What a difference a year — and more than 1,000 students less — has made for Scott County High School.
“When we had the first classroom change, students were like, ‘This is it?’,” Principal Meocha Williams said. “I can actually move and get from Point A to Point B.”
For years, nearly 3,000 students attended SCHS, which was about 1,500 students over capacity.
After years of wrangling and discussions to build a second high school, voters approved a tax increase and Great Crossing High School was finally built and opened this year. The county’s high school student population was essentially divided between the two schools.
It’s a change staff and students have noticed.
“I think right off the top the biggest difference is the culture and climate,” Williams said. “We have had the opportunity as a staff to really get to know each and every one of our kids and build those positive relationships with them.
“We have done things with a lot of intentionality. It is making sure we are a welcoming, happy place putting the customer first. We really want this to be a community school where parents and students alike can come in and be welcomed and be a part of it.”
Williams is in her second year as principal at SCHS, and she says she can tell a difference for herself. The first year had some bumps in the road, and numerous fights and disciplinary issues marred the year. Adding to the challenges last year was a school board decision to eliminate the Ninth Grade School and move those students directly into the high school population.
“At times it was overwhelming last year,” Williams said. “There were things you wanted to do, but couldn’t. It wasn’t just sheer numbers but combining cultures of putting the ninth grade school with the high school and teachers not knowing each other and trying to bridge the gap.
“This year, I had the opportunity to build a new administration of assistant principals and counselors alike. And I’m proud to say up to this point, zero fights,” while crossing her fingers.
“It’s easier to do when you have a smaller population,” she said. “You know every single kid in the hallway. There’s not a moment when I don’t know or recognize the kids in the hallway.”
There are several different initiatives the school has undertaken to improve the culture and climate. There is the LINK program that paired 10 freshmen with two upperclassmen to ensure new students have a connection at the school and karaoke on Fridays in the cafeteria where students are encouraging and clapping for their peers. Several new student groups have formed because they are empowered to be the change they want to see. A new PTSA has been formed, and on Oct. 29, the school will be open for trick or treating and exhibiting artwork from students.
“Every other month, we have talked about having different content areas featured at an event,” Williams said. “So on Oct. 29, previews of the play will be performed, along with student ensembles. The yearbook staff has put two covers together and the community will help select the winning cover.”
If students have a concern over something they have seen, they are reporting the concerns immediately to an adult which speaks volumes about feeling safe with the relationships with the adults and they know it will be taken care of in a timely manner, the principal said.
It is those kind of relationships that Williams kept coming back to.
“The teachers are seeing the difference in the kids. We talk about the motto of being passionate and engaged and I feel everyone has owned that this year,” she said. “The teachers want to be here and want to help them learn at high levels. And they want to be more involved beyond teaching. They want to be sponsors. There’s a lot more staff involvement in after school events.”
She believes the new-found excitement will translate to better test scores.
“We already have 200 students’ transition ready. That is over half of our senior class,” Williams said. “We’ve put more power behind CARD time because teachers can look at the data and identify the strategies they need to pursue in real time and not waiting till the assessment or grading period.”
SCHS has just started scratching the surface of how successful it can be, Williams said.
“I knew when I took this position, I knew the potential this school had. I told staff from the beginning, this is a three-year plan,” she said. “The first year will be a challenge, and the second will be better, but the third year is when it takes off. This is the second year.
“Not everything was perfect last year, but that is OK, because part of being the best version of yourself is failing forward and learning and growing from it. I think people will see how strong a school and staff we have.”