The Alabama State Board of Education approves minutes during its regular meeting on February 9, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)
If members of the State Board of Education and leaders of the Alabama House of Representatives agreed on anything on Thursday, it was that they needed to work on their communication.
That conclusion came after the chamber’s Democratic and Republican leaders attended the board’s work session, a meeting that led to discussion of shared goals and individual frustrations.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, asked board members to help develop plans to improve math and reading achievement. Without a clear understanding, he said, legislators would assume the State Board of Education had no plan.
“I just think that without a plan, you leave it up to the imagination of legislators to think there is no plan,” he said.
House Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, spoke about charter schools, saying that they had emerged around struggling schools. His concern, he said, was less about charter schools and more about what message was being sent to students who had been left behind in their zoned schools.
“So we’re just going to leave you down there, and good luck, and we’re giving that message to the educators,” he said. “We’re giving it to the administrators and the teachers and the parents in that community. So, my question is, how are we going to fix that situation?”
A recent report given to legislators showed that charter schools do not always perform better than local schools, as reported by Trish Crain of Al.com.
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On the other end, Stephanie Bell, board member for District 3, said that she had heard frustrations with the legislators.
“And so from the standpoint of what is happening across the street, that connection, that communication that we used to have is crucial in terms of creating an environment where education and teachers is not only supported, but they can fly,” she said.
This conversation led into a broader discussion around the long term goals of education in Alabama.
Tracie West, board member for District 2, told legislators that there is a plan for school improvement, individualized for schools through the Alabama State Department of Education Office of School Improvement.
West said if Stadthagen and Daniels were not aware of that, that is an issue from the Board’s side for not communicating well enough.
“And I think if there’s any takeaway for me today, I’m just sorry that you didn’t know that or that you haven’t seen it and that’s our fault,” she said. “That’s my fault. I take responsibility.”
She also referenced the Alabama Achieves Strategic Plan and told the legislators that she believes that funding is going to areas of highest need, where she believes it should go. The Alabama Achieves Strategic Plan looks at five key areas: Academic growth and achievement; college, career and workforce ready; safe and supportive learning environments; highly effective educators and customer friendly services.
Yvette Richardson, board member for District 4, told the lawmakers that they have a strategic plan, but the board might need a framework to assist struggling districts.
“We did a wonderful plan,” she said. “But I think we’re going to have to get more specific to look at the data and address where we are, not just best practices. Because all best practices don’t work in all school districts.”
In the future, Richardson said, they will need to move beyond a global plan to a plan that looks at individual districts. She mentioned that they should look at more data.
Some of the struggling school districts, she said, do not have their own plans, so they would need help.
“So, we’ll get there not pointing fingers, but we know we have our work to do,” she said.
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