Preparatory Academy in Jamestown, NC Promises A Bright Future

Dr. Marrissa Dick | November 14th, 2018
Dr. Michelle Johnson & students (Photos by Still Shots Photography)

Dr. Michelle Johnson & students (Photos by Still Shots Photography)

What happens to a dream deferred? The prolific Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes asked that question in protest of racial injustice. Decades later, injustice continues to exist, and two local leaders have decided to do something about it through education. Meet Pastor Tacuma and Dr. Michelle Johnson visionary founders of The College Preparatory Leadership Academy, better known as The Point.

The Point is located in Jamestown, North Carolina, and serves students from pre-kindergarten to high school. Graduates of prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Morehouse and Spelman, respectively, both Tacuma and Michelle have managed to blend their individual schools’ mantras into a transformative charter school that offers solutions to the problems of educational injustice in our country. Some have heard of charter schools but not many people are familiar with what they do for our children. Charter schools are free public schools of choice, meaning that families can choose the school they want their child(ren) to attend. Charter schools operate with freedom from some of the regulations that are imposed upon district schools which means that they are truly able to design your child’s curriculum so academic and emotional transcendence can be realized. Charter schools must maintain a high performance rating in the areas of academic achievement, financial management, and governance, all of which The Point has far exceeded these past seven years. Along with their dedicated staff of 86 employees, an independent charter school board, and 640 children from families in 6 different cities, this husband and wife team have cultivated an educational environment that brings new meaning to “No Child Left Behind.”

Dr. Johnson shares how the initial seed was planted for The Point. She explains, “I was teaching at NC A&T State University and my husband, Tacuma, was pastoring and working in the healthcare industry. On one occasion my 3-year old daughter at the time joined me for one of my college lectures. I recall her little body sitting in the “big girl desk” among freshmen and sophomores. Immediately, I recognized her privilege: to be so young yet destined to be in college or even graduate school one day. With this realization came responsibility. I had to do something so that other children like her could see more and experience more in their education, starting as early as 3 years old.”

One year later, the opportunity arose when North Carolina lifted the cap on charter schools and friends of the Johnsons continued to encourage them to start a school in the High Point-Jamestown area. That was the beginning of turning a dream into reality. Dr. Johnson recalls, “My husband and I prayed about it, first. We believe you must be called to do something like this. So, when it’s ordained the doors will open. In August of 2011 we had all of three months to complete the application, and after getting approved in March of 2012, we had five months to hire licensed teachers, acquire a facility, and enroll students on a limited budget. Around the same time, we were blessed to win a grant that afforded us startup funds. The challenges of starting a charter school are many, but with strong mentors and a capable board, we were able to overcome every obstacle thus confirming that this was clearly a God move.”

Pastor Johnson lauds his wife as an educational genius due to her unique, practical system for combining structure and freedom to bring out the best in every student, no matter their learning style. He says, “This is the real thing here. Educating children is hard work–but in this system, it does work. Children grow here, and that is the bottom line. It works.”

The Johnsons marvel in disbelief when visitors seem surprised that their scholars aren’t running all over the place and that classrooms are not unruly with children with bad attitudes. “It’s a sad commentary,” Dr. Johnson remarks while shaking her head, “when expectations are so low and people don’t see you as you really are, which is royal. We are kings and queens. Every scholar is royal. Every employee is royal. We don’t always act like it, but that doesn’t change how we see and address each other. We will speak it until we see it. When families enroll their scholars at The Point, they are enrolling in a royal culture that happens to be a school. We address our identity first, then we move on to academics.”

At The Point parents can expect their child to be taught by competent and culturally rich educators in an engaging and holistic environment. A charter school has the flexibility to hire licensed and non-licensed teachers. Dr. Johnson uses this flexibility to hire “humble, hungry, and smart” educators who believe in the mission and can see the best in each scholar. Each classroom is organic, and each scholar understands exactly what is expected of him or her. Their teachers are proactive in carrying out the Academy’s mission resulting in clear and measurable outcomes. Their lessons are highly interactive, and students remain engaged in meaningful activities. Dr. Johnson shares, “Because we have amazing teachers, who believe in the mission and vision, our school has received the distinction of being identified in the Top 5% for Growth in the State of North Carolina. We don’t shy away from standardized tests; instead, we prepare our scholars to be successful regardless of the task at hand. Our early education program does an excellent job of preparing our youngest royals with an average of 90% of them scoring proficient in reading and math from kindergarten to second grade. In some cases, whole classes meet or exceed state expectations. Our research indicates that if our students remain with us, if our educators continue to use innovative and exhilarating teaching methods, and if the family adopts the culture, their child not only will be proficient but will have a royal, collegiate-focused mindset within two years. The key, however, is agreement. When the school and the family agree, anything is possible.”

One of the most relevant characteristics about the scholars who attend this Academy is that they are fundamental readers and they possess strong interpersonal communication skills. Currently, the eighth graders are reading, The Other Wes Moore, which was the community read for NC A&T State University freshmen students a few years ago. Many of those 8th graders were third graders at The Point when their teacher challenged them to read excerpts from The Life of Pi. According to Dr. Johnson, “We really stretch our scholars academically. Every scholar is required to always have a book in their possession and to literally be reading that book. We set the bar high. Our books advocate a positive message and have images in them that look like the scholars who are reading them. Recently, high school scholars read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and viewed the movie in a private screening. The entrepreneur’s club read T.D. Jakes’ book SOAR. Middle and high school girls will read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming once it is released this month. What’s great about our charter school is that we can create our own culturally relevant reading lists to encourage critical thinking and self reflection. Furthermore, we are one of the few charter schools that has a fully functioning library with thousands of books that are representative of the population we serve. It’s vitally important for our children to see themselves in a positive light in literature especially since 99% of the population we serve are African American and Hispanic. We are creating a new narrative about education in our community, and reading plays a critical role in the story.”

Pastor Johnson believes that The Point is a place where parents can find comfort in sending their child(ren) because it’s their school of choice. He asserts, “I believe in school choice—until you have a choice, you are not truly free. We understand that one school doesn’t fit all children’s needs and so you should have a choice as to where you want your child to be educated but sometimes that’s difficult simply because of transportation. Another thing parents can appreciate is that if they have more than one child, we can meet every grade level, so parents don’t have to run in opposite directions trying to get from one school to another.”

The Point welcomes visitors and anyone interested in their educational model. Dr. Johnson, when speaking about her school, makes clear that “we aren’t a perfect school, and our mission and philosophy doesn’t fit every family. Similar to the traditional county school system we deal with disgruntled parents, staffing and leadership challenges. Every school has its issues because people have issues. However, for every family who comes to us, we have one goal in mind, to produce future college graduates who are dynamic student leaders with exceptional intelligence and a strong sense of who they are and what they can achieve. That’s our mission.”

What’s on the horizon for The Point? A state-of-the-art athletic center, more classrooms, and an expanded library and computer center. More students will be able to take advantage of the Early High School Program for advanced seventh and eight graders, the College and Career Promise Program, and the arts and media programs. The Point is currently accepting lottery applications for 2019. Apply before the January 31st deadline, so your family can join a community of Royal Families at The Point: College Preparatory and Leadership Academy.

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