Even though we officially still have nearly 96 hours of 2016 yet to go, we’re close enough to Auld Lang Syne to put the finishing touches on the year and get on to the new year.
I will fall into the trap too many politicians too often do and look back at the year with numbers. I posted more than 280 times on this blog, sent 15 articles to newspapers in Alabama (have no clue how many were printed), drove 19,000 miles visiting schools, going to meeting and chasing education info and made 18 speeches or presentations. Probably the most memorable was to about 700 retired educators at the annual meeting of the Alabama Retired Educators Association. (And already have 13 scheduled for next year.)
The blog had more than 200,000 “hits” and I’m very grateful for that. As well as grateful for the feedback I often get. Most is positive, not all. But that’s fine, this is a land where all voices are supposed to be heard.
It was not a comforting year for public education, except for the fact that a growing economy did provide more funding for the Education Trust Fund. We faced the challenge of the infamous RAISE bill in the 2016 regular session. Once again we came face to face with what happens when lawmakers listen to everyone except Alabama educators in creating education legislation. It is not a pretty sight.
But in this instance, the good guys prevailed and the sponsor of the bill, Senator Del Marsh, never brought the bill to a floor vote in the Senate. And I will always consider that as much as anything, this was the baptism of my friend and Vestavia Hills high school science teacher and 2015-16 Alabama Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Brown, into the unseemly world of state politics. She was adamantly opposed to this bill and did a super job or rallying fellow educators to the cause.
There was the unexpected resignation of state superintendent Tommy Bice in March and the ensuing and protracted “search” for someone to replace him. Rather than reaching a consensus as to what we needed in a new superintendent and moving in that direction, the state board of education broke into factions and ignored the advice of state educators.
The result was hiring Michael Sentance of Massachusetts, someone with no formal training as an educator and no administrative or budgetary experience. It is now very evident that the whole process was tainted by at least one state board member who admitted to a legislative committee that she made sure the state Ethics Commission was made aware of untrue allegations against one applicant.
Answers as to what went on and why are yet to be determined. And litigation planned for early 2017 to explore this entire unseemly episode will be watched carefully by the education community. This has the potential of being more revealing that any “who dun it” you can find on TV.
Governor Robert Bentley rattled cages when he declared in a speech that Alabama “education sucks.” The fact that a recent survey of 970+ respondents by this blog showed the governor with an approval rating of only 1.5 percent is testimony to how weak he now is.
Our new state superintendent told a work session of the state board that Alabama’s graduation rate is under investigation by the Feds and set editorial writers aflame. It also gave certain board members a stage to rant and rave about how they had been “lied to” and “betrayed”. But there was just one problem, no one had any numbers to delineate the extent of the supposed problem since the Feds had not released their findings. In fact, the state superintendent tried to “walk back” damage done to the Mobile County school system by premature statements.
So at the political level, it was not a sterling year for education in Alabama. But at the level that truly matters (what happens in classrooms and schools), it was a year of progress. Here are a few things of note.
- Greg Ennis of James Clemens High in the Madison City school system was named the 2016 National Teacher of the Year in STEM education.
- Brian Copss, engineering teacher in the Alabaster City school system is one of 50 teachers internationally competing for the $1 million Varkey Foundation Glolbal Teacher Prize 2017.
- U.S. News & World Report named four Alabama high schools among the nation’s top 200 magnet schools.
- Piedmont City schools were recognized by President Obama for their use of technology.
- Five state schools were nationally recognized as Blue Ribbon schools. This was more than Massachusetts, which Governor Bentley thinks has the best school system since light bread was invented.
- SAT scores in Alabama were higher than those in Masschusetts.
If only our elected officials rose to the level of our educators.