William T. Tilden Middle School opened its doors in 1926, but this past year has been almost a new beginning.
Principal Jonas Crenshaw Jr. came to Tilden last year and had the task of not only bringing up test scores, but raising morale that had not only eroded in the building but in the surrounding neighborhood. Community residents complained about the Tilden premises being littered by trash and about unruly students. Mississippi transplant Crenshaw did not get overwhelmed, but went to work toward restoring Tilden’s reputation across all fronts.
“It was a year of observation and becoming acclimated to the school district and to this community and this neighborhood, and through that year, I identified some things that I’d like to see improved and some goals, and so we’ve worked very tirelessly over the summer to try and put a lot of things in place,” Crenshaw said.
“I think the parents, the students, the community have all responded well, and we’re really taking off and doing some great things this year.”
Crenshaw placed an emphasis on Team Tilden, one community achieving global success. That spirit has been fostered by the introduction of C.A.R.E. bucks. Students are rewarded with play money for demonstrating citizenship, attitude, respect and effort. He also navigated his way around budget cuts and the issues that plagued the School District of Philadelphia.
“The reality is, wherever you are, there will always be challenges and there will always be cycles of difficulty, but I think the thing that you have to do is stay focused on the work that has to be done at your place,” he said.
“You have to stay in your lane, because our work is still very important. I have a very serious task of not only educating students, but working with middle students, and for that age group where they are developing their personalities,” Crenshaw said.
“When you look at the research that says students [who] are not successful by their eighth-grade year have a higher likelihood of dropping out, then that’s a serious task for me, and so I can’t get distracted by a lot of the things that are taking place and a lot of political things,” he said.
“But the job that I have is to make sure that my kids and my teachers are happy about coming here and doing the job that has to be done. So, we kind of build an invisible bubble around the school and we drive through that bubble every morning and we keep our blinders on and we take care of things here.”
Tilden’s resurgence has been aided by the efforts of the faculty, especially the returning Nancy Golden. The assistant principal is back for her second tour of duty.
“We’re going up,” she said. “We’re moving up. We’re not in a downward spiral. We’re jut moving and growing and the whole building is just becoming a better place, and as a result of that, the community sees it, because when I go to the store to get my lunch, they’ll say to me, ‘I love that nice sign on the corner,’ ‘I love the flowers, ‘the kids are nicer,’ ‘What’s going on over there?’ When people see the leader doing certain things like planting, working on Sundays, giving of themselves, you have no other choice but to follow that leadership.”
Golden also credited the faculty’s ability to relate to the students.
“The middle school kid, they’re very savvy and they’re very big on respect,” she said. “They are growing into young adults and they can discern when you are being patronizing to them. Just be honest and open. Expect greatness with them, but you also have to be consistent with your rules and expectations.”
Jodan Floyd is beginning her 10th year as a teacher at Tilden; even at nine months pregnant, she was still making her presence felt in the classroom. She teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grades. She found seventh-graders to be the most challenging.
“They’re sort of in that in-between stage. They’re not babies, but they’re not eighth-graders yet. I’ve always found that my eighth-graders are my favorite group of children because they’re so much more independent. You can have conversations with them and they’re getting ready to go into high school, and what you say to them has a real impact,” she said. “I can talk to the seventh-grade class about how important it is to do well this year, but it’s not going to hit them until later in the year or next year.”
Keita Doe felt a special connection to the school where she has taught at since 1998.
“I’m married into this school,” she said. “I’ve been here for so long and all the kids and the families in the neighborhood, they all know me so I don’t have to start every year by starting over again. I’ve taught many of these children’s siblings and cousins.”
David Turner, sixth-grade English and science teacher, taught at Tilden six years ago. He returned this year. He shared his hopes for the school year.
“I think we are headed in the right direction,” Turner said. “My hope is that academically, we will make A.Y.P. (Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act) and socially, that they will grow up into mature young men young women that they already are.”
Parents were also in full praise of the marked difference that has taken place.
“I’ve seen patience, and patience goes a long way with teenage kids,” Pamela Mack Edwards said.