I promised you part two of this wonderful story about Taft Information Technology High School, and here it is. (If you didn’t read yesterday’s blog, please read that first, or this won’t make a lot of sense.)
As I explained yesterday, Taft’s principal, Anthony Smith is all about relationships and partnering with his teachers to positively push their children to succeed in the classroom, and, as I told you yesterday, the relationships they have built with their students is making a huge difference.
But, the teachers at Taft are not Smith’s only partners in his determination to improve this once-failing school. Smith teamed up with the CEO of Cincinnati Bell, the city’s local phone company. Jack Cassidy was so impressed with Smith’s dedication and drive that he brought his whole company into the project by promising free cell phones and laptops for every student who was able to consistently maintain a 3.3 GPA! But, here’s the catch: If their GPA dipped below a 3.3, they had to give them back.
“You know how many cell phones and laptops we’ve taken back in nine years? Zero,” Cassidy told reporters.
Additionally, Cassidy encourages his employees to tutor at the school an average of two to three hours a week during their work day. Even though they are still expected to get all of their work done, in spite of the tutoring, he claims that the tutoring energizes his employees because they are doing things they wouldn’t normally do during their workday. Cassidy claims they do an even better job when they return to work.
And how does Smith feel about this voluntary tutoring by Bell employees? He believes that it was the tutors, and not the technology, which had the greatest impact on the students at Taft. “Here is one more person willing to take some time out of their schedule to give us one more dose of love,” Smith said.
When Cassidy was asked what made him get involved in this project with a school that was clearly failing, he remarked that his motto is “Go big or stay home.” He went on to explain, “Why connect with the best? They’re already the best. But, if you can move the needle at all, at the worst place, imagine what you can do at the best place.”
So, has the needle moved? Oh yes! It definitely has. Here are some staggering statistics from a once-failing school: As I told you yesterday, ten years ago the graduation rate at Taft was at an all-time low of 18%. Today, 95% of the students graduate. They have been rated a school of excellence as a result of their state achievement test scores. And, here is the most staggering fact of all: Over the past nine years, Smith boasts that all of their students passed all five parts of the OGT! Wow!
Amazingly, the school which used to be the eye-sore of Cincinnati is now attracting transfer students. Kenny Fowler is one of those students. He transferred to Taft from one of the city’s top schools. Why did he do it? “It wasn’t until I peeked into a class where one of the students was reading his essay, and he said he enjoyed a ‘plethora’ of things,” said Fowler. “And I was like, what does that mean? They were high-fiving each other and everything,”
Kenny is a straight A student at Taft now, and his mother, who didn’t want him attending this school at first, is now a believer. “The school made just a phenomenal, a drastic change in his life and I’m just grateful,” she said.
How fitting that the once dilapidated, old building has been replaced with a new $18.8 million high school, which will open in the spring. And the teachers and students joke that in their new schools, the clocks will work.
A school turned around by the commitment of a principal who believes, “You have to look at these children like they’re the most important part of your life. I can teach you how to be a good teacher. I can’t teach you how to care.”
And yet, you did just that. Your teachers caught your fever, your love for the students you serve, and you have changed them as much as you have changed the students at Taft.
And, you changed me, too. I was so inspired by this story because it reminded me of why I got into teaching in the first place. It is so easy to get inundated by the negatives in education: parental complaints, administrative demands, all of the paperwork, and the dreaded test prep, to name a few. Today, I entered my classroom with a new attitude and a new purpose; to personally and purposefully touch the lives of each of my students, to encourage them and let them know I believe in their ability to succeed, and to use that belief as a catalyst to motivate them to higher levels.
And, just like Anthony Smith, I am excited by the prospect of making advances in our classroom, “one child at a time.”