Tiffany Anderson: Transforming Schools and Communities
By Yanick Rice Lamb
Washers, dryers, food and books — these are just a few things in Tiffany Anderson’s massive toolbox to help children learn. Anderson truly believes that any child can excel, regardless of his or her circumstances. The key is to minimize the barriers that can get in the way.
That’s been her approach as superintendent in turning around school districts throughout the country — most notably in Jennings, Missouri, a city of 15,000 residents sandwiched between St. Louis and Ferguson.
“The impact of the investment in mental, physical and social public health care for families in high poverty schools has a direct impact on parental school involvement and student performance,” Anderson said.
Since growling stomachs make it hard to concentrate, the district began offering free lunch for all students and a food pantry for their families. To offset the lack of a local library and limited recreation facilities, schools are open until 6 p.m. weekdays with dinner and until noon on Saturdays. Anderson also partnered with a local university to provide on-site pediatric and mental health services.
University banners hanging from ceilings and teacher credentials outside their classrooms helped to reinforce the emphasis on literacy and higher education. College prep classes, an associates degree program and mentoring have contributed to 100 percent placement rate of graduates in a postsecondary institution or job.
Some of their parents and neighbors also received employment assistance, occasionally landing jobs with the district. And they could use washers and dryers at schools in exchange for volunteering or taking advantage of personal enrichment opportunities.
With buy-in from students, educators, residents and local businesses, Anderson was able to achieve state accreditation for a once underperforming system that met only 57 percent of standards as recently as 2012.
“As a native of St. Louis, I returned to work in Jennings School District to demonstrate that a complete turnaround model in a school district could impact and transform an entire community,” Anderson said.
Now she’s trying to replicate this success in her new job in Topeka, Kansas, over the school system that was part of Brown vs. Board of Education.
Anderson has already launched literacy initiatives there, set up a mobile food pantry and partnered with universities for more athletic trainers, who will also provide free physicals. “We are committed to fully supporting every child and their academic success,” she said.
As in Jennings, she’s laced up her sneakers and hit the streets with a stop sign in hand to connect with her students coming and going.
Yanick Rice Lamb is co-founder and publisher of Fierce