Never Give Up: Tipton County Adult Education program revamped to enrich residences ready for second chance

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

There is a sign posted along Highway 51 across from Brighton High School that could point thousands in the right direction. 

Not traffic related, the billboard for the Tipton County Schools HiSET/Adult Education is just one of the ways TCS Director of Adult Education Thomas Hayes is spreading his message. 

“We realize a lot of people have not received an education from high school in Tipton County,” he acknowledged. “Also the Shelby County area right there in Millington, a lot of Millington residents don’t want to drive all the way into Memphis to attend classes. 

“We are a closer location and we give them an opportunity to graduate from high school,” Hayes continued. “To be able change not only that one life, but it will change the family’s trajectory and reach a level of success they never had.”

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The mission of Tipton County School Adult Education is to instill hope, inspire confidence and prepare students to be productive and successful. Hayes said the effort of the team at TCS Adult Education is to provide second chances for those ages 16-24 and pour back into the workforce targeting the future Blue Oval City (Ford plant) in Stanton. 

“In Tipton County we have the potential to serve more than 4,000 people in the area who do not have a high school diploma,” said Haley Kelly, Student Services Coordinator Adult Education. “TCAT is about to offer new classes for the new Ford plant that is coming up. That will be huge for our community.”

Along with Kelly on the staff at the TCS Adult Education are Tabatha Dotson (Drummonds Adult Education instructor),  Stacey Polk (Munford Adult Education instructor), Charles Mitchell (Covington Adult Education instructor), Dawn Plymouth (Munford Adult Education instructor), Erica Snipes (Adult Education instructor) and LeTicia Taylor (HiSET/Adult Education coach).

Taylor has spent 18 years in education from the elementary level to middle and high school students. The Millington Central High School graduate returned back to the Memphis area in 2017 and gravitated toward her current position.

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“God told me to come here to Tipton County Schools,” she said. “I was actually in Nashville for 18 years. Then I moved here and I got into a position with a charter school. That fell through and I ended up working toward coming to this direction.”

Driving one day in East Memphis, Taylor decided to drive to Tipton County to see what was happening. She didn’t know at the time that funding returned to reopen the Adult Education program after nearly a decade. 

The granddaughter of one of the first black principals in Tipton County history, Taylor felt a spiritual need to make the trip to the TCS Board. Given information to apply for jobs online, Taylor spotted the position of Adult Ed coach. That job was on the market for 6 months, the same length of time Taylor was out of mainstream work last year. 

“My divine calling purpose is restoration,” she said. “I have a company called Miseducated Educator Advocacy Consultant Training. I do that in pretty much all I do. Restorative justice is in all I do. Restorative justice is all about building relationships, supporting community and repairing harm. 

“God brought me back to Memphis, Millington in 2017,” Taylor added. “Since then I’ve been very clear about what restoration looks like. This as a piece of it as the part-time Adult Ed Coach with Tipton County School I am able to navigate pieces in education.”

In her short time at TCS, Taylor has seen success stories with adult students earning their high school diplomas and overcoming odds. 

Kelly has been on staff since June 2021 but she is very familiar with the quality of education from Tipton County Schools. 

“My personal connection is I am from Tipton County,” she declared. “I’ve been here all my life. I would love to see people grow. My kids go to Tipton County Schools. I graduated from Tipton County Schools. I think it is a wonderful program giving so many opportunities. 

“I would like to see our graduation rate increase,” Kelly added. “I would like for us to offer more opportunities as far as career advancement and even a dual enrollment program through a center like TCAT or Dyersburg State. Those are things we are working on right now.”

A high school equivalency diploma is a secondary school credential. Just like a regular diploma, an HSE diploma opens doors to jobs, college and training programs. In the Volunteer State you earn a HSE diploma by passing the HiSET exam. 

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To sign up, you must be over the age of 18 and not enrolled in high school. You can be 16-17 and enroll in Adult Education but you just first be withdrawn from school including homeschool. Parent/guardian approval is required. 

Hayes noted with the support and encouragement Director of Operations/Assistant Superintendent at Tipton County Schools Charlotte Fisher. Part of that overall support from the staff is hosting a graduation. The Class of 2021 had 34 members walking in July. 

“It doesn’t cost the student anything, just their time and effort to finish the program. We’re trying to remove every excuse not to attend,” Hayes noted. “It also depends on the student’s self-discipline and what they want and how they want to attack it. We try to reduce every barrier that exists. We try to meet their needs with distant learning.” 

Along with the online and digital options, the program will work with the students on transportation, childcare and their work schedule. Students can attend classes at Munford Elementary School from 4-7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays or Munford Park Recreation from 9-11 a.m. on Tuesdays. 

Hayes, who graduated from Bolton in 1978 earned his undergraduate degree from Tennessee State University and masters in education leadership from Trevecca. After stops at Munford and Brighton high school as a teacher and basketball coach, Hayes moved over to the Alternative Learning Center around 2002 becoming the GED instructor. 

Working with at-risk students and adults for nearly 20 years, Hayes said he has never removed his coaching mindset. 

“After a 30 year span here I am still trying to meet the needs of at-risk students,” he concluded. “Again it’s still coaching, it’s a ministry because you’re meeting a need. The kids don’t care about how much you know, they want to know how much you care.”

For more information, call 475-3479 or 422-3394.