What makes the turnaround noteworthy is that it took nearly a decade. This work is not magic. Principal Anthony Smith did it by building relationships, going door to door in the community asking for residents’ support. He also didn’t fire any teachers, but sat down with each one to hear how he or she could do better. He has rebuilt the school culture, surrounding students with adults, role models, and support. He has woven study time into after-school sports programs. He serves breakfast and lunch and wants to add dinner.
Mr. Smith has partnered with regional communications company Cincinnati Bell. Students with strong GPAs get cellphones and laptops plus their homes wired for Internet access. He’s also built a tutoring program with the company in which Bell employees tutor students on company time. Sure, this has helped with test scores, but it has also fostered relationships between students and adults. One pregnant teen who went into labor called her tutor first. Cincinnati Bell chief executive officer Jack Cassidy is so involved that every Taft student has his cellphone number. And, yes, kids call.
Smith wasn’t looking to please policymakers or simply meet high-stakes testing goals. “My covenant was with the community, not necessarily the board of education,” he told me. He is not “bringing to scale” a turnaround model or clever education idea. He is simply taking care of his kids. The test scores followed.