Montgomery’s Bear Elementary Gets National Recognition

It’s not unusual to hear a teacher refer to a school as “sweet.”  Now I’m not for sure exactly what they mean, but I certainly believe it is a compliment.

So in keeping with this description, I definitely think Bear elementary in Montgomery is a “sweet” school.  Actually, it is more an outstanding school.  Which is why I’m sure it has been recognized as a Nationally Certified Magnet School, the first in Montgomery and only one of 115 in the U.S.

My friend Elizabeth Hill is the longtime principal.  I drop by to see her school often.  She and a great staff do a really super job.  They constantly come up with ideas that make going to school fun and exciting.

Naturally, she is proud of the accomplishment.

“Our staff and our parents are so excited about this,” said Hill. “We have worked for nearly a year to demonstrate that we have met the multiple indicators and the standards that are set forth by the Magnet Schools of America. We are very proud of our school and the work our teachers, support staff and parents do to ensure our children are getting excellent instruction.”

The required standards to earn the certification include how the school promotes diversity, have closed the achievement gap, integrated a theme-based curriculum, and encouraged parent and community involvement. The school has demonstrated they are working to prepare their students for college and career – even at the elementary level.

Editor’s note: let the record show that Ms. Hill is a proud graduate of Auburn University.

Hollywood Comes To Cullman County

Sometimes you are just dumbfounded.  Like when you read this amazing article about what just happened at Parkside school in the east end of Cullman County.

It began when some teachers at the school birthed the notion to redo their rooms as Hogwarts-themed classrooms.  (It will come as no surprise to most readers that I am totally clueless about the world of Harry Potter and all that goes with it.  Never read any of the books and don’t know a Hogwart from a Warthog.  But that doesn’t mean today’s school kids are as sheltered as I am.)  (But I do remember Ozark Ike and the Mickey Mouse club.)

Anyhow, back to the real story.  Seems that the news made it all the way to Hollywood and lo and behold, cast members of the new Fantastic Beasts movie: The Crimes of Grindelwald  showed up at the school Nov. 1.  Cast members including Zoe Kravits, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Eddie Redmayne and Callum Turner were not only there, but they had a check for $25,000 with them.

Please take a moment to click the link to the article above.  You will be just as amazed as I was.  What a fantastic testimony to the dedication of teachers and staff and the lengths they go to so that school is fun and exciting.


Political Races I Will Watch Next Week

Like most folks, I will pay attention to all the political races on the ballot Nov. 6th, but I have more than passing interest in three Senate races and two House races.

Three of them feature young, bright women running for office for the first time.  All are Democrats and seem to fit the mold of “female millennial” we hear so much about these days.   The other two involve wily veteran legislators.

Amy Wasyluka is a mother, cancer survivor and attorney running for Senate District 2 in Huntsville.  Senator Bill Holtzclaw is retiring from this seat.  The Republican nominee is Tom Butler, who served in both the House and Senate as a Democrat before being defeated in 2010.  As to be expected, Butler has greatly outspent Wasyluka.  While she has spent nearly $42,000, he has spent $300,000.  My sources say they expect Butler, who is in his mid-70’s, to win, but do think his young attorney opponent will make a very creditable showing.

In northwest Alabama campaign coffers are wide open as longtime Democrat House member Johnny Mack Morrow is challenging Republican Senator Larry Stuffs who is running for his second term in District 6..  Stutts won his seat by an eyelash in 2014 when he beat Senator Roger Bedford.  Stutts is a physician who has faced criticism about legislation he introduced that appeared to protect his own self-interests.

Money has been no problem for either candidate.  The most recent financial info from the Secretary of State’s office show Morrow has spent $470,000 and Stutts has spent $366,000

The third Senate race I’m watching covers Etowah and Cherokee counties and a tiny slice of DeKalb.  Senate District 10 is being vacated by Senator Phil Williams.  Andrew Jones from Cherokee County is the Republican nominee.  He is being opposed by Craig Ford, a two-term House member from Etowah who is running as an Independent.

Jones is a newcomer to politics and certainly raised eyebrows when he defeated House member Mack Butler in the primary.  Jones is a fine young man from a well-known Cherokee County family.  He has spent $163,000.  However, Ford has significantly outspent him with $379,000 to date.

Being from vote rich Etowah County certainly plays in Ford’s favor, but how much luck will he have getting voters to select an Independent candidate?

House District 46 is primarily that part of Jefferson County known as “over the mountain.”  It’s where Felicia Stewart is challenging incumbent Republican David Faulkner.  She has been competitive with Faulkner on campaign funds.  He has spent $136,000; she has spent $114,000.

But if any candidate in Alabama has outworked and out organized Stewart, I don’t know who they are.  She has spent 18 months on the campaign trail and has motivated a cadre of true believers and volunteers,

Jump all the way down to Fairhope to check in on my final race to watch closely.  Again, a bright, young female attorney, Danielle Mashburn, has her sights on capturing House District 94 which has been held since 2004 by Republican Joe Faust.  Just as in Senate District 2 in Huntsville, this one is a contest of real contrasts.  An old pol getting long in the tooth vs. the energy and hopes of a much younger person.

Faust has spent $91,000 as compared to $38,000 for Mashburn.  Though Baldwin is about the reddest of red when it comes to party affiliation, my contacts say if anyone can defeat a Republican here, Mashburn can.






Voices From The Classroom

My buddy Shannon Odom is principal of Gilmore elementary in Jackson and has been for a number of years.  She and her cohort in crime, Kathy Spidle, principal at Grove Hill elementary, keep Clarke County superintendent Larry Bagley on his toes.

I kid Shannon that her claim to fame is that her daddy was once police chief in Jackson and arrested the Allman Brothers band.  She laughs, which she does often, and admits this is a true story.

Shannon is totally devoted to her students and pours her heart into her job.  This is shown in the following that she recently posted on Facebook:

“On Wednesday, one of my girls was having a rough day, a really rough day. That afternoon, she spent some time with me in my office when she should have been having fun in the gym. After she settled down, we had a long talk about how today was a bad day, but tomorrow was a new day and a chance to do better. I didn’t see her again until the next afternoon as she was headed to the bus. She stopped right in front of me and smiled a snaggle-toothed smile. She crooked her little finger motioning for me to bend down so she could whisper something into my ear.

I bent down. I couldn’t imagine what she had to say. When I got close, she whispered two little words into my ear, “New Day.” I checked with her teacher, and it had indeed been a new day. I don’t always understand why some things just pierce straight to my heart, but that did In the middle of a tough, sad week I got a reminder that tomorrow is a new day. I think I needed the lesson more than she did.”

What a great example of what goes on daily in public schools.

One of the joys to doing what I do are the endless relationships I make with educators and the resulting thoughts they share with me.  Here is an email I just received from a real teacher in a very good real school I know well.

“I didn’t go into teaching for the money but something is wrong with this picture. Alabama teachers just got a 2.5% raise, our first in nearly a decade. My daughter just got another raise. It was 15%. She has been with the company since graduating from UA three years ago and has received nearly 35% in raises during that time. What’s even better than that, she often gets emails, notes, and verbal acknowledgments of appreciation.

I’m thrilled for her but it is depressing as a teacher. This same daughter recently sent me this thought: “A person who feels appreciated will always do more than is expected.” Our school system could learn something.”

I easily understand her frustration It is real and is eating at the very fiber and fabric of our education system.

A Definite Glimpse At Dedication

In the grand scheme of national affairs, or even those of Alabama, the PTA meeting at Vaughn Road elementary in Montgomery on Oct. 9 didn’t make news of any sort.  Fox News was not there, nor even a local TV station or newspaper reporter.  Just some dedicated teachers and a principal, some volunteers from a local church armed with snacks and cold drinks, some mothers and daddies and grandmas and grandpas, several dozen squealing grade schoolers and one old school board member with a missing tooth and lots of gray hair.

As schools go, Vaughn Road is pretty typical.  It has about 500 students, more than 60 percent of them on free-reduced lunches.  Several thousand cars pass it every week day, most drivers not giving it a second glance.  “Just another school,” most probably think.

And in a sense, they may be right.  Because stop and visit any “just another school” and you will find some extremely dedicated people doing everything in their power to teach those in their care.  They don’t hand pick ’em.  They welcome all comers, warts and all.  They may have special needs that are clearly visible–and many that are not.

Brenda Lindsey is principal at Vaughn Road.  She has been an educator for many years and still gets to work before 7 a.m.  She appreciates her staff and tries to make sure they know it.  Teachers there tell me they enjoy working at the school, that they feel a sense of “family.”

Sherry Beasley teaches second grade for Lindsey.  Some of her charges were performing for the PTA meeting.  It was a song that related to their study of African history.  Sherry stood in the back of the cafeteria while the students were on the stage.  She was swinging and swaying right along with them.

It is obvious Sherry’s calling is working with young children.  Before the event began, kids lined up to get a hug from her.  A sure sign that she connects with them.  She showed me pictures of her students preparing for their “egg drop” experiment two days after the PTA meeting.  (I was sorry I would be out of town and could not be there.)

But the most amazing thing about Sherry to me is that she commutes every day from her home in Barbour County.  A one way distance of about 70 miles.  She leaves school and heads down AL 110 through Cecil, Fitzpatrick, Mitchell Station and Thompson Station to Union Springs.  Then takes U.S. 82 on to Midway and into Barbour County.  She passes Comer and a historical marker announcing the Voters Riot of the 1870s.

I know the route well.  Have driven  it many times.  But would not want to do it twice a day.

Ask Sherry about it and she flashes a big smile and says, “I love it.”  It’s the same smile she gives students when she hugs them.

No.  All public schools aren’t great.  Neither are all teachers–or  principals or doctors or lawyers.  But I believe little miracles happen in most schools most every day.  And just because no one mentions them doesn’t mean they don’t happen.  All because of compassionate and dedicated grownups like my friends at Vaughn Road.


Five Alabama Blue Ribbon Schools Named

The highest national honor a school can attain is being named a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education.  Honorees have just been announced.  Nationally there were 300 public schools and 49 non-public.

Alabama had five public schools  Arab elementary in the Arab city system; Athens elementary in the Athens city system; .Liberty Park middle in the Vestavia city system; Mountain Brook elementary in the Mountain Brook city system and Rock Quarry Elementary in the Tuscaloosa city system.

Especially noteworthy is that the free-reduced lunch rate for Athens elementary is 73 percent.  Arab elementary is 37.8 percent.  The other three are less than 7 percent.

The Blue Ribbon school program began in 1982.  Nearly 100 Alabama schools have been recognized, 13 of them on multiple occasions. I have been to a number of them   We studied three of them in our 2008 research project Lessons Learned from Rural Schools.  Nationally, 44 percent of the public honorees this year were in suburban locations, 38 percent were in rural areas and only 19 percent in inner-city locations.

Editor’s note: Interestingly enough, I went to one of them in the fourth grade.  Maryvale elementary in Mobile.  But that was decades before 1982.  I do remember my teacher was Ms. Simmons and I made straight A’s.  Also my son and daughter both attended EPIC elementary in Birmingham.  Kevin graduated from Vestavia Hills high in Birmingham and Kim graduated from Davidson high in Mobile.  All three have been Blue Ribbon schools..