Rising above the failing stigma

Principal Nikita Reed

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Melrose Elementary School has a new leader with new ideas. Principal Nikita Reed plans on changing not only the school grade, but also the school’s culture.

Her personal philosophy begins with the humanity, care and concern she possesses for all students.

“The single greatest means for improving our children’s plight in life is through equipping them with the building blocks of education. Reading, writing and social and emotional development are conventional blocks that lead to unconventional academic success,” said Reed, who believes that all children can learn given quality instruction, sufficient time on task and high expectations.

Melrose, Reed, featuredStressing the need for parental and community engagement, she feels that they are critical investments in turning around a school.

“An investment from community partners accelerates a school’s culture change, which is required to shift attitudes and academic outcomes,” Reed averred.

Her position on parental engagement is simple: communication is the key.

“Parents must be informed often.”

This year, there will be one day in the week identified for all communication. Each little scholar will be given an agenda book sent home weekly that includes a calendar, daily homework assignments, graded papers, information flyers and monthly events and activities.

A weekly school electronic messenger will be forwarded to parents on Sundays by 6 p.m.  Monthly parent meetings, workshops on the third Thursday of each month, school marquee messages and monthly thank you tokens for parents will out for entrusting their child to Melrose. Teachers will call five parents a week with positive student moments.

Parents will also receive information shared on the website of their community partners, churches and businesses.  They will be provided with an annual calendar of events and activities.

In addition to the Parent Teacher Association and Student Advisory Council, whose monthly meetings will engage parents, the administration will greet parents daily at student arrival and dismissal.

Reed is not an educator who has only read about poverty or has taken a workshop on how to deal with poverty stricken families; it was a reality she lived daily growing up. Raised in a rural community in Independence, Miss., Reed lived below the federal poverty line along with many of her rural classmates. And when she became a teacher, many of the students sitting in her classroom were considered below level.

“Many of those students arrived in Kindergarten 14 months behind academically.  Many of the students I have served have been two and three grade levels behind their national average academically,” she said.

Being a single mother of a young, black male has also acquainted her with the struggles of a student underserved by failures within urban education.  Over the past 26 years of her life she has been exhaustively given to students supported within an urban education environment.

“Through many positions ranging from teacher to principal, I have been a custodian of the holistic needs of underserved inner city youth,” Reed stated.

She counts among her successes:

• Providing clothing and uniforms for students without proper school attire

• Added intervention hours into the school day to move the academic needle for students who needed reinforcement in specific areas

• Implemented “STEMtastic” Saturdays into a school calendar to prepare students for 21 century careers in science, technology, engineering and math

• Added innovative assessments and lesson plans design through the Achievement Network to align teaching and learning to state standards

“In the midst of my qualifications and successes, my focus has always remained on preserving the culture of the school and community in which I served,” she insisted.

For the coming school year, Reed has big things in store for her educators. They will have ongoing embedded professional development around the four pillars in the Transformation Zone:

A) Teaching and Learning (Data Driven Instruction, Learning Sciences International- Tracking Scholars learning, Eureka Math, Independent Reading Level Assessment and Unpacking the Florida State Standards etc.)

B) Creating a Positive School Culture and Climate (Responsive Classroom, Book Studies/Jigsaw: “Essential Conversations,” “Growth Mindset,” “Teach like a Champion 2.0)” just to name a few

C) Systems and Operations (Process/Protocols referring scholars to the gifted program, academic, social, emotional concerns to the school Student Services Department and Classroom management)

D) Aligned Staff (Walkthroughs, Dr. Robert Marzano’s observation/ evaluation tool and School-wide Expectations)

Those are just a few examples behind each pillar in the Transformation Zone she is implementing. The data collected from the students, teacher observations and walkthrough data will drive the professional development for each teacher.

Reed’s approach to discipline?

“The plan we have in place is teaching and learning at all times. Teachers will create a peaceful environment and plan powerful learning experiences, which guide scholars to success daily,” she said.

Melrose has created a response to intervention Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) approach for all students.

• Tier I scholars (all students) will receive high quality and research based instruction on teaching students to care (Responsive Classroom Program).

• Tier II scholars will receive targeted intervention if they are not making adequate progress with their behavior. Melrose will provide an intensive support to match their needs on the basis of levels of behavior and rates of progress.

• Tier III students will receive individualized, intensive interventions that target the students’ behavior challenges.

Reed feels that she and her staff can turn Melrose around. She has experience in leading several turnaround schools and thinks Melrose is no different.

“My belief that all children can learn in concert with recognized best practices supports my high expectations that students will be successfully educated day one at Melrose,” she said.

In Reed’s Melrose, teachers will be supported by consistent observations, constructive feedback aligned to the work and effective professional development.  Parents will be supported with tools and experiences inspiring their engagement in their child’s education and students will be supported by caring teachers, high expectations and a high quality instructional program.

“Melrose’s turnaround success began at my conception as its instructional leader. My energy, efforts and enthusiasm has already had a profound effect on many community leaders, Melrose teachers and parents,” she stated.

Instead of calling Melrose a “Failure Factor,” the idea the school’s administration is now promoting is that it is a “Success Factory.”

“It will deliver within its own mechanism the power to be successful in educating our scholars,” she said.

Melrose’s administration is data driven.  They will regularly assess the data and develop a metric for the community to measure the growth and proficiency of each student they serve.

With hard work come big rewards. The administration has developed a tiered approach for recognizing their pint-sized scholars for achievement, citizenship, attendance and behavior.

They had their inaugural community breakfast to share their students’ academic and non-academic data. The Melrose faith-based community, corporate and community partners have pledged to provide support for all four areas in the tiered approach.

Scholars’ rewards include, but are not limited to, monthly field trips, daily and weekly recognition certificates and a culminating field trip to Disney World!

Throughout her 26 years as an educator, Reed has been a teacher, librarian, instructional facilitator, assistant principal and principal. She comes to Melrose from Memphis Academy of Health Sciences, where she was the principal for two years. She said it was a pleasure to work with students and parents “who were so willing to rise above the constraints of low expectations and failing schools.”

Reed loves most about working in education is the sense of gratitude from the scholars, parents, community members and teachers as they embrace and understand the importance of teaching and learning.

“It brings me great joy seeing the smiling faces of all stakeholders as scholars are recipients of the academic and non-academic achievement of a focused teaching and learning process,” she concluded.

One Reply to “Rising above the failing stigma”

  1. Ronald Wade says:

    What a great hope for the scholars of Melrose; let us join this effort, for our culture demands it.

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