It’s Edward Mensah’s perseverance and drive that have helped him get where he is today.
Starting July 1 as the new head of middle school at Charlotte Preparatory School, Mensah’s path to Charlotte has been one with many curves – but it’s the support along the way that made the Ghana native successful.
Growing up on the west coast of Africa, Mensah spent much of his childhood after age 12 with his single mom and two younger siblings after his dad, who was a teacher, died. His mom, now a retired teacher of 40 years, first encouraged him to succeed, and at age 16 he took a leap of faith after receiving a scholarship to an international boarding school in Canada. At 18, he packed up and moved to Pennsylvania where he attended Franklin and Marshall College as a pre-med student and college soccer player. But his interest in medicine dissolved after discovering his desire to see kids succeed.
“I started realizing I wanted to work with kids, but not necessarily in that field. I met a doctor in Baltimore. He told me his only regret is that he only sees kids when they are sick,” Mensah said. “That really struck me.”
Mensah also frequently volunteered as a tutor, where he interacted with kids in the classroom and on the soccer field. He quickly decided education was where he needed to be.
“I decided I would rather spend my time there; and I’m actually pretty glad I made that choice,” Mensah added.
After graduating, Mensah taught middle school math and coached soccer at a small independent school outside of Philadelphia for five years, while also playing semi-pro soccer for the Delaware Wizards. He then worked as director of programs for Steppingstone Scholars, a fourth- through 12th-grade Philadelphia program that prepares talented students from low-income families for admission to public and independent programs that provide educational opportunities for the path to college.
After 13 years and completion of his master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, Mensah was ready for another change. After meeting with Charlotte Preparatory School Head of School Blair Fisher, he knew it was the school for him.
“Ten minutes into the conversation, I was hooked. I was intrigued by his passion,” Mensah said. “For me, it was the perfect segue – preparing kids to go to a variety of different places. We have to be sure that kids are ready for any (high) school that they go to. We want them to go to a school that fits their potential.”
At Charlotte Preparatory, not only will Mensah lead the middle school, but he also will be in the classroom teaching an eighth-grade math class – a way for him to better relate to teachers, students and parents, he said. He said experience in the classroom also helps administrators be more empathetic to teachers. He also hopes to help out with the school’s soccer team.
“Eddie combines great vision and a passion for young people with a tremendous natural enthusiasm and ability to connect with people of all ages and from all backgrounds,” Fischer, the head of the school, said in an email. “His energy and positive nature will make him a wonderful addition to our leadership team and will help to make our outstanding middle school even stronger.”
For Mensah, he says it’s his cultural diversity that makes him a successful educator. While all of his family is still home in Ghana, Mensah said his visits home always remind him of the resources and technology available in United States’ schools.
“The thing about being in Ghana, I got a good sense of the disparities in education. I think it informs the way that I work when I’m here. To see that disparity, I think, inspires me more to take advantage of every opportunity I get,” Mensah said. “My international experience is key because I’ve had such a wide array of experiences… I have a balance of discipline and focus and a level of compassion that is important for the teachers and the students.”
After about a month in Charlotte, Mensah said he’s excited to call the Queen City home, describing the city’s cultural diversity and vibrant feel as part of the draw to the area. He says working with middle school students at Charlotte Preparatory is a dream.
“For me, I am exactly where I want to be right now – to be in a place with a group of really strong professionals who are dedicated to constant improvement for kids,” Mensah said. “I like middle school because it is the time of the most change for kids. It’s also the time when you can make the most significant impact.”