Locust Fork High School–Success in the Making

Locust Fork High School–Success in the Making
By: Tammy Dunn, Vice President of Academic Affairs
Photo Credits: Melissa Crook, Executive Assistant

A person does not have to be an education researcher to know that there is much disagreement around how we measure success in our schools. At A+ College Ready, we analyze the student data from our schools, interview teachers and administrators, observe classroom instructional practice, etc. What kind of story does each of these metrics tell? Which is the most reliable metric of success or is it a combination of all of these?

While the answer to the question posed above differs based upon who you ask, there is one thing upon which we can all agree, when students are given the opportunity and support to learn and achieve at higher levels, that is SUCCESS.

That success was personified as I had the opportunity to visit Locust Fork High School on April 17. Locust Fork High School (LFHS), located in rural Blount County with just over 500 students in grades 7 – 12, is in its first year of the A+ College Ready program. In summer 2017, LFHS math, science, English and social studies teachers in grades 6 – 12 attended four days of training to empower them to raise academic expectations in the school and support students to achieve at higher levels. In 2017-18, LFHS offered advanced placement classes for the first time. The school is currently offering AP Language and Composition, AP Biology, AP Statistics, AP U. S. History and AP Government and Politics, an addition of five courses in a single year!

A+ College Ready found out that AP students at the school were meeting at the local Jack’s restaurant to study but that sometimes Jack’s closed before they were finished with their study session. As a result, a group of Locust Fork Ambassadors/AP Students, with support from the media center specialist Ms. Grindl Weldon, began hosting a Coffee Shop at the high school to raise money for a “study space” in the library that students could access with supervision from school staff. Each Wednesday and Friday morning, these AP students sell speciality coffees and save the proceeds for their dedicated study space. This year alone they have been able to purchase the sofa seen in the photos. There is a dream and a plan to expand the space and to add more student study-friendly furniture and fixtures. Certainly, we can all agree that students working to raise money for a space to study for rigorous coursework is a metric of SUCCESS!

Mr. Tommy Smitherman is the principal of the school and the driving force behind the increase in rigor in the school. He has nothing but compliments for his faculty members who have stepped up to the challenge of raising expectations for themselves and their students. He also says the effort is impacting the community. “The parents’ expectations for teachers have risen; I now get calls about academics and not just athletics.” He continued by saying that the parents in their community are very proud of what they are trying to do. He also commented that at a recent district-wide principals’ meeting hosted at LFHS, his colleagues commented that the school was simply not the same place it used to be–in a positive way! “Many of our kids have bought in hook, line and sinker!”

Mr. Smitherman wanted me to hear from the most important people in the school, the students. I had the pleasure to meet Carla Herrera, who is in pre-AP English 10. Carla told me that her English class was “very well taught” and that she was most proud of now being able to write a good formal essay. She is very excited to sign up for AP Language and Composition next year and feels prepared to take on advanced placement coursework.

L. to R., Carley Clayton, Ethan Cato, Alana Colafrancesco, Tammy Dunn

I also had the pleasure of talking with three members of the senior class who will just have one year’s benefit of the school’s new menu of rigorous coursework. Alana Colafrancesco is currently taking AP Language and Biology, while Ethan Cato and Carley Clayton are both taking AP Language, Biology, Stats and Government. I talked with these students about how they had benefited from being in an advanced placement course their senior year. Alana said that it was the first time the she had really been challenged. Carley commented that the AP coursework had helped her to develop strong study habits and taught her how to work hard. Ethan told me that he had really learned to think critically because of the demands of AP.

Interestingly, Alana is a school cheerleader and will graduate not only with AP credits, but also with a credential from the school’s Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program. This is a perfect example of how students can participate in rigorous academic coursework and take advantage of career technical education offerings.

Carley and Alana will go to UAB next fall and Ethan is planning to attend the University of Alabama. When asked what they would tell underclassmen in regard to the new offerings at Locust Fork High School some of their advice was to always work hard to better yourself and to take advantage of all of the classes that are now available at the school. As I was leaving, Alana told me that she did not have the opportunity to take AP Calculus, but that she was happy that her younger brother would have that chance because of the changes at Locust Fork.

In the 2018-19 school year, Locust Fork High School will add AP Literature and Composition, AP Chemistry and AP Computer Science Principles. Mr. Smitherman told me that students in his zip code are just as smart as students anywhere and that he was doing everything possible to foster that intelligence so that his students will have opportunities for bright futures after high school.
Mr. Smitherman said he would welcome any donations from people who would want to support these students’ efforts.