In ‘Coach Dre,’ at-risk SM North students find a force for motivation

Andre Carnegie in front of the SM North Alma Mater.
Andre Carnegie in front of the SM North Alma Mater.

On a typical day, Andre Carnegie walks through the SM North doors around 7 a.m. and heads straight to his office. A devout Christian, he’ll read a few passages of scripture to “get pumped up for the day,” and within a few minutes, the kids start rolling in.

Some of them he meets with informally, just to give them a little “motivational kick in the pants.” For others, “Coach Dre,” as he is known throughout the building, is like a shadow, checking on their grades, making sure they attend class, helping them stay on track.

Carnegie is the Shawnee Mission School District’s first-ever Student Success Liaison — and based on the success of the program these first few months, it’s likely that other district high schools will have a similar presence on campus in the coming years.

A former physical education teacher in Wichita and probation officer for Johnson County Juvenile Courts, Carnegie is tasked with helping kids who feel like they are disenfranchised at school — or in their homes or communities — get plugged in. It’s a role for which Carnegie says he feels uniquely suited.

Born in Jamaica, Carnegie moved to the Toronto, Canada, area with his family as a young child. As the eldest of 11 children who grew up without a father present for much of their lives, Carnegie had a sometimes rocky path growing up.

“I was a knucklehead kid,” he said. “I wasted a lot of time in life and have had to play catch up.”

A talented athlete, he moved to the U.S. in 2001 on a track and field scholarship, eventually completing his degree at the University of Missouri — Kansas City, where he ran the 400 meters.

Though athletics figure prominently into Carnegie’s program at SM North — he ran a CrossFit program after school and coaches girls basketball and track — he also realizes that some troubled students need outlets outside of sports to get engaged. He tries to show students a clear path to post-high school success, leading college recruiting trips to area universities, but also the perils of falling into trouble. Earlier this fall, he had a group of inmates from Lansing come and tell a small group of students about what it’s like to be in prison.

The goal is to communicate to at-risk students that the payoff for diligence during their high school years is significant, and that someone else is invested in their success.

“I pride myself on authenticity,” he said. “I think so much in life, especially as you get older, is superficial. I want kids to believe in the interaction we have and think, ‘That Coach Dre guy, he’s crazy, he actually invested in me.’ I try to pour into the kids here what I wish someone would have done for me.”

Part of that role is to lead by example. Now 34, Carnegie is training for the 400 meters again in hopes of being part of Canada’s 4×400 Olympic relay team.

“I want kids to realize that it’s never too late,” he said. “You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone.”