A “difference-maker who loves children.” That’s how Bill Wilson describes Dr. Tyrone Brookins. Wilson has known Brookins for almost 20 years.
A native of Dallas, Texas, Brookins has become a widely praised math teacher and now principal at Battle Creek Middle School in St. Paul Public Schools. He is the kind of person almost everyone wants working with young people and other educators.
Lisa Sayles-Adams, assistant superintendent for K-8 and middle school, says, “In his new role at Battle Creek, Dr. Brookins has been very charismatic. He’s an instructional leader who has emphasized student engagement and making sure that all have an equitable learning experience.”
Whether talking with him in the office or following him through the halls as he talks with students and teachers, Brookins impresses you as an energetic, positive person. He is quick to credit others for many good things that have happened to him.
For example, he recalls his high school principal who faced a choice when the young Brookins was involved in a food fight. “I was trying to get in with the popular crowd, trying to find my place.” But the direction of the “popular crowd” was not positive.
The principal had a choice: suspend Brookins or provide more mentorship. Fortunately she chose mentorship, and “that made a huge difference.” Brookins was his high school class valedictorian. He graduated magna cum laude (with high honors) from Wiley College, a Historically Black College in Marshall, TX. He praises Wiley as a place “where I really learned who I was and what I could do.”
He credits Bill Wilson for making opportunities available to him in Minnesota. The two met when Wilson, former Minnesota commissioner of human rights, was working at the University of Minnesota and went to Texas to recruit African Americans to work in Minnesota schools.
At the time, Brookins was teaching mathematics in Dallas. Two years passed before Brookins called Wilson to ask if the University of Minnesota option was still available. It was, and Brookins came to Minnesota.
He earned masters and doctorate degrees from the University of Minnesota. His doctoral dissertation is titled Perceived Influences of Relationships between District and School Level Administrators on the Achievement of Urban Black Students.
After being at the university, Wilson then founded the Higher Ground Academy, a charter public school. He asked, and Brookins agreed, to be the school’s first principal and a leader of its math program.
The Star Tribune consistently has named HGA one of the metro area’s 10 best “beat the odds schools.” US News and World Report named HGA three times as one of the nation’s finest high schools (including last year, being selected as the best public high school in Minneapolis or St. Paul).
Wilson is clear: “Brookins helped us get off to a great start. I am delighted that he’s now working with district public schools. He would make a great superintendent.”
Brookins is married and has four sons, the oldest of whom is attending the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “He’s a man of faith,” according to Wilson. That faith is clear — a faith in education, a faith in young people, and a faith that schools can be a major positive force in the lives of young people.
Joe Nathan welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Wiley College was located in Dallas, TX. It has been corrected.