Why is ‘change’ a thing to be feared? Is it that people think matters will only grow worse with change? Or perhaps, do people believe that change in the end will conjure insignificant results? Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Jennings School District in St. Louis, met with some opposition to her ideas for change, but in the end many parents have become grateful for it.
In 2010, the Jennings School District was at risk of being taken over by the state. In April 2012, Tiffany Anderson became superintendent of about 3,000 students, more than 90 percent of whom were eligible to receive free or reduced-priced lunches. They needed change and Dr. Anderson was willing to think outside the box. According to Education Week, Dr. Anderson began with setting up a food pantry of “fresh vegetables, canned foods, multigrain bread, and pasta” to meet the needs of local families.
Several other initiatives were spearheaded by Dr. Anderson to encourage parental engagement in their child’s education according to the Huffington Post. As a way of removing the barriers she encountered when trying to get parents involved, Dr. Anderson installed washers and dryers in every one of her district’s schools as a way “for parents to do a load of laundry for free in exchange for an hour of volunteer work at the school”. Dr. Anderson believes that poverty is not an excuse for an underperforming school; instead she takes stumbling blocks and turns them into opportunities. In addition, she understands the importance of investing in her students’ futures and that is why her priorities have included encouraging students to take action and become leaders in their communities. With this in mind, she began a “student advisory council that allows student input on district policies; instituted meetings with the local police to discuss crime and collaborative efforts; and made a commitment that at least 30 percent of the district’s employees will be alumni and residents”. Dr. Anderson uses everything opportunity as a learning experience, including the Ferguson incident. When students wanted to hold protests, Dr. Anderson arranged for local police to meet with students to “address their concerns about policing within the community”.
This is just the tip of the iceberg highlighting only a few of the successful changes Dr. Anderson has instituted over the past three years. Above all, she understands the importance of relationships. “No significant learning can really occur without a strong relationship—in a classroom, in a district, in a school”. Before Dr. Anderson embarked on making changes within the school and community, she met with parents, police, local officials, and the teachers’ union to define what revisions needed to be made.
She has also successfully tackled the district’s finances, going from a deficit in her first year in office to creating a surplus of $500,000 last year. With finances straightened out, Dr. Anderson is now setting her focus on obtaining full accreditation for her entire district. As a matter of fact, she has “hired teachers who had mastered their content areas; accelerated the curriculum; and created a specialized college-preparatory academy, where a select group of 150 students attend classes six days a week, 11 months a year, and will graduate with a high school diploma and associate degree at the same time.”
Dr. Anderson once stated, “I think our only barriers are our mindsets”. How often do we limit ourselves from the possibilities that we think are beyond our reach, but are in actuality only an arm’s length away? One of my favorite and most inspirational quotes is by Steve Jobs. “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do.” If we aspire to do great things, with hard work and ambition, communities will flourish and lives will be changed.
Thank you Dr. Anderson for breaking down the barriers and never giving up!