Not ‘white trash,’ ‘dropouts’
Richardson said both students and the school are often labeled bad by members of the community because of the rough nature of some of the students.
“You’ve got to understand,” he said, “when these students come in they come in having been told they’re failures, nobodies, white trash, stupid and ignorant. They’ve been told they are dropouts. And we try to take that child and make them believe in themselves again.”
The derogatory label “white trash” is something both Tilson and King are familiar with, they said.
“I hear it a lot from teachers, students, everyone,” Tilson said.
“I’ve had teachers at the high schools tell me there wasn’t a point in me trying,” King said. “They said I’d never pass a test. I was an outcast.”
Teachers like that ought to think twice, Richardson said.
Kevin Tackett, a teacher at Mountain Creek, said believing in students — even the ones who are violent or hard to deal with — is “very important.”
“I had a student last year say that I was the first one that didn’t call them a loser,” Tackett said. “These students just need to see that the system remains the same, the process remains the same: positive behavior is rewarded and negative behavior isn’t tolerated.”
Tackett says emphasizing respect, along with the changes in policy, have fostered “massive behavior improvement.”
It’s also fostered better learning, Richardson said of the 60 to 70 students he sees annually (though the official student body count is 110, including a night school program held elsewhere). The school has shown improvement in the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), a reading, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies exam taken by middle-graders.
Richardson said scores have gone from 76 percent of students passing to 91 percent.
“We see the effects (of a positive environment),” Richardson said, crediting former principal Paula Martin who “laid much of the groundwork.”
Richardson said he believes Mountain Creek is better off with the changes and he hopes to visit the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga soon. He said he’s promised his students a free field trip there if the school goes 30 days without a suspension.