Taft High School Soars to Success
Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati seemed to be a high school doomed with a bleak future. With a graduation rate of 18 percent, Taft held a reputation full of crime, and failing students. That was ten years ago. Principal Anthony Smith and a committed group of teachers and community members have managed to turn Taft’s story around.
Anthony Smith was appointed Principal of Taft 9 years ago, and immediately began to access the dismal situation. To combat the failing school, Smith entertained the idea of getting rid of all the teachers. His mind was changed when he realized that the teachers were not unmotivated, but under supported and working hard in the wrong direction. A plan of action was developed, including daily meetings to identify problems in the school.
Student performance was evaluated on a case by case basis, and plans for improvement were designed individually. This allowed for a “hands on” approach tailored to each student. “Kids know whether or not you’re genuine, or if you really care about them,” said Kelly Rozell, an English teacher at Taft.
The Taft turn-around took an interesting twist when a community partnership was developed. Jack Cassidy, CEO of the local phone company Cincinnati Bell, was inspired by Smith’s dedication to his students. To encourage Taft’s students, Cassidy offered free phones and laptop computers to all students maintaining a 3.3 GPA or higher. An inability to keep grades up would require students to give back the freebies. Students took the deal seriously, and zero electronics have been given back in the last 9 years.
Cincinnati Bell employees were encouraged to get involved, and began tutoring at the school. Teachers attest that the time dedicated by tutors was for more influential than the electronic incentives. Taft, a mostly black student body, is now out-scoring white schools on standardized tests. The graduation rate has soared to 95%.
Once a school marked by failure, parents are now transferring their students out of affluent schools and into Taft. The turnaround is evident and Taft students are continuing to demonstrate their commitment to success.