Needs To Be Repeated

I said something in my last blog post, that bears repeating and then thinking about.

“When you look at the high schools in the state with the 20 HIGHEST average ACT scores and the 20 with the LOWEST, you discover they have one thing in common.

According to the A-F school report card, both lists have one C school on them.

McIntosh high school in Washington County has an average ACT of only 14.7.  In fact, there are only two schools that are lower.  Grissom high in Huntsville has an average of 23.1 ACT.  There are only five schools in the state higher than Grissom.

But the A-F school report card system says both are C schools.  Forget the 8.4 points difference in ACT scores, someone wants us to believe they are equals.”

Let that soak in a minute.  The state A-F school report card tells us that one of the high schools with the worst ACT scores in the state and one with the best scores are both C schools.

Somehow we are to suspend reality and believe such crap?   And I will go outside tonight to watch the cow jump over the moon.

The legislation creating this very useless process passed in 2012.  Here is the second paragraph on page one:

“Section 1. (a) Just as there is value in assigning grades that reflect the performance of public school students

in Alabama, the Legislature finds that there is also value in assigning grades that reflect the performance of the public

schools attended by public school students in Alabama. The Legislature further finds that an easy to understand school

grading system would best serve the interests of the public as a whole, and specifically the parents and guardians of public

school students, by providing another transparent layer of accountability for the public dollars allocated to elementary

and secondary education in the state”

Where did the legislature find value in doing this?.  Can someone show me the research they used to support such a statement?  Or did they pull it out of thin air as they so often do?

Since being released earlier this year, I have seen just ONE reference to these letter grades.  That was on a hit piece of mail a PAC in Montgomery sent out saying “33 of 50 schools graded D or F by the state.”

Of course, no where did anyone mention that these letter grades were based on a test that the state no longer uses because it was deemed unreliable.  No where did anyone call A-F “junk” science with no merit.

There is no value in such grades.  Unless that is, you are like some folks in Montgomery intent on painting public schools as terrible.

Every law that is passed can also be repealed.  A-F school report cards is a prime example of one that should be.



Can Montgomery Handle The Truth About Its Schools?

In 1992 the movie, A Few Good Men, told the riveting story of a military court martial.  The climatic moment being when the character played by Jack Nickolson says to the character Tom Cruise played, “You can’t handle the truth.”

That scene has gone through my mind over and over as I’ve watched the current hand-wringing about the MPS school board play out.

Because Montgomery and it’s “leadership” refuse to come face to face with reality in regards to our public school system.

Instead, we have press conferences, blame everyone else and raise money to fuel political campaigns based on deceit and deception.

And some good and well-intentioned people blindly follow those who say all our problems rest at the feet of our current school board.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

More than anything else, we have a COMMUNITY problem in Montgomery and all my friends who have written checks in support of the Expect More for Montgomery Public Schools campaign need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

What have YOU DONE to help our public schools? Do you belong to a public school PTA?  Do you mentor a struggling student?  When I was a surrogate dad at the Goodwyn Middle school “Dad and Daughter Dance” recently, I didn’t see any of you there.

And writing a check to hire a political consultant to come up with big post cards slamming our school system is hardly paying your debt to society.

I sat through several candidate forums leading up to the June 5 primary. I listened to good people share their ideas.  Things like, “I went to Lanier and I don’t know why it can’t be like it used to be,” or, “I know how to fix things,” or my favorite, “all schools should be magnets.”

The one thing they all had in common is that they had evidently not spent enough time in schools talking to teachers and principals, especially those in high-poverty schools. As a result, they were all looking for band aides—instead of trying figure out why our schools are bleeding.

This includes the mayor, the chamber of commerce and the folks writing the checks to the political action committee.

We have a COMMUNITY problem and our schools are only a symptom.

Montgomery has three school systems. More than 35 private schools, eight magnet schools and 44 more traditional schools.

The differences in demographics in magnet and traditional schools is glaring. The poverty rate for magnets is only 14.6 percent but is 63.7 percent in traditional schools.

Since the greatest predictor of student and school performance is poverty, this nearly 50-point gap in poverty between magnets and traditional is very telling. And a strong message that any “turnaround” effort focused on just the school board or even classroom has a scant chance to move the needle.

Don’t think so? Then attend any PTA meeting at a magnet and non-magnet school.  Bear elementary has more PTA members than they do students.  It’s an entirely different story in traditional schools.

Which means comparing the home environment of students in these schools is apples and oranges. And wondering why all schools aren’t magnets makes as much sense as wondering why the football team at Huntingdon can not beat the one at the University of Alabama.

But instead of leadership trying to find common ground and unify Montgomery, we’re holding press conferences that divide us even more.

Until this community thinks of its public schools as “our” schools we’re kidding ourselves by thinking changing faces at the school board will make much difference. How can the school board by itself lower school poverty rates.  A principal of a school with an 84 percent poverty rate told me probably 90 percent of her kids come from single parent homes.  Can the school board round up dozens of daddies?

Ministers, both black and white, should be sitting down together to figure out how they can assist their neighborhood schools. The Montgomery Education Foundation should work WITH the MPS board, instead of being an adversary.  Expect More for Montgomery Public Schools should be raising money to help teachers buy needed supplies, not stuffing mail boxes with fliers screaming “our school board and our school system are broken.”

Instead of talking about charter schools, the mayor should look at Washington D.C. that has perhaps the worst school system in the country—and a greater percentage of students in charter schools than anywhere else.

We need to attack our issues with community-centered schools that provide wraparound services. We need to engage the whole community in doing this.  We had two community school pilots two years ago.  Then the state intervention took away their funding.

The truth is that education is everyone’s business—not just the school board’s. And as long as we claim them as the scapegoat, while we let everyone else off the hook, we are not accepting the truth.


A Teacher To The End

A Teacher To The End

Tammy Waddell taught fifth grade at Sawnee elementary school in Cumming, GA.  Unfortunately, she recently lost her bout with cancer.

Obviously loved by many, her on-line obituary had page after page of remembrances from co-workers, parents and former students.  Many said she was the best teacher they ever had.

A teacher to her dying breathe, Tammy requested that instead of flowers at her service people should bring backpacks of food for needy students at her school.

As the picture shows, her wish was granted.

I never knew Tammy, but I have met many of her counterparts in the last decade.   People who give so unselfishly to the young lives in their care.

The same people politicians seem so intent on denigrating over and over and over.

Freedom & BBQ

To be honest, after I flamed and burned on June 5 in my campaign for a seat on the Montgomery County school board I have felt like a free man.  Not once have I driven down a street thinking a yard sign would look great on that corner lot or which neighborhood should I pick to knock on doors.

Which is why I hit the highway last Friday on a whim.  Actually, this venture was inspired by an article in my latest issue of Neighbors magazine which is published each month by the Alabama Farmers Federation.  The index called my attention to page 16 with the line, Ribs Worth A Road Trip.

Seems that my friends at the federation decided to find the best rib joints in Alabama and judged Heard’s BBQ & Soul Food in Maplesville as one of the top four.  I was out the door in ten minutes, headed northwest up U.S. 82 toward Tuscaloosa.  About 55 miles later I turned onto Alabama 22 and straight for Maplesville.

Granted, we have dozens of Maplesvilles around the state.  I’ve seen many of them.  Hamlets that time has basically forgotten due to four-laned roads, Wal-Marts and shopping on the internet.  The last census said Maplesville’s population was 708, which was 101 less than in 1850.  A sign on the edge of town told me Maplesville put down roots in 1823 and that in recent years the high school has been home to seven state championships in various sports.

It is a 1-A high school, the smallest classification in the state.  Only 410 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.  The same classification you find for places like Notasulga, Linden, Georgiana and Falkville.  The places where schools and communities are still closely tied together.  The missing link in so many education situations.

In modern times, Maplesville’s two most renowned citizens were probably Tommy Agee and Harold Morrow.  Both played football at Auburn University and went on to careers in the National Football League.  Agree won two Super Bowls playing with the Dallas Cowboys.

But on this trip I was looking for BBQ, not football stars.  And I found it on the west side of town, wedged between on of those storage unit places and Dollar General.  “Rustic” might be a too kind way to describe the home of Heards, owned by Roman and Shakira Heard.  You climb a small ramp that could use some newer, more sturdy boards in it, open the screen door and there you are at the counter.  Like any “real” BBQ place, there is no ambiance.  Which I guess really is the ambiance.

If you are dining in so to speak, you get a seat on the porch

So I tell the lady at the counter that I have driven from Montgomery to get some ribs.  Only to learn that ribs are only available on Saturdays.  I mutter something under my breathe that is not fit to be repeated here.  I settle for a BBQ plate, fries, cold slaw and a slice of “light” bread.  With sweet tea naturally.

It’s good.  And ample enough that I had leftovers for lunch the next day.

If you are like I am and always looking for another country road to travel, I highly recommend making the trip to Maplesville.  Just remember, ribs are only on Saturday.





Rural Grant Winners Announced

Something that gives me great satisfaction is my work on the board of the national organization, Rural Schools Collaborative.  For several years, RSC has been awarding small grants to teachers in rural schools.  While there is not a lot of money involved, I have visited with many grant winners and to them, it is as if we gave them the keys to Fort Knox.

Most work in systems that struggle to meet their basic needs which means “every little bit helps.”.

Offered in conjunction with our Alabama Hub at the University of West Alabama, funding was provided by Parker Griffith Family Foundation, University of West Alabama, Black Belt Teachers Corps, Larry Lee, and Alabama Friends of Rural School with matching funds from the Rural Schools Collaborative. Grant recipients will attend the Digging Into Rural Traditions Conference at UWA on September 18, 2018.

And the winners are:

Tiger Pride: Creating Beauty from Ashes: $825 to Monette Harrison of Greenville Middle School for a school beautification project where students will work hand in hand with the town horticulturist as well as other community members.

Sixth Grade Academy Garden: $1,600 to Cody Brown of Admiral Moorer Middle School in Eufaula City to allow for its new Sixth Grade Academy students to participate in a community garden that will serve to provide students with a substantial real-world experience outside the classroom. Kids will be able to work with their hands outside the doors of the building providing a service to the school community all the while building real-life skills and creating pride in their school campus.

The Three Sisters and S.T.R.E.A.M. Education: $600 to Warren Truitt of Mount Olive Primary School to support a gardening project that will reconnect rural-based students to the land around them, and to introduce them to some of the practices and legends of the indigenous peoples who once lived in this area. Students will use pre-existing raised beds on our school’s campus. Students will plant corn, climbing beans, and squash, elements of the “Three Sisters” Iroquois legend. Although the Iroquois were based farther north than our region (southeast Alabama), their agricultural innovations spread via migration.

Growing Together: $1,100 to Brittany Williams of the University Charter School in Livingston to fund a project that will focus on beautifying rural Livingston’s downtown through gardening and by partnering with local small businesses. The beautification project is a student-driven plan that will broaden each learner’s creativity and aid them in receiving and becoming owners of authentic learning experiences.

Tiger’s Closet: $2,000 to Amanda Kirkman and Kristin Phillips of the Black Belt Teachers Corps for their project with Westside Elementary School in Demopolis. This effort created a “closet” that includes coats, hats, gloves and socks for students in need.

Growing and Developing in Pre-K: $1,000 to Allyson Jacobs of the Black Belt Teachers Corps for her project with Moundville Elementary School. This program addressed the need for student-centered gross motor skills development at the pre-K level.

York West End Literacy Center: $2,000 to Ebonee Spinks and Devante Giles of the Black Belt Teacher Corps for their project with York West End School. This effort converted a classroom into an inviting literacy center that engages students and teachers.

STEAM Lab: $2,000 to Macy Bush and Mellisa Grayson of the Black Belt Teacher Corps for their project with Choctaw Elementary School in Gilbertown. This effort led to the creation of a fully-equipped STEAM Lab for students, teachers, and the school community.

Congratulations to all of these teachers for their efforts on behalf of their students.  It is unfortunate that so many don’t appreciate the contribution they make to our society.

A Very Special Love Story

Though some people are trying to convince voters in east Montgomery that I have horns, a pitchfork and a pointed tail, nothing  could be more wrong.  Heck, I am a very sentimental, emotional kind of guy.  Which is why I’ve been known to cry at certain movies or TV  shows and probably why I seldom watch the Hallmark channel.

So when I came across this story from the Washington Post I wanted to share.

It is a fascinating story about a very unusual wedding nearly 20 years, the wonderful marriage that followed and the bitter end that cancer brought about.

Do yourself a big favor and read it.