“It is a challenge, but we will address it and turn it around,” Dye said. “We working to improve morale, we’re looking at test scores and where we need to implement RTI (Response to Intervention). We’re tracking the students that need help, and getting them what they need. Progress reports are going out Monday, and we have a good idea of who needs help. We’re trying to stay ahead now and be proactive.”
Guidance Counselor Amy Smith said the school’s stigma may be short-lived anyway. “If the state ever releases the formula that we’re supposed to measure up to, Mr. Moten, Ms. Dye and I all believe we will be able to test off next year. Our tests scores were good enough the last two years, but it’s a three year average, so we need another good year. We’re one of only seven schools in the state that can do that.”
Moten says his goal is to decrease disciplinary actions by 20 percent, and he will accomplish that in part by getting to know them. “The most important thing is that we care about these kids. We’re from this community and we’re invested in it. We care.”
“We all chose to be here,” Smith added.
This is particularly true of Dye, who is not only from Talladega but started as an instructional assistant in the city system before working her way up to teacher, assistant principal at Ellis, assistant principal at Talladega High and now to her current position. Moten was educated in the Talladega County system.
“I’ve got a great faculty here,” Dye said. “And the parent-teacher organization has been very active and eager, planning fundraisers and awards for teachers. I really want to compliment them and let them know we appreciate what they are doing to make the school better. They have a lot of energy.”
“Parents were actually calling me about the PTO,” she added. “We had about 20 parents at the first meeting, which is a very good turnout."
Moten said he is relying on the positive behavioral support program, a national program with the “whole goal of setting expectations, targeting outcomes and achieving them.”
Perhaps the most popular aspect of the program are the Tiger Pride tickets, which are given out as rewards both for good behavior and for academic improvements. Students who have been awarded tickets will sometimes run downstairs to announce it personally to Dye and Moten. Ticket winners for the week are entered into a prize drawing every Friday, and the top six are treated to a VIP lunch.
“You need to make them feel good about themselves,” Dye said. “Self-esteem at this age is critical. It determines how they treat others and how well they do. Kids this age want to please you, and you need to give them the opportunity to do that.”
Moten was also complementary of the previous administration at the school for laying down the foundations and infrastructure for the policies being put into place this year. “We’re taking it to the next level,” he said. “But we’ve got to rally the troops and get everyone on the same page first. Also, the community support has been really awesome.”
Ellis students will also have some new opportunities to learn through direct experience, including a group that will visit Washington, D.C. in March. Cong. Mike Rogers recently visited the school and took questions from students.
“All the research shows that exposing students to an environment helps them learn,” Moten said
Talladega City Schools Superintendent Doug Campbell said, “I believe we need to focus on the requirements of the new state accountability act, focusing on the criteria we will be judged on. We’ll be reviewing instruction and discipline, and making a top-down laundry list to check off and make sure we’ve got all our bases covered. The school has assured me that they are looking at the data and taking a data-driven approach. We also want to accentuate the positive, and demonstrate to the public and our students themselves that we can rise to the occasion. The district is ready to assist in any way deemed necessary or appropriate. And of course the school is also served by federal funding, which also provides access to resources that can help accomplish goals and objectives.”
Campbell added that “Really, what’s going on here is not any different than what’s going on at any junior high school in the area or the state. We have a great team in place here, and we’ve got a winning approach. Students will benefit from that, and will perform as expected. They can compete with any junior high school in Alabama.”
He said, “We have to focus on the positive aspects. This is a good school, and we have to sustain and maintain that while fighting a myth. If we can get all the talent we have here in Talladega on board, we can do that.”
Contact Chris Norwood at email@example.com