It is a new year and as I look back on Brighton at this time two years ago, I realize how much our school has improved. I know how much work it has taken and how many people have been involved to make these needed changes. Yet we have a long way to go before we are a school of high quality in all grades.
I am asked almost on a daily basis, "How are things going at Brighton?" I usually answer, "We are making progress, but it is slow and very hard work." I really wish I had the wit to create the perfect answer for this question—to really explain what it is like and why I have a constant ache in my chest for the children.
I mentioned in one of my recent entries that it is not that the children are hard to teach, but many have been through so much. Recently, an eighth grade female student was brought to my attention concerning her lack of effort. Let's call her Tisha. I had already looked at her test scores. On our state assessment, she scored the highest possible, a Level 4 and on the SAT 10, she scored in the 98th percentile. I was asked to talk to her about her declining grades. The teachers indicated Tisha's attitude had changed drastically since last year.
With her test scores in my hand, I called Tisha to our conference room. First, I asked her if she realized she had the highest test scores in Brighton and possibly some of the highest in our district. I asked her how it felt to be so smart and I readily admitted to her, I never scored in the 98th percentile. She beamed as I bragged.
Then I asked her if she was making all A’s. Tisha frowned and said "No!" I asked her about completing her assignments and she shrugged. I could see her visibly closing up on me. Finally, I asked her what she wanted to do and she immediately replied, "Be a doctor." My response to her was she had all the potential to make this happen. I told her if she would keep her grades up and continue to maintain high test scores, colleges would seek her out. She looked at me like "Yeah, right." Our first conversation ended with a thud. She has no hope.
I have to admit to myself how we have failed Tisha. She is in a school with no honors classes, no science lab, and only the most basic curriculum offered. I wonder where would she be if she had been born among the affluent “over the mountain” students who live in Birmingham's exclusive 35223 zip code, rather than in the 35020 zip code of Brighton.
As I ride through Brighton looking at the dilapidated homes, the unkempt cemetery across the street from the school, and (as one of our veteran teachers pointed out to me) too many people sitting on the porch, I too am tempted to lose hope. How can five numbers make such a difference in your destiny? Public schools are supposed to help bridge the zip code gap, but what Tisha gets in our school every day is still continents apart from what is offered in the public schools just 15 minutes away.
What will happen to this bright young girl and the rest of her classmates after they leave our school, where we have had so little to offer in grades 6-8? I am reminded of Ruby Payne’s words in her book Understanding Poverty: "The key to achievement for students from poverty is in creating relationships with them." Establishing relationships is something we can do, but it has to be consistent and intentional. The hard part is trying to truly meet the needs of all the students while increasing our school’s test scores.
My hope is that we will make AYP again this year, and with the sanctions of No Child Left Behind removed, we can concentrate on creating the quality school the children deserve.