Tiffany Honoré leads a low-income middle school that qualifies for Title 1 funding —which means at least 50% of its students qualify to receive free or reduced-price lunch.
Yet Tapp Middle School in Powder Springs, Georgia, offers a program for gifted students, an accelerated math track, a championship debate club, and a dedicated, diverse teaching staff. The kids? The school is 62% African American, 20% Hispanic, 12-13% white, and 5-6% multiracial. For the most part, the students are thriving.
A Title 1 Reward school, Tapp is recognized for having shown growth over the past three years.
“Ideally, that’s what you’d like to see, that your students are progressing, regardless of the benchmark that the state sets,” says Honoré. “It’s about student growth.”
What makes Tapp succeed where other schools with similar demographics fail?
“First, it’s the staff,” Honoré says. “Our committed staff members are passionate about learning, and they do whatever it takes to give the students what they need. Even during the instructional day, teachers are looking for ways to re-teach or re-test material and provide interventions.”
Honoré says several teachers offer morning or after-school tutoring. She also says Tapp’s teachers see each other as resources. “They collaborate quite a bit. They’re constantly talking about their lessons, and figuring out what works. If one teacher has greater success—was it in their delivery? So other teachers will modify their delivery. They talk with each other to come up with the best way to teach the material.”
Honoré uses the school’s Title 1 money to purchase educational technology–laptops, iPad carts, smart boards, e-beams (interactive smart boards). She also uses it to fund an academic coach who helps provide professional development to the teachers; and a parent facilitator, who encourages and supports greater parental involvement.
The school promotes literacy. “Some kids come to us not reading on grade level,” Honoré says, so recognizing how fundamental it is, book reading is stressed and assessments are periodically taken to gauge student progression.
The day is long, too, Honoré says. “We start at 9:15 and end at 4:15, so for some participating in after school can be a problem.”
But after-school offerings—which staff members sponsor—are too cool to miss: a jazz band that Honoré describes as “amazing”; separate clubs for boys and for girls; and a champion debate team.
Also working in the school’s favor? Parent volunteers in the school—“some come every day,” Honoré says.
It’s no secret what works in schools. We know what works, Title 1 school or not: committed teachers, a supportive community, academic rigor, and academic support.
If Tapp Middle School can do it, every school can. The question is, why aren’t they?