One sure thing at Austin-East is a new dress code, deemed "campus gear" and designed to reflect an interest in learning and a professional demeanor, says principal Benny Perry. The students are wearing collared shirts, in red, blue, black or white, tucked into black or tan slacks or knee-length skirts or shorts, belt required.
"This was a parent-led initiative," says Perry. "We want the students to buy into the upcoming culture change and dress as professionals. For the students who don't like it, we'll just work with them, bring them along." But they won't be sent home if they don't have proper garb, says Perry—that's why the school will keep a supply of clothing that adheres to the policy on hand.
Sure enough, on the first day of school, more than one parent or guardian was happy about the change. "He does look sharp, I was just telling him," says Anthony Martin as he pulls up to the curb in the school drop-off line with Joshua Hunt, a 10th grader outfitted in a black polo and knee-length shorts.
"I love it," says Stephanie Tipton, mom to 11th grader Alex Mitchell, "no butts hanging out of the pants."
Some parents are more leery. "My son doesn't like it," says Mike Willard, dad to Jack, a college-bound magnet student from South Knoxville who takes AP classes and maintains a B average. "I don't think it'll float. We're dealing with a lot of people who may not have the money to go out and buy new clothes, and appearance is so important to kids. It'll be aggravating for the kids who aren't able to buy what they need for the uniform."
Willard sees a second danger, too. Unlike Fulton, where each color of dress-code shirt corresponds to a certain academic discipline, A-E students can randomly choose from the four colors.
"This could introduce a whole new way for gangs to develop an identity, or just increase group alienation in general with people choosing to wear the same color," he says.
Hart, though, isn't worried about that, and he's fine with all the organizational changes and high expectations he'll be facing when school starts today. "I just don't want to wear a collared shirt," he says.