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SUMMER CONFERENCE RECAP 21st Century Schools Require Top-to-Bottom Support

Official Publication of the Alabama Association of School Boards

Face to Face with Dr. Joe Morton

August/September 2007

Daring to Dare BOARDMANSHIP BASICS: Recruit and Retain High-Quality Teachers in Rural Areas Five Characteristics of an Effective School Board

2007 CONVENTION December 6-8, 2007 • The Wynfrey Hotel • Hoover

AASB Fall District Meetings

School Construction: Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

October 21-22, 2007


With a $1 billion bond issue sparking school construction and renovation across Alabama, are you prepared? Alabama’s historic $1 billion school bond issue gives your governance team a great opportunity to make much needed headway on your facilities wish list. But spending that money efficiently and effectively may be a challenge given current market conditions and the number of potential projects. AASB’s Fall District Meetings will offer practical, rubber-meets-the-road advice for handling the school board’s construction-related changes. We’ll partner with the Alabama Building Commission to discuss: ▲ The status of the bond issue ▲ An expected timeline for the dollars to start flowing ▲ Best practices for hiring an architect ▲ Negotiating an architect’s contract ▲ Working with program managers District meetings are held in each of AASB’s nine districts. Most meetings begin with hospitality time at 6:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time and dinner at 6:30 p.m., followed by a 45-minute program. (District 5 begins at 5:30 p.m. with dinner at 6:00 p.m.) The only cost is dinner. If the date or location of your district's meeting is not convenient, please attend another. Register now at District 2: September 17, Ramada Inn, Selma District 3: September 20, Mixon Elementary School, Ozark District 8: September 24, Holiday Inn, Decatur District 9: September 25, Catfish Cabin, Albertville District 7: September 27, Tuscaloosa Middle School, Tuscaloosa District 5: October 1, Irondale Middle School, Irondale District 6: October 4, Classic on Noble, Mobile District 1: October 9, Escambia County Middle School, Atmore District 4: October 11, Central High School, Phenix City

December 6, 2007


March 14-15, 2008


August/ September 2007 Vol. 28, No. 4

OFFICERS Jim Methvin . . . . . . . . . . . . . President Alabama School of Fine Arts Sue Helms . . . . . . . . . . President-Elect Madison City


Florence Bellamy . . . . . Vice President Phenix City


Tommy McDaniel . . . . . Past President Alabama School of Math and Science STAFF Sally Brewer Howell, J.D. 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 Christy Martin Clerical Assistant BOARD OF DIRECTORS Patsy Black . . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 1 Monroe County Steven Foster . . . . . . . . . . . . District 2 Lowndes County Jeff Bailey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 3 Covington County Katy S. Campbell . . . . . . . . . District 4 Macon County Jennifer Parsons . . . . . . . . . . District 5 Jefferson County Sue Jones . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 6 Jacksonville Susan Harris . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 7 Winfield Dr. Charles Elliott . . . . . . . . . District 8 Decatur Laura Casey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . District 9 Albertville Sandra Ray . . . . . . . . . . . . State Board Tuscaloosa

HOW TO SELECT THE RIGHT ARCHITECT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 School boards are often unrealistic about construction budgets, expecting to get work today at prices the school system paid yesterday for buildings that didn’t have many of the snazzy new features. Most administrators, teachers and parents know — and care — very little about costs; they just have wish lists. But even the best-laid plans can be derailed by failing to select an appropriate architect or by failing to work with the architect through the design process. The right architect can make the difference between a building project that goes relatively smoothly and one that goes seriously awry. FEATURES

Introducing Sally Howell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Daring to Dare . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Face to Face with Dr. Joe Morton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 We Hear You Loud and Clear: Summer Conference Recap . . . . . . 12 21st Century Schools Require Top-to-Bottom Support . . . . . . . . . . 20 DEPARTMENTS

Alabama Education News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Education & the Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Help . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Calendar of Events . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Potpourri . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 At the Table . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 BOARDMANSHIP BASICS

Recruit and Retain High-Quality Teachers in Rural Areas . . . . . 29 Five Characteristics of an Effective School Board . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 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 2007 3

Alabama Education News STATE NEWS State Preschool Pilot Program Expands There are 133 funded preschool sites in 66 Alabama counties, according to the state Department of Children’s Affairs Office of School Readiness. There are 25 new preschool programs this year, including Clanton Elementary School’s first class for 4-year-olds who started this fall. Eighty-four of the state’s programs are fully funded, and the others receive partial funding. Most eligible preschoolers attend at no cost, though some programs may charge up to $25 per week. Funded by an OSR grant, Clanton Elementary’s preschool class includes 18 students selected through a lottery system.

The school readiness office has called for quality pre-kindergarten programs to educate the state’s 4-year-olds and is taking the first step of setting up pilot prekindergarten sites in each of the state’s 67 counties. OSR estimates the state cost of pre-kindergarten programs for all Alabama children at $120 million. Gov. Bob Riley said in recent news reports that developing a statewide, voluntary preschool program should become a major priority. A May 31 Voices for Alabama’s Children poll surveyed 3,200 public school kindergarten teachers and found 86 percent believe access to quality preschool programs is “very important.”

Voters Support Taxes in Some Systems, Reject Others Voters in Escambia and Washington counties renewed long-standing 1- and 3mill property taxes that fund education. The

Brewton, Lauderdale Students Can Anonymously Report Problems Silence can be dangerous. When students want to report threats of violence or simply to turn in cheaters and bullies, the Talk About anonymous online messaging and emergency notification service gives them the option to do so without fear of reprisal. This school year, students at Brewton Middle School and T.R. Miller High School in Brewton and Brooks High School in Lauderdale County can use the Internet-based system to reach out to counselors and communicate their own problems or the troubles of other schoolmates. The system’s developers at AnComm say Talk About also serves as an early warning system that empowers school administrators to communicate, intervene and resolve threats of school violence. AnComm says subscription funding for the service in many cases is provided under Title IV of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which financially assists state and local drug and violence prevention activities in elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education. To learn more, call 866/926-2666 or visit 4 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

taxes have been in place since the 1920s in Escambia County and for 60 years in Washington County. Escambia County Superintendent Billy Hines was thrilled with the June election results, telling the Mobile Register “now we can go back to the business of educating children.” The favorable outcome resulted in eight locally funded teachers being reinstated. Washington County Superintendent Tim Savage told the Mobile Register the vote reaffirmed his faith in public support of education. In Bullock County, 1,046 voters said yes to extending a 4.5-mill property tax. The no vote totaled 226, and there was a 15 percent registered voter turnout. The tax continued to be collected after it expired in 2004. Had the measure not passed, the schools could’ve been required to refund $800,000 in property taxes, reported WSFA news in Montgomery. Albertville voters recently approved a 6-mill property tax increase in a close election with 1,356 votes for the measure and 1,274 no votes. The tax will help fund renovations to Albertville High School. Voters in Limestone County struck down a proposed one-cent sales tax for schools in August. The tax would’ve generated money for city schools in Athens and county schools. The proposed sales tax increase was defeated with 7,875 no votes, which represented 66.3 percent of ballots cast. Higher taxes for schools were defeated in Phenix City, Auburn, Opelika and Lee County, which includes Smiths Station schools. The ballots were cast in August special elections. In a 1,539-543 vote, Phenix City said no to a 7-mill property tax increase. School systems in Lee County, Auburn and Opelika would’ve benefited from a 7-mill tax increase, also, but the measure failed with a vote of 2,329-506 in Lee County, 2,318-2,054 in Auburn, and 1,652-925 in Opelika.

Aviation Initiative Takes Flight at Baldwin County Schools


The Baldwin County school board approved a dual enrollment program that allows students at Daphne and Spanish Fort high schools to take aerospace and aviation courses at Enterprise-Ozark Community College in Mobile. Students can earn high school credit and transferable college credit for courses taken at the two-year college, reported the Mobile Register. School officials said high demand for aviation-trained employees led to the decision to launch the program. “One of the initiatives that we are working on in Baldwin County is to expand our partnership with the two-year college system,” said Patty Hughston, secondary curriculum supervisor. “We can serve students better and offer them more through these partnerships.” Hughston said the line between blue collar and white collar is blurring. “We have to change the way we view career technical education. We have to prepare our students for every opportunity,” she said. Enrollment is limited to 50 students with at least a 2.5 GPA. So far, 12 students are lined up to participate in the program this fall. The bulk of their courses will be at the college’s aviation center. The Baldwin County school board will provide tuition, fees and transportation for the students. For more information, call 251/972-8580.

▲ September The National School Boards Association’s 68th Annual Conference and Exposition is planned for March 29-April 1, 2008, in Orlando. Attendees are required to register for the conference before housing reservations may be made. Registration is now open, and housing reservations open Oct. 2. Early registration discounts are available through Dec. 28. For more information, visit www. online.

NATIONAL NEWS NSBA Study Points to New Opportunities to Use Technology Ninety-six percent of students with online access use social networking technologies — chatting, text messaging, blogging and online communities such as Facebook, MySpace and Webkinz. In addition, 96 percent of school systems report at least some assigned homework that requires Internet use, yet most schools have rules against social networking activities. The findings are part of a new study by the National School Boards Association and Grunwald Associates that explores the online behaviors of U.S. teens and ‘tweens and considers whether social networking could be used as an educational tool. “There is no doubt that these online teen hangouts are having a huge influence on how kids today are creatively thinking and behaving,” (Continued on page 27)

▲ September 27-30 The National School Boards Association Council of Urban Boards of Education will present its 40th annual conference at Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center in Atlanta. The theme is “Serving America’s Urban Public School Children.” Registration ranges from $375 for CUBE members and national affiliates to $525 for non-members. To register, call 800/950-6722. ▲ September 30 The Best Buy Te@ch Program rewards schools for successful interactive programs they have launched using available technology. Winning programs focus on students using technology to learn standards-based curriculum. The maximum award is $10,000 to eligible schools within a 50-mile radius of a Best Buy store. Application deadline is Sept. 30. For details, visit communityrelations/teach.asp. ▲ October 1 The American School Board Journal is accepting nominations online for the 2008 Magna Awards through Oct. 1. Presented in cooperation with Sodexho School Services, winners of the Magna Awards receive national recognition. Grand prize winners receive a $3,500 cash award. Nominations are accepted only online at, but you may call 703/838-6739 for details. Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 5

Education&the Law Let's Talk About What? How to Talk to Students About Title IX and Sexual Harassment By Elizabeth Brannen Carter and Jayne Harrell Williams Attorneys, Hill, Hill, Carter, Franco, Cole & Black

PICTURE THIS: A conservatively dressed labor lawyer pulls up in front of a building to talk to a large group about sex and the law — a routine occurrence for her. However, as she walks to the front of the audience, one important difference stands out to her — these aren’t adults, these are kids. She frantically thinks, “What am I going to say?”


ducators have walked through fires and fought wars to bring appropriate and effective sexual education into the classrooms. Teaching sex education, abstinence and responsibility in sexual relationships has become commonplace for many school systems. Just recently, statistics regarding the sexual behavior of teenagers was reported by all of the major news outlets as headline news. The report suggested that sex education campaigns initiated in the ’80s and ’90s have begun to have positive effects on statistics regarding teen sex, condom use, birth control and adolescent births.



Elizabeth “Liz” Brannen Carter and Jayne Harrell Williams are education and employment discrimination attorneys for various school boards in Central Alabama. 6 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

However, Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 has changed the landscape for how schools must approach sex and sexual behavior in the school system. Even though Title IX has been around for a while, it has only been in the last couple of years that we have seen an increase in Title IX lawsuits against school systems and, as a result, a concerted effort by school systems to talk about sexual behavior at school.

What is Sexual Harassment Involving a Student? The U.S. Office of Civil Rights has defined sexual harassment as any unwanted sexual advances, request for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. OCR points out that not all sexual harassment is physical. It is also important to stay mindful of the age and context of certain conduct, which brings us back to our initial question. What do you say about sexual behavior to students? We have heard many educators say that inappropriate sexual conduct is not a problem in their school, but statistics col-

lected as far back as 1993 tell a different story. More than 80 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys said they have been the target of some form of sexual harassment in school. More than half of the students report physical sexual harassment, like touching, grabbing and pinching. A recent update of this survey confirms that the trend has continued. Faced with these daunting facts, school systems need to embark on the journey of creating comprehensive Title IX policies which specifically address various types of sexual harassment and then undertake the sometimes complicated task of talking to students about appropriate conduct and unacceptable sexual conduct at school.

How Do You Talk to Kids About Title IX? When initially preparing to talk to students about sexual harassment and Title IX, we did a comprehensive national search of the various ideas prefaced by experts on the issue of how to talk to students. The contrast and conflicts between these suggestions were overwhelming. Do you have small group sessions wherein the conversations are very intimate, using educational tools, such as role playing? Or, do you educate assembly style, stating the policy, giving examples of inappropriate conduct and refraining from any type of question and answer session? The debate goes on and on. In a lot of cases, many other factors will come into play, such as time, space, number of students involved and education resources available. Regardless of the means and methods of communicating Title IX and a

school system’s “no tolerance” policy for sexual harassment, there is no question that all schools should be providing such education to their students.

Things To Remember in the Talk • Tell them it is federal law. Students need to be told that Title IX is a federal law requiring equal education for all students. The students should further be told that any form of sexual harassment is prohibited by Title IX. Explain that sexual harassment is considered a breach of “equal access to education law.” Framing the issue as a legal matter conveys a sense of seriousness and credibility between the school and the student. That is, students must understand the school is not simply creating other means by which to control their behavior. • Don’t be funny. In talking to adults about serious issues, such as sexual harassment, mild humor is often a good ice-breaker. Many times it is easier to get an audience’s attention if serious issues are made light by the speaker, and those examples can be used to make very serious points to the adult audience. However, this approach should not be used with students. Let’s be honest. It is going to be hard enough to keep a group of high school students from giggling during a talk about sexual harassment. The speaker should be serious at all times during the talk. • Be practical. Some forms of sexual behavior are going to occur in every school. In talking to high school students, the importance of Title IX will be lost if the students are made to believe that conduct we often refer to as flirting is banned from school. Talk about conduct that is acceptable. Talk about ways a student will know if the conduct is welcomed as opposed to offensive to another individual. In other words, the student should ask himself: Does this conduct or comment feel good to the other person? Is it reciprocal? Is it a compliment as opposed to being degrading? Is it

Regardless of the means and methods of communicating Title IX and a school system's “no tolerance” policy for sexual harassment, there is no question that all schools should be providing such education to their students. flattering as opposed to being demeaning? Provoke the students to think about how they can ascertain whether their conduct is appropriate among their classmates. It is also a good idea to simply list categories of conduct that could rise to the level of sexual harassment, such as sexually offensive comments and gestures, touching, pinching, grabbing, bra snapping, skirt flipping, jerking down pants or skirts of another student, sexual graffiti written on the walls of bathrooms and other places, sexual rumors and teasing about sexual orientation. • Use examples. Many students do not realize the various forms of sexual harassment. Develop short, realistic scenarios of various types of sexual harassment. Be creative and make all the scenarios as varied as possible in order to demonstrate conduct that would be prohibited by Title IX that the students might not otherwise consider. • Encourage students to take the first step. Students should be encouraged to communicate to the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome. We found in handling sexual harassment cases that this concept is not obvious — even to an adult. It is important to talk about simple concepts like this when educating students regarding Title IX. • Communicate how to report. Make sure that the students understand sexual harassment by another student or by any person in the school system will not be tolerated and all reports will be taken seriously. Encourage the students to report sexual harassment

when they believe they are a victim or when they believe another individual is being victimized. • Corrective remedial measures will be implemented. Make clear to the students that the school will take corrective action against any individual found to be victimizing a student through sexual harassment. Clarify the school’s policy regarding that corrective action and relay what the potential discipline alternatives will be if an individual is found guilty of sexual harassment. Emphasize that no matter the identity or popularity of the accuser or the accused, all students will be treated equally. • Reassurance of no retaliation. A prevailing concern among students seems to be that they will be treated differently or teased if they report sexual harassment. Reassure students that retaliation will not be tolerated and that they need to report any retaliatory conduct as soon as possible. Also reassure them that confidentiality will be maintained as much as possible. Like any other issue when it comes to children, there are no hard and fast rules regarding how to talk about Title IX and sexual harassment. But one thing is for sure: We can no longer run the risk of not educating. The fear that education on the issue will cause more claims of sexual harassment and therefore cause more trouble for the school must be put to rest. The claims are coming. The school board must do everything in its power to protect students and itself from the sexual harassment monster in the school. ▲ Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 7

By Jim Methvin, AASB President

Sally Howell began work as the executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards on July 1. Her education and professional background, her personal characteristics and knowledge and abilities are paramount to her successful leadership of our association. The AASB Board of Directors looks forward to working with and supporting Sally in her new role as our association’s visionary leader. tion of School Boards’ contribution to public education.

director of research and special projects, director of public relations and director of communication.



elow are some personal characteristics regarding Sally’s work ethic and her being that I would like to share with you.

Passion In the last century there was a leader who became world renowned because of his entrepreneurship. The success for his organization was based on a burning passion for his dreams and imagining a better world. Sally Howell is comparable to this man in that she too has a great passion — a great passion for public education and the successes education brings to children. This passion has been with Sally her entire professional career. She truly knows the value of the Alabama Associa8 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

The entrepreneur had a practice of creating dream boards that he would hang on the wall. He would use the dream boards to draw out his business plans. Sally, in a sense, uses this same creation in the form of spreadsheets. When she reaches one accomplishment, another greater and challenging dream appears. She has had both personal and professional accomplishments because her dreams continued to grow and expand.

Strategic Thinking Importantly, Sally’s use of this framework allows her to benchmark and think strategically of how to accomplish tasks in a successful manner. She is already mapping out plans for many association initiatives. AASB has been the beneficiary of such thinking in Sally’s past roles as assistant executive director,

Communication Sally’s background in journalism — and her personal attributes — make her an excellent communicator. She knows that the success of the association depends on its executive director to be visible, to be well prepared, and to possess excellent communication skills. Sally has demonstrated this in the education community and with AASB’s membership during her many presentations at district meetings and conferences, with media statements, and in meetings with local, state and national officials.

Collaboration Sally’s collaborative style of executive leadership will benefit AASB. In her assistant executive director’s position for the last six years, she has earned the respect and credibility of her colleagues at (Continued on page 27)



is at a crossroads. Not just because there is a new executive director, but because our schools, our state and our world have changed and continue to change. For this organization to be viable, we need to respond to these changes internally and externally. The challenges are great. Most Alabama schools are not teaching 21st century skills. This is the business-led effort to identify and promote the skills students need to be competitive in a world in which, in the not-so-distant-future, the college-educated may be underemployed or unemployed in our society. The trends of outsourcing overseas is a continuing threat. Our communities have long been hurt when a manufacturer closed shop because labor was cheaper overseas or across the border. But those were low-wage, low skill jobs, and we fought that by setting our course on attracting different employers who paid better wages. Now our middle class is threatened as well. Professional jobs in health, law and accounting are being outsourced to other countries. We need to prepare students for this reality. Not only are too few of our schools teaching skills for this 21st century, many lack the capacity to do so. School board members must lead this change in their schools and in their communities. AASB must be at the forefront of this effort on the


state level. In fact, school boards need to change the dialogue about public schools — and not just change it; we need to set the tone, we need to set the topic. Even more than before, school boards need to be a highly visible, proactive voice for what students need and what our schools need. This will be a challenge because competition for resources and attention on the public agenda will be great. Demographic trends show that three-fourths of the votingage population in our state does not have school-age children. And, the look of the population is different too. We are older and more diverse than ever before. These trends aren’t problems, unless we ignore them. But we must anticipate the learning needs of immigrant students and the funding issues likely to arise as the population increasingly is dominated by senior citizens on fixed incomes. My vision is for AASB to lead the state in directing these issues. AASB must be a catalyst and source for state level policy on issues affecting public school students and school boards. This vision is based on the mission statement and goals and objectives recently adopted by the AASB Board of Directors. This is a critical step. To prepare the association to make this vision a reality, the AASB Board of Directors will embark on a strategic planning process to fully align the association’s goals and objectives with its mission; align and plan for resources to support this mission; and develop reasonable measures to assess our progress. While I have a vision, I certainly don’t have all the answers. Leadership in this global society requires flexibility, an open mind and a willingness to seek new solutions. That is why this association will undertake a strategic planning process involving input from you and other stakeholders. A vision is meaningless unless it is shared. We need you to help shape this

vision of Alabama schools and our organization. We want your input. AASB is a solid organization. We are financially stable and have quality programs and staff, dedicated and supportive members, and strong, forward-looking leadership. We are well positioned to move to the next level of performance. When I interviewed for the executive director position, I wanted the board to hire me — not because I was the safe choice, but because the board believed I had the vision, skills and enthusiasm to take this organization to the next level. I am grateful for this opportunity, and I appreciate the many calls, cards, e-mails and congratulations I have received from you. One card really struck a chord. It captured what I hope sets the tone for this next phase in the association’s development and my career. It contained this quote from Maya Angelou: “I believe the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity, is daring to dare.” Please join me in daring to dare. Dare to dream about what can make your school great. Don’t be limited by what seem to be insurmountable burdens — political, financial or social. Next, dream how AASB can help you make this happen. Then, join in accepting this dare. We can have a huge impact. We can change our communities, our schools, our Legislature and our state. The power is with you school board members. I really believe it. You need to believe it. It will take hard work. It will take commitment. It will take persistence. But it will happen, if we dare to dare. ▲ Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from a speech presented at Summer Conference 2007. Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 9

FACETO F ACE with Dr. Joe Morton Sue Helms, a member of Madison school board and AASB’s president-elect, conducted a face-to-face interview with state Superintendent of Education Dr. Joe Morton. The interview is the latest installment in a series of features recapping conversations between state leaders and members of AASB’s grassroots Leader to Leader program. ▲ Helms: Tell us something about you that most people don’t

know. ■ Morton: Well, most people probably would not know that I have driven a NASCAR race car around the Talladega International Speedway at 160 miles an hour, which is really a weak speed if you’re a NASCAR driver but a lot of speed if you’re not. My wife and two sons gave it to me as a birthday present. I never raced, but I grew up watching people that did in my little hometown. I went to school in Hueytown, but I grew up in Pleasant Grove. So, I had gotten up just about to the top speed. I mean it was floor boarded. And, I was having trouble breathing. My mouth was dry. I was thinking, “What’s going on?” when it hit me. My mouth was wide open. It was very exhilarating but scary. ▲ Helms: You served as interim for a while. How was that first

official day as state superintendent? ■ Morton: The funniest thing happened when I finally offi-

cially moved everything into this (the superintendent’s) office. You see, when (former state Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson) left, I hadn’t moved in here. I didn’t move until they took the interim title away. So, the day they did I was here, the board was here, the governor came, my family and all that. They voted. I became superintendent. Everybody left. Then the phone rang. It was the governor, and he said: “Well, what have you done to improve education?” He just died laughing. My answer was, “Not one thing, but I haven’t messed anything up either.” ▲ Helms: What book is on your bedside table? ■ Morton: Well, that’s easy. Two. Mockingbird, the unautho-

rized biography of Harper Lee. She is just such a treasure. I’m also reading The Reagan Diaries. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but now I can’t quit reading it. 10 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

▲ Helms: What is the best news for K-12 in the 2008 education

budget? ■ Morton: I think the best news is there was enough money to

fund most of the budget requests. We worked real hard to build a consensus among education groups of all kinds as to what all we do. And the board adopted, I thought, a really broad-based budget, and the governor put virtually every bit of it in his request. Not all, but most things were funded. And that doesn’t happen very often. ▲ Helms: Is there a project that you’re excited about? ■ Morton: Well, obviously, there is what we call the trio or the

big three: the Alabama Reading Initiative, the Alabama, Math, Science and Technology Initiative and the ACCESS distance education program. They all received just about all the funding we asked for, which means they can continue to flourish and expand and do good things. There were some things that received first-time funding, and some are really exciting. One is the $4.5 million PASS (Preparing Alabama Students for Success) grant application program that is now available to help students successfully transition from middle school to high school. It really forces school systems to create partnerships within the community. I’m convinced school systems can’t solve all the problems by themselves. We’ve got to reach out, yet again, to all of these community groups, to churches, to mayors, to police chiefs, to juvenile probation officers, to district judges, to YMCAs — because they can help us. One of the things we had in our budget that did not get funded well was the Dropout Prevention Advisor Program. The concept in our budget request for ’08 was to put one dropout prevention advisor — some call them graduation coaches — in every high school. It’s about a $16 million project, but we

got $550,000. We did get enough that we have an application out there now that will fund one advisor in each state board district, so there will be eight funded at about $68,250 each, I think. That person doesn’t teach anything. That person strictly is the graduation coach or the dropout prevention advisor for whatever number of kids at the selected high school who have been identified as at risk. I think we will have pretty good results quickly, because all that person does is zero in on the fixes. They basically won’t take “no” for an answer from the student but will advocate for the child and put pressure on the student to stay in school and graduate. ▲ Helms: There is the graduation rate debate. Evidently, the

governor’s association has adopted some national standards. How do you think that helps or hurts Alabama? ■ Morton: Well, it won’t hurt us. Under No Child Left Behind, every state defines what a high school graduate is. Well, we did that. And we sent that definition to Washington to the U.S. Department of Education, and they approved it. By our definition, we graduate 82 percent. Education Week’s rate that has been published and written about a lot is that we have a 59 percent graduation rate based on their formula. The National Governors Association rate might bump us up, because it does track kids a little differently and provide for some transfers. Every state has signed off on the NGA definition, and we go to it in 2009. We may end up in the mid-60s using that definition. That number is not good enough, but the beauty of that is — and the reason I’m excited about it — for the first time in the history of the United States we’ll have a common definition of what a high school graduate is. We can still attack the problem, but at least we’ll be on common footing and know by what we’re being judged. ▲ Helms: It will be great to have that common definition for all


■ Morton: What we’re going to try to do to build our ’09 budget

request is to get a tighter, better game plan on how to increase our graduation rate in Alabama. I think what we’re doing through reading and math and science and technology helps, but that starts that pipeline way down low. ▲ Helms: What impact is the billion-dollar bond issue going to

have on K-12 now and in the next five years? ■ Morton: In some cases, it’s going to be transformational. I’m not saying that’s going to be the case in every school system, because some have so many needs. But it’s going to greatly change the physical plants in so many systems. The additional benefit of that is many systems will find a way — either through additional taxes or maybe having some of the current obligations of debt come off where they can refinance — to add local bonds to it. That has traditionally happened, but we’ve never had this much money. I think the nature of school properties in Alabama is going to change dramatically. You’ve got 30 systems that are going to start this fall getting the benefit of Amendment 2 (Editor’s Note: The amendment requires 10 absolute mills of local property tax to participate in the state’s school funding program). So, that’s money they’ve never had. So, some of them may be able to take some of that money and create a bond issue — maybe a small one — but they may be able to actually add to the state allocation. And then half of their allocation can be used for existing debt retirement. Because of consolidations, some school systems have made some pretty strong commitments to facilities already, but they don’t have a one month’s operating balance. So, by reducing some of the debt they’re paying out of local funds, they can actually improve their one month’s operating balance. So, there are many indirect benefits. This bond issue is one of the most exciting things that have happened in my memory. ▲ Helms: If you could legislate one thing to improve Alabama’s

schools, what would it be?

About Dr. Joseph B. Morton Dr. Joe Morton was selected by the state Board of Education to be the state superintendent of education July 13, 2004, after six months as interim state superintendent. Morton previously served eight years as deputy state superintendent. Morton’s career has also included work as superintendent of Sylacauga and Sumter County schools. He earned a bachelor's degree from Auburn University and his master’s and Ph.D degrees from the University of Alabama. He has been named outstanding superintendent of education in Alabama by three different organizations, was selected by The Executive Educator magazine as one of the top 100 school executives in North America, founded the Sylacauga City Schools Foundation and was a member of the first classes of Leadership Sylacauga and Leadership Alabama.

■ Morton: If it would be possible — which obviously it’s not,

so it’s kind of a facetious answer — I would have everybody at least make one day a week an optimistic day. I’ve been in this state all my life, and I love Alabama. I’ve got a passion for this state, but we tend to chase down and pursue the negative more than we ought to. There are so many positives in this state — in education and outside education. And we tend to, at least in my observation, get enamored with the negative to the exclusion of all the positives. There are so many success stories coming out of schools every day, kids whose lives have been affected forever and teachers who have gone way beyond what anybody would expect. ▲ Helms: What accomplishment of the state Department of

Education are you most proud of? ■ Morton: The reading initiative and the math, science and

technology initiative and distance learning and dropout prevention — these are things that are really going to be (Continued on page 14) Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 11

Summer Conference 2007 was a huge success, and your valuable feedback will be used to enhance training opportunities and plan future events.


ore than 400 education leaders from around Alabama received leadership, teamwork and crisis management training as part of the Alabama Association of School Boards’ 2007 Summer Conference in late July. The roster of speakers included Larry Johnson, a veteran trainer who emphasized honest communication that encourages healthy debate; Michael Cheney, an executive coach who taught boards how to decipher and work with various leadership styles; and an expert panel that described lessons learned from school crises. Summer Conference, as are all AASB events, is also geared to meet members’ needs. AASB uses a variety of tools to make sure such training events are on track, including evaluations. Among the issues raised in Summer Conference evaluations were: ▲

Length of Daily Sessions

This year’s conference was jammed pack with training, overflowing with ideas and brimming with information. While attendees overwhelmingly rated the conference as highly effective, a number noted that the days were too long. AASB is already working to address that concern. This year it was unavoidable since the Perdido Beach Resort — the only conference facility at the beach large enough to accommodate a conference our size — had only a limited number of days available to host our meeting. Next year, however, we have been able to secure enough meeting days to avoid information overload. We will have shorter meeting days, giving you more time to digest the material, network and share ideas with peers. We already have contracted with the Perdido to host the 2009 Summer Conference as well, and the number of available meeting days for that year is also limited. However, AASB is working with the resort to balance the length of each day’s training with the need to provide you with a total of 10 hours of pure training during the conference. ▲

Length of Breaks

Some attendees questioned the need for breaks to be 30 minutes. Unfortunately, with almost 450 attendees, it requires the full 30 minutes for all attendees to have a chance to 12 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

get some refreshments, visit exhibits and return to the meeting room. ▲

Earlier Dates

Although it wasn’t part of the formal evaluation, many attendees asked about the possibility of holding the conference earlier in the summer. We’re working on it. Unfortunately, Summer Conference space must be booked well in advance to secure the required sleeping and meeting rooms necessary for a group as large as AASB’s. Plus, given the Perdido’s status as one of the most popular conference locations at the beach, AASB was forced to take the only dates available in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to book the number of days and sleeping rooms we need. However, we have begun negotiating dates for 2010 and 2011 and will make every effort to move the conference to earlier in the year and — if possible — to time the conference immediately before or after the superintendents’ annual meeting. ▲

Decision to Not Use Breakout Sessions

A handful of attendees suggested we use breakout sessions at Summer Conference like we do at convention. This is an area where AASB is a victim of its own success. Because of the number of attendees, there simply are not enough meeting rooms to provide breakout sessions. Once the new state park conference center opens, this option may be available. But the new facility isn’t expected to come online for several more years. ▲

Hotel Accommodations and Staff

Most attendees who completed evaluations enjoyed the Perdido Beach Resort and wanted to return next year. A few concerns did arise and were addressed in detail with the hotel staff at a post-conference debriefing. We’ll work closely with the hotel staff in an effort to prevent similar issues next year. ▲


Several attendees who stayed at other locations voiced concern about the available parking and the difficulty of walking from other locations. AASB is working with one of our sustaining members to arrange transportation for shuttling attendees among the conference hotels next year. While details have not been finalized, we do expect to be able to offer this service. ▲

Conference Press Releases

Most board members, 63 percent, indicated they enjoy receiving conference attendance media releases that are personalized for them in their conference packets. A few prefer the fill-in-the-blank versions. Next year, electronic versions of the media releases will be sent to the school system public relations staff, board president or other designee by e-mail. Those releases can then be customized with the names of every member who attended from your board. To receive this electronic media release next year, send your public relations contact’s e-mail address to publicrelations@alabama ▲ Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 13

Face to Face with Dr. Joe Morton... Continued from page 11

transformational over time. They’re changing lives, but they won’t show immediate results. There is no quick fix like everybody wants. It’s hard work when you take a state that traditionally undereducated its people and all of a sudden everybody wants them all to have not just a high school diploma but a diploma that has high worth, so they don’t do any remediation ever again. I mean, that is a big step. ▲ Helms: The reading initiative has made a powerful impact.

We have seen that. ■ Morton: There was a great study that came out that made no

news. But it looked at National Assessment of Educational Progress scores differently than just how many make the proficient or advanced level. It looked at what states have moved students from below basic to basic. Well, Alabama was in that elite group of states identified as making great gain of moving their kids from the lowest level — which we had so many at the lowest level — up to the next level. But see, that’s not proficient, so it never gets reported. Proficient, which NAEP defines as above grade level, and advanced, which is like gifted, are the only two categories that are reported for comparative studies. Yet, it’s tremendous success. It’s going to open up a whole lot of doors for those kids that never would have been opened. ▲ Helms: Do you think the state Foundation Program is still the

best way to fund our schools and are the divisors working in middle school? ■ Morton: I’ll answer the second part of your question first. The divisors at the middle school have got to come down. With the



If I have campaign money left over, may I buy an ad in the local football/cheerleader souvenir book saying I support the team? What if I use personal money to buy the ad?


The Secretary of State’s Office describes such an expenditure as a legitimate use of excess campaign monies. The ad would be considered a charitable cause or as future campaigning. However, you should use the standard “paid for by” disclaimer language. If personal money is used to purchase the ad and you want to avoid using the disclaimer, be sure the text does not read as if it is a campaign ad and don’t identify yourself as a board member. If you choose to identify yourself as a board member, use the disclaimer to avoid misperception. — Denise L. Berkhalter

14 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

7 percent pay raise, while wonderful, and everything else we had to fund, we just ran out of money. But you know, there is another year to come. We’ve got this adolescent reading program in 14 pilot sites in the state right now in the middle school grades. And it’s just phenomenal. It reaches kids beyond the fourth grade. The reading coach concept of ARI continues, but the adolescent program brings in more partners within the school, like the librarian, because these kids have some reading ability. Though everybody’s not equipped to teach a child to read, a lot of teachers are equipped to help a child expand his reading capability. We’re anticipating presenting to the state board an ’09 budget that would ramp up the adolescent reading program. I think the Foundation Program — to go back to the first part of your question — is the best mechanism we’ve ever seen in Alabama for our schools. Jim Williams did a pretty thorough analysis of it through PARCA (Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama), and I didn’t know what he was going to come up with. He could have said, “Gosh, this thing is terrible.” But he didn’t. He basically confirmed it works, and it works really well in equity. It makes sure that systems get their fair share of state funds, and the only area of concern he found is that there has been a lag in funding the maintenance-type issues of school systems. We went into it in 1995 with that being a problem. Then we went through proration, and that got cut. The first order of business was to restore the cut. We did, and $100 million in cuts were restored. But, the one-year cut took three years to restore, so by the end of the fourth year, you were back where you were four years earlier. ▲ Helms: Local school boards have been pounding the drum for

an increase in Other Current Expenses. Will OCE funding become more reflective of actual costs? ■ Morton: This year we got extra money to fund maintenance and operations, but that’s a hard sell at the state level. I mean, it’s easy to sell reading or math or science, but it’s hard to sell janitorial supplies and janitors’ salaries. Most states don’t fund that. Most states say we’re going to give you the basic kinds of things, but you at the local level have got to come up with how to pay utility bills and things like that. And Alabama, being as poor as it is, had some traction to get that from the state. We are a predominantly state-funded system. That study Jim did went through and analyzed the true and accurate expenditure to the local level that systems made for maintenance and upkeep kinds of efforts. So, he has evidence that it’s underfunded. Well, that’s the first kind of study that’s ever been done on that, so, I think that gives some strength to the argument. So, will the OCE, even with Jim Williams’ study, rise to the level of being a new funding priority? It all goes back to there being this pot of money. Every year the pot changes sizes. The question, obviously, that the Legislature wrestles with every year is who gets what portion of what’s in the pot. OCE is in the mix. Reading is in the mix. Pay raises are in the mix, benefits, health insurance, retirees, the split between higher ed and lower ed.

▲ Helms: Of all those things you said, is OCE last on the list? ■ Morton: Well, it’s a keen issue for board members and superintendents. There is

no question about it. But, you can begin to see how it loses a little traction in the body of the Legislature because of all the competing interests. There’s not a lot of glitz to it. It’s the oil that keeps the engine moving. ▲ Helms: Let’s talk a little about No Child Left Behind. Do you think we’re on track? ■ Morton: Last August we were at 88 percent (Editor’s Note: After the interview,

the SDE announced this August that 82 percent of schools made adequate yearly progress under NCLB). When we get up to the high 80s and 90 percent making AYP, we’re in rare air. But, it also means we’re down to that last 10 percent, and that really gets tough. Some of these schools are meeting the challenge and are making it and getting off the “needs improvement” list and getting on the “made AYP” list. Every school that does that is happy, and we’re all happy. It’s just hard to show double-digit growth in schools making AYP forever. But that’s okay. That’s why the reading initiative and math, science and technology initiative are going to help us get there. Without those initiatives we would be floundering, because they have made so much difference in schools making AYP. ▲ Helms: What are we doing to make sure our new teachers are going to be ready

to face academic, behavioral, cultural and technological challenges? ■ Morton: We just adopted some new standards for teacher education programs in order to certify their graduates. A pet peeve of people in education is that the colleges of education at the universities are usually underfunded. If we want to attract people into the teaching profession, then at some point somebody’s got to make a stand — and put enough money into these training programs to get the right people to teach them and have the right lab experiences and the right mentoring and the right supervision in internships — so we get the best teachers possible coming out of these colleges of education. That’s bigger than either the state board or me. The only leverage we have on colleges of education is we can do what we’ve done — go back and redo standards they have to meet in order to get their graduates a license to teach. We have also reinstituted onsite reviews of colleges of education to help them understand the value of our standards. We’re going to give colleges of education a report card. We now have subject matter testing for teachers, which is going to be a real asset for us. And another one of those little pearls in the budget this year is $2.7 million for “teacher recruitment scholarships.” Ten percent of the scholarship money, about $270,000, will go to high school future teacher programs. ▲ Helms: How can the state school board and AASB work better together? ■ Morton: Well, we have a state board member on AASB’s board of directors

who is a liaison (Sandra Ray). That’s important to just the natural reaction and interaction that should occur. I have an advisory council, and I’m open and welcome to any kind of interaction. ▲ Helms: Is there a message that you would want us to convey to board members? ■ Morton: All I would say is that education is better in Alabama than it’s given

credit for being, and what we know today is just the tip of the iceberg of what it can be. I believe if we can all hold hands together long enough as a state, we can stay together and complete this course we’re on. We’ve got to hold on to the game plan long enough for it to mature and bring about results. It just takes longer than people want to give. There’s a balance of pushing people to do better quicker but knowing that we’re dealing with human beings. We’re not fine-tuning an engine. We have a game plan to do as much as is humanly possible to fix things, but we can’t fix it alone. I’m 100 percent convinced that we’ve got to have the community partnership become stronger in every school district. ▲

September 2007 District Academy Programs 17

District 2 Meeting


District 3 Meeting


District 8 Meeting


District 9 Meeting


District 7 Meeting

October 2007 District Academy Programs 1

District 5 Meeting


District 6 Meeting


District 1 Meeting


District 4 Meeting

21- AASB Board 22 of Directors' Meeting Wynfrey Hotel, Hoover 21- Academy Core 22 Conference Wynfrey Hotel, Hoover

December 2007 6

AASB Board of Directors' Meeting Wynfrey Hotel, Hoover


AASB Leadership II Core Wynfrey Hotel, Hoover

6-8 AASB Annual Convention Wynfrey Hotel, Hoover

January 2008 7-29 District Meetings

March 2008 29- National School Boards 4/1 Association's 68th Annual Conference and Exposition Orlando

Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 15

By Kelley D. Carey

Editor’s Note: Now that the Alabama Legislature has approved the largest education bond issue in state history — $1.07 billion — Alabama School Boards will provide regular tips for stretching every dollar while avoiding school construction project pitfalls.


Let’s say your school system has budgeted $10 million to build a new school. You engage an architect who talks with staff members about their desire for a world-class model school, their love of dramatic roof lines, their need for a larger auditorium and certainly a vocational area. The architect joins in their enthusiasm, becoming a fellow traveler, if you will. The board likes the plans, too, and puts them out to bid. 16 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007


ut board members are shocked when the lowest bid comes in at $12 million. The low bidder says the cost cannot be reduced 20 percent without losing 15 classrooms. The architect says the plans just included what the staff wanted, costs have been going up, contractors have plenty of work to do, and, besides, no architect can guarantee what contractor bids will be. The local newspaper is calling for an investigation.

What went wrong? In 25 years of facilities planning, I’ve seen plenty of cost overruns in school construction projects, and there’s usually plenty of blame to go around. Most school systems build almost blindly, without a long-range comprehensive plan. School boards are often unrealistic about construction budgets, expecting to get work today at prices the school system paid yesterday for buildings that didn’t have many of the snazzy new features. Most administrators, teachers and parents know — and care — very little about costs; they just have wish lists. But even the best-laid plans can be derailed by failing to select an appropriate architect or by failing to work with the architect through the design process. The right architect can make the difference between a building project that goes relatively smoothly and one that goes seriously awry. When selecting an architect, some board members probably will say, “Let’s go with a proven quantity,” and will want to use the firm that has had a lock on the school system’s work. Others will say, “We need fresh ideas. Let’s give other firms a chance.” Someone might even suggest not hiring an architect at all, but instead employing a construction management firm, sometimes called a design/build firm, that handles the entire design and construction process. Typically, these construction-management firms guarantee the price of the final product and provide reasonable

The right architect can make the difference between a building project that goes relatively smoothly and one that goes seriously awry.

assurance of staying on a tight schedule from the first steps of design to the opening of school. Either way, you can expect intense competition and lobbying as architectural firms vie for the $600,000 to $750,000 in design fees that a $10 million school can be expected to generate. So how do you choose? Should you evaluate proposals? Listen to live presentations? Or simply make the selection on the basis of lowest cost?

Allow me to offer suggestions:


Know what you want. Before you start looking for an architect, you should already have a comprehensive plan for the school system that identifies the scope, priorities and locations of all projects in the school system. A good longrange, comprehensive plan is based on a thorough review of alternative solutions to complex problems involving programs, facilities and student demographics. Without thoughtful consideration of how a particular building fits in to the school system’s overall construction, maintenance and cost-control plans, you probably won’t build what the school system needs. Even if you have an overall plan, you should bring in a school system planning consultant or school architect to help define the individual project, set the budget and select the site. Not having a defined project program is the easiest way to run up construction costs, experience delays and get hit with huge additional fees. You might want to draw up a separate contract just to develop a preliminary layout and cost estimates. Then, if the project turns out to be beyond the school system’s means, you’re not committed to paying for further designs.


Open up the selection process. Often, administrators turn to familiar faces to perform design services, preferring the comfort of a proven commodity to the liveliness of competition. But consider the possibility that the school system might be accepting substandard work that raises costs unnecessarily and repeats designs without analyzing what was good and bad about each project.


Decide how important prior experience in school design is to you. Should you give preference to firms with school design experience, or should you let new blood into the process? Jere Smith, director of construction for Atlanta Public Schools, prefers a firm with experience in school designs: “No matter how great an architect is or how many buildings he’s done, you don’t want someone to learn on your job. The firm and individual matter. There is a learning curve.” Paul Phillips, who as chief facilities officer of Miami-Dade County Schools manages 302 schools for 360,000 students, agrees that the firm and the individual do matter, but notes that requiring prior school design experience is a “Catch-22 for firms new to school design (but who have) other experience.” He opens the door to new firms but requires that they visit the type of school being planned and go through a committee screening that evaluates their competence in previous projects and their willingness and ability to go through the facilities-design process required for schools. Consider a compromise: If you like the work of a design firm that has no experience with school design, try out the firm on a (Continued on page 18) Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 17

The Right Architect... Continued from page 17

small project. If they perform well, you’ll feel more comfortable hiring them for larger projects.


Insist on an open-selection process. Public money should not be used to subsidize a good ol’ boy network. Begin the selection process by advertising the project in local and regional newspapers and soliciting statements of qualification. Ask your school system’s attorney to make sure the solicitations and contracts specifically include the wording and intent of the anti-kickback statutes required in federal contracts. Your school system should not be burdened with elected officials lobbying the board in return for a percentage of the project fee. Those fees invite shortcuts to the selection process and inferior work.


Require a screening procedure. To make the selection process easier and fair, some school systems develop a roster of architects that they use in turn. The problem with this is that design firms are like law firms: Old partners retire, and junior members leave to start their own firms; so the quality of work at a firm might deteriorate, and you might start receiving designs that duplicate old ones that might or might not have worked well in practice. It does matter who does the work. If a screening process is standard for hiring a teacher, it should also be standard for a decision that will cost over two centuries’ worth of a teacher’s income.


Meet the project manager. Slick marketing people and senior partners might have fabulous computer presentations, but they have no intention of meeting with the new school’s principal and teachers, so their person-to-person skills simply don’t count. The project manager who will do the work should be present for the firm’s interviews, so you can begin learning about the manager’s interpersonal skills and knowledge of the construction process. 18 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

You want an architect who can deal with contractors, work through problems, and accept advice from builders who know the best way to put up school walls. “Check around with local general contractors,” advises Robert Cofer, senior project manager at Atlanta’s Beers Construction Co. “Some projects can be bid at high prices because subcontractors do not want to work for certain architects. Their designs are too complex and expensive, and their plan details are badly done.” The project manager should be able to recommend good people and get along with them. “An architect has got to develop trust with the people he works with,” Cofer says. “He cannot go into the project”


Use a standardized scoring questionnaire for screening. Asking every firm the same questions makes comparison easier and leads to objective decisions that aren’t sullied by politics or favoritism. When I provided a standard scoring questionnaire to help one school system select an architect, everything went along smoothly until the firm favored by the board chairman scored very badly. He threw the paper onto the table and shouted that this was no way to pick an architect. The board chose the favored firm anyway and ended up with a school that cost $2 million more than the firm’s estimate. To develop your own screening tool, have the staff gather questionnaires from other school systems. Such questionnaires almost always ask about prior types of designs; years in business; number of architects; current job load; specific capabilities; approach to budgeting, scheduling and design; and so on. I suggest you go beyond the obvious by asking the project manager a number of additional questions: ▲ How do you work with clients? This

vague question often ferrets out the architect’s ability to work with others on everything from basic assumptions through final drawings. Jim Biehle, a former chair of the American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Education, says the ability to work well with a variety of clients is especially important in a school system, where so many people have a

stake in a new school. “The board wants to know the cost, and administrators want to see the layout. But the faculty asks, ‘How do we teach?’ And the kids ask, ‘How do we learn?’ Few architects talk to kids, who have great ideas about the design, and many give only lip service to working with the faculty,” Biehle said. ▲ What outstanding projects has the

project manager worked on within the past five years? The answer to this question reveals specific qualifications and puts new firms on the same playing field as old ones. Ask about contract budgets for these projects versus the final construction costs, and ask for an explanation of the differences. What did the firm do to keep within budget? Do the architects blame the client for add-ons, did they keep the budget in front of the client as things expanded, did they search for different solutions besides adding more stuff, or were they part of the fattening process that drove up their fee? ▲ When do you perform cost analysis?

Often architects start with your budget and end up with a project that costs a lot more — but you don’t know about the hikes until the bids are opened. A qualified person with a demonstrated track record of reasonable accuracy should be providing cost estimates at the program stage (when you’re outlining your basic requirements), at the preliminary design stage, and again at the final design stage. ▲ What are the similarities and differ-

ences between designing a commercial building and designing a school? A building is a building. But client needs — and building standards — differ greatly. School buildings are simple, but their development is not. The building committee for a school usually includes educators and administrators, who are not building experts, and occasionally parents or other community members as well. The architect must listen for what they mean (as opposed to what they say), lead them to cover issues they hadn’t thought of, and keep costs in front of them.

▲ What do you do when errors are

found in the plans during construction? Court decisions on professional liability have not required that designs be error-free, only that they represent competence of the general community of architects involved in such work.

If there is a design error, some architects will go to any length to blame the contractor, but this can lead to hard feelings that manifest themselves in cost overruns and later problems with the buildings.

Act Fast and Avoid Capital Project Headaches The clock is ticking. Time is of the essence. The early bird gets the worm. Whatever cliché of urgency you can think of, it probably applies to securing contractors for school construction, renovation and repair projects this year. Perry Taylor, state architect for the Alabama Department of Education, wants school boards to be aware of a potential glut in construction projects over the next few years. “With the (historic $1 billion) state bond issue, the Jefferson County capital program, sizable construction programs in Baldwin and Montgomery counties, it is obvious to me that inflationary pressures will significantly impact construction costs,” he said. “Therefore, the timing of projects at the local level should be given careful consideration.” Soon bond funds will be released, threatening to cause a supply-anddemand issue, not just for contractors’ time and talent but for materials, supplies, equipment and the like. To educate board members and superintendents about best practices and pitfalls to avoid in bidding and letting their capital projects, Taylor also has some advice. He suggests school system leaders... ▲ Give special emphasis to the capital planning process and properly ▲

▲ ▲

▲ ▲ ▲

identify and prioritize proposed projects. Select professional design and/or management firms that are the best fit for your system’s needs. Talk with other systems and clients about previous performances and relationships. Insist on periodic updates relating to project budget and future cost trends. Determine early in the planning process the method of construction to be used (traditional or construction management ) and engage all required professionals. Allow sufficient time for planning, design and construction so “crunch time” can be avoided. Spend as much time as possible in the schematic design phase. This will save time, money and headaches. Continually stress the importance of the project completion date as established in the contract documents.

Other tips and cost-saving suggestions will be offered at AASB’s fall district meetings Sept. 17-Oct. 11. (See the inside front cover of this magazine for details.) — Denise Berkhalter


Visit buildings designed by the top firms you’re considering. It has been my experience that school boards rarely make site visits to confirm an architect’s claims of achievement. Letters simply don’t do the job, because most people worry about lawsuits if they write something critical. You need to meet past customers, face to face, and ask a few questions: Did the firm meet their objectives and budgets? Does the principal feel that the building suits the program, that the flow of operations works? Would the superintendent, off the record, hire that firm again? What went wrong—and right — during the construction process? Is the design appealing to the eye?


Probe deeply before signing any contracts. Require your top-ranked firm to review the proposal for the school in detail and visit the building site. Encourage the architects to ask questions without fear of reproach for appearing ignorant. They should review the budget in detail, knowing it will be included in their contract as a performance provision. Don’t let a design firm profit by submitting a final bid over the stated budget, unless the scope of the project has changed and the school system was informed about the cost of changes before accepting them. Keep asking hard questions now about the design-development process, the firm’s track record in meeting client expectations and budget, and the project manager’s plans regarding scheduling, working with school staff and the contractor, and staying on top of design and construction changes. The school system will be tied to the project manager you pick for at least the next two years — and perhaps much longer if you pick the wrong firm. So do your homework now, and be certain that you have all the information you need to make a wise decision. ▲ Kelley D. Carey, a specialist in facilities planning, is president of Associated Planning & Research, Inc., in Hilton Head Island, S.C. This article was reprinted with permission from Learning By Design 2001 edition, a publication of the National School Boards Association’s American School Board Journal.

Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 19

By Sallie Owen In Trussville City Schools, the superintendent’s favorite word is “clear.” Dr. Suzanne Freeman says she is clear about the school system’s approach to instruction, about the need for a close relationship between school and community, and about the urgency to prepare students for life and jobs in the 21st century. “Our core business is very clear and our direction is very clear,” Freeman said. “We have to design engaging and intellectually rich school work for kids. We have to teach at high levels. And we use technology to get us there.” In some ways, Trussville is like a start-up company. Many leaders were new to the city when they launched the system in 2005. They had the rare opportunity to focus on the future, but they also knew the community would question their progressive vision. 20 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007


he public needed to understand why school system leaders believed it was imperative to break away from the traditional lecture-driven approaches to instruction. These leaders favor project- and problem-based strategies that push students to apply what they learn in meaningful ways. During the system’s first months, Freeman and Pat Hodge, director of curriculum and instruction, talked for hours with the community about 21st century learning. Most recently, they toured the community using a December 2006 TIME magazine article titled “How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century.” “It’s another way to talk about how our kids are doing and how there is room for improvement,” Freeman says. “We make it clear that we are committed to teaching the content in the state Course of Study — that’s non-negotiable. But we also talk about going deeper with kids.” Freeman says she and Hodge always present technology as a means to an end. “Technology is really a tool. Kids love technology, and it also helps us teach in new ways.” Freeman and Hodge often show a short video about why Google — where employees work in collaborative teams — was named the nation’s best place to work. The video shows how “the world where our students are going to work and live as adults is quite different than it was 20 years ago. Now we have to prepare kids to be responsible selfstarters who can

organize and complete tasks,” Freeman says. Trussville school board member John Alex Floyd Jr., who is editor-in-chief at Southern Living, also sees technology as a useful teaching tool that education leaders should support. He believes quality teachers teach for only one reason — to help children learn. “And any way you can help students learn to read or do the math or understand the science or figure out things for yourself, that’s your job as a teacher.” System leaders must “provide teachers with the best tools to do that. And then help them understand how to be successful with those tools. The winner here is not the teacher, not the school system, but the student,” Floyd said. Writing to the citizens of Trussville, Freeman recently laid out the vision, connecting the system’s focus on higher-order thinking and problem solving to digital and Web-based technologies. “We must teach students to conduct research using the Internet and other sources, so they develop the skills of analyzing, integrating and evaluating information for accuracy,” she wrote. “Teachers

and students must constantly develop their skills to use various forms of media to communicate.” Trussville leaders expect a lot from teachers, and the system provides a range of support to help teachers meet those goals. The system’s leadership team includes both Hodge and director of technology Shawn Nutting, who Freeman hired from the business sector. This link between technology and instruction was further strengthened last year when Nutting recruited April Chamberlain from Paine Intermediate School as the first school system technology integration specialist. Chamberlain’s elementary students blogged with soldiers in Iraq. She created a Web site for students about safety and risks, and she started an in-school TV station at PIS with grant money. She was also one of the Alabama Best Practices Center’s 21st Century Teaching Fellows. “She’s really the one who’s designing our 21st century schools,” Nutting says. “She’s constantly on the Web with other creative educators around the country — and the world, really — talking about new (Continued on page 22)

(Right)Paine Intermediate School students host a booth at the Alabama Fire College Safety Fair to share their knowledge of Risk Watch issues. Students are shown producing online audio podcasts about risk for their school Web site.

(Left) Fifth-grade students recorded their Mystery Science Reader’s Theater script about the sun and later published it on their science class’ Web site.

Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 21

What is a ...? ▲ 21st Century School — The Partnership for 21st Century Skills

(, defines 21st century schools as those that prepare students for the demands of today’s global, knowledge-based economy. In addition to core academic subjects, students gain awareness of global, health and wellness issues; become literate in finance, economics, business, entrepreneurship, civics, and information and communications technology; and are taught critical learning, thinking and life skills. For more on “next generation” schools, visit ▲ 21st Century Community Learning Center — Supported by the U.S.

Department of Education, community learning centers provide academic enrichment opportunities for children, particularly students who attend highpoverty and low-performing schools. Find out more at or contact the state Department of Education at 334/242-8199 or e-mail ▲ Blog — Derived from the official term Web log, a blog is essentially a fre-

quently updated online diary or collection of the author’s personal thoughts, ideas, favorite links and tidbits of news or chitchat. For more tech terms, visit ▲ Wiki — A piece of software authors can use to easily create and edit a Web

site that allows “open editing.” It gives a group of users the opportunity to update, correct, delete from or contribute content to the wiki pages. EduWikipedia, linked to from, is a site produced by educators to share information about the educational value of Web 2.0 tools.

ways teachers can use what’s available on the Internet to engage kids and deepen learning.” Nutting and Hodge also see Chamberlain as the “credibility link” between the central office and the 300-plus teachers and administrators in the Trussville system. Chamberlain spends much of her time visiting classrooms and meeting with teams of teachers. She also supports the system’s “technology team leaders” — four teachers per school who earn $500 stipends to serve as “first contacts” on questions about equipment or setting up a safe blog or wiki for classroom use. Chamberlain says her years in the classroom help her empathize with teachers struggling to adapt to 21st century teaching strategies. “We’re introducing a lot of technology, but we’re trying not to overwhelm our teachers,” she says. “We’re trying to raise awareness about the tools 22 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

available on the Web and the way teachers are using those tools and then support teachers if they want to try something new.” Giving teachers the tools was only the first step. “It was a hard learning curve for us,” Chamberlain says. “Spending money on equipment didn’t make change happen. Dozens of teachers weren’t even using their laptops in their classrooms.”

The anchors for WPIN-TV rehearse their lines as they prepare for the daily closed circuit television show broadcast to more than 1,000 students and teachers at Paine Intermediate School.

The Trussville Educator Technology Conference in January was the turning point. All teachers gathered at the middle school to hear from outside experts and innovative teachers from the system. “It has more validity when it comes from someone who uses it every day in a classroom,” she says. Chamberlain says the school system’s IT staffers learned from teachers what it means to have 30 kids trying to use a new tool. Trussville is also designating lead technology teachers in every school. These will be full-time classroom teachers who will get extra support and $1,000 stipends to develop cutting-edge lessons that could be shared throughout the system. While Trussville’s leaders would not yet claim to be a cutting-edge 21st century school system, the change messages are beginning to permeate the entire system. “Our administrators lead by example,” says Erin McGuyer, a social studies and technology teacher. “Many have their own blogs and wikis. Every one of our schools has a resource wiki aimed at their grade levels, where anybody in the entire world can gather and contribute ▲ useful things.” Dr. Suzanne Freeman, Superintendent,Trussville City Schools

Alabama Association of School Boards

Professional Sustaining Members

AASB appreciates these professional members for supporting association activities and you all year long.

Alabama Beverage Association Montgomery, Alabama 334/263-6621 Alabama Gas Corporation Birmingham, Alabama 205/326-8425 Alabama Supercomputer Authority Montgomery, Alabama 334/832-2405 Barganier Davis Sims Architects Montgomery, Alabama 334/834-2038 BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama Birmingham, Alabama 205/220-5771 Christian Testing Labs Montgomery, Alabama 334/264-4422 Council of Alabama Coca-Cola Bottlers, Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/841-2653 Davis Architects Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/322-7482 Dome Technology Idaho Falls, Idaho 208/529-0833 Exford Architects Birmingham, Alabama 205/314-3411 Fuqua & Partners Architects PC Huntsville, Alabama 256/534-3516

Fibrebond Minden, Louisiana 318/377-1030 Gallet & Associates Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/942-1289 Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood Inc. Montgomery, 334/271-3200 Birmingham, 205/879-4462 Mobile, 251/460-4006 Huntsville, 256/533-1484 Hoar Program Management Birmingham, Alabama 205/803-2121 Jenkins Munroe Jenkins Architecture Anniston, Alabama 256/820-6844 JH Partners Architecture/Interiors Huntsville, Alabama 256/539-0764 Kelly Services, Inc. Dothan Alabama 334/673-7136 KHAFRA Engineers, Architects and Construction Managers Birmingham, Alabama 205/252-8353 Paul B. Krebs & Associates, Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/987-7411 Lathan Associates Architects PC Birmingham, Alabama 205/879-9110 McCauley Associates Inc. Birmingham, Alabama 205/969-0303

McKee & Associates Architecture and Design Montgomery, Alabama 334/834-9933 Payne & Associates Architects Montgomery, Alabama 334/272-2180 PH&J Architects Inc. Montgomery, Alabama 334/265-8781 Rosser International, Inc. Montgomery, Alabama 334/244-7484 Sain Associates Birmingham, Alabama 205/940-6420 Sherlock Smith & Adams Inc. Montgomery, Alabama 334/263-6481 Southland International Bus Sales Birmingham, Alabama 888/844-1821 2WR/Holmes Wilkins Acrhitects Inc. Montgomery, Alabama 334/263-6400 TAC Energy Solutions Birmingham, Alabama 205/970-6132 Transportation South Pelham, Alabama 205/663-2287 Evan Terry Associates PC Birmingham, Alabama 205/972-9100 Volkert & Associates Inc. Mobile, Alabama 251/432-6735 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 23

Potpourri ▲ A welcome goes to the Lee County

AASB President-elect Sue Helms of Madison and AASB Black Caucus President David Tuck of Coosa County received their Master Honor Roll name badges from AASB President Jim Methvin at Summer Conference 2007. An awards luncheon honored those who advanced in the AASB School Board Member Academy. Not pictured are other first-time Master Honor Roll members Dr. Eric Hicks of Pell City and Alphonso Johnson of Russell County.

Helms/Methvin Methvin/Tuck

PEOPLE ▲ Kudos to AASB President Jim Methvin, President-elect Sue Helms and Vice President Florence Bellamy, who represented AASB at the recent NSBA/Southern Region Conference in San Antonio. Methvin also led a clinic at the president’s meeting, while Helms was chosen as one of the region’s representatives on the National School Boards Association Nominating Committee. ▲ Congratulations to retired Baldwin County Public Schools Superintendent Larry Newton and retired state Superintendent of Education Dr. Ed Richardson, who were inducted into the Alabama Educational Leadership Hall of Fame. ▲ Congratulations to new Midfield Superintendent Dr. Douglas L. Ragland. He replaces Donnie Breaseale, who retired this July after 33 years in education. ▲ Kudos to Sharon Dye, who had been Covington County’s interim superintendent since Ronnie Driver retired in May 2006. She has been officially named superintendent, the first woman in the county’s history to do so. ▲ Applause to Donna Basden Akins, a member of the Sheffield school board and executive director of The Arc of The Shoals. She was recognized as Executive of the Year by the Alabama Conference of Executives of The Arc. 24 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

▲ Welcome aboard Dr. Joe Walters, who

succeeded the retiring Royce Massey as superintendent for the Tuscumbia Board of Education. Walters began his new position July 1. ▲ A welcome goes to new Madison

school board appointee Dr. Terri Johnson. She is a mathematics lecturer at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. ▲ Welcome

aboard Russell County Interim Superintendent Lillian Baker, who has been filling in since the recent death of Vivian Carter. Baker served as assistant superintendent for personnel and student services.

▲ Welcome aboard Dr. Judy Stiefel, who

was recently named by the Calhoun County Board of Education as superintendent. She replaced Jackie Sparks, who retired June 30. Summer Conference attendee David Gilmore of Calhoun County (front, center) won a $1,000 prize for his school board from Southland International Bus Sales, and Charlie Harper of Ozark (back, right) won a $500 prize for his school board from Hoar Program Management.

Board of Education’s Interim Superintendent Dr. Steve Nowlin, an associate professor at Jacksonville State University. Nowlin will serve through June 30, 2008. ▲ A pat on the back to the recently retired

Pat McElroy, the lead school nurse in the Cleburne County school system. She was a nurse in the county for 14 years. McElroy is the Alabama School Nurse Association’s choice for 2007 Alabama School Nurse of the Year. ▲ Hats off to former Lowndes County

school board member Fletcher Fountain, the first African-American mayor of Fort Deposit. He recently won reelection. ▲ Kudos to AASB President Jim Meth-

vin, who received the prestigious Social Security Administration Commissioner’s Team Award at the Commissioner of Social Security’s Honor Awards Ceremony in September. In July, Methvin also received a Social Security Associate Commissioner’s Citation for leading the Alabama (Continued on page 26)

Disability Determination Service training team in improving the quality and accuracy of the Social Security disability claims in Alabama. He is a member of the Alabama School of Fine Arts board. ▲ Hats off to National

Middle School Physical Educator of the Year Emily Pharez, of J. Larry Newton School in Baldwin County.


▲ Best wishes to the Autauga County

Board of Education’s newest member, Bob Crane. He will complete the unexpired term of the late Art Wilkerson. Wilkerson died at age 67 just weeks after leaving to chair the county’s Board of Registrars. ▲ Best wishes to Willene Whatley,

Donnie Breaseale and Dr. Sandra Sims-deGraffenried, all recently completed their service to the Alabama Risk Management for Schools Board of Trustees. Whatley, a member of the Conecuh County Board of Education, reached the ARMS term limit. Breaseale recently retired as Midfield’s superintendent, and SimsdeGraffenried, who served as the ARMS secretary, retired in July as AASB’s executive director. ▲ Congratulations to new ARMS trustees

Steve Foster of the Lowndes County Board of Education and Trussville Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Free-

man. Sally Howell, AASB’s new executive director, is now ARMS secretary, and the board reappointed Chip Hibbett of the Florence school board as chairman. ▲ Kudos to the Alabama Council of

School Board Attorneys’ new officers, which include Jefferson County attorney Whit Colvin, president; Woody Sanderson of Huntsville, vice president; Larry Craven of Montgomery; Pete Hamilton of Greenville; Afrika Parchman of Birmingham; Dave Ryan of Tuscaloosa; Jayne Harrell Williams of Montgomery; and AASB Executive Director Sally Howell, secretary-treasurer.

▲ Sympathies to the family of longtime

Tuscaloosa County Board of Education member Robert “Manly” Neighbors Jr., who died recently. He served on the board for more than 20 years. ▲ Sympathies to the family of Winston

Smith T, who died recently at age 74. He served for 20 years on Opelika’s school board and had served as board chairman.

▲ A nod to Derek Roh, director of

information technology services for Baldwin County schools, who received the national David T. Kearns Public School CIO of the Year Award, which recognizes a top public school chief information officer for improving academic achievement and administrative process. ▲ Good job to Robert

E. Lee High School graduate Sosthenes Sealy. The Montgomery County student was honored by the state Board of Education for gradu- Sealy ating with perfect attendance since preschool. ▲ Cheers to Students Against Destructive

2006-07 Outstanding Programs of the Year Honored ▲ Hats off to the 2006-07 Outstanding Programs of the Year honored by the

state Department of Education. They include the health science program at Limestone County Career Technical Center; the business/marketing education program at Athens High School in Athens; the agriscience education program at Pell City High School in Pell City; the JOBS for Alabama’s Graduates program at Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery County; the technical education program at George Washington Carver High School in Birmingham; the family and consumer sciences education program at Mary G. Montgomery High School in Mobile County; and the career technologies education program at Fairhope Middle School in Baldwin County.

26 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

Decisions’ National Student of the Year Sasha Willingham, a senior at Russellville High School in the Russellville school system. She will serve as the peer-to-peer group’s national spokesperson.

Schools ▲ Applause to Anna F.

Booth Elementary in Bayou La Batre. The Mobile County school was the only Alabama school among the six National School Williams Change Award Winners announced in July. Principal Lisa Williams said the prestigious award recognizes schools that have overcome underperformance to become exemplary schools. ▲ Congratulations to the students at

Huntsville Center for Technology for their winning entries in The Great Moonbuggy Race. The Huntsville teams placed first and second in the contest to design, build and race a model vehicle over a simulated lunar landscape. ▲ Cheers for Charles Henderson Mid-

dle School in Troy. Its team won first place in the recent National Archery in the School Program State Tournament. ▲ Praise goes to the West Blocton

Elementary School students who created the innovative “The Case of the Mysterious Macros” Web site that received honorable mention in the ThinkQuest International 2007 Competition. The Bibb County school was among only 10 U.S. teams to earn recognition. ▲

Introducing Sally Howell...

At the Table

Continued from page 8

Sandra H. Ray School Board State Board of Education; also serves as the board’s AASB liaison Hometown Tuscaloosa A Board Member for 13 years Books at Bedside Janet Evanovich’s series of Stephanie Plum murder mystery novels

NSBA, other state associations, and state agencies throughout Alabama. This is the first step to successfully representing AASB and ensuring AASB’s interests are brought to the table. Sally’s collaborative nature is also synonymous with such words as ... • Teamwork as with her work with the AASB Board of Directors; • Leadership as with her work with the Alabama Council of School Board Attorneys; and • Relationships such as the ones Sally has built with statewide local board of education members and superintendents.

Education Law and Policy

Inspiration My grandchildren, especially at this time of the year. They just always seem to have wide-eyed enthusiasm and lots of excitement. It’s like the world just starts speeding up when school starts.

Sally received her juris doctor degree in May 2003 from the Birmingham School of Law while working at AASB. Her law school education has greatly benefited AASB with her work in education policy, legal publications and guidance to local school systems.

Motto as a Board Member I believe in what the physicians say about trying to do no harm. Make better but not make worse.


Walter Mitty Fantasy I would take a month and paint in France and Italy. Advice to New Board Members Ask a lot of questions. Greatest Accomplishment as a Board Member I think we’ve increased the standards of what we expect of our students and teachers and parents in education. We’ve certainly increased our expectations. Pet Peeve as a Board Member The real annoyance is so much information is generated that we really don’t have time to decipher it all. It needs to come down in some kind of format that we can all understand. I’m real big on the “Sandra Ray Report,” which is a one-page executive summary for reports that can sometimes get to be over six or eight pages. We don’t always get that for a lot of reasons. That’s the biggest frustration. Reason I Like Being an AASB Member One reason is that it is an important component of our public education environment. AASB represents an important segment, and it’s important for the board to have a liaison who understands the issues from different sides. I take the views from AASB to the board and express those, and I often take the board’s position and express that to AASB. My Epitaph Life is better because of her.

Sally’s enthusiasm for the association is remarkable. She is committed to seeing that our association makes a distinctive impact in the education of children across Alabama. She plans to be a catalyst for increasing support for public education From my many conversations with Sally, I know she is looking forward to working with the AASB Board of Directors, the AASB staff, the education community and the entire membership to move the association to greater heights. The AASB Board of Directors is confident that Sally will deliver superior performance in her new role as executive director. ▲ Education News Continued from page 5

said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. “The challenge for school boards and educators is that they have to keep pace with how students are using these tools in positive ways and consider how they might incorporate this technology into the school setting.” Nearly 60 percent of online students report discussing education-related topics such as college or college planning and careers. Fifty percent say they talk specifically about schoolwork. Students report they spend almost as much time using social networking services and Web sites as they do watching television. For the full study, visit (Continued on page 28) Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007 27

Education News Continued from page 27

New Rule Will Not Affect Teacher Salaries in Current School Year A change in federal tax law has caused confusion, but the new rules will not affect the way teachers’ and support workers’ pay is taxed this school year, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The final regulations are not applicable until Jan. 1, 2008. In April, the Treasury Department and the IRS issued final rules implementing a 2004 law change that applies to teachers and other school employees given the choice between being paid during the school year or being paid over a 12-month period. Those who select the 12-month period, known as the annualization election, could be subject to certain additional taxes, including a 20 percent additional income tax. The IRS clarified that the new rules do not require school systems to offer teachers an annualization election, so school systems that have not offered employees a choice are not required to start. Also, if a school system requires all teachers and staff to be paid over the same period, the election rules would not apply and no additional taxes would be imposed on the employees. However, school systems that offer annualization elections may have to make some changes in their procedures. More information is posted on

Data to Use in Decision Making Data-based decision making is the new mantra for education leaders seeking to strategically improve student learning and their own leadership skills. Here are a few recent releases that may provide useful data: ▲ Economics: The National Center for Education Statistics recently released the results of the first 12th-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress in Economics Study which measures what students know and can do in economics. The assessment graded overall economic knowledge and students’ familiarity with the market, national and international economies. Most U.S. 12th graders, 79 percent, showed at least a basic understanding of economics concepts, but one-third reported that they had not taken a course specifically in economics. Achievement gaps occur between black and Hispanic students and their white peers. In Alabama, one semester of economics in high school is required. Full Report: pubid =2007475 ▲ Education Statistics: The National Center for Education Statistics has just released its “Digest of Education Statistics, 2006,” which contains data about schools, teachers, enrollments, graduates, libraries, educational attainment, education finance and international comparisons. Highlights from the 28 Alabama School Boards • August/September 2007

report include the expected increase in public elementary enrollment between fall 2006 and fall 2015; the decline in public secondary enrollment between 2008 and 2014; and the 21 percent rise in current expenditures per student in fall enrollment after adjusting for inflation between 1995 and 2004. Full Report: pubid =2007017 ▲ Internet Access: Based on data from 1994 to 2005, “Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms” provides data on the types of Internet connections, technologies and procedures used and on the availability of handheld and laptop computers to students and teachers. It also provides information on professional development that trains teachers how to integrate Internet use into the curriculum. Full Report: =2007020

Conference Addresses School Safety Strategies A national conference on school safety in early August offered some ideas for other school systems to consider. In one Chicago school system, metal detectors reduced the number of guns confiscated at high schools from more than 40 guns in 1997-98 to six guns recovered in 2006-07, reported Education Week in its Aug. 3 online edition. Schools in Newark, N.J., ask parents, business people, church members and other citizens to be visible in the streets when students go to and leave school, discouraging gangs and drug dealers from hanging out in these “safe corridors.” Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the U.S. Department of Education Office of Safe and Drug-free Schools-sponsored annual conference in Washington, D.C., was an opportunity to discuss the best ways to ensure schools are safe, healthy and drug-free. “Schools should be sanctuaries of hope and learning where students can learn, challenge themselves and expand their potential, free from fear,” Spellings said. “All of our goals for student achievement start with safe, healthy and orderly learning environments.” A few of the many other topics discussed were character education, random drug testing, suicide prevention and pandemic preparedness. Dr. Rajeev Venkayya, special assistant to President George W. Bush for biological defense policy, was noted in Education Week as saying preparation for a flu pandemic is vital. “Have you thought through the consequences of three months of school closure. What does that mean for the most vulnerable kids, who are now going to be spending eight hours a day at home that they would normally spend in school? What social systems do Venkayya you have in place to protect those kids?” ▲

AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2007 Volume 14, No. 2

Published as a service of the Alabama Association of School Boards

Recruit and Retain High-Quality Teachers in Rural Areas S By David Monk

Some rural schools succeed admirably at attracting and retaining teachers whose qualifications are comparable to those of teachers at other kinds of schools. But for many rural schools, the quality of life in the community is lacking, working conditions are problematic, student needs are great, support services are limited and professional support networks are inadequate.

alaries are lower for teachers in rural schools for many interconnected reasons, and certain types of rural schools struggle to appoint qualified teachers or make do with teachers who have fewer qualifications and face higher turnover rates. Moreover, teacher experience is also more limited in the smallest schools — a disturbing point, given that teacher experience is emerging as one of the most important predictors of teaching effectiveness in the research literature. And there is some reason to fear that inequalities in rural schools are becoming larger, particularly in light of the changing demographics of rural areas and the increases in the prevalence of bilingual students from impoverished backgrounds. (Continued on page 30)

Alabama School Boards / BOARDMANSHIP BASICS • August/september 2007 29

The attention No Child Left Behind is drawing to the importance of having highly qualified teachers in every classroom could help to move forward a serious policy agenda to improve rural schools’ ability to attract and retain teachers who function effectively. Yet, compliance issues abound with respect to how the federal education law applies to rural settings. For example, the federal government’s definition of a highly qualified teacher, including a requirement for full certification, a bachelor’s degree and demonstrated competence in all subject areas being taught, can create substantial problems for small rural schools, where teachers must teach in many different subject areas. Similarly, measures of student performance, particularly when the focus is on subgroup performance, create special challenges when there are few students in each of the various categories. In addition, small student numbers can cause volatile changes from year to year.

What Can School Boards Do? ▲ Identify Hard-to-Staff Schools. When

it comes to public policy, there is a need for a strategy focusing on a subcategory of what might be called hard-to-staff rural schools, rather than a blanket set of policies for all rural schools. In particular, the focus should be directly on such indicators as low teacher qualifications, teaching in fields far removed from the area of training, difficulty in hiring, high turnover and a lack of diversity among teachers in the school, to name just a few. ▲ Offer Higher Wages at Hard-to-Staff

Schools. One option would be to offer higher wages and benefits to teachers who are willing to work in hard-to-staff schools. This could offset, in theory, the drawbacks associated with rural school teaching, thereby improving the ability of offi-

cials in these areas to recruit and retain teachers comparable to their peers in other schools. This approach could be prohibitively expensive, and a willingness to work in a hard-tostaff school for an agreed-upon bonus is no guarantee of effectiveness.

States are finding that partnerships with colleges and universities that place aspiring teachers in rural areas can help break down negative stereotypes. ▲ Advocate for Economic/Community

Improvements. More promising, perhaps, are efforts to remove or modify the underlying conditions that are making the school difficult to staff. To the degree that problems are rooted in differences in the economic capabilities of different regions, state and federal economic policies could help spur prosperity in regions where hardto-staff schools are located. ▲ Use Technology to Make School

Improvements. Modern telecommunications and computing technologies can reduce schools’ need to rely on teachers in the classroom. A landmark National Center for Education Statistics study of distance education technologies in the K-12 sector found that 36 percent of all school systems have students enrolled in distance education courses. Moreover, interactive telecommunications technology is being used for online professional development and e-mentoring and to provide such student services as

30 Alabama School Boards / BOARDMANSHIP BASICS • August/September 2007

speech therapy, psychological testing and assessment. ▲ Improve Human Resource Processes.

In a number of areas, relatively simple improvements in basic human resource processes could yield improvements. A statewide clearinghouse could help teachers find positions in rural areas. Timely posting and personalized follow-ups to inquiries can foster positive feelings about opportunities in rural areas. Parallel efforts to better support those who accept job offers can similarly impact retention. Effective mentoring can break the tendency of new teachers to quickly leave rural settings. ▲ Grow Your Own Teachers. The idea of

a grow-your-own strategy is to take advantage of aspiring teachers’ tendency to prefer to return “home” to teach, by working harder to cultivate interest and skill in teaching in areas with hard-to-staff schools. One promising approach involves working with paraprofessional aides already employed in rural schools to develop the requisite teaching skills. States are also finding that partnerships with colleges and universities that place aspiring teachers in rural areas can help break down negative stereotypes. ▲ Do the Research. Finally, a better

understanding of the causes of staffing difficulties — in rural, urban, or suburban schools and systems — will allow policymakers to develop more effective and presumably less costly policy interventions. ▲ This edited excerpt reprinted from David Monk’s “Recruiting and Retaining High-Quality Teachers in Rural Areas” article in The Future of Children, a publication of The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and The Brookings Institution.


FIVE CHARACTERISTICS of an Effective School Board By Dr. Carter Ward and Arthur Griffin Jr.


chool boards often deal with controversy. That’s part of the job. But the board’s predominant duty is to establish policies that serve as administrators’ guides for the day-to-day management of schools. Most of the school board decisions are not controversial or inflammatory, and few of them are reported in the news. As a result, the public often holds inaccurate perceptions about what boards really do. Historically, school boards have been formed to keep the “public” in public education. They are uniquely American and provide the conduit that delivers the community’s values and will into its schools. This truth implies that in our democracy, the functions and decisions of school boards are important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that decisions school boards make often have a greater longterm impact on our communities than those of any other elected body at any other level of government. A panel of educators outlined five major characteristics of an effective board of education. Discussion of those characteristics are listed below: Effective boards focus on student achievement. The best school boards understand that policies and resources of schools are targeted to promote achievement for all students. School practices, which have their genesis in policy, ought to have a laser-beam orientation on high standards, a rigorous curriculum and highquality teachers. Issues a school board must consider are evaluated against the contribution toward student learning — the core business of schools.


Effective boards allocate resources to needs. Not all students walk through the school doors with the same needs. Good school boards recognize this fact and allocate resources such as time, money and personnel and adjust practices accordingly. Documents of the school system, such as the annual budget, are viewed as tools to reach student-learning priorities, and the system’s spending and practices do not protect sacred cows.


Effective boards watch the return on investment. Effective boards are mindful of their accountability to the communities that entrust their children to public schools; effective boards routinely and regularly measure and report the return on investment of the education dollars they spend. Productive boards recognize the self-instructive value in making the following query an ongoing refrain: What services are we providing to which students at what cost and resulting in what benefits?


Effective boards use data. It has been said, “In God we trust. All others bring data.” By definition, informed policy making requires using data. Otherwise, effective boards cannot be assured that all students, regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status, are progressing toward and reaching high standards. Intuition-based assessment of student learning is tricky at best and certainly is an insufficient basis to determine education policy. Communities expect measurable results, through data, from their tax dollars.


Effective boards engage the communities they serve. The best school boards look for ways to institutionalize parent and patron involvement in providing policy-making input. Specifically, effective boards have established mechanisms for community involvement in setting the vision for the school system, representing the values of the community, and identifying the system’s short-term and long-term priorities.


Do all school boards in the United States meet these five characteristics? Obviously not. Can all school boards in the nation improve their performance with some or all of the characteristics? Probably. School boards can best champion education initiatives when their members are trained to exercise responsibility, possess a vision, demonstrate progressive leadership and provide accountability. Training is particularly important for newly elected or appointed ▲ school board members. This article, originally published March 21, 2006, is reprinted with permission from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, Alabama School Boards / BOARDMANSHIP BASICS • August/September 2007 31

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2007 August/September Alabama School Boards Magazine  

With a $1 billion bond issue sparking school construction and renovation across Alabama, are you prepared? Recruit and Retain High-Quality...

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