The state department of education recently has taken control of the weakest 27 schools in the Montgomery County school system.
Unfortunately the intervention has been anything but smooth so far. From conversations with principals, school board members and attendance at a community meeting it is easy to pick up concern about unanswered questions, disagreement with decisions made so far and wondering where all the money is coming from that state school superintendent Mike Sentence is spending.
A recent editorial in the Montgomery Advertiser asked the question: “If not Sentence and the State Department of Education, then who?”
That is the easiest question about this quagmire to answer.
Who? The city and county of Montgomery, that’s who.
The state does not run the Montgomery school system. They do not own the buildings and pay the teachers. The local school system, governed by a board of locally elected members, is in charge.
If a pothole appears in a neighborhood street, who patches it? The state? If your house catches fire, do you call the state fire department to send out a fire truck?
There is no doubt that some schools and their students in this system underperform. But at the same time, there are schools here that are about as good as you can find anywhere.
According to U.S. News & World Report, three of the top five high schools in Alabama are in Montgomery. Two of them outranking Mountain Brook High. LAMP is considered the no. 57 high school in the country..
The Great Schools web site gives both Forest Avenue elementary and Bear elementary a perfect score of 10.
So what is going on?
This is where we are trying to pass the buck and refuse to accept reality. And until we do, Mike Sentence can spend all the money and hire all the outside consultants he wants and damn little will change.
Montgomery County has three school systems. One has more than 40 schools and is private. One has 10 magnet schools and the third is the remainder of the public schools.
Both the 10 magnets and the remaining “traditionals” are majority black. But poverty rate in magnets is 20.2 percent and 62.1 percent in the rest. This 40+ gap tells a good educator all they need to know. It means that the traditional Montgomery schools are not much different than systems in Lowndes and Macon counties. (Poverty rate in Lowndes is 68.8 percent and 65.9 percent in Macon.)
And so we’re going to call on someone from the state and some high-priced consultants to “fix” this situation? Why don’t we also ask them to make water run up hill.
I have no clue why new state superintendent Mike Sentance decided to jump into the middle of the Montgomery situation. After all there are 19 systems statewide who do not have a one month financial reserve just like Montgomery. And at least 18 systems have weaker academics than Montgomery according to info on the state’s new A-F system by system report card.
So it was definitely not because they are the worst system in the state. And his mantra of “we need better schools in the state capital” makes about as much sense as him giving 10 percent raises to the principals of the 27 poorest schools.
I suspect he simply folded to pressure brought from some local politicians.
The truth is, Santa Claus is not in Washington, DC or in the Gordon Persons Building, home of our state education department, in Montgomery. If Santa Claus is going to come rescue Montgomery’s schools, a bunch of citizens of this town best be looking for red and white suits.
Until that happens, until businesses and ministers and educators and mamas and daddies have some open and frank discussions and quit the blame game, nothing much will change.