Head east from Montgomery on I-85, go north on highway 49 at the Tuskegee/Franklin exit, take a right in Dadeville and pass the cemetery and you’re at Dadeville elementary where principal Chris Dark watches over 641 kindergarten through sixth grade students.
It was raining hard when I turned off I-85 this Wednesday morning. In about two miles I crossed some railroad tracks and then a block building that used to be home to Buddy’s Lounge, a genuine honky-tonk where me and a friend listened to Billy Joe Royal one night. Then across highway 14, by Reeltown high school and the entrance to Still Waters.
Superintendent Joe Windle had invited me to visit this school. And I have to say, they rolled out the red carpet for me. Two very mannerly sixth graders, Kahlia Wilson and Hunter Smith, were ready and waiting with an itinerary and off we went to see classrooms. They made sure we stayed on schedule.
When you have visited as many schools as I have, it becomes easy to quickly get a sense of what kind of school you are in. Is it clean and welcoming? Are people smiling? Is there an air of expectations? Are people going about their jobs with a sense of purpose, rather than simply marking time?. Do people act professionally? Are students engaged when you enter their room?
Call it the “IT” factor if you will. For sure not all schools give off this vibe. Dadeville elementary does.
One thing that got my attention was how many teachers are either from Dadeville or Tallapoosa County. Some have been at this school for 30+ years. This is a big deal because it gives a school much-needed stability. And adults can relate to their students and the homes they come from.
It was apparent the faculty is proud of their school and their classrooms. I met one young lady who is about to graduate from Auburn University and will teach afterwards. She was doing an internship at Dadeville elementary. The fact that a good number of her fellow classmates ask for an internship at this school says a lot.
My last stop, and definitely the highlight of my visit, was the studio where some talented sixth-graders do their own version of the morning news.
They are under the guidance of coach Chris Tolbert who wears many hats at DES, including overseeing Alabama’s only system wide program where special need students have PE every day.
This day the crew consisted of Takevious Heard, Luke Hanks and Ivey Graham. The teleprompter was loaded with questions about my background and some well-aimed questions. The anchors were Addison Spates and Alana Tolbert. So I sat between them and off we rolled. And if you wish to see how big time broadcasting works in Dadeville, you can see it here. I encourage you to take a look. Certainly not to see me, but to be impressed by these young folks and the quality of their work.
I loved it. And have to say that young Miss Alana Tolbert has a super personality and a flair for asking questions.
Last week the state department of education released school report cards. Dadeville elementary had a 70, which means by the measures used on the score card, they barely made a C.
And I headed back to Montgomery totally convinced that it is impossible to slap one simple letter grade on a school and do its students, faculty, administrators and support folks any semblance of fairness..
If those who contrived this measure would take the time to go to Dadeville I am positive Alana Tolbert would quickly set them straight.