GRAD Partnership Rural School Spotlight: Reform, AL

The RSC Team visits with the incredible staff and students of Pickens County High School in Reform, Alabama.

November 21, 2023 |

Recently, the Rural Schools Collaborative Team and GRAD Partnership Intermediaries from the University of West Alabama (UWA) and North State Together (NST) had the opportunity to visit with students and faculty at Pickens County High School in Reform, AL to learn more about their work promoting student success. At the school, the team was welcomed by a group of student ambassadors who had decorated the school’s front steps with a special welcome message.

Pickens County High School's front steps with "Welcome UWA! Home of The Tornadoes" written in chalk.

Pickens County High School serves approximately 300 students in grades 5-12. Principal, Mr. Lee Richardson, and the school’s interventionist, Ms. Tanji Harton, work with other school staff to identify students who are in need of support based on attendance, behavior, course performance, and student connectedness/mental health data. By joining the GRAD Partnership, the school has been able to provide new and fun opportunities to students, such as “student success field trips” for students who are doing well or improving in any one of their key focus areas.

Mr. Richardson and Ms. Harton, both graduates of Pickens County High School themselves, have a deep understanding of their school community and the needs of their students. Mr. Richardson summed up his goals for student success nicely by saying, “we are just trying to help and support them [our students] to get them where they need to be. We are rural, and [we know that] anything we can give them is another advantage.” Mrs. Haley McGee, from the Pickens County School District office, noted that one of the goals at Pickens County is to show students that they can take pride in their place, and that there are “great things going on in Pickens County”.

Group photo (from left to right): Ms. Tanji Harton, Mr. Lee Richardson, Taylor McCabe-Juhnke, Susan Schroth, Savannah Franklund and Annah Rogers.

During our site visit, we had the opportunity to speak not only with school staff, but also with a group of students who have received tailored, strategic interventions from the Pickens County Student Success Team. This diverse group of students shared great insight about the challenges they faced, progress they have made, and goals that they have for the future. The first student we spoke to shared that the intervention services he has been provided this past year have significantly helped him, with Ms. Harton noting that his hard work allowed him to bring his English grade up to a B. Mr. Richardson added that the success of the interventions has been the result of collaboration between not only the interventionist and teacher, but between the school and the student’s parents, stating “we’re just trying to keep the lines of communication open with the parents so that we will know the target points when working with our students”. Another student shared how he had really turned things around this school year, with the support of caring adults at the school.

Two students speaking to Susan Schroth about their improved experience at Pickens County High School.

He no longer skips homework assignments and has been working hard to get his grades up – the result – no more summer school. Mr. Richardson pointed to the complete 180 degree transformation of this student as proof that their student success system is working.

In reflecting on the visit, Dr. Annah Rogers, GRAD Partnership Coordinator for the Black Belt Region, notes “one of the most impressive things about Pickens County High School is their caring staff’s ability to get to the root cause when students begin to flag as in need of assistance in any of their key focus areas.” Whether a student is performing poorly in their English course because they cannot afford the assigned book, or a student is acting out in class because they have mental health needs that are not being met, the staff at Pickens County will work hard to find and remedy the root causes, allowing for effective intervention. The school uses real-time data and their existing supportive student relationships to create effective interventions driven by student-centered mindsets. This is what the GRAD Partnership is all about.

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