There’s a different type of buzz building at Madison Heights Madison High.
And it doesn’t just involve the football team.
Last weekend Madison announced the hiring of Brittany Wagner, a former academic advisor at East Mississippi Community College and one of the stars of the popular Netflix show “Last Chance U,” as a special academic consultant.
“Last Chance U” is a documentary series that follows football players at EMCC in Scooba, Miss., one of the top JUCO football programs in the nation, and features football coach Buddy Stephens and Wagner.
“Last winter when I watched the first season I really just started to see that a lot of the kids from East Mississippi Community College, a lot of them have similar backgrounds to a lot of our kids,” said Randy Speck, superintendent of Madison District Public Schools, which has open enrollment.
“Our kids are coming from Detroit, Madison Heights, Hazel Park, Warren and some of our kids are going through some different challenges and obstacles…One of the things that spoke to me was (Wagner’s) background isn't necessarily the same as these kids, but she found a way to connect with them and it's because she cares and genuinely and authentically wants to see them do well.”
Wagner spent eight years at EMCC and oversaw 200 student-athletes, most notably guiding FBS football prospects to meet NCAA qualification requirements and making sure they stayed on track during the season.
Wagner has since left the junior college and recently launched her own company called 10 Thousand Pencils, which offers academic counseling services to schools and at-risk student-athletes across the country.
Speck wanted to emulate Wagner’s passion and energy for student success, so he reached out to a colleague and was put in touch with her in the spring. After Wagner visited the high school in April, Speck kept in contact with her before she started her new endeavor.
Speck said Wagner will work and consult with teachers on creating a system to improve student achievement as well as a targeted approach for students at Madison and Wilkinson, the district’s middle school, who aren’t as motivated.
Wagner will make an in-person visit in August to get things started but will mostly work remotely while checking in with the frontline teachers on a regular basis throughout the school year.
According to Speck, Madison is the only Metro Detroit school that employs Wagner’s services, which will apply to all students and not just student-athletes. The cost was not disclosed.
However, Speck noted student-athletes who have the ability to play at the college level will likely gravitate toward Wagner due to her track record on the show.
“Quite frankly, if (Alabama football coach) Nick Saban wants to get someone eligible, he calls Brittany,” Speck said. “Butch Jones from Tennessee wants to get someone eligible, they call Brittany because they know if they send those kids to that junior college when she was there, she was going to put a plan in place. And if those kids were willing to do the work, they were going to get themselves eligible.
“She has a lot of connections that will really benefit all of our students but it will benefit the student-athlete, no question about that.”
Speck added poor grades haven’t been a problem for Madison’s sports teams and didn’t spur the hiring. Rather, the idea is to bring in a pair of outside eyes that could help put a better system in place and give students the best opportunity to succeed.
“I think we're pretty lucky,” Madison athletic director Jimmy Mack Brown said. “I don't even know how we were able to get (Wagner) during the spring to be honest because of how much success she had already had with the show and that was basically one season.
“Randy contacted me and asked me what I thought about it. I thought it'd be cool. I already told some of the kids about it and they're like, 'Oh, wow.' It’s creating a buzz.”
The first season of “Last Chance U” came out in July 2016 and the second season was released last week.