A Fresh Start

Her eyes are pink at the corners. It looks like she’s going to cry.

In-school detention is an unlikely place for Darnisha Perry, a soft-spoken 15-year-old with a sweet smile and long brown hair. But on this quiet Monday morning she made a rude gesture to a boy who was bothering her in homeroom, and now she has to explain it all to Assistant Principal LeCresha Loving Mosley.

“Now I know,” says Mosley, “that this will never happen again.”

Tough one moment, compassionate the next, Mosley seems the perfect person to guide 266 freshmen through this unique institution near downtown St. Louis: the Vashon Ninth Grade Academy. You might think she’s been doing it for years, or that this school, with its gleaming, well-lit corridors, has a long history of preparing ninth-graders for the rigors of high school.

In fact, on this day in early March, it has been open for barely two months. In a bold, midyear experiment, Superintendent Creg Williams transferred all the ninth-graders at nearby Vashon High School to the former middle school and put Mosley and fellow assistant principal Julius Dix in charge. Some teachers were miffed. Many students were angry about leaving friends. But Williams said that it had to be done, that the decision -- if not the task ahead -- was easy.

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