What It Takes To Earn The National Blue Ribbon

Meeting Street Schools

When my family was contemplating relocating five years ago, I searched for education roles online and learned about Meeting Street Academy-Spartanburg.  I had never worked or lived in South Carolina.  I had never heard of Meeting Street Schools.  My home, for my childhood and my decade-long career to-date, had always been our northern neighbor.  Born in Elizabeth City, NC and, at that time, teaching special education in the behemoth district known as Charlotte-”Meck”, I was looking for a new home.  Almost instantaneously, I fell in love with the mission of the Meeting Street Mavericks.  The expectations were high, clear, and inspiring.

Five years later, I am so proud to be a Maverick and a member of the school leadership team here.  Five years later, we are hanging the National Blue Ribbon Award in our hallways.  And throughout those five years, we have consistently ranked amongst the best elementary schools in the state, with more than 70% of our students doing reaching and math on grade-level.  

When I joined the team in 2018, I was a special education teacher.  I later became the special education coordinator, and built our program for our kids.  Today, I am the Academic Dean for Pre-K through 2nd grade.  Throughout my time here, I have watched our school grow and evolve into the beacon of excellence that it is today.

So what did it take for MSA-S to earn the National Blue Ribbon award?

It’s actually not an easy question to answer, because it’s so many things all at once.

First, to believe in our mission, that every child from any zip code can achieve at the highest level, means to go beyond the extra mile. It means executing high quality lessons, responding to student data, and supporting social and emotional needs, all while managing a classroom that fosters a positive community.  It means long hours for team members.  It means stressful nights worrying about the best way to serve the most precious beings in the world, our students.

Second, there’s the model of Meeting Street Schools, which means a longer school day and school year, two years of early childhood education, two teachers in a classroom in the early grades, competitive total compensation for our classroom educators, and shared “Paths to Success” values for every child.  It also means two more weeks of professional development, an Academic Dean coaching every teacher, and a ton of high-quality curricular resources.   

From that foundation, the next key ingredient is preparation.  Our days begin with preparing for what lies ahead.  We gather joy, enthusiasm, and love and project it towards our amazing students.  We create an environment that welcomes their presence and reminds them this is a place where they can grow.  All of this starts with planning, and being specific about how we want every detail to look and feel in our school.  When you come visit, you can see that we don’t leave things to chance for our kids.

It also starts by starting each day right.  Teachers and support staff spend the first 30 minutes of every day greeting students and parents, guiding them to class, providing breakfast and solution-seeking any problems that may have arisen during the night.  The day continues with teachers cleaning up breakfast, making sure any notes that have been sent by parents have been read, taking attendance, and implementing an engaging, community building lesson we call “morning work”. 

As leadership staff we provide support.  We are here to get our teachers the resources they need, to assist teachers with implementing the activities to meet a range of needs that can span two to three grade levels in one classroom. This can involve addressing students with severe trauma, behavioral needs, and academic gaps.  And, unlike schools I’ve worked at in the past, Academic Deans are always coaching, coaching, coaching. 

But perhaps the number one reason that Meeting Street Academy-Spartanburg earned a National Blue Ribbon is because of our outstanding teachers and their ability to work with the “whole child”, which includes analyzing different sets of data points.  At MSA-S, data drives everything we do. From the strategies we use in the classroom to the way we communicate with parents, data is collected, analyzed, and interpreted to inform our decisions.  And when we review our students’ data, we do it with an eye towards assets and solutions, not problems.

It’s not easy doing all of the above when time is so precious.  On our campus we don’t waste minutes.  Our students don’t have minutes to waste.  So we work to use our time effectively. We collaborate not just with each other within the building but those in our community.  We swallow our pride when we don’t have the answers and we always strive to do what’s best for our kids. 

Another difference maker at Meeting Street is how much feedback we give and get.  We adjust to the feedback we receive and continuously ask ourselves: “Could this be better?”  “What do we need to do differently?”  That’s our orientation: continuous improvement.

So what does it take to earn the National Blue Ribbon?!?  All of the above, and then some!  But I know that we earned it, and I know that it’s not just talk.  We have the results to back it up.  

It’s really hard to put into words, actually.  It’s what some call “culture”, but what I call “the Meeting Street Way”.  I’m sure there are some schools in my home-state that have the “Meeting Street Magic”, and maybe one day I’ll bottle it and bring it back North.  But until then, I’m such a proud Maverick, so proud of this award, and so happy to call MSA-Spartanburg my home.

 

LaCreshia Matkins

Meeting Street Academy – Spartanburg

 

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