Edmondson quickly cracked down on rowdiness. On the second day of school he suspended a girl for pulling down a male classmate’s pants—and then announced the punishment to the whole school over the intercom. He walked the halls and visited classrooms, learned the names of kids, and sometimes even graded papers. He established the “Academic Society,” giving high-performing students with good behavior records special privileges like being allowed to listen to their iPods during lunch. The school’s state test scores have shown a respectable, if not spectacular, improvement. Edmondson emphasizes that large numbers of kids move in and out of the Scarlett area each year, making the academic gains all the more impressive.
Edmondson made headlines in 2006 when he canceled eighth-grade graduation ceremonies because Scarlett students had held a huge food fight in the cafeteria. He was in the news again last spring when he held back twenty-four students—5 percent of the school’s enrollment.
He says he has no regrets on either score. He still vividly remembers running to the cafeteria and seeing kids “with mayonnaise and mustard in their hair. . . . You have a food fight and destroy your school and you think we’re going to turn around and give you a party?” he asks heatedly. As for forcing students to repeat a grade—a long-debated issue in school circles—Edmondson acknowledges this can stigmatize students, but he says it beats the alternative of sending them unprepared into the workforce: “If you turn your life around, that stigma’s going to be gone.”