For seeing the whole student
Educator and Jennings Public Schools superintendent Tiffany Anderson has devoted her career to improving academic outcomes in urban communities and underserved environments. As racial turmoil roiled Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, students in Jennings were agitating for a protest of their own. Instead of a walkout, Anderson organized an early-morning drive-in: Buses transported hundreds of students across town, where they marched to the local police station and presented a list of demands that were agreed upon, all before the first school bell. It was just one example of the lengths she has gone to make sure that students arrive at school ready to learn. (Her prior initiatives include a student-run food bank for hungry families and a shelter for homeless students.) When she took over as superintendent in poverty-laden Jennings in 2012, the district was facing a $2 million budget deficit and met only 57% of state standards that left the district only partially accredited. Her unconventional solution: making her schools the center of the community, with a strategy reminiscent of the Harlem Children’s Zone. She provided food, clothing, and even housing to students, while raising expectations through weekly assessments for students, additional assessments for new teachers, Saturday school, and a college-prep curriculum. At the same time, she closed dwindling schools and cut administrative expenses. In 2015, 93% of students graduated on time. Now Anderson is poised to take charge of the Topeka public schools, a district with similar challenges and a checkered history as the losing defendant in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that forced the desegregation of public schools in 1954.