Ceair Baggett: Principled Educator Meets Students' Basic Needs

When he was in high school, Ceair Baggett’s philosophy was, “Never go a day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” In other words, help others simply for the joy of it. Expect nothing in return.

It’s a philosophy that was reinforced when he was a student at Xavier. Now the youngest principal in the Cincinnati Public Schools system at age 29, Baggett is able to practice his philosophy every day.

At Ethel M. Taylor Academy, he’s got one of the most challenging jobs in the district. The school, tucked into one of Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods, serves some of the neediest children in the city.

All 350 students in the kindergarten through sixth grade school qualify for the government’s free and reduced price lunch program, and for many, the meals they get at school are the only meals they can count on. They even receive weekend bags of snack foods delivered by one of its many partners.

 One thing I’ve learned is when a kid’s stomach is hurting, they can’t answer questions and learn until their basic needs are met. Then you can teach.

On a recent tour of the school—spotless, warm and brightly lit—Baggett shows off the multiple resource rooms filled with donated coats, packages of brand new children’s underclothes, and shelves stocked with shoes arranged according to size and gender. The hum of children learning in their classrooms and eating in the cafeteria echoes a response to his philosophy of first providing for their basic needs.

“When kids come to you with different parts of their life broken, you have to give them education, but what a student needs circles around instruction,” he says. “One thing I’ve learned is when a kid’s stomach is hurting, they can’t answer questions and learn until their basic needs are met. Then you can teach.”

Baggett found his educational footing at Xavier, where he earned a Bachelor of Liberal Arts in 2009 and Master of Education in Educational Administration in 2010. The MEd program taught him the importance of developing partnerships that help a school become a true community center.

At Ethel Taylor, that means every classroom now has a partner, such as Target, St. Joseph Orphanage, Union Savings Bank and Ethicon, and the health center now includes both a Registered Nurse and a Family Nurse Practitioner so children and their parents can get medical care and prescriptions on site.

“Xavier has helped me know how to build relationships and create partners in education,” he says. “The Xavier experience taught me how to give back and do the right thing. Being here is where I’m meant to be so these kids can be what they’re hoping to be.”

As he pops into the clinic, nurse Barb Demasi holds up a pair of boy's sneakers with large holes in the toes. The boy, who’s living with an aunt while both parents are in jail, needs a new pair, but Demasi says they don’t have his size today. The shoe supplies are dwindling.

They will turn to their foundation, the Soaring Hawks, which raises funds to help stock the school with shoes, clothing and computers.

“Our parents are trying to do the best they can with the resources they have,” Baggett says. “We have a lot of grandparents raising kids.”



Photos courtesy of The Cincinnati Enquirer.