Thomas Academy celebrates success, prepares for changes

August 16, 2018 

The Catherine V. Powell Educational Center at Thomas Academy gymnasium was filled with excited students, parents, guardians ,and staff Monday evening, Aug. 6, during the back-to- school open house.

“We are ready to begin another great year at Thomas Academy,” said Dr. Geraldine Bradshaw, academy director. “We are building on the successes of the past to continue toward a promising future.”

The 2017-2018 academic year was a top performance year for the public charter school located on the campus of Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina in Lake Waccamaw.

“We had an incredible year,” Bradshaw said. “We had 12 students in the Career College Promise pathway who earned nine college credits or more toward their four-year college transfer degree. Two students graduated with a certified nursing assistant certification and can begin work as a nursing assistant now, but both have chosen to continue their education to receive their R.N.”

The year ended with a graduation ceremony that included a record-setting 19 graduates, with 14 scholarships awarded to graduates.
“One of our graduates is attending the University of Maryland and another is attending Western Carolina University,” said Vice President for Education at B&GH, Dr. Tom Simmons. “Our WCU student just came back for a visit to share that she earned straight A’s in her summer courses, giving her a jump start on her college career.”

School of Opportunity
The graduates were not the only students who attained high levels of success during the previous academic year. Using end-of-year test scores along with IXL math software and IGNINITA software to monitor the students, the teachers and administrators were able to use data-driven techniques to provide personalized educational plans for all the students.

“Thomas Academy is a school of opportunity,” said Bradshaw. “As director, I look at each student individually and assist in putting a plan in place to assist all needs. Every transcript, every report card is looked at personally by me. My school counselor’s background has come in handy with assisting the student and parent in planning their future. With the data provided through all these programs, our staff will be able to differentiate instruction to best serve each individual student.”

That individualized attention has made a significant impact in the lives of Lisa Kelly’s daughters.

“To look at where they came from to where they are now is amazing,” Kelly said of her daughters. “When I brought them to Thomas Academy, I sat down with Doc (Simmons) and talked about all the struggles they were having in school. They had no math foundations. They didn’t want to go to school. They didn’t want to show me their report cards because no matter how hard they tried, they could not succeed.”

According to Kelly, Thomas Academy provided her daughters with the foundational support they needed to not only succeed in school, but to thrive.

“The teachers and staff helped my children set goals that they strive to reach and are proud of what they accomplish,” Kelly said. “My daughters became honor roll students with a foundation that will last a lifetime. My older daughter graduated a year early with a scholarship, and my younger daughter is now starting her plans for college. I cannot sing the praises of Thomas Academy enough.”

Kelly is not the only parent who has seen the significant benefit for a child at Thomas Academy.

“My daughter hated going to school,” said Michael Hopkins. “She got passing grades, but she fought us every day, finding every excuse she could not to go to school.”

When his daughter started as a middle school student at Thomas Academy last year, all of that changed.

“She wanted to be in school every day,” he shared. “She was excited about her education for the first time since second grade. There were no more tears or arguments. She was able to earn straight A’s all year and even had a countdown going for the start of this year.”

Standards of Success
Maintaining a focus on success in this day and age requires the continuous use of data for evaluation. One of the tools used by the school to measure achievement is the Education Value-Added Assessment System, or EVAAS, scores provided by the state. EVAAS is a statistical analysis of student assessment data, such as the EOG and EOC assessments, over time. It provides districts and their schools with growth data to consider, in addition to achievement data. This lens of measuring student learning provides educators with information to help ensure they are meeting the academic needs of individual students.

“Using the EVAAS model, we have shown an increase in our test scores in both the middle school and high school,” Bradshaw said. “Overall test scores for the middle school increased by 15 points collectively. Our high school overall test scores increased by 8 points, showing growth in all but one academic area. Because we have this information, we know that we have to address that issue through early intervention during the coming academic year.”

Part of that intervention is coming through the implementation of a Multi-Tiered-Support System (MTSS Model) to identify and intervene on behalf of those students who are showing a lack of growth in academics.

“We will use the MTSS Model both during and after school,” Bradshaw said. “We are so grateful for the grant support that has enabled us to offer an afterschool program that will provide strong interventions for academic success.”

Leadership
Yet with all the technological support, student success still hinges on the support received from the staff.

“All of our teachers are either certified or lateral entry in the area they teach,” said Simmons. “Our goal is to provide our students with a top quality education from qualified teachers who truly care about their success. Our teachers are truly dedicated educators who want to ensure that every student moves beyond their expectations.”

That commitment includes the expansion of the regular school day by 30 minutes this year.

“This will provide us with an additional two and a half hours per week with our students in the classroom,” said Bradshaw. “Our focus during that additional time each day is on remediation.”

The teachers have also enthusiastically supported the after school tutoring options.

“The statement I have heard over and over from the staff is that it is about focusing on student success,” said Bradshaw. “If it means that the teachers are expanding their hours to provide the needed interventions to bring these children to the next level, that is what they are going to do.”

These interventions are no surprise for a school that prides itself on a policy that does not allow the students to fail.

“Our no-fail, no-expel policy is something that truly sets us apart,” said Simmons. “Many of our students come to us having been given up on by other educational systems. We work with them to make sure they know that we truly care about their education and their success as an individual.”

Expanded Opportunities
Providing individualized education also requires ongoing expansion of the opportunities available to the students.

“We are introducing a new horsemanship course this year that will allow our students to learn about horse care by working directly with horses under a qualified instructor,” said Simmons. “We are also continuing our piano lab course that was introduced to great success last year. This allows interested students to learn piano in the classroom during the course of the academic day.”

Thomas Academy has also strengthened a partnership with Southeastern Community College that is providing expanded opportunities for students.

“Southeastern Community College offered a free summer course to our rising seniors in life skills,” Bradshaw said. “The course included topics like how to dress for success, how to interview and a career inventory. All participants received a certification from the course. A SCC instructor came to Thomas Academy to offer the program as a pilot effort. SCC has offered to have an instructor on campus to present another course in money management to our juniors and seniors for the 2018-2019 academic year.”

That pilot effort was just the start of the expanded partnership.

“We now have an articulation agreement with SCC to provide access to the Work Force Continuing Education Pathways through College and Career Promise,” Bradshaw said. “We are the first school in Columbus County to have this opportunity for our students. All these courses are free to students.

“This pathway provides our junior and senior students with the opportunity to take a one-semester course where they will be trained in Working Smart, manufacturing operations, forklift operations, CPR, and AED,” she continued. “After completion of this pathway, they will have earned a certification in manufacturing operations and a job interview with a local manufacturing business. This is important for many reasons. Local manufacturing businesses are looking for employees and the number of interested employees is dwindling. For our children, this will provide an opportunity to get jobs starting at $15 per hour.”

The agreement also includes opportunities for those students looking to explore a four-year college degree after graduation.
“We have already used College Board Accuplacer to test our seniors in English, and three students proved college ready for English,” Bradshaw said. “The math testing will take place this fall. We have many four-year and career pathway candidates as we prepare our students for life outside Thomas Academy.”

Beyond Academics
While academics are the primary focus of Thomas Academy, the motto of connection, compassion, and character expands into other areas of life.

“Our after-school programs aren’t just about remediation,” Bradshaw said. “We are providing club and team opportunities, as well.”

The current list of after-school clubs and teams include chess club, game club, basketball club, book club, math club, step-team, cheer team, band team and arts team.

“Athletic opportunities are also important to the development of our youth,” said Simmons. “We added boys and girls cross country to our offerings last year. We’ve had boys and girls basketball for several years, with the boys making appearances in the state playoffs each of the past two seasons.”

Community Outreach
Students at the school also participate in a variety of community outreach and service projects. Over the past year, students collected items to be donated to the Lake Waccamaw Food Ministry as well as prepared 23 boxes for Operation Christmas Child.

“It is important to us that our students learn to be a part of their community,” said Simmons. “Like our motto emphasizes: You need connection.”
 
About Thomas Academy
Thomas Academy is a North Carolina Public Charter School that educates middle and high school students. Located on the Lake Waccamaw campus of Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina, the academy provides a tailored academic experience to students who are oftentimes in need of a more specialized, integrated curriculum. Thomas Academy was founded on personalization in education, unique offerings and education through purposeful design. Enrollment is open to any student in grades six through 12.