I first visited Tushka Schools in April 2011, after a tornado destroyed the district’s main school building. It was a heartbreaking scene – much of the building was in ruin, many students and teachers were displaced form their homes, and district staff worried about how they would finish the school year.
I visited the Atoka County district again about a year ago, and I made my third trip last week. I can hardly express how thrilled I am with the fortitude of the students, teachers and administrators in Tushka.
This is a district with nearly 70 percent of students qualifying for free- and reduced-priced meals. They’ve been working in portable buildings since the tornado while a new school building is constructed nearby. Yet, they managed to get A’s on their A-F report cards for each school – elementary, middle and high school and for the district.
They have a no-excuses philosophy in Tushka. They expect a lot from their teachers and their students, and they get a big return.
High School Principal Matt Simpson said all of his students asked about the report card grades before they were released. They asked about their end-of-instruction (EOIs) scores as well.
“They’re competitive,” he said. “They wanted to know whether or not we got all A’s and that everyone passed their EOIs. They wanted those bragging rights.”
I also had a chance to meet with third-grade teacher Dian Hogan. She said if all her students score proficient on the third-grade reading test this year it will be the fourth year in a row she’s achieved a 100-percent pass rate.
So what makes Tushka so special? They have the same funding issues as every other district in the state. They have the same issues recruiting and retaining the best teachers as any other district. They have the same struggles with poverty.
For one thing, the community and former graduates work hard to ensure the success of the district.
On the day of my recent visit, one of the former graduates of the school was grading land that was donated by another alum. A new playground was in place thanks to the work of community volunteers.
But the biggest factor to success, I would pose, is attitude.
Mr. Simpson said he expects his students to achieve.
“If everybody does that all the way from Kindergarten on, the students will expect that as well,” he said. “Whatever you expect is probably what you’re going to get.”
Mr. Simpson said last year his students won the state academic bowl. This year, they recently won regionals, so there’s hope of another state win.
He said some small school districts might take the attitude that they are just going to compete against the larger schools with no expectation of taking away the grand prize.
“We go to win,” he said. “We’re not just taking a bus ride.”
It’s that kind of attitude that will serve these students well into their future. When they move on to college or career, they will be prepared. They will become that next generation of citizens to give back to their community to ensure continued future success.
I wish everyone a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.