Those who work at Tubman Middle School say the much-maligned school has made a tremendous turnaround.
A state employee monitoring their progress agrees.
"There are many, many talented students here and talented teachers," said Amy Wright, a leadership facilitator for the Georgia Department of Education. "I'm very impressed with the instructional quality of this school. I am really encouraged that this school will make tremendous improvements academically."
Tubman Middle has struggled for nine years to make adequate yearly progress. It's one of only 10 Georgia schools to earn this dubious distinction.
But the culture of the historic school on Walton Way has changed, Dr. Wright said, crediting the efforts of Principal Wayne Frazier.
"He has helped build rapport with students. You can tell they respect him," she said. "He tells them all the time he loves them and they respond in kind."
On Wednesday morning, Dr. Frazier strolled down the hall softly singing "I love you" and asking pupils how they felt about him.
"Let me show you what men do," he told a pupil, giving him a hug.
"The children, especially the boys, don't feel comfortable with men hugging them," Dr. Frazier said.
That's changing, he said, just as he's hoping to change the school's reputation. In less than four months at Tubman, he has drilled into the pupils how to behave. With a little prodding, they hug him back and tell him they love him as well.
The hallways are considerably different than the ones he inherited. Superintendent Dana Bedden reassigned him to the school in January, asking him to instill order and halt the number of teachers leaving because of the way pupils treated them.
"These are the same people who had the reputation of being out of control, mean, unwilling to learn," Dr. Frazier said.
The new principal has also made strides in getting the community involved, Dr. Wright said. For instance, a bus went into the neighborhoods to draw people to an event at the school. So many people participated that the bus had to make three trips.
"The more children see the number of people who care about their success, the more they will feel inspired to achieve," she said.
Changes at Tubman are expected to continue. Next year, sixth-graders zoned to attend there will remain at their elementary schools, board member Helen Minchew said.
The following year could see even greater changes. Officials are considering the best use of the facility, which could house the alternative school, county orchestra or evening school.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TIMELINE OF CHANGE AT TUBMAN A LOOK AT WHAT'S HAPPENED AT TUBMAN MIDDLE IN THE PAST YEAR:
MAY 10: First-year Principal Thomas Norris (right) is assigned to Tubman Middle School as part of state-mandated restructuring.
SUMMER: State monitors begin working with Tubman.
JAN. 10: Wayne Frazier (right) is transferred from Bungalow Road Alternative School to Tubman to relieve Mr. Norris.
JAN. 24: State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox (left) visits Tubman and says she is hopeful of the school's turnaround.
APRIL 21-25: State standardized tests are administered. These tests are used to determine whether a school makes adequate yearly progress.