By Grayson Lee Maxwell
Rutherford County Schools
When you walk into Thurman Francis Arts Academy, you will be greeted not only by the Principal, Jeff McCann, but by the sounds of stringed instruments, dancing, and kids talking excitedly about what their next class is.
It’s true the school is unique in its offerings of a curriculum enriched by the arts. Not only that, but the school has now been recognized by the United States Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School — a school which has closed achievement gaps and excelled academically among top schools in the nation.
“Our focus on the arts is a big part of what we do here, and the fact that our kids get the opportunity to take a lot of different courses in the arts,” Principal McCann said. “We’re all about meeting the needs of the whole child, which we think is a component of becoming a high performing school.”
Though Thurman Francis certainly excels in the arts, students are selectively admitted and must qualify academically to attend. When students graduate, they pursue many competitive high school level programs, such as Central Magnet School.
Students have an option to participate in many different extracurricular arts programs. Thurman Francis is one of the only schools to offer a string option for band, for example. There’s also a dance studio.
“Number one, I think it’s motivational. It gets kids excited to come to school, and they know they must do their best in academic classes if they are to continue participating in all the extracurricular stuff — most which is arts focused,” McCann said. “It’s motivational. Students who study music, but also arts in general, tend to perform better … particularly on math assessments. So, we think it helps bolster their academic performance in core subjects.”
The National Blue Ribbon Award was awarded to Thurman Francis because of its great improvement and closure of performance gaps. With a success rate in the 90th percentile, even during the pandemic, the school has found a sweet spot in combining rigorous curriculum and flavorful arts to achieve academic success.
What else makes Thurman Francis so successful?
“Here we have a great group of supportive parents,” said McCann. “They work hard to support the school. They raise a lot of money, put on fun events for the kids. We know how academically rigorous it is. Kids need to have fun too, and our parents are just a huge part of that with their support.”
With a solid support base from parents, a unique spectrum of artistic extracurriculars and a powerhouse of an academic curriculum, Thurman Francis stands tall among schools across the nation. Now, with the Blue Ribbon Award, they are standing that much taller.