Recounting 2019. The Third Most Read Post Of The Year.

Editor’s note:  Courtney Welborn was principal of White Plains middle school in Calhoun County in the 2018-19 school year.  (She has since moved to the central office.)  Early in 2019 Senator Del Marsh mounted an effort to eliminate the Alabama College & Career Ready standards (after being 100 percent for them in years past.)  Welborn sent a letter to all members of the Calhoun County legislative delegation urging defeat of this effort.  She included comments from a number of teachers.

Here is the letter she sent.  This post had 3,233 views.

A Principal Takes Action
Mar 26, 2019 

Courtney Wilborn is principal of White Plains Middle School in Calhoun County.  This school has received numerous recognitions for its performance and Courtney was Alabama Middle School Principal of the year in 2018.

All of which is to say that she personifies “professional educator.”  And like many educators around the state, she is dumbfounded by the effort of Senator Del Marsh to repeal the Alabama College & Career standards.  While too many Alabama educators remain silent on issues impacting them, Courtney is not one of them.

Following is the email she sent to all of the House members of the legislature who represent portions of Calhoun County.  She did an excellent job.

Subject: SB119 is BAD for our children…

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I believe it to be my duty as the Alabama Middle School Principal of the Year 2018 to urge you to consider all sides of the matter of repealing the Alabama College & Career ready standards as proposed by Senator Del Marsh..  As educators, we devote our lives to making children’s lives better. That is what we do every single day – not just when we need some press to further ourselves on a political ladder.

I am the principal of White Plains Middle School in Calhoun County. You need to hear the voices of the people who are actually in the classrooms and in the schools because, obviously, our voices have not been considered in Senator Marsh’s proposal.  PLEASE read the concerns from teachers in this school and others from around the state. Since we are a “Model School” for schools in our state we have visitors from schools throughout Alabama.  So the voices below are not just voices from Calhoun County, but from across our great state!

Julie Walker, 7th grade ELA teacher:
I am not in agreement with this proposed legislation. As an educator I do not believe it is what’s best for our students in Alabama. While there are numerous issues that need to be addressed to improve test scores in Alabama, eliminating Alabama College & Career ready standards  will not solve the real problems. The standards are not the problem. Smaller class sizes, equitable instructional resources, more ELL teachers, more rigorous teacher education programs, increased incentive for highly qualified individuals to enter and remain in the teaching profession are some of the real answers to our education challenges.  But instead of looking at these challenges, it’s much easier to stir up folks with political rhetoric such as in this case.

Christan Green, 5th grade ELA teacher:
As a 5th grade reading teacher, I truly believe that the revocation of our present standards an educational disservice our students.  Through the implementation of ACCR, our students have learned to be detectives who truly dig in and dissect a text for evidence.  The depth of text-based questions has dramatically increased through the implementation of these standards as well.   If these standards were removed, I would continue to teach in a way that challenged my students to dig deeper, as these are best practices for the educational goals of all students.

Although I don’t teach mathematics daily, I am also involved in mathematics instruction, and I absolutely see the benefit of these standards in mathematics instruction as well.  Instead of simply teaching our students formulas or process for HOW to complete mathematics problems (as I learned as a student), now we build an understanding of WHY we complete mathematical processes in a certain way.  This foundation allows for a better understanding of the processes and formulas that we use.  In both Math and Reading, the investigation that is involved in these standards allow us to push higher learners even further, while remediating those who need additional instruction. It would be an absolute travesty to revoke these standards as the impact on students of Alabama would be detrimental.

Jamie McCain, ELA teacher:
My major concern is why aren’t educators, who are on the forefront day-in and day-out, asked how our COLLEGE AND CAREER READY standards are working? These standards were ADAPTED to meet the needs of ALABAMA students. For the first time EVER, our reading and English classes are RIGOROUS and kids are thinking outside of the box and much more independently. They have some really great ideas, but until ACCR standards were implemented, we suppressed their ability to think.

If this bill is passed by NON-EDUCATORS, it will be detrimental to classrooms across the state. Our students will be the ones who suffer. If we want our kiddos to be competitive in a global market and become overall critical thinkers, we have to challenge them with rigorous coursework. Our current standards do just that and more.

I am disheartened and sickened by this bill!

Jane Lewis, Guidance Counselor:
I am of the opinion that this bill is nothing but political pandering..

ACCR standards are meant to teach children how to think, not necessarily what to think.  If our students are going to compete with other students for scholarships and college admission using the ACT, then we need to teach the same standards that our students are being tested on; also, ACT IS our state accountability test.

If politicians are truly interested in having a positive impact on the quality of instruction, they should fully fund public schools instead of taking public funds away to provide vouchers to private schools. Lawmakers should let educators make decisions since we are the professionals in the room..

Leslie Brotherton, Special Education teacher:
If we cannot adopt any national standards or “use any assessments aligned with them,” as the proposed bill states, then our students cannot take the ACT, SAT or any other nationally normed test, including the NAEP! How can we compare to other states if we cannot assess on national standards? Besides, how do we know the new standards the state adopts will be better than ACCR?

Chase Cotton, Math teacher

1. ACCR is not a curriculum. The masses mindlessly take a few bad examples that float around social media as the gospel as to what is going on in classrooms.

2. How many teachers have been asked about this? It seems to be nothing more than a political move to please people who have no idea what is best for our students.

Harriette Thompkins, Administrator :
The misinformation is horrendous!  I just attended a meeting where the truth was not welcomed.  Thankfully, we were there to debunk the misinformation.  It will take away National board funding as well, because it will get rid of national standards.  I absolutely disagree with this repeal effort..

I know some of our opinions seem a bit harsh and pointed, but I beg you to understand that just as a parent protects his/her child when the child is in danger,  we protect our students when they are in danger. They are in danger. SB119 is putting them in danger. PLEASE VOTE NO. Our children truly, truly deserve better. And who knows the standards and the students and the school needs better than educators?

Respectfully,
Courtney Wilburn, White Plains Middle School
2018 Alabama Middle School Principal of the Year

We need more educators doing what Courtney did.  Letting legislators know what they think.

Recounting 2019. The Fourth Most Read Post.

Editor’s note: The following post got 2,956 views.  The charter school fiasco in Washington County dominated our “most-read” list.  This is another one of them.

Washington County Charter School Fiasco Gets National And International Attention
Apr 14, 2019

As we all know, news travels fast in this high-tech world we all live in.  Even if it is news coming out of rural Washington County, AL.

Dr. Diane Ravitch is in New York City.  A  former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, she is founder of the Network for Public Education and without doubt, one of the nation’s leading voices opposing the corporate takeover of our public schools.  She also has the country’s most widely read education blog, getting 100,000 views per week.

She has now posted three pieces about Washington County.  You can see them here, here and here.

And now, an article with the byline of Vakkas Dogantekin and posted in Ankara, Turkey, has shown up.  Here it is.

Why all the attention?  It has a lot to do with the fact that both the Woodland Prep charter and the LEAD Academy charter in Montgomery have engaged a Muslim from Texas, Soner Tarim, who has ties to the Gulen charter movement, to operate their schools.  Gulen charters are very controversial due to their founder, Fetullah Gulen.  Many contend that he heads the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).

In addition to all of this attention, The Washington Post is expected to publish an article about Washington County within the next few days.

Given the situation, it is very baffling why the state department of education contends that it has no jurisdiction over the Alabama Charter School Commission and why Eric Mackey, state superintendent, seems reluctant to ask questions and come to the defense of Washington County.

After all, the state superintendent has a responsibility to the people of Alabama to work for the betterment of all public schools–not pick and choose which systems he wants to help and which ones he doesn’t.

Reviewing The Most Read Posts Of 2019

Editor’s note:  It’s the season when the media is full of recounting the best football games of the year, the top political stories, the most expensive divorcees, which states had the most possums to cross the road, etc.  So in the spirit of such, we will bring to you the five most read posts on this blog of the last 12 months.  Coming in at number five with 2,834 views is this story about the tiny community of Fruitdale in Washington County.

Fruitdale. A Lesson From Rural Alabama
Aug 24, 2019 

Sweet Jesus.  It was hot, like really, really hot.  But what do you expect on an August afternoon in the middle of a football field just 90 miles from the Gulf of Mexico?

I was there to watch the 2019 version of the Fruitdale Pirates practice.  Fruitdale is one of five high schools in Washington County.  It’s a 1A school, the smallest classification in Alabama high school sports.  There are dozens and dozens of such schools across the state, places where Dollar General coming to town is a big deal.  (Fruitdale recently opened one.)

Places where community and school are joined at the hip.  Take away the school and you’ve jerked the heart from the community.

This August afternoon coach Johnny Carpenter was getting his 32 players ready for their first game against A. L. Johnson of Marengo County.  Carpenter grew up just down the road in Citronelle, played football at Mississippi State and met a cheerleader in college who later became both his wife and an M.D.  This is his first year as a head coach.

When you coach at this level, you do it all.  From teaching class, to cooking ribs for a fund-raiser, to lining the field, to selling signs to merchants to help pay the bills and to actually coaching.  His staff is another teacher/coach, John Hobbs.  Former player Michael Dubose is a volunteer coach.

There was a pep rally before the first game.  Elementary, middle and high school students sweated and yelled.  Cheerleaders cheered.  Players were introduced.  Later that afternoon, fifth grade boys went home and ran around their yard with a football dreaming of the day they could be a Pirate scoring touchdowns and making tackles.  Fourth grade girls jumped and pumped their arms and yelled for their team.

I know about dreams and memories.  Fifty-nine years ago this fall number 83 of the Theodore Bobcats scored the only touchdown of his high school football career.  Quarterback Charles Bryant threw a short pass to his left end, a 160 pound farm boy, standing in the end zone.  That touchdown catch will always be mine.  No one can take it away from me.

More than anything, that is what Fruitdale is all about.  A small school in a small place where dreams are realized and memories are made.

What once was

There was once a time when Fruitdale was bustling.  A time before cars were common and interstates unheard of.  A time before the internet and hand-held devices shrunk the world.  A place where farmers came to town on a wagon pulled by mules and merchants were busy on Saturdays.

Just over 100 years ago Fruitdale was home to three hotels, two sawmills, a cannery, a bakery, a bank, drugstore, post office and even The Fruitdale Herald.  It had a telephone system and shipped boxcars of peaches, pears, persimmons, melons, vegetable and strawberries north on the Mobile & Ohio railroad.

Even before this the Fruitdale Seminary proclaimed to one and all that education was important in the community.  The red brick high school still in use, complete with hardwood floors and wainscoting on the walls, was built in 1904, the same year as the Union Chapel Methodist church.

But time waits for no one.

The hotels and sawmills are gone.  Just as they are in communities I know well like Repton and Mckenzie and Red Level.  Places where empty buildings stand as silent sentinels to what once was.

But the school is still in Fruithdale.  As is Union Chapel Methodist.

A proud graduate

I met Aimee Rainey in 2008 when she was principal at Calcedever elementary in north Mobile County and I was involved in a research effort we called Lessons Learned from Rural Schools.  She had a great school, in spite of the fact it was probably in the poorest physical facility I have ever seen called a school.  Aimee was impressive and one knew she would not be a principal the rest of her life.

Today she is Dr. Aimee Rainey, an assistant superintendent in the Vestavia city school system on the south side of Birmingham.  On my first visit to Fruitdale high school I found her picture on the wall with the class of 1992.  She was Aimee Turner then.  This was before she went to the University of Southern Mississippi and then to graduate school.

Aimee’s family has close ties to this school.  Her mother and grandmother went to Fruitdale.  Her great grandmother worked there.  A first cousin and aunt teach there now.  Her mother drove a school bus.

“I am incredibility thankful for being raised in a small community and going to a small school,” she says.  “We had the opportunity to do everything.”  Aimee was a cheerleader, in the band and played softball.  She marched with the band in her cheerleader outfit.

“Growing up in a small community surrounded by a large, close family is one of the best blessings of my life.  My core values were developed by wise, hard-working and loving souls,” Aimee says.

A charlatan arrives

Soner Tarim does not know Aimee Rainy or coach Johnny Carpenter or Fruitdale principal Curt Stagner.  Nor does he know anything about Fruitdale high school, its roots and its relationships.  Nor does he care.  While this charter school consultant proclaims he only wants to help children in struggling schools, his six bedroom, four bath mansion in a toney Houston suburb tells us something else.

His real mission is making money.

Tarim is the consultant hired by the board of the proposed Woodland Prep charter school in Washington County.  The same guy now being sued for fraud by the Alabama Education Association.  The same guy the Texas state board of education told in June that he could not open four charter schools in Austin.  The same guy who says he wrote the application for Woodland Prep charter school that the National Association of Charter School Authorizers recommended not be approved.

The same guy engineering a school that will potentially take $2.2 million from the Washington County public school system and do irreparable harm to the capacity of Fruitdale and other county schools to meet their needs.

I am a realist.  I know that rural Alabama has been being hollowed out for at least a century by forces that are as certain as the tide coming in.  Circumstances have forced school closings time and time again.  This will not stop.

But we darn sure don’t need to be hastening this process with policies handed down by Montgomery bureaucrats and lawmakers and carried out by mercenaries like Soner Tarim.  Washington County needs a charter school about as much as cotton needed the boll weevil.

Instead, we should value the words of people like Aimee Rainy and the dreams of yet-to-be quarterbacks and cheerleaders.  We should take to heart the lessons Fruitdale has taught us for more than 100 years.  We should cling to our small communities and their schools, not sacrifice them because someone wants to make a few bucks.

Editor’s note: Fruitdale won its first game of the season on Aug. 23 by the score of 53-0.  It was only their second win in the last three years.  Quarterback Dalon Hill scored two touchdowns.  If he is fortunate enough to be around in 59 years, he will still remember them.

And Now For Some Good News

While the elitist Bourbon Republicans who run the legislative supermajority work hard to discredit public education, truth is there is plenty of good news concerning the schools that educate 90 percent of all the students in Alabama.

Rural Schools Collaborative is proud to announce that Lane Sanders from Sycamore elementary in Talladega County is one of eight national Grants in Place Fellows.  She receives $2,000 for her project.

School counselor Sanders, in partnership with students and staff at Talladega College, will offer arts education to the entire school body which does not currently have any arts or music programs. Their hope is that through an implementation of an arts curriculum there will be a positive impact in the lives of the students and foster a warm, compassionate, and enjoyable school culture!

Sanders has been the counselor at Sycamore elementary for five years. Prior to becoming a counselor, she taught math for 11 years at the high school level. She received a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education from Auburn University, a M.S. in School Counseling from the University of West Alabama, and her Instructional Leadership certification from Jacksonville State University.

The Grants in Place Fellows program is offered in conjunction with our Alabama Hub Partners at The University of West Alabama.

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A tip of the hat to state representative Tracy Estes of Winfield for being chosen by the Alabama Association of School Boards for their 2019 Legislative Award.

Estes, a member of the House Education Policy Committee, played a key role in sponsoring and advancing the passage of a bill which extends the duration of an Emergency Teacher Certificate from one your to two years and authorizes a one-time certificate renewal.

Estes served 15 years on the Winfield school board and also served on the AASB board of directors.  A journalist for many years, Estes worked for the Tuscaloosa News, Montgomery Advertiser and the Journal Record in Marion County.

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Becoming a National Board Certified Teacher is no easy task.  This designation is considered the GOLD STANDARD of teacher  certification and is an intense multi-year process.

Some 3,831 new certifications have just been announced and only three states in the nation have more teachers earning this recognition than Alabama.  North Carolina lead the country with 710, followed by Washington with 508 and California with 264. Next was Alabama with 244.

With the exception of North Carolina, this put Alabama ahead of any other southern state.  It might be noted that Georgia had only one, Florida had four and Louisiana had six.

There are now almost 3,000 National Board Certified teachers in the state.

The Two Worlds Of Education

My choices were clear that Thursday morning.  I could attend the state school board meeting at Montgomery’s Gordon Persons building where the main topic of discussion would be whether or not to finally adopt a new math course of study after many months of study and politically motivated wrangling, or to visit A.. L. Johnson high school in Thomaston and get a first hand look at work being done in the state’s highest poverty school.

I went to Thomaston and joined principal William Martin, superintendent Luke Hallmark, Jan Miller, dean of the college of education at the University of West Alabama and my consultant friend, Mike Robinson of New Jersey.

Johnson has only 175 students in its 12 grades.  The senior class is just 15.  But considering that the census says Thomaston only has 417 citizens, this is not a surprise.  And it is not a community of abundance as state records show 98.78 percent of the students at Johnson are poverty level.

Still, principal Martin, now in his third year, is making progress.  Most notably he is changing the school culture.  Discipline issues have dropped considerably during his tenure.  Students know what is expected of them and are going to class ready to learn.  The school, though built decades ago, is clean and well maintained.

Martin, who went to school here, spoke with pride when he told me that alumni came up with $15,000 to help air condition the gym.  Going from class to class showed engaged students and teachers dedicated to their jobs.  Librarian Katie Poole shows off an updated library with all the pride of a grandmother bragging on her grandkids.  She and a benefactor in New York crossed paths on the internet and the result is lots of new books and furnishings.

Jan Miller and Mike Robinson know far more about the workings of a school than I do.  They were impressed with what they saw.  They were especially impressed with how faculty are digging deep into student data to guide instruction.

Meanwhile, back in Montgomery things unfolded as expected.  (I watched  the video of the meeting when I got back from Thomaston.)

Some 32 people signed up to speak about the proposed math standards.  They fell into two camps.  1) educators and 2) non-educators.  With only one exception, every educator urged that the new math course of study be approved.  (The exception was a high school teacher who felt the state sequence of courses at the high school level should be altered.)

Their over-riding message was, “don’t continue to delay implementation because you are keeping instruction in limbo.”

Those opposed beat the same Common Core drum they have beat endlessly.  Not once did I hear any of the opponents suggest how standards could be improved, or if they did I missed  it.   Nor did any of the opponents offer their credentials as math experts or recount how many years they have in education, etc.

One said that we should go back to “classical” math.  I suppose she was thinking of what I was taught at Theodore high school 60 years that abandoned me when I got to Auburn University.

After all the huffing and puffing, Governor Ivey called for a vote on the resolution to adopt the proposed standards.  This passed 5-3.  The audience broke out in loud applause at this point.

Writing about all of this now, I know I made the right choice in where to go.  Once again I was reminded that running a school is hard work.  I mean really hard work.  I was reminded that every school is blessed with some extremely committed and dedicated teachers.  And that they battle odds that those calling for a NO vote in Montgomery have never faced.  And perhaps don’t even know exist.

Yes, we need guidelines on courses of study and various policy issues which means certain decisions must be rendered in Montgomery.

But at the same time, I will never forget that what happens in places like A. L. Johnson high school in tiny and remote Thomaston is what  education is truly all about.

 

Saving The World One Life At A Time

Officially it was called “Alabama Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities Awards Ceremony.”.  A very nice affair held at the Gordon Person Building auditorium Dec. 3.

But unofficially, it was all about bringing recognition to people and organizations from around the state who work with those with disabilities so that they may be gainfully employed and active members of society. These are folks who take to heart the admonition found in the book of Matthew about doing things for the “least of these.”

There were 12 honorees.  Advocate, Large Business Employee, Collaboration, Large Business Employer, Education, Media, Partnership, Small Business Employer, Public Service, Student, Youth Leadership and Small Business Employee.

David Hyche was recognized for his advocacy.  A 30-year veteran of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. he is the father of a blind daughter who wanted to hunt Easter eggs.  Discovering that plastic eggs equipped with sound were quite expensive, Hyche used his knowledge of working with bombs to come up with a much less expensive version.  He then engaged other ATF folks around the country to join the effort and provide plastic eggs for children in their own communities.

Carpenters for Christ are members of the Tallasee First Baptist Church who build handicap ramps to meet needs in their town.  Matt Freeman is a welding instructor for the Tuscaloosa Career and Technology Academy who engages students on various community projects.  William Roberts of Sylacauga is active with the local community garden.  The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex offers a variety of accommodations for those with disabilities.

The Partnership of the Year recognized the collaboration of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, Stringfellow Health Fund, Exchange Bank of Gadsden and the Beautiful Rainbow Café, a program of Gadsden school system.  The café is operated totally by students with disabilities who learn a host of life skills.

The City of Opelika was recognized for their on-gong efforts to comply with ADA requirements.  It was great to see my longtime friend, Mayor Gary Fuller, accept this honor.  Small Business Employee was Renee Maradik, owner of Something sweet Bake Shop in Daphne, while Met South, owned by Don and Cathy Jesse of Hanceville, was Small Business Employer of the Year.

Students Logan Tice, a senior at Oxford High School and Michael White, a student at the Alabama School for the Deaf were honored for their academic and leadership achievements.

And one old gray-haired blogger was honored with the media award.  I was both very surprised and very humbled.

It is individuals and organizations such as these who hold the fabric of our communities and our state together.  They are not seeking fame or fortune.  They just see a need and use their talents to meet it.

We can all take pride in what they do.