Tucked away behind the large Bellevue Middle building at the edge of Central Gardens, Bruce Elementary bills itself as the “hidden gem of Midtown.” With an energetic, young principal, Archie Moss, Jr., in his first year at the helm of the school, the school seems well-poised to grow both the size of the school and the achievement level of its student body. The school earned a 5 out of 5 score for test score growth in 2015 (the last time growth scores were published).
A notable piece of Bruce’s past is that three of the “Memphis 13” — the African-American students who integrated Memphis City Schools 55 years ago — attended Bruce. The school is celebrating that history on Monday, October 3, at 1 pm, with a special program honoring the Memphis 13 (open to the public). One of the Memphis 13 is even flying in from New York for the occasion. In one classroom we visited, 5th graders were working on a writing prompt about school integration in preparation for Monday’s celebration.
Enrollment at Bruce jumped by almost 70 students this year to 383, thanks in no small part to Principal Moss’ community outreach efforts. The school has a sizable international population, including many Hispanic and Asian students, and Moss is proud of how well these students do at Bruce. His hope is to continue increasing diversity at the school in the years to come.
Moss is also looking to grow community participation in the school as another one of his big goals. Several nearby churches already send regular volunteers to tutor students every week in the school’s dedicated Team Read tutoring room. (For more info about Team Read at Bruce or another school, click here.)
Principal Moss describes his approach to academics as a “full court press,” and says that every adult in the building is bought in to that mission. The PE teacher pulls small groups for math when not leading his own class, and the librarian does the same with struggling readers. “It’s going to take everyone,” Moss says.
And that includes parents. Bruce Elementary is one of nine SCS schools piloting the national Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT) model, which will invite parents to the school three times per year for teacher-led trainings on supporting and setting goals for their students. Teachers will follow up with a meeting with individual parents that goes deeper than the typical parent-teacher conference.
Each classroom at Bruce is named after a college or university, and many classroom doors are decorated with the colors of those schools. The students will spend time throughout the year researching their college, and even careers they can study at the school. All of this is a part of establishing a college-going college early for Bruce’s students.
New at Bruce this year is the departmentalization of grades 2-5, meaning that in each grade, teachers specialize in one subject and teach all of the students in the grade that subject. While Moss admits that it was a big shift for some parents, who are used to knowing one teacher well, he feels that the departmentalization process has been smooth and has allowed teachers to go more in-depth in their subject. Still, he plans to keep an eye on the data to make sure that the more frequent student transitions are resulting in higher achievement.
Bruce Elementary has stepped up its game in terms of non-academics this year as well, adding the Gentlemen’s League and Girls in Pearls clubs to develop confidence and leadership skills in students. Students in these clubs receive lots of incentives for everything from attendance to learning multiplication facts. The school bills itself as an “Arts in Action” school, providing opportunities for students in the visual and performing arts, including strings for 4th and 5th graders, chorus, dance team, and step team. The school has entire room dedicated as an art gallery showcasing student work. Outside the school, The Kitchen Community has installed a learning garden. Moss praises his teachers for volunteering to lead all of these extra initiatives.
Sharunda Payne, who went to Bruce Elementary as a child, has sent both of her children to the school — her oldest is now in the honors track at Bellevue Middle and her youngest is a third grader at Bruce). She also started working as the school’s financial secretary three years ago. Ms. Payne says that the best part of the school is the dedication that all the teachers show to the students. “The teachers love what they do, and they love all the students,” she said.