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Mobile County Partners Work to Prevent Crime, Help Families To Have or To Have Not: What Really Belongs in Personnel Files? Official Publication of the Alabama Association of School Boards


U.S. Secretary of Education Lauds Alabama Reading Initiative When it Comes to Education, Mediocrity is Not Acceptable

MAC Program Expansion Increases Medicaid Reimbursements

OFFICERS Tommy McDaniel . . . . . . . . President Cherokee County Jim Methvin . . . . . . . . .President-Elect Alabama School of Fine Arts Sue Helms . . . . . . . . . . . Vice President Madison City Linda Steed . . . . . . . . . . Past President Pike County STAFF Sandra Sims-deGraffenried, Ed.D. Executive Director Sally Brewer Howell, J.D. Assistant Executive Director Denise L. Berkhalter Director of Public Relations Editor, Alabama School Boards Susan Rountree Salter Director of Membership Services Lissa Astilla Tucker Director of Governmental Relations Debora Hendricks Administrative Assistant Donna Norris Administrative Assistant Kay Shaw Bookkeeper Lashana Summerlin Receptionist Tammy Wright Executive Assistant Janelle Zeigler Clerical Assistant BOARD OF DIRECTORS Patsy Black . . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 1 Monroe County James Ware . . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 2 Selma Jeff Bailey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 3 Covington County Florence Bellamy . . . . . . . . . District 4 Phenix City Jennifer Parsons . . . . . . . . . . District 5 Jefferson County Leon Garrett . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 6 Piedmont Susan Harris . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 7 Winfield Dr. Charles Elliott . . . . . . . . . District 8 Decatur Laura Casey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 9 Albertville Sandra Ray . . . . . . . . . . . . State Board Tuscaloosa Robert A. Lane.. NSBA Board of Directors Lowndes County

AugustSeptember 2005 Vol. 26, No. 4


Slow & Steady: Southside Primary Changes Net Huge Improvement . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Sometimes change comes in one of those “eureka!” moments, a flash of insight that makes clear the path you should take. And sometimes it doesn’t. Take Dallas County’s Southside Primary School. Once home to hundreds of students from military families stationed at the nearby air force base, its population underwent a dramatic shift after the federal government closed the base in 1977.

Southside’s Secret: Teamwork, Tears and Focus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Could This Happen to You? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 U.S. Secretary of Education Lauds Alabama Reading Initiative . . . 20 When it Comes to Education, Mediocrity is Not Acceptable . . . . . 22 FEATURES

Mobile County Partners Work to Prevent Crime, Help Families . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 MAC Program Expansion to Increase Medicaid Reimbursements . 11 To Have or To Have Not: What Really Belongs in Personnel Files? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 New Staffers Join AASB . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 DEPARTMENTS

Alabama Education News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Help . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Education & the Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 At the Table . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Potpourri . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 PUBLICATION POLICY Alabama School Boards is published by the Alabama Association of School Boards as a service to its member school boards. The articles published in each issue represent the ideas or beliefs of the writers and are not necessarily the views of the Alabama Association of School Boards. Subscriptions sent to members of school boards are included in membership dues, and complimentary copies are sent to public school principals throughout the state. Additional subscriptions can be obtained by contacting AASB. Entered as third-class mail at Montgomery, AL. Permit No. 34. Alabama School Boards is designed by J. Durham Design, L.L.C., Montgomery, AL. Address all editorial and advertising inquiries to: Alabama School Boards, Editor, P.O. Drawer 230488, Montgomery, AL 36123-0488. Phone: 334/277-9700. Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 3

Alabama Education News Teacher-to-Teacher Corps Recruits Trainers The U.S. Department of Education is forming a cadre of Teacher-to-Teacher Training Corps teachers and practitioners to provide on-site technical assistance and regional workshops for teachers and school systems over the next 12 months. Teachers and school leaders who are using scientifically based research strategies and have data to demonstrate effectiveness are being recruited as trainers. Selected teacher trainers are expected to share their experience with implementing researchbased practices in classrooms and schools. The corps connects other educators with expert teachers and administrators who demonstrate ways to improve academic per-

formance through increased content knowledge and improved teaching skill. The goal of these sessions is to enhance school level professional development efforts by giving trainees ready-to-use strategies and an understanding of why and when those strategies are effective. The U.S. Department of Education will provide travel and accommodations and will give selected trainers a $1,000 honorarium for planning, preparation and participation for each training event. Trainers determine their level of participation in workshops scheduled around the country during 2005 and 2006. In addition, corps members will be eligible to participate in the sessions and will be eligible to make presentations at the department’s summer workshops in 2006.

Educators can apply for the Teacher-toTeacher Training Corps by submitting a complete proposal, which includes a PowerPoint presentation and handouts by Oct. 10. For more information, visit www.ed. gov/teachers/how/tools/initiative/about/inf ormation.html online, send e-mail to or call 888/ 831-1338.

Spirit of Community Awards Seeks Alabama’s Top Youth Volunteers The search is underway for Alabama’s top student volunteers of 2006. The 11th annual Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honor middle and high school stu-

West Jasper Elementary Wins National School Change Award The first Alabama school to win the National School Change Award was recognized in an Alabama Reading Initiative promotional video during the 2005 Governor’s Reading Summit Sept. 15 in Birmingham. A model of schools making exemplary achievement, West Jasper Elementary School is the first school in Alabama to win the 2005 National School Change Award, an honor cosponsored by the American Association of School Administrators, Pearson Education, and Fordham University. Nominated by the state Department of Education, West Jasper received the award in May for boosting its “C-minus” earned in 1999-2000 on the state report card to an “A” for the past two years. The award, which included a $5,000 grant, also provided National Principals Leadership Institute training for Smith at Fordham University. State Superintendent of Education Dr. Joe Morton visited the school shortly after the award was presented to congratulate the teachers, students and the principal, Eric Smith, Jasper City Schools Superintendent Philip Woods and Jean Lollar, director of elementary and federal programs for the school system. West Jasper Elementary also saw an impressive jump in its fourth-grade reading test scores. In 2003-04, 73 percent of students in fourth-grade at West Jasper read on grade level, while only 49 percent did so in 1999-2000.

4 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

On Sept. 9, Alabama State Superintendent of Education Dr. Joe Morton (right), visited Sherry Williams’ class at West Jasper Elementary School, which has garnered national attention for improved student achievement.

The school serves a low-income area, and 86 percent of its students eat free or pay a reduced price for school lunches. It also earned the national “Dispelling the Myth” award last fall. Also recognized at the Governor’s Reading Summit was Calcedeaver Elementary School, the only school on the DIBELS honor roll with a majority of its students receiving free or reduced price lunches. Calcedeaver was also recognized by the national Reading First Conference.

Birmingham Area Commuters ‘SchoolPool’ to Save Money Snarled traffic, congested roadways and costly gas threaten to make the morning commute to school a nightmare. While Birmingham principals encourage parents to put their children on school buses as a safer option, busing may not always be a feasible or available choice for parents. The Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham has developed a program, which attempts to address that problem. SchoolPool, managed through the CommuteSmart Web site, uses home and school locations to match commuting schoolchildren whose parents are interested in carpooling with potential rides near their neighborhoods. The commission expects the formal ride-matching program to be particularly useful for school systems without buses, such as the Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook systems in Jefferson County. There is no charge for the voluntary program which requires online registration before a list of potential ride-matches can be accessed. To learn more, call Commuter Services at 800/826-Ride or visit www. dents in grades 5-12 who exemplify community spirit for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Since its inception, the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, sponsored nationwide by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, has honored nearly 1,000 young Alabamians who have made the greatest commitment and impact in their communities. In 2005, Huntsville’s Samuel Robinson, Alabama’s top middle school volunteer, was also named one of 10 National Honorees. His project “Pocket Change for Peds” was a fund-raising drive to benefit pediatric patients at Huntsville Hospital. Alabama’s top high school volunteer in 2005, Phenix City’s Victor Cross, conducted research into the effects of alcohol on spiders and used his findings in a campaign to warn teens about the dangers of drinking and driving. In February 2006, Alabama’s top two volunteer candidates — one middle school and one high school student — will be named state honorees and will receive a $1,000 award, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., with a parent or guardian for four days of recognition events, May 6-9, 2006. State runners-up receive bronze medallions. From the state honorees, 10 will be named national honorees and will receive addi-

tional awards of $5,000, gold medallions, crystal trophies for their schools or organizations, and $5,000 grants from the Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice. Students must submit completed applications by Oct. 31. The application is available online at or or by calling 888/50-9961.

Decatur Project Assists Families Through Community Partnerships The Decatur school board is focusing on families with the Family Assistance Through Community Ties (FACT) pilot program approved for the 2005-06 school year and designed to assist West Decatur Elementary students whose families face crises. According to a Decatur Daily news report, school board President Dr. Charles Elliott said social workers assess students’ emotional, physical and social needs with services offered through partnering community and nonprofit agencies. The project partners are Parents and Children Together and the Mental Health Center of North Alabama. While the FACT program, which includes the work of a project coordinator and a therapist, addresses social and family

issues, teachers and school leaders can keep the spotlight on academics, Elliott said. Since the program’s inception in August 2005, it has assisted 15 families and has handled 44 referrals. Linda Batts, program coordinator, said the program is “working great and is off to a better start than we imagined.” Batts had just wrapped up a Hispanic Resource Workshop for parents when she described the most common need the FACT program has tackled thus far. “These parents just need support,” Batts said. “They want somebody to talk to and guide them and to give them information about where to go and how to handle situations. Just knowing they can come here and get information about almost anything they have concerns and problems with has been a great help.” West Decatur Elementary was selected as the pilot site for the $60,000 grantfunded project because of the poverty level among its student body. About 94 percent of the school’s students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. s



Does the board need the superintendent’s recommendation to name a school?


No. Because state law does not require the superintendent’s recommendation in naming a school, the school board may do so without such a recommendation, according to Alabama’s Attorney General. In an opinion released in 2004, the Attorney General reasoned that the broad authority given to school boards under state law and the fact that the board is the governing body for the school system are sufficient authority for the board to name a school without a recommendation by the superintendent. — Susan Rountree Salter

Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 5

Education&the Law New Sunshine Law Changes Rules for Meetings By Dorman Walker, Attorney, Balch & Bingham


very school board member by now knows that Alabama’s new Open Meetings Act (OMA) takes effect on Oct. 1. This article suggests steps school Walker boards may want to consider in order to comply with the OMA and document that compliance. The OMA is a complete revision of Alabama’s outdated Sunshine Act, which allowed executive sessions only to discuss the good name and character of a person or for a board to meet with its attorney about a matter in litigation or likely to be in litigation. The OMA responds to the well-recognized need to have executive sessions in other circumstances and allows them for nine specific reasons, as well as those “otherwise expressly provided by other federal or state statutes.” However, the OMA also imposes many new procedures intended to safeguard the state’s fundamental policy that “the deliberative process of governmental bodies shall be open to the public during meetings.” Here is a summary of the new provisions:

s If a preliminary agenda exists, it must

s Board members could be assessed

be made available in the same manner that notice is given.

financial penalty for voting to conduct and participating in an illegal executive session.

s Notice must be given for all meetings

opinion before a board votes to go into executive session. For example, before the board can meet in executive session with its attorney, the attorney must give an opinion that the purpose of the executive session is consistent with the attorney-client exception.

“as soon as practicable,” but at least seven days, 24 hours, or 1 hour in advance, depending on the circumstances. s Members of the public are entitled to receive direct notice of meetings, upon request. Notice also must be posted on a bulletin board in the central administrative office. 6 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

s Meetings of board committees and

subcommittees are covered by the OMA, in addition to board meetings. s Under some circumstances, a quorum

can include persons who are appointed or elected to the board but have not yet taken office. s Meetings may be “openly” recorded or

videotaped by the public. s Meetings generally must be conducted

according to the board’s “adopted rules of parliamentary procedure.” s Minutes must be maintained and made

public “as soon as practicable after approval.”

As noted above, the OMA provides a new immunity for board members — but only if they meet in compliance with the OMA, after giving proper notice, etc. In addition, if a civil action to enforce the OMA is brought against board members, their ability to defend themselves may depend on how thoroughly the board documented, at the time it met, its full compliance with the OMA. So, what should boards do? Let’s start with notice. Boards must post notice of every meeting on a bulletin board in the central administrative office and must provide notice of meetings (and prelimi-

s Board members cannot use electronic

communications to avoid having a meeting, or otherwise to circumvent the OMA. s Voting by secret ballots is not allowed. s Board members must vote on a motion

to go into executive session, and each member’s vote must be recorded in the minutes. s Four exceptions require a compliance

s Board members who act consistent with

the OMA are immune from liability for statements made during the meeting.

Of the nine enumerated reasons for executive session in the OMA, four explicitly require that a compliance opinion (certification) be entered in the minutes. Boards also should document compliance with the other exceptions, even though not required by the OMA.

nary agenda, if available) directly to people who have registered to receive direct notice. Boards must determine how they will provide direct notice — e-mail seems the most logical choice — and make rules telling members of the public how to register, how frequently they must re-register or reconfirm their e-mail address (for example), and assess a cost, if any, for providing direct notice. Assuming the board provides direct notice by e-mail, it should maintain a copy of the e-mail, showing all people to whom it was sent and the time and date it was sent, and attach the e-mail to the minutes of the meeting. The minutes also should record when the notice was posted on the bulletin board, and, if a preliminary agenda is available, the message sending it, and the time of its posting also should be made part of the minutes. Boards also must adopt rules of parliamentary procedure and must act in accordance with those rules, unless a federal or state law requires a different procedure. Boards should identify in their minutes and policy manual the rules they have adopted. Members of the public — and this includes media — may openly photograph, record or videotape board meetings, but only so long as they do not disrupt the meeting. Boards may want to adopt rules to prevent disruptions such as establishing a certain area of the board room where people making recordings are out of the way and still can see and hear what is going on. Minutes must be “made available to the public as soon as practicable after approval.” This seemingly innocuous provision could, if violated, result in an OMA violation. Because voting by secret ballots is not allowed, boards should consider recording how each board member votes by name, rather than stating the vote totals (e.g., “the vote was 3 to 2 in favor”), as a way of documenting that no secret ballot was used. Of the nine enumerated reasons for executive session in the OMA, four explicitly require that a compliance opinion (certification) be entered in the min-

If a civil action to enforce the OMA is brought against board members, their ability to defend themselves may depend on how thoroughly the board documented, at the time it met, its full compliance with the OMA. utes. Boards also should document compliance with the other exceptions, even though not required by the OMA. For example, one exception allows a board to go into executive session for disciplinary reasons when expressly allowed by federal or state law, and the OMA generally provides that boards can go into executive session “as otherwise expressly provided by other federal or state statutes.” Any time a board goes into executive session based on one of these provisions, it should indicate in the minutes the exact federal or state law that it is relying on and should consider having its attorney give an opinion that the executive session will comply with that law. Although unlikely, the board — if it used the security exception for an executive session to discuss plans that involved critical infrastructure now owned by the board — the board should attach a copy of the notice regarding the executive session to the owner of the critical infrastructure to its minutes and document when and how it was delivered to the owner/ operator (usually a utility) of the critical infrastructure. Particularly important is the exception that allows an executive session to discuss real estate transactions. This exception does not apply if a board member who has a personal interest in the transaction participates in the executive session or if a condemnation action has been filed.

Before voting on a motion to go into executive session, board members should be individually asked if they have a personal interest in the transaction, and their responses should be included in the minutes. Similarly, the board’s attorney or agent in the transaction should disclose for the minutes that no condemnation action has been filed. Mentioned earlier was the possibility of a civil action against board members for violation of the OMA. Board members may be sued for: s Disregarding notice requirements; s Violating the act in open meetings

(such as voting by secret ballot, failing to follow adopted procedural rules and not allowing someone to record a meeting); s Discussing in executive session mat-

ters beyond the scope of the exception(s) for which the executive session was convened; or s Otherwise violating the act.

If the claim is based on a violation alleged to have occurred in an executive session, the burden of proof at the final hearing is on the defendant board members, who must show that “the discussions during the executive session were limited to matters related to the subjects included in the motion to convene the executive session.” Thus, it seems boards must keep some record of what they discussed in executive session, including documents that were reviewed, if any. Otherwise, defendant board members risk trying to remember and prove what was discussed in an executive session that occurred as much as two years earlier. If notes are kept, they should be treated as confidential and should be maintained separate from the minutes in a secure, locked file cabinet to which access is limited. Copies of any documents reviewed at the executive session should be maintained with the notes. Boards should discuss with their attorney having these notes and documents maintained by the attorney. These proposals are fairly simple. Following them could help a board both comply with the OMA and prevail if it is sued for violating the act. s Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 7

Mobile County District Attorney Partners with Schools to Prevent Crime, Help Families By Martha Simmons Research clearly indicates that truancy and serious misconduct at school forecast juvenile delinquency and, eventually, adult crime. Mobile County's high crime rate and social risk factors play key roles in school discipline problems. Studies indicate many public school students fear for their safety at school, and at-risk youth suffer serious problems at home. “Educators cannot be expected to correct such problems without significant assistance from families and the community as a whole," said Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. "That's why our office has joined forces with the Mobile County Public Schools to implement the Make the Right Choice, Helping Families Initiative (HFI). This initiative is proving to be a cost-effective way of both fighting crime and preventing it.”


n Mobile County, Tyson’s office partners with the community’s education, law enforcement, health, mental health, social services and other organizations and agencies to identify children in trouble and to develop appropriate interventions for them and their families. The Helping Families Initiative is cutting red tape and knocking down barriers in an effort to maximize existing community resources. “Alabama law requires parents to make sure that their children attend school and that they behave themselves appropriately in class. I am mandated to vigorously enforce these laws,” said Tyson, a former vice president of the state Board of Education. “However, I also realize that misbehavior in school is sometimes a symptom of problems that need something other than a law enforcement solution. Catching these problems early enough — and giving families the targeted assistance they need — can help divert an at-risk child from trouble.” During the 2004-2005 school year, the Helping Families Initiative made 3,269 referrals for 198 different services pro8 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

vided by 150 different agencies and organizations. (See Chart 1 below for a breakdown of those referrals.)

These interventions clearly are making a difference: 67 percent of the families completing the program showed improvement in family functioning, especially in the category of child well-being. (See Chart 2 on page 9.) HFI measures these improvements through pre- and postadministration of the North Carolina Family Assessment Scale, which was chosen because it indicates strengths as well as weaknesses.

Key Steps HFI offers early intervention for an atrisk student whose own behavior triggers the process. It is a multi-disciplinary, team approach to intervening with at-risk students suspended for committing “C,”

Chart 1: Helping Families Initiative 2004-2005 School Year Referral Summary Mobile County District Attorney & other law enforcement . . . . . . . . . . .143 Mobile County Public School System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .549 Mobile County Department of Human Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .124 Strickland Youth Center . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .122 Health services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .240 Children’s services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .278 Mental health services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .569 Faith community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .201 Emergency assistance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .76 Housing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .78 Recovery groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .123 Drug and alcohol treatment services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .215 Other social services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .74 Parenting and mentoring . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .321 Vocational support . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .120 Summer youth programs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27 Youth volunteer programs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9

Chart 2: Net Change in Family Functioning Scores

violations, may result in legal consequences as called for in Alabama laws governing student and parental actions and responsibilities. Parents and school faculty also are encouraged to make direct referrals to HFI by calling 251/574-4921 if they know of a student or family needing assistance.

Community Challenges

“D” or “E” violations of the Mobile County Public School System’s Student Code of Conduct. These violations are serious acts that include a wide range of offenses such as bomb threats, assault, robbery, possessing or selling drugs or alcohol, and bringing a gun or switchblade to school. The program provides early intervention when the violation results in suspension, but not an arrest. Arrested students will continue to be processed through the juvenile court and probation systems. Here are the key steps: • IDENTIFY youth most at-risk • ENGAGE youth and family with need for change • REFER and DELIVER services • MEASURE and REPORT progress “Participation in the Helping Families Initiative is not optional,” Tyson said. “Disruptive students interfere with the education of law-abiding classmates and erode school safety, and they must be held accountable for their actions.” Because Alabama public schools must share suspension and truancy data with the district attorney, the Mobile County public school system uploads the information directly to the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office. DA staff members then examine the records to determine whether a suspended youth — or his or her parent — has an active court case that is relevant to the school discipline prob-


How the Program Works • Any student committing his or her first “C” violation receives a warning letter from the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office. The student’s principal and the central office will be notified of the letter. • On the second “C” or the first “D” or “E” violation, the suspended student and his or her parent(s) may be required to undergo a family assessment and participate in an intervention prescribed by the HFI Team. • Failure by the student or parent to fully cooperate in the prescribed interventions, or subsequent “C,” “D,” or “E”

The delinquency prevention efforts of the Helping Families Initiative are essential to improving quality of life in the community at large. Mobile County suffers from a chronically high crime rate that affects all its citizens. And, like much of Alabama, Mobile County has some of the highest child risk factors — teen pregnancy, poverty, child death rates, etc. — in the nation, according to Alabama Kids Count’s annual report. “These crime statistics and risk factors show up in Alabama classrooms every day,” Tyson said. “Through our Helping Families Initiative work, we know that 40 percent of Mobile County students suspended for serious violations already have an active record in juvenile court. The good news is that by reaching the other 60 percent with early and effective interventions, we have a tremendous opportunity to help an at-risk child before he or she gets into serious trouble with the law.” (Continued on page 11)

Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr., center, leads a case review meeting of the Helping Families Initiative Team. Sixteen agencies and organizations participate in the weekly meetings during the school year, reviewing case files and recommending interventions for some of Mobile County’s most at-risk youth and families. Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 9

Helping Families Initiative Case Stories Crime, victims of crime, hunger, addiction, mental illness, homelessness — these are just a few of the desperate circumstances the Helping Families Initiative (HFI) team encounters when participating in weekly case review meetings at the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office throughout the school year. The interventions prescribed by this team are saving lives and futures for at-risk kids. s A teenage girl - a “throwaway kid” on the verge of a life of

drug abuse and sexual exploitation - finds refuge in a group home. s Four abused and neglected children are rescued from a

crack house and get a taste of normal life with foster parents. s A fourth-grader overturns school furniture in a rage, threat-

ens to kill faculty and students, stands on top of his desk and screams at the teacher. At home, he blackens his frail grandmother’s eye and is suspected of setting fires and torturing animals. HFI case officers learn that the grandmother can’t read well enough to administer his antipsychotic drugs correctly. The boy’s medications are corrected, and an uncle agrees to take the boy in and give him a positive role model.

John Tyson Jr. is shown with an HFI success story. Reenie Kidd, left, is delighted that her daughter, Rachel Foster, received a Helping Families Initiative intervention. As a result, Rachel dramatically improved her behavior at school and at home and earned academic honors. She thanked Tyson and a Helping Families case officer for helping her turn her life around and is now planning to become a doctor.

s Parents “at wit’s end” with their teenaged daughter get help

with the child’s addiction — a problem they were unaware of until Helping Families Initiative intervention.

vouchers and free daycare for the toddler, so the 14-year-old could go to school when her mom goes to the doctor.

s A high school student begins cutting classes and his mother,

s A high school student with a severe case of eczema is sus-

who works nights at a local hospital, is unaware of it until he gets suspended for being high on marijuana at school. The boy is only one credit short of graduation, and the suspension will cause him to not graduate on time. An HFI case officer works with the school faculty and the boy to return him to school, and he graduates with an advanced diploma. He is now studying at a local community college.

pended for bringing penicillin to school. HFI discovers a family living on the brink, with a severely disabled father and a mother earning only $150 a week to support the family of seven in a two-bedroom home. There is no gasoline for the car and no air conditioning because the power had been shut off. HFI referred the family to all emergency social services, got uniforms and health care for the student and found a church to provide the family with food, gasoline and clothing.

s An ex-felon trying to make a new life for her family has trou-

ble with her defiant, resentful 16-year-old daughter, who keeps running away and skipping school. HFI interventions included family counseling and parenting classes. The daughter is back on the Honor Roll and intends to become a doctor; the mom is attending college classes. s A middle school student was suspended at the end of the

school year for possession of marijuana seeds. The family is on the edge of survival. The mother is sick, and there is no money to buy new school uniforms for the boy, who outgrew everything over the summer break. There was nothing big enough for him in the school’s “uniform closet,” and it looked like the boy would miss more school because he couldn’t even find shoes to fit. The HFI team found agencies that clothed the boy, and he’s back in school and doing well. s A 14-year-old racked up excessive absences taking care of

her 2-year-old sibling when her single mother needed to ride the bus to doctors’ appointments. HFI obtained bus 10 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

s A violent fifth-grader, who is constantly in trouble, is sus-

pended for prescription drugs after participating in an oncampus “pharming party.” He and his brother, who has similar discipline problems, live with great-grandparents; there are10 people in a four-bedroom home. Their mother, who is in drug treatment, has no car. A wide-ranging intervention orchestrated through HFI included a mentoring program for fatherless boys, mental health services, assistance with housing and transportation and summer activities. s A high school girl living with a crack-addicted mom begins

running away and missing school before she is suspended for possession of a weapon. Foster care brings safety, but she can no longer afford her cherished music lessons. A local church offers her free organ lessons, and her life begins to feel more normal. — Martha Simmons

Helping Families... Continued from page 9

Groundbreaking Work Sixteen agencies and organizations comprise the HFI Team: Mobile County District Attorney’s Office; Mobile County public schools; Mobile Police Department; Mobile Mental Health Center; Mobile County Department of Human Resources; Mobile County Health Department; Early Childhood Directions; Drug Education Council; Exchange Club Family Center; Jubilee Youth Sanctuary; Strickland Youth Center; Boys and Girls Clubs; University of South Alabama; Strengthening Neighborhood Investment Program; Mobile County Sheriff’s Office; and Alabama Cooperative Extension Service. Their coordinated, collaborative partnership is unprecedented in Mobile County, as agencies that once had very little interaction now routinely share information and problem-solve together. The Helping Families Initiative received national attention last year when representatives from the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office and the school system presented a workshop on the program at the 2004 National Conference on School and Community Violence in Washington, D.C. In August of this year, a contingent from Louisiana met with school system and district attorney officials to study Mobile County’s Helping Families Initiative for replication in New Orleans. “The Helping Families Initiative is doing important, groundbreaking work,” Tyson said. “Our children’s education is too important to the future of the community to leave problems untreated and families without critical resources,” Tyson said. “Through this partnership, we are helping at-risk children get back on track and making our schools safer for all students.” s Martha Simmons is community projects director for the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office.

AASB's Expansion of MAC Program Will Mean Increased Medicaid Reimbursements Until the Alabama Association of School Boards launched its Medicaid Administrative Claiming (MAC) Program in January 1999, many school systems simply weren’t collecting the reimbursements. Through the MAC program, however, AASB has helped 119 school systems recoup more than $46 million — money received quarterly and used at the discretion of participating school boards.


ASB now offers expanded services designed to collect additional federal funds to recover money school boards spend serving special needs children. Known as Direct Bill Service (and also as Fee-For-Service) this component of the Medicaid reimbursement program could mean increased payments of $10 to $20 per student annually based on the system’s total average daily membership. AASB is partnering with Fairbanks LLC to easily submit Medicaid Direct Bill Claims on participating school systems’ behalf by using the existing state-mandated SETSWeb system. Participants would receive Fee-for-Service reimbursements monthly. “We are very pleased with how the MAC program has performed and delighted to have brought such a large amount of much-needed money back to participating McDaniel school boards, particularly in the very lean years of proration and reduced budgets,” said AASB President Tommy McDaniel. “Collection of Fee-forService reimbursements, which returns even more money back to our school boards, is just another added benefit of participation in this practical AASB program.” Under federal law, schools must identify, screen, evaluate, monitor and provide other out-of-pocket outreach activities to help low-income and disabled children access Medicaid services. The Centers of

Medicare and Medicaid Services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services repay schools for eligible expenses. AASB has helped school boards collect reimbursements of up-front costs for services to disabled and other Medicaid-eligible students. Direct Bill Service assists participating school boards with collecting reimbursements for directly providing these students with therapy, treatment, and related medical services and costs. Already AASB has negotiated a contract with Fairbanks that significantly reduces the fee for the MAC program’s administration, said Dr. Sandra Sims-deGraffenSimsried, AASB’s executive deGraffenreid director. The Direct Bill Service program navigates the complex guidelines governing reimbursement for Medicaid eligible services and support for Medicaid eligible students for a minimal transaction fee of $3 per successful claim. “The MAC program has proven to be a strong financial asset to our members,” Sims-deGraffenried said. “Now the MAC program and the Direct Bill option will work as companion programs to maximize our members’ reimbursement.” For contract information or to find out more about the MAC Program or the Medicaid Direct Billing Program, call the Alabama Association of School Boards at 334/277-9700 or call Lisa Carnes at Fairbanks at 888/321-1225. s Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 11

By Susan Rountree Salter

On the surface, the Alabama statute governing the keeping of personnel files on employees seems straight forward. But, like a great many of the state’s education laws, the devil is in the details, or, more specifically, what’s not in the details. “Alabama Code 16-22-14 purports to be comprehensive, but it raises as many questions as it answers,” said veteran school board attorney Carl Johnson of Bishop Colvin Johnson and Kent in Birmingham, noting that school boards may be best served by adopting a less-is-more attitude when it comes to personnel files. “In the world of discrimination law, what seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to include can bite you in unexpected ways,” Johnson said.

12 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005


alhoun County school board attorney Robin Andrews agrees. “It’s an area I have always seen as potentially loaded. Personnel records tend to be a catchall (and) a lot of different people have to touch them — people involved in evaluations, people involved in payroll, people recording sick leave.... It’s difficult to have just one person responsible for maintaining them,” Andrews said. Specifically, the state law requires each Alabama school board to create and maintain a personnel file on each employee, and it assigns the superintendent responsibility for maintaining “updated, complete and accurate records.” The law also defines those records: “all records, information, data or materials pertaining to an employee kept by the executive officer of the school board or other employees of the school board in any form or retrieval system whatsoever.” But for Johnson, that language raises a myriad of questions, including whether all that information must be kept in a personnel file or even whether routine items like newspaper clippings congratulating a teacher of

the year must be kept there. “I wouldn’t think so, but the definition is broad enough,” he said. While the law doesn’t address it specifically, Johnson and Andrews also do not believe boards must keep things like the notes taken by committee members who interview job candidates or notes taken during an investigation. “You need to maintain separate work files for that. If something reaches the point where you reduce it to a corrective letter following an interview with an employee, that (the letter) should be in the file but not the notes that led up to it,” Andrews said. Also troubling for superintendents is the law’s placement of the full maintenance burden on the school board’s chief executive. “I think the employee has some responsibility too,” Johnson said. For example, employees should have to notify the board when they receive an advanced degree, which results in a pay increase, he said. “Surely the employee has some responsibility for checking the rate of pay and verifying that it’s correct,” he said. But Johnson cautions school boards against purging the files overzealously. “The danger is, if you exclude material from the file and you attempt to rely on it in a subsequent legal proceeding, there is a risk it could be excluded (from the evidence) altogether,” he said. Even harder than deciding what goes in, is choosing what if anything should come out, he said. “The presumption is that the reason it was put in the folder in the first place is because it belongs in the folder. If you’re removing it, particularly in the face of a lawsuit, the inference is that there’s something you’re trying to hide or destroy. And, if you’re doing it with one or two files, what are you doing with everything else?” Johnson said. “A lawyer can parlay that sort of decision into a fairly strong insinuation that the whole personnel process is corrupt and the records are being manipulated and purged.” The moral of the story, Johnson said, is that education leaders should invest the time on the front end — in consultation with their school board attorney — to decide what should and shouldn’t go in the file. s

The Personnel File Do’s... School board attorneys Robin Andrews and Carl Johnson offer this general advice for building solid personnel files, but they caution boards should work closely with their attorneys before making changes in their existing system. Include: 4 All documents related to the person’s hiring. This includes his

application, resume, all documents he was required to submit upon application and the results of his background check. 4 Documents showing the employee legally qualifies for the

position. For certified employees, this means documentation of the employee’s certificate, as well as documentation of his status as “highly qualified” under No Child Left Behind. For a bus driver, it would include documentation that he has a commercial driver’s license. It also can include records on the various professional development activities the employee has participated in. 4 Signed copies of all documents employees are required to

sign. Whether certified or not, this would cover items such as drugfree workplace documents and those the board requires employees to sign to verify they have seen key information, such as the sexual harassment policy or employee handbook. 4 Wage and hour documentation. This would include such infor-

mation as whether the employee is classified as exempt from overtime requirements.

... and the Don’ts Exclude: 6 Grievances filed by the employee. Keeping information about the

grievance in the employee’s own file could create the impression that the employee’s action is somehow affecting his employment and could give rise to — or be used to lend credence to — a retaliation claim later. 6 Unofficial notes on thoughts or interviews. The record of any disciplinary

action taken against the employee should be included, but not documents of the thought processes and interviews leading to the decision. 6 Evaluations that characterize generally instead of describ-

ing specifically. Evaluations are most easily defended in court when the evaluator has described — without embellishment or opinion — the behavior the employee exhibits. But evaluations that skip the detail and use words like “uncooperative” or “lazy” give rise to more questions about the evaluator than the employee when they must be relied on in court. 6 Correspondence related to lawsuits. Consider having separate

litigation files to house documents related to litigation involving the employee, including correspondence between the board/superintendents and the attorney. Again, this helps head off allegations of retaliation.

Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 13

By Susan Rountree Salter

Sometimes change comes in one of those “eureka!” moments, a flash of insight that makes clear the path you should take. And sometimes it doesn’t. Take Dallas County’s Southside Primary School. Located just east of Selma, Southside is separated from U.S. Highway 80 by well-used railroad tracks. Once home to hundreds of students from military families stationed at the nearby air force base, its population underwent a dramatic shift after the federal government closed the base in 1977. Since then, it has drawn the bulk of its students, 97 percent of whom live at or below the poverty level, from a housing project and small homes in the immediate area as well as from rural east Dallas County. (Continued on page 16)

14 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

Southside Primary second-graders D'Angelo Martin, left, and Shuntera Posey practice identifying homonyms, words that are spelled identically, but have different meanings.

About the Series: This is the third article in a series of articles devoted to the challenges of helping high poverty schools become high achieving schools. In this series, we highlight what is happening with the state's slowly but steadily rising student poverty rate and some of the things school boards and administrators need to know as they prepare to tackle this daunting issue. In subsequent articles, ASB will include reports on what school boards must know and do to help low income students get a quality education and profiles of a variety of high poverty/high performing schools to offer insights on how they are succeeding.

Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 15

Southside secondgraders like Javaris McGuire spend part of their reading time working independently, while teachers work one-on-one with others.


y 1999, the school was, for all intents and purposes, just another high poverty, low achieving school where instructional programs weren’t working. Despite a stable, well qualified and aggressive faculty, too many students were failing to learn to read, too many were repeating grades, and too many were performing below grade level long after leaving Southside. But after six years of what one faculty member calls “baby steps” and an all-consuming focus on reading, Southside now ranks third among Alabama’s K-2 schools in reading, and virtually all its kindergartners and first-graders are performing on grade level. “I knew in November of 2000 that we were on the right track to teaching our children to read. That’s when I saw the children in kindergarten beginning to pick up books and trying to read,” said Patricia Redd, who shepherded Southside through the changes as principal and now works as a regional principal coach for the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI). “(But) we went about it in very small steps.”

In the Beginning The school’s first small step was made with Allison Kelley, then a first-grade teacher at Southside, and Kim Porter, her team teacher. Both had what Kelley calls a “burning desire” to help children learn to read, and they couldn’t understand why that wasn’t happening. They and their peers were working hard and had embraced new teaching techniques, including small group instruction and team teaching. But achievement was still lackluster. Today, Kelley and Redd lay much of the blame for that on the school’s old basal reader. Used at Southside for more than 15 16 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

years, it lacked systematic phonics instruction and was ineffective in a school where most students start kindergarten with the vocabulary of a 3-year-old. “Sometimes I think these children are spoken to (at home) and not spoken with necessarily,” Kelley said of students’ home lives. “So their oral communication skills aren’t as developed maybe as a child who comes from a home where they are spoken with and conversation is occurring. All that affects vocabulary and eventually comprehension.” But in the late 1990s, Kelley connected with a college professor who was working with the school, and the professor launched her and the faculty on a quest to better understand the mechanics reading instruction. “We started reading professional materials and realized that there were other ways maybe to meet these children’s needs,” said Kelley, now Southside’s reading coach. That change also moved the faculty to work together more as a team. “We had the same goal in mind: to make sure every child learned to read and read on grade level,” Redd said. Thus, when the Dallas County superintendent and school board decided to make all their schools Alabama Reading Initiative sites, Southside’s faculty was ready. The requisite 100 percent faculty buy-in wasn’t even an issue, Kelley said. But the new things they learned and their implications for the instructional program were daunting. So, instead of trying to implement everything the following fall, Redd asked faculty members to identify one thing they were going to implement and one they wanted to know more about. “That was a way I saw to narrow down what they had been exposed to. I was just as overwhelmed as my teachers were. So, we just took it one step at a time,” Redd said. Over time, the school received a federal Reading Excellence

grant to purchase a phonics program, fully implemented ARI and then the Alabama Reading First Initiative and purchased the tightly scripted Voyager reading program for K-1 and a separate reading program for second-graders.

Targeted Help With the new programs, reading instruction clearly is Job 1; other subjects and activities take a backseat. In the school office, for example, a large pink sign proclaims the “protected reading time” for each grade level (8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. for kindergarten; 8:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. for first-grade; and 10 a.m. to noon for second-grade) and notes, “No interruptions can be made to classes at these times.” Throughout the school year, struggling readers and those at risk of becoming strugglers are identified and targeted for special assistance. Depending on their needs, they receive intervention anywhere from twice to four times a day, said Principal Melanie Wright, now in her second year at Southside. Those classified as needing “intensive” help receive reading instruction a minimum of three times a day. “When I first came here, I had not a clue. I found the whole set up is different. They’re getting hit double, triple, quadruple times. So it’s basically reading all day long,” she said. Among the interventions: Any of the school’s four lab teachers read and tutor students before school; two intervention teachers

"To have played a part in someone's life that could have been written off. We don't do that. We can't." — Allison Kelley, reading coach

work with them during the day; and in kindergarten and first-grade, the classroom teachers and intervention teachers also provide targeted assistance beyond the regular program, Wright said.

Teaching the Teachers Just as important as what the students are learning is what — and how — Southside’s teachers have learned over the last five years. Gone, said Kelley, are the days when professional development was unfocused and loaded with cute ideas teachers might or might not implement. Through ARI, the Reading First Initiative and even the Voyager program, training is programand/or data-driven. (Continued on page 19)

Southside’s Secret: Teamwork, Tears and Focus


ant to move a high poverty school from the academic basement to the penthouse? State principal coach Patricia Redd has two words for you: team effort. Actually, she has two more: frustration and crying. In the latter half of her 13 years as principal of Dallas County’s Southside Primary School, Redd oversaw an academic transformation that involved all those things. In six years, her school moved from struggling with too many student failures and too few grade-level readers, to a No. 3 ranking among K-2 schools in Alabama in reading performance. But it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always pretty. “There was a lot of frustration and a lot of crying, but they are a really hard-working faculty that has always reached higher and higher,” said Redd, who — despite the almost reverential way she is regarded by those inside and outside the school — remains aware that she ruffled feathers during Southside’s climb to the top. “This was a challenge for (the faculty), and we did have to go through people thinking nothing was ever good enough,” she said. Redd even got a taste of that herself when, a year or so after Southside became an Alabama Reading Initiative

school, system administrators required her to apply for the Alabama Reading First Initiative (ARFI). “I was not happy. I felt like it was an insult. I felt like we had worked so hard, our scores were going up and our children were learning to read. Then they tell me we’re going to write this grant and, if we get it, we’ll be an ARFI school.” But Redd is quick to say now that the decision was the right one for her students. The school netted thousands of additional dollars, which were used to purchase the highly effective Voyager reading program. The grant also funded more faculty training and access to other resources. “ARFI helped us grow even more,” Redd said. That willingness to try something new, learn from it and grow is as much a hallmark of the Southside staff as is teamwork, said Redd and Southside reading coach Allison Kelley. “It has to be a team effort. The reading coach, everybody at that school had to be on the same page, working toward the same goal,” Redd said. Kelley, who has spent her 16-year career at Southside, agreed. “We all carry each other’s burden. We’re not competing with each other. We are in the process of building readers — as a team,” she said.

Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 17

Second-grade teacher Patricia Calhoun helps Kayla Hunter with computer-based lessons designed to help her understand words in the context of a story.

Could This Happen to You? W

hile Southside Primary has had the substantial benefit of special funding through both the Alabama Reading Initiative and the Alabama Reading First Initiative, its successes can be duplicated when school boards and superintendents take certain key steps: u


Choose your principal wisely. Above all, it takes an instructional leader at the helm to transform a low achieving school. Such principals will understand that they must know the instructional program as thoroughly as their teachers, both to be equipped to help teachers and to monitor teachers’ performance, said Dallas County Reading Coordinator Gwen Carrington. “You must know what’s going on in the classrooms, know what to look for, see those red flags and know how to target and work with those teachers in getting the job done,” she said. For example, one of Southside Principal Melanie Wright’s strongest traits is that she is always learning, Carrington said. “She is the lead learner. When teachers see that, they’re more giving of themselves.” It also takes a leader skilled at juggling tasks as varied as balancing the budget, making sure the building is clean, dealing with the cafeteria and monitoring teacher effectiveness. “Reading is just a small part of the day (for the principal),” Alabama Reading Initiative reading coach Patricia Redd said. Plus, the principal must be skilled at balancing the performance monitoring with cheering the staff on. “You can go overboard either way or be lax either way,” Carrington said. “I have seen principals completely turn the majority of the faculty off. Instead of buying in, they shut down.” Provide a reading (or other subject) coach. Coaches allow struggling teachers to seek out help without fear that doing so will make them look weak or incompetent in the eyes of the people evaluating them (i.e., the prin-

18 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

cipals). That clear separation of responsibilities does wonders for making staff members feel comfortable about asking for help, said Tonya Chestnut, also an ARI principal coach and Dallas County’s former Title I coordinator. u

Honestly assess your current commitment level. Determine whether your system is putting its resources — money and staff — into the areas the test data show students need to improve, Chestnut said. “Every decision needs to be data driven. You have to ask, ‘Are we doing this because it’s something we want to do or because the data show this is something we need to do?’ A lot of times, they’re not making that connection,” she said.


Revamp teachers’ on-the-job training. As part of assessing your commitment level, determine whether (or how much of) the professional development teachers receive is truly tied to shoring up specific skills that the data show are weak, Chestnut said.


Recognize effort. A key part of keeping a reform effort alive is building enthusiasm at the school level and recognizing both effort and results, said Assistant State Superintendent for Reading Dr. Katherine Mitchell, one of the architects of ARI. For example, when the Brewton schools’ faculties attended ARI training several summers ago, they were shipped off for three weeks in three different locations. But the school board sent all of its trainees a care package and later honored their successes, Mitchell said. “They just stand out. It really is a systemic kind of effort if you want to sustain change.”


Expect hard work every day. The board and superintendent should set the standard that teachers will put in a full day’s work five days a week, said Southside reading coach Allison Kelley. “That’s Monday through Friday, not Monday through Thursday. Reading goes on every single day,” she said.

“The glory and the beauty of this has been that, five years ago, they would have said, ‘Yes, this student’s behind; so-and-so’s not going to make it’ .... They’re much more diagnostic now than they’ve ever been before.” — Allison Kelley, reading coach “Our professional development is more focused on what we see as a weakness that we need to change within ourselves in order to change students,” Kelley said. The training from the various programs has taught the staff how to do the work, how to adjust their teaching for small group instruction, how to modify their teaching plans when needed and how to meet individual students’ needs, she said. With Voyager, teachers also have learned the “whys” behind the instructional methods, including why it is critical to teach students following the highly detailed script, Kelley said. The training also continues in monthly “pod” meetings, grade level meetings focused entirely on reading performance, during which Kelley addresses whatever topics the data indicate teachers need to work on. During the meetings, teachers review each student’s performance, which is monitored weekly, biweekly or monthly depending on the student’s skill level. “We go around the table and each teacher shares. The glory and the beauty of this has been that, five years ago, they would have said, ‘Yes, this student’s behind; so-and-so’s not going to make it.’ Now it’s, ‘Jack isn’t going to make it, Ms. Kelley, because he still doesn’t have his vowel sounds.’ They’re much more diagnostic now than they’ve ever been before,” Kelley said. In short, the meetings are designed to ensure teachers reflect on Southside’s First Grade DIBELS Results

100 90 80


Percentage of students on grade n Year End 2003 n Year End 2005


50 40 30

20 10

Southside students like Alexus Turner have a lot to smile about these days. Reading scores across the board are through the roof.

their teaching strategies, consider what is working and what isn’t, and decide how to proceed, she said. In addition, the school has “walk throughs” where Kelley and the principal observe teacher performance and provide feedback. Struggling teachers then are invited to watch one of their Southside peers, whose skills are strong in that particular area, teach a model lesson. “You just have to take baby steps, and you move slowly. You pick out what’s important, and you work on that,” Kelley said. Another key component is the school’s commitment to doing most of the professional development during the work day, even if that means hiring a substitute to cover a teacher’s class, she said. “I want them to leave here each day leaving here. Sure, there are times you need to stay, but they’re giving their hardest for the first seven hours,” she said.

Sustaining the Push But even with most of the training built into the workday, working at Southside or any of Alabama’s other high poverty, high achieving schools can take a toll on teachers, who are under the gun daily to move students forward. “They’re dead tired when they leave. We all are,” Wright said. “But that’s part of it.” And some of the most intense pressure comes not from Wright, but from each other. “You need to be here for the right reasons, and if you’re not, then you need to think about going somewhere else,” Kelley said. “You won’t survive here, I don’t think. Your peers will push you to improve - that’s just the atmosphere here.” To ward off burnout and lower stress levels, Wright said she makes recognition and motivation priorities. Last year, her first at Southside, Wright made goody bags for each teacher, complete with notepads, folders, mouse pads, pens and markers. She also


Phoneme Segmentation Fluency

Nonsense Word Fluency


Oral Reading Fluency

(Continued on page 26)

Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 19

Photo Credit: Governor’s Staff - Robin Cooper

U.S. Secretary of Education Lauds the Alabama Reading Initiative By Denise L. Berkhalter Gov. Bob Riley and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings discuss the success of the Alabama Reading Initiative at the 2nd Annual Governor’s Reading Summit.

Central Park Elementary School principal Bettie Griggs held 7-year-old Aja Mills’ hand as they climbed the dais steps of Birmingham’s Shades Mountain Baptist Church. Tucked underneath the Birmingham first-grader’s arm was a book. It was her big day.


he sanctuary was filled with more than 600 Governors’ Reading Summit participants Sept. 15. Among them were U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Gov. Bob Riley and state Superintendent of Education Dr. Joe Morton. On display was the success of the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI). Mills was to be the case in point. Griggs gave custody of Mills to Dr. Katherine A. Mitchell, the state’s first assistant superintendent of education for reading, who escorted the girl to a stool. Mills sat down, opened her book and read fluently, ending the story with a confident smile. Her big day was a success, much like the state’s reading initiative has been. “You all have some of the best readers in the South,” said Spellings at the second 20 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

annual summit. “You are a model. You all know a child who can read is a child who can succeed. The Alabama Reading Initiative is all about making sure every single child has that opportunity to stride in life.” Spellings reiterated the commitment America made “through No Child Left Behind: every child must read on grade level by age 13. We’re not going to rest until we do so.” In Alabama, Spellings said, student gains in reading are impressive. The percentage of fourth- and eighth-graders who tested “reading proficient or greater,” she explained, have increased 6 percent and 11 percent respectively. Overall, from 1998 to 2003, the percentage of Alabama students scoring “proficient” was greater at Alabama Reading Initiative schools for a total of 8.8 percent of ARI students

compared to 3.1 percent, and 11.6 percent of black or Hispanic students at ARI schools versus 4.3 percent. When the initiative started in 1998 with 16 schools, it launched with $1.5 million in private funding. Today, the state spends $56 million to fund it in 750 schools, and Morton said by summer 2006 all elementary schools in the state will be involved in the initiative. Federal education dollars in Alabama are up to $1.8 billion, with $329.8 million set aside for implementation of the No Child Left Behind reforms in the state. The total U.S. Department of Education budget for fiscal year 2006 is $56 billion. Alabama, according to the U.S. Department of Education Budget Service, has access to $18.6 million in Reading First funds meant to ensure all children in Alabama learn to read by third grade. With the understanding that the ability to read impacts student success in all subject areas, implementers of the Alabama Reading Initiative use a research-based, intensive teacher training approach to achieving high levels of literacy. “This state,” Morton told Spellings and the audience of reading coaches, principals, educators, administrators and others, “is committed to 100 percent literacy of

Photo Credit: Governor’s Staff - Robin Cooper

Aja Mills, a first-grader at Central Park Elementary School in Birmingham, demonstrates her reading skills to Dr. Katherine A. Mitchell, Alabama’s assistant superintendent of education for reading.

its students.” Riley said the Alabama Reading Initiative is “changing lives” and wants the once bottom-ranked Alabama to take its place among the nation’s top five states based on “proficient” readers in its schools. “The future of Alabama is dependent on whether or not we teach our students to read. Now we have taken that great leap,” Riley said. “We’ve watched the Alabama Reading Initiative grow into a program that has national promise. Not only have we changed the opportunities of all these children, but we’ve changed the whole perception of the state of Alabama.” Spellings, the first mother to serve as secretary of education, acknowledged Mitchell as the embodiment of the summit’s theme, “A Celebration of Success.” To improve reading in Alabama, Mitchell enlisted a plethora of partners

such as the Alabama Legislature, Alabama Regional Inservice Centers, state Board of Education, “Sweet Sixteen” Schools, churches, civic partners, directors of instruction and higher education partners. The initiative also thanked initial contributors, leaders for student achievement, media, the original reading panel, parents, reading coaches, school principals, school superintendents, students, teachers and professional organizations such as the Alabama Association of School Boards. Spellings thanked the group for sparking “a revival, an epiphany of how to teach kids to read. You all are doing this one kid at a time. We must not give up on this striving readers initiative ... and must take the same approach into our high schools and middle schools.” s

AASB Publishes Revised Booklets on Tenure, Fair Dismissal & Open Meetings Confused about when you can — and cannot — hold an executive session under Alabama’s new Open Meetings Act? Baffled by the new processes for disciplining or dismissing employees? AASB’s revised Boardmanship Series booklets offer detailed guidance.


ecent revisions in three major Alabama education laws have prompted AASB to update three of its most popular booklets. In early October, the association will mail school board members, superintendents and school board attorneys new editions of Personnel Hearings Under Alabama’s Teacher Tenure Laws, The Fair Dismissal Laws: Step by Step and Public Meetings and Public Records. With the demise of the state Tenure Commission and implementation of the new arbitration process, the Tenure and Fair Dismissal booklets are designed to

provide practical, step-by-step advice for handling long- and short-short term suspensions, inoluntary and emergency transfers and terminations. The revised booklets also include numerous sample forms and letters and even a sample script for holding due process hearings. The Public Meetings booklet also has been extensively rewritten to reflect the state’s much more complex “sunshine” law. Previously, school boards were allowed to meet in executive session only to discuss a person’s good name and character, hold formal hearings related to students and employees, and confer with their attorney on pending litigation. However, the new law greatly expands the acceptable reasons for holding executive sessions and also creates specific documentation and public notice requirements that were not part

of the old law. Complicating matters even more, the new law treats different categories of employees differently when it comes to discussing them or their work in executive sessions. AASB’s Public Meetings booklet explains these changes and includes two detailed charts showing how school boards might handle executive sessions involving specific categories of employees and/or situations. s Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 21

When it Comes to Education, Mediocrity is Not Acceptable By Margaret Petty

“When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life or the life of another.” — Helen Keller


s Alabama’s Teacher of the Year, I embrace the opportunity to speak to citizens, board members, administrators, parents and teachers about the effectiveness of inclusive practices. I try to help my audiences understand that we are all in this together. We must stop pointing fingers in an effort to place blame. Instead, we must look for viable solutions that will increase adequate yearly progress for all students across our state. The days of referring to students as “yours” and “mine” must cease, and we must accept mutual responsibility for “our” students. With No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation and the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), my concerns and passion are directed toward best teaching practices for general education and special education students. The mandates of NCLB are indeed lofty, yet for the first time in history we are beginning to see progress in children’s ability to read. To meet the NCLB goal — all children proficient in reading and math by 2014 — board members, superintendents and principals must provide effective policy and resources; parents and citizens in private enterprise must support such policy; teachers must teach using the best of their abilities; and children must learn. NCLB has had a tremendous impact on education in both general education and special education arenas. Special education can no longer be considered a place; it must now be recognized as a delivery system. This is a huge shift in perception. Throughout history, 22 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

Margaret Petty

special education has been synonymous with the resource classroom where students with special needs received remediation. Students were separated from their peers in an effort to receive small group and/or individualized instruction to meet the goals set in their Individualized Education Programs. NCLB and the reauthorization of IDEA have changed special education from a place to a service. Now special education teachers go to where students interact with their peers and deliver services in general education classrooms. These teachers can now deliver services to all students who need their help. Special education teachers are no longer restricted to special education students alone. Students without special education identification can receive help from any teacher. This change allows all students to receive help when they need it. This requires all teachers to assume responsibility for the education of all students! As I have begun serving as Alabama’s Teacher of the Year, I have had the opportunity to go to school systems and provide training sessions addressing co-teaching, inclusion and collaboration. Teachers have been excited about using these delivery systems to reach all students; however, they are discouraged by the lack of support from administrators. Scheduling requires administrative clout. Without such support, inclusive environments are set up for failure. In some cases, classes with special education students have developed into “dumping grounds.” These classes have been developed with little thought concerning student needs. Consequently, teachers do not want

to teach these classes, and parents do not want their children enrolled in them. Administrators must use common sense and thoughtful consideration when forming inclusion classes, and they must take an active role in securing schedules that work for all students and teachers in a learning environment. Teachers cannot make a difference without the support of board members, superintendents and principals. Policy, resources and visionary support from administration are vitally important in an effort to promote student success and progress in each classroom across our state. Collaboration must be supported on a state and local level. Teachers must know that special education is supported and acknowledged as a delivery system by educational leaders in Alabama. Teaching is a noble profession that has required all teachers to become highly qualified. Now, we must use our skills and join hands with our school boards and administrations in an effort to meet the standards our students rightfully deserve. We all must be in the business of educating all students despite their economic circumstances, disabilities or gender. Mediocrity is no longer acceptable or profitable. We are all in this together. Together, we can find a way — hand-in-hand — to ensure that in Alabama, no child is left behind. s Margaret Petty, a teacher at Rainbow Elementary School in the Madison City School System, is Alabama’s 2005-2006 Teacher of the Year.

New Staffers Join AASB The Alabama Association of School Boards recently welcomed two new staffers, while one member of the senior staff transitioned into a new role.


fter a decade of service as AASB’s director of public relations, Susan Salter takes on the director of membership services position. As membership services director, Salter works with AASB Executive Director Dr. Sandra Sims-deGraffenried in planning the association’s conferences and seminars. Her duties include lining up speakers and sponsors, developing the marketing materials and coordinating exhibitions. She also oversees on-site logistics for the meetings and coordinates the School Board Member Academy. In the future, she also will serve as a trainer for the association, focusing on areas such as the National School Boards Association’s Key Work of School Boards and the Iowa School Boards Association’s Lighthouse Project.

Susan Salter

In addition, Salter continues to manage AASB’s member database, computer systems and Web site. As part of those duties, she soon will begin revamping the AASB home page to make it easier for web site visitors to find new and timely information and to provide more resources for board members, the public and the media.

Dothan Eagle. Her editing and writing experiences include work in either or both of those capacities for the Hattiesburg American, Commercial Appeal, Jackson Advocate, and the NAACP’s national magazine, Crisis. Berkhalter earned a master’s degree in management at Troy University-Montgomery and a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Jackson State University in her native Mississippi. She is a member of the Montgomery Area Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Denise L. Berkhalter

Prior to joining AASB in 1995, Salter served for seven years as public information officer for the Montgomery County public schools. A former newspaper reporter, she has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Auburn University and is a member of the National School Public Relations Association and the Council of School Board Association Communicators. Denise L. Berkhalter joins the association as director of public relations and as editor of AASB’s flagship publication, Alabama School Boards. She also writes and coordinates publication of the twicemonthly newsletter, For Your Information. Berkhalter is now AASB’s liaison to the state Board of Education and reports on the board’s activities for AASB publications. All news media inquiries and additional public relations activities are hers to handle. As a complement to AASB’s legislative program, Berkhalter will assist with lobbying efforts. Prior to joining AASB, she served as director of public and media affairs and coordinator of marketing and communications at Tuskegee University. Berkhalter has also worked as assistant managing editor of the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper and as lifestyles editor of The

Janelle Zeigler

Newcomer Janelle Zeigler is earning valuable experience as an AASB clerical assistant. Selected from Jefferson Davis High School’s Cooperative Education Program, the senior carries out administrative and related duties. She began working at AASB in June 2005 and will continue until May. Zeigler plans to attend either Tuskegee University or the University of Alabama at Birmingham to major in occupational therapy. She has earned several academic awards, is a former member of the Xinos social group for girls and participates in a youth choir. s Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 23

Alabama Association of School Boards

Professional Sustaining Members

AASB appreciates these professional members for supporting association activities and you all year long. Fuqua Osborn, Architects PC Huntsville, Alabama 256/534-3516

Lathan Associates Architects PC Birmingham, Alabama 205/879-9110

Action For Healthy Kids Atlanta, Georgia

Gallet & Associates Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/942-1289

McCauley Associates Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/969-0303

Alabama Soft Drink Association Montgomery, Alabama 334/263-6621

Goodwyn Mills and Cawood Inc. Montgomery, Alabama 334/271-3200

Alabama Supercomputer Authority Montgomery, Alabama 334/832-2405

Hoar Construction Birmingham, Alabama 205/803-2121

McKee & Associates Architecture and Design Montgomery, Alabama 334/834-9933

Barganier Davis Sims Architects Montgomery, Alabama 334/834-2038

Jenkins Munroe Jenkins Architecture Anniston, Alabama 256/820-6844

Alabama Gas Corporation Birmingham, Alabama 205/326-8425

BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama Birmingham, Alabama 205/220-5771 Christian Testing Labs Montgomery, Alabama 334/264-4422

JH Partners Architecture/Interiors Huntsville, Alabama 256/539-0764 Johnson Controls Roswell, Georgia 770/664-9905

Payne & Associates Architects Montgomery, Alabama 334/272-2180 PH&J Architects Inc. Montgomery, Alabama 334/265-8781 Sain Associates Birmingham, Alabama 205/940-6420 Select Medical Systems, Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/967-3453

Council of Alabama Coca-Cola Bottlers, Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/841-2653

Kersey & Luttrell Architects Phenix City, Alabama 334/298-2361

Davis Architects Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/322-7482

KHAFRA Engineers, Architects and Construction Managers Birmingham, Alabama 205/252-8353

Evan Terry Associates PC Birmingham, Alabama 205/972-9100

Exford Architects Birmingham, Alabama 205/314-3411

Paul B. Krebs & Associates, Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/987-7411

Volkert & Associates Inc. Mobile, Alabama 251/432-6735

24 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

Sherlock Smith & Adams Inc. Montgomery, Alabama 334/263-6481

October 3

District 9 Meeting Albertville


District 8 Meeting Sheffield


Columbus Day AASB Office Closed


Roles & Relationships: AASB Leaders II (A) Core Workshop Birmingham

Editor Denise Berkhalter at publicrelations@

23-24 Face to Face For Students: Leadership for Community Engagement Birmingham 24

AASB School Board/ Superintendent Secretaries' Workshop Birmingham

December 8

Roles & Relationships: Leadership I Core Course Birmingham


AASB Convention Birmingham


Roles & Relationships: Leadership II Birmingham

Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 25

At the Table Carolyn Wallace School Board Morgan County Hometown Hartselle

Slow & Steady... Continued from page 19

tries to give her staff a duty-free lunch periodically and has been known to order pizzas for them. She also convinced the system’s Title I supervisor to fund a new computer, scanner and tabletop copier for every teacher. “I do whatever I have to do for them because they are the ones in the trenches,” Wright said.

Big Payoff

A Board Member for 16 years

The benefits of Southside’s all-or-nothing approach are hard to argue with:

Inspiration My mother, Ruth Wallace, is my inspiration.

• At the end of the 2003 school year, 62 percent of Southside’s kindergartners had mastered the skill of breaking down the sounds of words (a precursor to reading), according to the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). (See chart on page 19.) By last spring, that had jumped to 99 percent. Those same tests showed 16 percent were “deficit” at the skill in 2003, but by 2005, no student was deficient at it.

Books at Bedside My Bible. There's a copy of the last Alabama School Boards magazine, too, by the way. Motto as a Board Member To maintain my identity as a parent and to do unto others as I would have them to do unto me. Walter Mitty Fantasy To be rich and spend it on others. I would see to it that every child has a quality education, despite not having the money, and that every individual has the best health care, even if they can't afford it. Advice to New Board Members Learn as quickly as you can. Read the schools' handbook. Understand how the school system functions. Understand the chain of command and the school system's policies. Know there are two sides to every story and every complaint. Greatest Accomplishment as a Board Member Maintaining low pupil-teacher ratios and moving students out of portable classrooms and into nice, quality facilities. Our new facilities are places where our kids want to be, that parents and teachers are proud of and that have earned Morgan County respect. Pet Peeve as a Board Member Mandates without funding. Reason I Like Being an AASB Member AASB has been great for networking and education. I think AASB training should be mandatory for all school board members to maintain their positions. I don't care what level of experience and education you have, serving as a school board member is hard work. AASB trains you to handle public concerns, to address diversity, to learn the laws pertaining to education and more. My Epitaph She was fair and honest and put God and family first. 26 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005

• At the end of 2003, DIBELS showed 84 percent of Southside’s first-graders were at grade level on the ability to decode and blend words, also a precursor to reading. By late 2005, every first-grader was scoring at grade level on that skill. • Three years ago, only 49 percent of Southside’s second-graders could read 90 words per minute. By the end of the 2005 school year, 77 percent could. “We’re moving children,” Kelley said. “Do we want this to be better? Yes. But we will take going from 49 (percent) to 77 (percent), and we will work harder.” But for Kelley, there is immediate gratification in seeing a student benchmark, especially a special education student. “To have played a part in someone’s life that could have been written off. We don’t do that. We can’t. They have to make progress too. When they make benchmark, that’s a celebration. It’s awesome,” she said. But Kelley acknowledges that some Southside students are benchmarking only after incredible levels of intervention, and sustaining that performance after they leave the school can be a challenge. “If you just treat those children like benchmarked students, they may not make those gains for you.” s

Potpourri PEOPLE s Kudos to AASB President Elect Jim






Methvin of the Alabama School of Fine Arts on his continuing committee work for the Governor’s Conference on School Leadership. Congratulations to Eddie Lowe of Phenix City on his appointment as a trustee for Alabama Risk Management for Schools. He replaces former Enterprise school board member Doug Vickers. Congratulations also to Linda Steed of Pike County on her appointment to another three-year term as an ARMS trustee. Welcome aboard these new AASB associate members: Dr. Renee Culverhouse, Gadsden State Community College; John Hackett, former Fairfield board member; John Holland, former Mobile County board member; and Wayne May, former Dallas County superintendent. Kudos to the AASB members selected for this year’s class of Leadership Alabama. They are: Dr. Jane Cobia, Sylacauga superintendent; Dr. Jane Ellis, executive director of the Alabama School of Math and Science; Kristine Harding, president of JH Partners; Dr. Shelia Nash-Stevenson, Madison City Board of Education, and Dr. Doug Ragland, Greene County superintendent. Congratulations to Dr. Jeff Goodwin on his appointment as superintendent of the Oxford City School System. Goodwin, who most recently served as director of operations for the Talladega County Board of Education, has served as principal of Oxford High School. He replaces Louis Higgins, who retired this past summer. Congratulations to Dr. Michael Looney on his appointment as superintendent of the Butler County Board of Education. Formerly the Montgomery County Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for curriculum, Looney succeeds Dr. Mike Reed. Reed earlier was

named superintendent of the Hartselle Board of Education. s Best wishes to Dothan Interim Superintendent Dr. Sam Nichols. Nichols, who is the school system’s assistant superintendent, will serve until the school board names a replacement for Dr. Leon Hobbs, who is serving as a consultant for the school system. s Thanks go to Scott Williams of Homewood for representing AASB and Alabama as one of the National School Board Association’s representatives in the national Back to School Rally in September. Williams lobbied Alabama’s congressional delegation and participated in a press conference designed to push Congress to fund public education at adequate levels next year. s Kudos to the Dothan and Mobile County boards of education on their selection to exhibit during the Share the Success session at NSBA’s annual conference next spring. Dothan will share its work on cultural diversity and Mobile County will discuss its success

at transforming poorly performing schools. s A pat on the back to Meagan Rockett of Hoover High School in Hoover for earning a perfect score on the ACT. s Congratulations to six high school programs named the best in their field in the state for 2004-05. They are: Huntsville Center for Technology, Huntsville, for technology education; Montevallo High, Shelby County, for agriscience education; Sylacauga High, Sylacauga, for business/marketing education; Elmore County Technical Center, Elmore County, for health science; Keith High, Dallas County, for Jobs for Alabama Graduates; and Bob Jones High, Madison City, for family and consumer science education. s Welcome aboard to Mark Bain on his appointment as executive director of the Alabama Soft Drink Association, which is a sustaining member of AASB. Bain succeeds the retiring Oakley Melton, who led the soft drink association for 44 years. s

Alabama School Boards • August/September 2005 27

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2005 August/September Alabama School Boards Magazine