Mobile magnet school prepares students for life
Lagniappe. Gabriel Tynes. July 19, 2017.

The Nappie Award-winning Best Public School offers an accelerated college preparatory curriculum to more than 800 students in grades 6-8 and was recognized in 1996 and 2011 as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. The Mobile County Public School System touts Phillips Preparatory Middle School as a college preparatory school emphasizing communication skills, accelerated math and foreign languages.

Principal Brenda Hartzog, who has been at the school for 17 years, says students commute from all over Mobile County to attend accelerated classes in a process that promotes thinking globally and applying classroom skills to life experiences.

“The students who come to us, they come to us by choice,” Hartzog said. “Our motto is ‘Excellence by Choice.’”

Hartzog noted the school is currently pursuing designation as an International Baccalaureate Middle School, a status it hopes to achieve by the end of the year.

“We have foreign languages — we offer French and Spanish — and we also have, which is part of the IB theme, different design classes. For example, one may be STEM based, another may be stage production or fashion, another one may be technolgy like hands-on robotics. So we have that and of course all of our students take Algebra I. Our students are able to receive two high school credits, one in foreign language and one in Algebra I.”

Hartzog also noted Phillips has a welcoming atmosphere with an experienced teaching staff.

“We have 45 teachers and historically a very high retention rate,” Hartzog said. “Our teachers are often with us for years but this year, unfortunately, we had some retirements, so we are welcoming nine new teachers coming aboard who are being trained now.”

Hartzog gave additional credit to the level of engagement from parents and families, who often send more than one of their children to the school.

“Former students return and tell us how well prepared they were, not just for high school but for college and beyond. Those who have gone through our program, many credit what they learned here at Phillips for helping them be as successful as they are.”

Hartzog said because of the school’s magnet draw, students are often separated when they leave for high school, so Phillips hosts a “senior reunion” every year. Teachers and administrators also solicit advice from students, parents and other schools on how to improve.

“We were selected No. 42 in the nation a few years ago through the National Association of Educators program and about that same time, we received our second Blue Ribbon. … We’re going for a third one! We come in pretty high in the state with test scores.”

Ultimately, Hartzog said, “It’s a great place to be. … I think we do a very good job serving this community and we do it because we love what we do and we will continue to educate the students and prepare them not just for high school and not just for college, but for their entire life.”

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