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Reeltown focuses on individuals


As he often is, Dr. Tom Cochran was a happy man on a late night in May.  This time, however, his happiness was because, as principal, he had just seen his 11th graduating glass from Reeltown High School march across the staging area and accept their diplomas.  After their names were called, students received their diplomas, had their tassel turned by Dr. Cochran, a quick moment for a smile and picture taken with each student, and the next in line repeated the same steps.

This year’s class was special to him in a lot of ways; his second daughter, Anna, was Salutatorian.  Anna was also one of the members of the 2019 graduating class who finished the year with college credit.  It’s all part of the effort Cochran and his staff seek to accomplish as they focus on the needs of each student who walks in the doors at Reeltown High School.

“More than half of the 2019 graduating class left Reeltown with some level of college credit,” Dr. Cochran said.  “Some are almost finished with their Freshman Year, and that includes academic and technical credit through our Dual Enrollment partnership with Central Alabama Community College.”

It’s all part of the student first approach instilled at the Tallapoosa County school in the southern end of the county.  “We try hard to focus on helping the individual student reach his or her goals, and to do what we can to make sure those happen,” said Cochran.  That includes individualized scheduling through the student’s contact with Counselor Kim Counts, to Grade Level Advisors (GLAs) who work with each student to make sure that students remain on track to reach the goals they have set.  And sometimes, it means a classroom of students a person wouldn’t normally put together, typically reflecting a variety of grade levels in many of the courses.

“That is also part of what we try to do in order to meet the unique needs of each student,” said Cochran. “We are quite fortunate that we have a faculty and staff who are part of the solution, and are willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to assure their students are taken care of, and that they have a chance to excel in their classes.  If excellence isn’t achieved, that is when the GLAs step in to talk with the students, and parents, to determine their needs, and then relate to their teachers and parents if the students need additional help or encouragement.”

While wary that it takes only a couple who don’t reach those goals to skew the results at a small school such as Reeltown, Dr. Cochran tries to contain the small smile that slips out when he thinks about the potential for the reporting scores later this year.  “We work hard for our students, and they, in turn, work hard to succeed,” he said.  “That hard work is reflected in the results the state (State Department of Education) reports to the public.  We are cautiously optimistic that this year’s reports will speak highly of the efforts of our students and our staff.”

“We are proud of those efforts and the scores, and while we know they don’t always tell the complete story, they can most of the time be used as a barometer of the results of the hard work of students and staff at RHS,” said Cochran.  The same can be said for the Top 100 High Schools in Alabama ranking Reeltown High School just received from US News and World Report.  (Another 100 he is proud of is the 100 percent of faculty who are CPR trained, thanks to nurses Angela Cox and Regina Newman!)

The school was also just notified that it has been named one of US News’ “Best” high schools in the country.  “These are honors we don’t take lightly because they reflect highly on the work of our faculty and staff, and the hard working students we have at Reeltown High School,” said Dr. Cochran.  “It’s not our goal, or what we strive for when we begin each year, but it is nice to know that our efforts are working, and also being recognized by a national publication known for its thorough and fair approach in determining its rankings.”

As a Grade 7-12 school, Dr. Cochran and his staff don’t wait until the students get into the high school grades to begin focusing on them, and to also make them a part of their education planning.  It starts on the first day, and for many, much sooner.  The school will be holding a comprehensive Open House for each grade before school starts August 8.

On those nights, parents and students will be taken through a quick run-through of their schedules, and then will have a multitude of stations to progress through in order to take care of the “business” part of school opening.  By taking part in the schedule exercise, parents and students alike will have a clearer understanding of transition processes during the day.

“Each student will begin at a station that addresses a particular area of need,” said Page Cotten, RHS Summer Administrator who is taking the lead on this new approach.  “When a student finishes his or her business say, at the locker rental station, they will move on to the handbook, or parking permit slot, or whatever happens to be next.  That way, the parent and the student will both be aware of the enormity of material the students receive at the first of the year.” 

She said some of the results will be that after school starts, students will not have as many papers to bring from home that normally would have to first be taken home and signed by a parent.  Those steps will remove the need for the additional and extended time students spend in Homeroom, and will save approximately 400 hours of instructional time.

The nights and grades for those Open Houses are: Aug. 1, Seniors; Aug. 5, 7th grade; Aug. 6, 10th and 11th grades; Aug. 7, 8th and 9th grades.

“At a 2A school like ours, to make it the best experience we can for our students, it is essential that we take the approach of trying our best to meet the individual needs of each student,” said Dr. Cochran. “While we can’t be all things to all people, we can be the best possible for our students.”