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NC Principal Begs to Differ with Those Who Say Her School is “Failing”

Erica Jordan-Thomas, a Columbus, OH native who is currently Principal at Ranson IB Middle School in  Charlotte NC wrote a forceful blog post that Medium published arguing against those who call her school a “Failure”. In the post she described all of the accomplishments of her school, accomplishments that she wished she could have shared with someone who made the determination that her school should be listed among those “failing”. But, the title of her post underscores her frustration: “You said we failed… but you never visited my school…”. Ms. Jordan-Thomas writes about her school being called a “failure”:

What is most perplexing about the use of this word is that I have consistently heard it from writers, reporters, community members, and elected officials who have never visited my school. They have never had lunch with my scholars, served as a reading buddy or classroom speaker, donated a uniform or supplies, introduced a new community partner, or sent me an email asking how everything is going and how they can help. And for the record, showing up to a school unannounced looking for what’s wrong doesn’t count as a visit in my book…

The accomplishments at Ms. Jordan-Thomas’ school are impressive: she has deployed her staff in imaginative ways, created partnerships with feeder schools to help mitigate the fact that her school has the highest transience rate in the city, “…met and exceeded growth in Language Arts at every grade level and… been ranked #2 in the district the past two years for our growth in 6–8 Language Arts”, and thanks to supplemental funding provided by generous donors been able to offer rich staff development activities for her teachers and lots of supplemental reading materials for her students. And based on Ms. Jordan-Thomas’ description, she has achieved something that is very difficult to do in a high poverty school like hers: she has built community.

But in NC, the accomplishments Ms. Jordan-Thomas described are inconsequential. Test scores are all that count… and test scores are wonderful if you are trying to operate “efficiently” because no one from the State Department of Education has to visit a school to determine if test scores are adequate: all you need is a spreadsheet. The politicians in NC, like those in most states, prefer to measure what is easy instead of what is important. Ms. Jordan-Thomas concludes her post with this:

So let me be clear. My key point isn’t to not hold us accountable. Our kids are too important for you not to..…so yes, look at our data! But don’t look at it from the sidelines and give us labels. Ask us questions, learn what’s working, and be a critical friend to support us in the areas where we need help.

Do we have it all figured out? Absolutely not. Are we satisfied with our current proficiency? Absolutely not. Are we the same schools that we were five years ago? Absolutely not.

If you would have visited our schools you would see that we are not failing….we are actually flying.

But figuring out if Ranson IB Middle School is operating differently than it was five years ago would require some kind of visit from a team of independent educators or State Department officials… and it’s so much easier (and cheaper) to use an off-the-shelf test. Who needs a critical friend when a test score can render judgment from afar.

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