A Principal's View of 'No Child Left Behind'

What sort of impact has the No Child Left Behind Act had on one high school in Baltimore? Tajah Gross, principal of Northwestern High, talks with Steve Inskeep.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

To learn more about now No Child Left Behind is working in one school, we've reached Tajah Gross. She is the principal of Northwestern High School in Baltimore, Maryland.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. TAJAH GROSS (Principal, Northwestern High School, Baltimore): Thank you.

INSKEEP: What kind of a school is Northwestern?

Ms. GROSS: Northwestern is a wonderful place to be. We have a number of academy pathways that we offer students here at this school. In addition to the traditional high school graduation requirements, we do have AJ ROTC programs. We have a public relations and communications academy, a law academy. So we're very excited about some of the opportunities that we have to offer students here at Northwestern High School.

INSKEEP: I guess these are urban students from the city of Baltimore?

Ms. GROSS: Yes.

INSKEEP: And how would describe them in general?

Ms. GROSS: We have some very committed students to learning. Many of our students come with a number of challenges, particularly in the area of reading and math. And so it's been one of our challenges to insure that we have highly-qualified teachers, and we have the right kind of courses and student support structures so that we could begin to bring students to standards to meet the No Child Left Behind Act.

INSKEEP: For five years now, the No Child Left Behind Law has required all schools to pay special attention to disadvantaged kids. And it puts pressure on your school to make sure that their scores improve, that their achievement improves. Has the federal law caused you to do things that you would not otherwise have done?

Ms. GROSS: I think what the law has helped us to do is to have a more laser focus on making sure that the programs that are in place in schools are really serving the purpose that they need to serve. And as a result of No Child Left Behind, as a result of the fact that Northwestern is a school under restructuring, because we do realize that we have not met AYP…

INSKEEP: Let me just stop you for a second. What's AYP?

Ms. GROSS: Adequate yearly progress. Basically, as a part of No Child Left Behind, we're expected to meet proficiency in reading and math by the year 2013 or 14.

INSKEEP: Oh, so over the last five years, you've not been making adequate yearly progress to get to this high standard you've supposed to have reached several years from now.

Ms. GROSS: Yes. And so, as a part of No Child Left Behind, there is a process where the school will go into a year one of needs improvement, a year two of needs improvement. Then there's a restructuring process, and then so on and so forth. So we're currently in the reform process. We are going to be bringing new opportunities. We're going to be bringing in new programs, new services. So that's what we're looking at now.

This reform piece is really going to help us go back and realign our resources and help us to sustain what we need to do with students, to increase the student achievement.

INSKEEP: Is the No Child Left Behind law providing with added resources to match the kind of demands that you're getting under this law?

Ms. GROSS: We could never match the number of demands that we have. We have support systems in place so that we can do the best that we can to meet the mandate.

INSKEEP: Now, just before this interview started, you mentioned that everybody - or many people, anyway - are testing in the school this week. And these are tests connected to the No Child Left Behind Law?

Ms. GROSS: Yes, these are the High School Assessments.

INSKEEP: Are students and teachers ever like sports fans in the playoffs at a time like this? Oh, I don't know if we're going to make it. Oh, I hope we can win it this time.

Ms. GROSS: Well, I think that everyone has a spirit that we want students to do well in this school. And so, students have to know that the adults in this building have a vested interest in them. And that's the attitude that we project to our students.

INSKEEP: Tajah Gross, thanks for speaking with us.

Ms. GROSS: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: She is the principal of Northwestern High School in Baltimore. And I want to mention that in the coming weeks, NPR's Larry Abramson is going to have more reports from Northwestern High.

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