Ridge Road Middle got a bad rap from the start.
The school opened near the fast-growing University City area in 2009, just as hundreds of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees were being laid off during the economic recession. About half of the school’s 1,400 students are low-income, and more than 80 percent are minorities.
“There were a lot of negative things said about the school before the doors even opened,” Principal Jametta Martin-Tanner said. “Even after that time, there was the buzz in the community about this not being a great school, for no reason at all.”
Since then, test scores have steadily risen and parents have poured in to volunteer. For the past two years, Ridge Road Middle has exceeded the state’s academic performance growth standards.
Those efforts have earned Martin-Tanner the distinction of being the 2014-15 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools principal of the year. The award was celebrated at a pep rally Thursday in a packed gymnasium.
“It’s taken some years, but we’ve done it, changed the perception,” Martin-Tanner said. “We have students from all different backgrounds, but they’re all the same. We’ve created a family-type atmosphere where we take care of each other, regardless.”
She is the north Charlotte school’s first principal. She previously had been principal at Hawthorne High when it was an alternative school and is a 17-year veteran of CMS. Before that, she was an assistant principal at Hopewell High, Vance High and J.M. Alexander Middle.
Martin-Tanner was selected from among nine finalists.
“Look at where Ridge has come over the last three or four years. It’s tremendous gains, from the kids and the teachers and everybody else, and that starts with the leadership,” said North Learning Community Superintendent Matthew Hayes. “Jametta sets that standard, and everybody follows.”
He said she’s also been influential in helping other middle schools. Representatives from another school were on Ridge Road’s campus Thursday to learn teaching tips from the math team. It’s been a common arrangement in the past few years.
“Some of those have seen some phenomenal growth themselves based on the practices that she’s put in place,” Hayes said.
Colleagues describe Martin-Tanner as humble and supportive – and quick to defer credit to the school’s staff.
Sixth-grade social studies teacher Joshua Howard said he fell ill over the summer and had a three-week hospital stay. As soon as Martin-Tanner found out, she rushed to visit him.
“She cares about you on a personal level,” Howard said. “It’s a joy to come to work every day. I don’t know that at most places you can say that you look forward to going to work and you look forward to seeing your boss.”
She’s also left a lasting impression on students from earlier in her career. Carrie Cook, who graduated from Vance High in 2002, came to the pep rally Thursday to celebrate. She said Martin-Tanner got to know her as assistant principal and still kept in touch. Martin-Tanner even serves on the board for Cook’s female leadership nonprofit, EmpowHERment.
“She made an investment in me,” Cook said. “She’s still a mentor for me.”
Once skeptical parents now seem to have been won over by Ridge Road Middle and Martin-Tanner.
Karen Peterson said she initially wavered about sending her daughter to the school rather than trying to get into a charter. She’d heard rumors about bullying or small violent incidents on campus. Now she’s president of the PTSA.
“People who moved to charter schools have really re-thought their decision because Ridge is surpassing even their performance,” Peterson said. “Now going to Ridge is a positive thing.
“They’re going in the right direction, absolutely.”