Those words usually don’t go together, but they both fit Troudale County’s Jim B. Satterfield Middle School. SCORE visited the school in October and observed both how the school’s vision and operation reflected their commitment to thoughtful planning and carefully recorded data, and also reflected effusive camaraderie and care. It was a blend of mind and heart.
The tour started with Principal James McCall highlighting the unique challenge of middle school education. Middle school is a difficult place, he explained, there are lots of developmental changes and higher academic and behavioral expectations. At Satterfield Middle, teachers and staff try to strike the right balance between being supportive, but also pushing students take greater responsibility for their actions.
Finding some tables in the school library, Mr. McCall with the help of Director of Schools Clint Satterfield started explaining their school and district vision – essentially a vision of high expectations for all. But vision is at best 50% of the equation, and we – as a group of education advocates – wanted to know, “How did Trousdale put this vision of high expectations into action?”
We made a lot of tough decisions, McCall explained. When he became principal, he knew he wanted passionate educators with a growth mindset and the commitment to teach all students well. It was a high bar and about 75 percent of the school staff changed, but those who remained could focus and move forward on their shared goals.
McCall also realized that if Satterfield’s quality of instruction was going to continue to grow, the school and the district would have to get aggressive about recruiting and retaining teachers, especially since Trousdale is close to wealthier, larger districts. He, along with Dr. Satterfield and other school leaders, developed a plan for recruitment, touting the small-town aspect of Trousdale along with the continuous learning and supportive atmosphere of their schools. Trousdale’s professional development plan for current teachers became a selling point for prospective teachers looking to refine their practice. And Trousdale school leaders also started researching best practices for retaining great teachers, implementing a structure to ensure that great work was being recognized and rewarded.
Just like with teachers, Trousdale school leadership broadly and proactively thinks outside the boundaries of Trousdale County the success of its students. Trousdale County doesn’t have the industry to supply jobs for the majority of its graduates, Dr. Satterfield explained, so they have to think outside of our district. So, Trousdale students in middle school take part of the ACT Explore to help them identify a career field. Then, the school hosts a career fair, so students enter high school with a plan and then, graduate competitive nationally and statewide. This improvement doesn’t just benefit the students, it benefits the entire community. McCall mentioned that school improvements are attracting outside attention and families are starting move to Trousdale specifically for the public school education.
One final word was anchored in my thoughts the SCORE team headed back to Nashville: necessity. As Principal McCall and Superintendent Satterfield talked about high expectations, they didn’t talk about it like it was a bonus or just an extra thing the school was doing, they framed the conversation as doing what was necessary. Insisting on high expectations wasn’t an option, but the only way they could give their students, teachers, and community all they needed to learn and succeed.