, a network of public charter schools in New Jersey.
Dr. Mills has been featured by media outlets across the United States, including Sports Illustrated, The Atlantic, The Hechinger Report, Fortune, NBC News, The Star-Ledger, The Record, NJ Spotlight, Black America, Your Black World, “Positively Black” and in Crain’s New York as one of its “40 Under Forty.” Dr. Mills is the author of The Turnaround: 180 Days of Change, a resource guide to help other educators implement his theories and practices of school and community reform. Dr. Mills received a Bachelor of Science degree in Math Education from Montclair State University, a Master’s in Educational Leadership from American Intercontinental University, and a Doctorate degree (Ed.D.) in Curriculum, Policy, and K-12 administration from Seton Hall University.
“My ultimate goal is to build a legacy. The things that I’ve done for my culture, for my people, the impact that I have made on education, it will live on. Decisions will be made based on things that I’ve done to empower my generation and generations to come”.