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From Struggling School to Stellar School: Martin T. Reid's School Turn-Around Tale
By Elaina Hundley
In 2009, Martin T. Reid joined Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts. Armed with a strong educational background, a B.S. from Florida A&M University, M.S. from Nova Southeastern University and an Ed. S. from The University of Miami, plus years of experience teaching and leading as a principal, Mr. Reid was ready for any challenge that Mays, a tough urban school with inner city problems, could send his way. What he didn’t realize was that working at Mays would soon become a career and community altering experience for him, his teachers, and his students. I spent some time speaking with MSA’s 2016 National Principal of the Year to get the inside scoop on what a school turnaround takes and how Mays successfully utilized community partnerships to elevate their program. For Mr. Reid, several components contributed to success at the Florida 6-12 conservatory. Key ingredients in Mays’ transformation include: patience, T.A.P.S (teachers, ancillary staff, parents, and students), a strong arts integration program supported through community partnerships, and a creative marketing and re-branding strategy to reverse Mays’ unsavory reputation.
History: Mays has a Complicated Past
When Principal Reid first started at Arthur & Polly Mays, the school carried the stigma of having a poor behavioral and academic reputation. It had one of the core components of a successful school - great teachers with a desire to strengthen it, but was still teetering between a C and D rating each year. The school also had an entirely different structure: it was a middle school. Previously, during times of segregation, the school operated as a high school that served black students from across a 30 mile radius. It wasn’t until later that it was converted into a middle school. In order to compromise between the school’s original alumni who had been wanting Mays to return to its high school status for years, the school expanded to include 6th grade students through 12th grade students. To accomplish this change, Mr. Reid was tasked with writing a concept paper detailing the structure of the program, the need for arts integration, and resources necessary to successfully make the change. From there, Mr. Reid set these plans and this research into action.
Change Takes Time, Patience, and Wise Prioritization
When he embarked on the journey to take Mays from struggling school to award-winning conservatory, Mr. Reid knew that success would take time. His first focus was on the basics. He ensured that Mays had clean and functional facilities, worked on improving student behavioral issues, achieving academic success, and began creating a family feeling among staff and students. For example, he says that when he first got to Mays students would wait outside in front of the school before school started. This was damaging to the external image of the school because the minimally supervised students were apt to get into trouble in that hour or so before they ventured into class. Even when they were not getting into trouble their presence lingering outside the building appeared disorganized. This was an easy change he made immediately. “We have to control what leaves our school, we only want positive things to leave.” Reid says. At Mays, behavioral issues plagued the student population, but once administrators were able to limit the number of behavioral incidents (and opportunities for behavioral incidents), it became easier to lay the groundwork for academic achievement.
Reid knew that though he could see some of the measurable change occurring within the walls of his school and though he knew he’d slowed the bad news leaving the school, sustaining that change and transforming the reputation of Mays in the community required more work. Lasting change and high achievement were not attained without what Mr. Reid refers to as T.A.P.S. For Martin Reid, elevating academics and improving the school’s image required a motivated team of (T)teachers, a devoted army of (A) ancillary staff eager to provide quality, personalized customer service to current and prospective students, (P)parents who bought into the plan and who were ready to rally for the cause of turning around their child’s school, and finally, (S)students. Reid made a point to engage students less eager to learn by sparking their excitement and creativity through the new innovative curriculum and also sought out new students who already possessed a passion for the arts. At Mays, it was also important to reward students and staff for each small victory along their path to overall improvement.
Reid says, “It literally took 3-5 years to re-brand our school.” Beyond the basics, he refers to their marketing strategy, “We re-branded everything associated with Mays. We got a new logo. If there was a parade, we were in it! We went to high-profile events to make sure people were seeing us and noticing that we were doing things top-notch.” He knew they were turning a corner when parents began sharing examples of the rich, arts-infused educational experiences their students received at Mays with their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. It became clear they had made a reversal, instead of the word on the street about Mays being negative, parents were reporting first hand accounts of positive outcomes for their children at Mays.
Vilified to Validated: Community Partnerships Improve Programs and Boost Credibility
In addition to focusing on solid improvements in behavior and academics, Reid shifted not only the structure at Mays but also implemented new theme-based curriculum. By partnering with the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music under the leadership of Dean Shelly Berg, Arthur & Polly Mays transitioned into a full Conservatory. Reid says that, “The conservatory created a Renaissance, if you will, for our school.” Modelled after the New World School of the Arts, a magnet high school and college in downtown Miami, Mays utilized their partnership with UM to expand resources, promote an equitable education for all students, and build credibility for the school. Instead of remaining tied to its formerly poor reputation, the Mays of today is associated with a strong college-level music program. The partnership was not only a way to improve curriculum and provide more student resources but also a vehicle through which to earn recognition and successfully rebrand.
Arthur & Polly Mays’ impeccable use of community partnerships also helped to strongly align them with MSA’s five pillars, particularly Parent and Community Partnerships. Martin T. Reid’s leadership, the diligence of his staff, parents, and students, their commitment to a strong arts theme, and strategic use of community partnerships ultimately lead the school to earn MSA’s merit award of excellence in 2014 and merit award of distinction in both 2015 and 2016. Their partnership provides students with free field trips, workshops, and private lessons, as well as some of the instruments and equipment the school was lacking prior to becoming a conservatory.
As the principal of Arthur & Polly Mays, Mr. Reid takes a number of steps every day to maintain the progress made at the conservatory over the last seven years. Not only does he make it a point to engage with his students daily and ensure that he knows them and that they know him, but he also engages regularly with his teachers and staff. Finally, he makes it clear that this sort of transformational work within a school takes time, persistence, consistent dedication, and patience. Mr. Reid believes that there is no such thing as a sustainable “microwave” school, schools cannot be changed in a lasting way in only one year. For Mr. Reid, transformation took 3-5 years. It took five years before Mays won their first MSA award. On their journey, small victories were the building blocks to huge victories and total metamorphosis did not occur without rigorous work and challenges along the way.
Learn more about Arthur & Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts by visiting their website.
Mr. Reid will be a panelist next month at MSA's 2016 Technical Training Assistance Conference in Washington, DC.
Posted September 2016