State Board of Education: New Leader Elected, and NLCB Waiver Approved

We’ve put together a brief update on the reports and actions from the Alabama State Board of Education during its latest meetings and work sessions. Included in this u[date is news on Alabama’s NCLB waiver application, the annual State Board of Education election results, school flexibility and innovation update, and the state intervention progress.
Passing the Gavel

At the annual State Board of Education meeting held this week, Dr. Charles Elliott was elected as the vice president, replacing Stephanie Bell after her one-year term.

The Governor serves as the president and participates in major votes. However the vice-president provides ongoing leadership for board actions regarding policy development, board governance and usually chairs all meetings. Ella Bell was re-elected as president pro-tem and chairs the meetings in the absence of the vice-president.

After thanking Stephanie Bell for her leadership, Elliott commented that he is committed to continuing the important progress that has been made and encouraged the board to hold future work sessions in schools, local industries and even in the State Capitol.

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NCLB Waiver

The U.S. Department of Education last month granted Alabama’s request for a waiver from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. To date, 39 states and the District of Columbia have received waivers from the law passed in 2003. Under the waiver, Alabama is freed from the restrictions of Adequate Yearly Progress, which will be replaced with new more meaningful and transparent accountability benchmarks under Plan 2020.

“The waiver from NCLB is just one part of the overall PLAN 2020 approach,” State Supt. Tommy Bice told “Ultimately, what will result is a system that uses the college- and career-readiness of its graduates as its capstone measure of success,” he added.

The state applied for its NCLB waiver in the fall and has been in discussions with the U.S. DOE since then.

Plan 2020 focuses on four priorities: learners, support systems, school systems and professionals in order to meet the following objectives:

1) Improve student academic growth and achievement.
2) Close the achievement gap.
3) Increase the graduation rate.
4) Increase the number of students that are college and career-ready.

Click here for more on this in the Montgomery Advertiser (with video).

School Innovation and Flexibility

Since the Alabama Accountability Act passed, the ALSDE has received several applications for flexibility from some state regulations, statutes and budget restrictions in order to design efforts that reach the needs of their students

District leaders from Calhoun County, for example, requested to be released from requirements that they say hinder them from becoming completely student-centered. The system’s superintendent, Dr. Joe Dyer, explained to the SBOE during their recent meeting, “We want any barriers removed to our forming a strong relationship with each of our students.”

For example, they will no longer approve students’ requests to drop out of school. Instead, they will work with each student to find an alternative path for their success, partnering with teachers and community service providers to help students with flexible schedules, transportation, daycare needs, and career tech opportunities to help the students reach their individual “next level.”

“We’re not expecting less from our students,” explained Dr. Dyer. “We are supporting them to do more.”

Dr. Bice said, “When you give people flexibility, they are going to create, enthusiastically respond, and blow the roof off our expectations.”

The requests and changes being made by Calhoun County did not cost any additional funds, Dr. Bice explained. “They were able to work all these improvements into their current budget, because of the flexibility that was granted to them.”

Board member Tracy Roberts responded, saying, “I’ve never been more proud of Alabama schools. (Calhoun County) is a shining example of doing what’s right for students.”

Birmingham and Midfield Intervention Updates

Drs. Ed Richardson and Craig Pouncey presented the SBOE with an update on intervention efforts with the Birmingham City Schools and Midfield City Schools.

They each described the issues that led to the need for state intervention, and then highlighted accomplishments made in working with the schools.

Dr. Richardson reported that there are still challenges with local board governance of Birmingham City Schools and he recommended continued intervention or “all the work that has been done to improve the situation to this point will be lost.”

“There are some really great things happening in Birmingham’s schools and some great people in place teaching children,” said Dr. Richardson. “However, the leadership is still unstable and not student-centered at this point, and that has been discouraging.”

ALSDE intervened in Birmingham City last year due to financial problems in the system, notably a lack of the legally required one-month operating reserve. Over the last 12 years, enrollment in the system has dropped by roughly 11,000 students to approximately 24,000 in 2012 from approximately 35,000 in 2000.

Dr. Richardson mentioned several strengths of the Birmingham district, including strong business and community support, many strong teachers and principals, and the Woodlawn Innovation Zone, which can become a model for other systems in the state.

In Birmingham, so far, the intervention has resulted in:

  • A reduction in the size of the central district office and ancillary sites with minimal impact on teachers.
  • Consolidation of seven schools and six central office buildings, resulting in surplus properties they were able to sell and put toward a district-wide service center for maintenance, transportation, security and child nutrition.
  • Cooperation with the district attorney’s investigations, leading to four indictments for theft and ethics violations.

Intervention in Midfield has resulted in:

   Improved Fiscal Accountability –

  • After complete audits and work with the books, they are financially stable and have a clear accountability system in place.
  • They are completing improvement projects for the middle school, for which they received federal improvement funds.
  • They have committed $3.5 million to move forward with complete renovation plans for the elementary school.

   Academic Improvement –

  • The graduation rate has improved from 46% to 64%, through the additional tutoring and night school programs.
  • Re-opening and improving the cosmetology lab and auto mechanic shop have enhanced the high school’s career tech programs.
  • A new school counselor has received training on proper scheduling and academic tracking procedures.
  • Implemented a continuous improvement plan and have secured more active engagement and support for improvement efforts, including additional technology equipment, support and training.
  • Decreased discipline issues.

   Responsible Governance –

  • Revised organizational structure.
  • Provided professional development for board members regarding proper governance and financial oversight.
  • Developed new policies and procedures for local school and board.
  • Filled numerous, critical vacancies in school leadership positions.

The intervention team recommends continued improvement efforts for Midfield in the areas of administrative oversight and professional development, additional revenue sources, technological innovations and cost-saving opportunities.