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SUMMER Vol. 32, No. 2


BOARDMANSHIP BASICS: AVOID POLICY PITFALLS School boards’ policymaking responsibilities are more important today than ever before.

6 CELEBRATING AND SUPPORTING TEACHING EXCELLENCE Dr. Gay Barnes, 2011-2012 Alabama Teacher of the Year, explores teacher excellence.


20 Executive Director’s Perspective: A Victory for Students 21 Yes Votes for the Students First Act 21 Education Heroes: In Their Own Words 22 Students First Act of 2011: A Victory for Education 26 Face to Face: Mary Scott Hunter 31 Contacts Make Things Happen 32 Education & the Law: Students First Act Frees Boards

Marla Hines, Alabama’s Secondary Teacher of the Year, examines why in global competition American students are being outperformed in math and science.

FEATURES 4 LET AASB HELP YOU FIND YOUR NEXT LEADER School boards looking for a new superintendent now have a new tool at their disposal: the Alabama Association of School Boards’ comprehensive superintendent search service.

PUBLICATION POLICY Alabama School Boards is published by the Alabama Association of School Boards as a service to its members. 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. Complimentary copies are available upon request to public school principals throughout the state. Additional annual subscriptions can be obtained for $30 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 or e-mail

10 COMMIT TO THE HEALTHIERUS KIDS CHALLENGE Educators are participating in the United States Department of Agriculture’s HealthierUS Kids Challenge to create a healthier environment for Alabama’s schoolchildren.

12 NURSES BRIGHTEN THE FUTURE FOR FIRSTTIME MOMS AND THEIR CHILDREN The Nurse-Family Partnership is a unique, evidence-based community health program that was developed to transform the lives of low-income mothers and their children.

14 PARTNERSHIP WITH PEDIATRICIANS INSPIRES EARLY READING America’s early education system is in crisis. The problem is big. The solution, however, begins with something small — reading.



PRESIDENT Florence Bellamy Phenix City PRESIDENT-ELECT Steve Foster Lowndes County VICE PRESIDENT Katy Smith Campbell Macon County

DISTRICT 1 Stephanie Walker Brewton


DISTRICT 3 Roxie Kitchens Troy


DISTRICT 4 Charlotte Meadows Montgomery County


IN EVERY ISSUE 13 CALENDAR 34 AT THE TABLE ON THE COVER: artwork © and J. Durham; illustrations by Kevin Van Hyning

DISTRICT 2 Bill Minor Dallas County


DISTRICT 5 Kim Webb Benos Vestavia Hills DISTRICT 6 Larry B. Stewart Calhoun County DISTRICT 7 Tracey Estes Winfield DISTRICT 8 Pam Doyle Muscle Shoals DISTRICT 9 Dr. Jennie Robinson Huntsville OUR MISSION: To develop excellent school board leaders through quality training, advocacy and services.

Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 3

By Susan Salter

School boards looking for a new superintendent now have a new tool at their disposal: the Alabama Association of School Boards’ comprehensive superintendent search service. aunched this spring, Superintendent|Finder offers member boards a full menu of superintendent search services from assistance developing the search criteria through recruiting and screening candidates at the state, regional or national level. The service also includes a fully customizable community engagement package that enables the school board to involve and energize stakeholders without ceding control of the process. “Having worked with school boards throughout the state for more than 50 years, AASB is uniquely qualified to understand their needs,” said AASB Executive Director Sally Howell. “We have designed Superintendent| Finder to be community friendly, while still giving boards maximum flexibility and control of the process.” Because AASB and its search consultants perform the legwork associated with the search, the board is freed up to concentrate on the most critical steps in the process: setting the criteria, interviewing the most qualified candidates and selecting the next superintendent. Superintendent|Finder officially began operations this


4 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

spring. To date, both the Huntsville and Tuscaloosa city boards of education already have used the community engagement services as part of their searches for a new leader. “AASB did a great job of identifying the various stakeholders in our community and soliciting their views in an efficient, thorough and thoughtful manner,” said Tuscaloosa board member Kelly Horwitz. “The results of AASB’s community input meetings and survey will be of immeasurable assistance in ensuring we find a superintendent who meets the needs of our system.” Dr. Jennie Robinson of the Huntsville Board of Education added that the board was grateful to have AASB’s help in getting community feedback via an online survey of the general community and then using focus groups of stakeholders to conduct more in-depth interviews. “By using the online questionnaire, we believe we were able to engage more of the community than we would have with focus groups alone,” she said, adding that the AASB staff worked with the board to construct

“AASB did a great job of identifying the various stakeholders in our community and soliciting their views in an efficient, thorough and thoughtful manner.”

Superintendent|Finder can be customized to meet your school board’s needs. Prices generally range from $6,000 for a basic regional search to $12,000 for a national search. To learn more about the three-tier service, call AASB Director of Board Development Susan Salter at 800/562-0601 or

— Kelly Horwitz, Tuscaloosa City School Board the online questionnaire and focus group interview questions that reflected the board’s concerns and key issues facing the community. “Using this dual approach, we were able to construct a clear profile of community expectations to help focus our search. The methodology and analysis were well constructed and delivered results that were valid and reliable.” Though flexible in its design, the community engagement service generally consists of a customizable online survey as well as a series of public meetings and/or focus groups, all designed to garner feedback on the traits and experiences the community and employees think will be important in the next leader and issues or challenges they think he or she will face after taking office. In addition, AASB administers a leadership questionnaire that asks the board and meeting participants to rate the importance of more than two dozen key traits of leaders. Results are then analyzed and compared by demographic groups to give the school board a more complete assessment of community and employee desires. As it did with both Huntsville and Tuscaloosa, AASB can handle the community engagement component of the search even when a school board opts to have a private firm conduct the search. “We’re here to provide whatever piece of the puzzle will best serve our members,” Howell said. To ensure a high level of quality, AASB has contracted with search consultants: retired Florence Superintendent Dr. Kendy Behrends; Auburn Superintendent Dr. Terry Jenkins; retired Troy Superintendent Hank Jones, who also worked as the mentor program coordinator for School Superintendents of Alabama; and Dr. James Wright, retired associate dean of education at Auburn University at Montgomery and a former leadership and management specialist for the state Department of Education. “Ultimately, the quality of the service we provide is directly tied to the strength of our team. This is an incredibly talented group of highly respected education leaders – all with strong Alabama ties. They know our state. They know how to work effectively with the school board and how important that is to the long-term health of the system. And they come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences,” Howell said. n Susan Salter is AASB’s director of board development. For more information, contact Susan at 800/562-0601 or

PLAN 1 • Advertise and assist the board regarding the search process. • Conduct electronic survey on expected characteristics of new superintendent (optional). • Publish descriptive brochure. • Distribute brochure to the following: - Each school system in Alabama - School Superintendents of Alabama (online posting) - Alabama colleges/universities with teacher training programs - State school boards associations in the Southern Region • Advertise vacancy via AASB website. • Receive credentials from candidates. • Notify candidates if their application packet is incomplete. • Respond to inquiries regarding the vacancy. • Conduct checks of credentials and references. • Schedule interview dates with finalists. • Notify candidates who were not selected as finalists. • Provide interview guide for boards. • Facilitate, within 90 days of the superintendent taking office, a discussion of board/system goals and the method that will be used to evaluate the superintendent.

PLAN 2 • Provide all services listed in Plan 1. • Conduct up to six meetings with constituent groups. • Present analysis of community feedback during board meeting or work session. • Facilitate board meeting or work session to finalize Leadership Profile and requirements.

PLAN 3 • Provide all services listed in Plans 1 and 2. • Advertise position in these additional locations: - Education Week - - AASA website - State school boards associations nationwide - National Association of Superintendent Searchers • Facilitate board meeting or work session to develop candidate interview questions. Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 5

Celebrating and Supporting

TEACHING EXCELLENCE By Dr. Gay Barnes, 2011-2012 Alabama Teacher of the Year

There is ample research that says the single most important factor in a child’s education is the quality of his or her teacher. According to Dr. Robert Marzano, a leading researcher in education, “Of the in-school factors that affect learning, the quality of teaching is the most important by far.” Teaching is hard work. It is not work for the timid of heart or weak of mind.


ecently, a movie titled “Waiting for Superman” was released and garnered much media attention. This movie was quick to bring to light all things wrong with public education and public school educators. Here is the good news. We don’t have to wait for Superman. Superman is alive and well and can be found teaching every day at a school near you. I know because I am graced to work and learn beside these amazing superheroes. I am a proud member of this most noble and important profession. These superheroes can be found everywhere. They are the men and women who chose to be teachers because their life was altered by a teacher who inspired them to believe in themselves and be their best. They are the superheroes who question and challenge policies and practices that are harmful to their students and students’ learning. These superheroes know that teaching is tough, complex work and they do not shy away from it. Instead, they devote hours to graduate school, collaborating with colleagues and becoming National Board Certified Teachers, so they can impact student learning in positive and powerful ways. Superpowers? Superman has nothing on the teachers I know. Faster than a speeding bullet? I wonder if Superman has ever tried to teach a math lesson while a 6-year-old child with sensory integration disorder rolls himself up in a rug, wailing loudly in the process? Leaping buildings in a single bound? I wonder if Superman knows current reading theory and how to differentiate instruction to address the needs of all the students in a class? More powerful than a locomotive? I wonder if Superman has ever tried to teach middle school students after one of their classmates was shot to death in the hallway of their school?

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I wonder if Superman understands the complexities and challenges facing educators teaching in today’s classrooms? Teachers do! The kryptonite to teachers’ powers? Too often, decisions that directly impact educators and students in the classroom are made without input from or discussions with classroom teachers themselves. Superintendents and school boards must include teachers, who are actively teaching in the trenches, at all levels of decision making when the results of those decisions involve how and what teachers will be required to teach and ultimately how effectively our students learn. Policies that look and sound good on paper often fail miserably when implemented. Superpowers? In public schools, we teach every child. Poor children. Rich children. Children who speak English. Children who do not speak English. Children who are academically gifted. Children who are academically challenged. Children with brilliant social skills. Children who struggle to engage with others. We teach them all. In public schools, we turn no one away. Superman is alive and well. The superheroes I know create a sense of joy in their classrooms with learning goals that exceed standardized measures of learning. They understand that academic scores and standards are necessary and important for people outside the classroom to measure success; however, real teaching superheroes know that this isn’t the most important thing they do. Helping to mold and prepare the future of our world to be kind, compassionate, smart, loyal and confident team workers is a far greater reward than any score. (Continued on page 8)

Dr. Gay F. Barnes is 20112012 Alabama Teacher of the Year and teaches first grade at Horizon Elementary School in the Madison City School System. Photo courtesy of Charles Creel

Close Global Achievement Gap for American Students in Math and Science By Marla R. Hines, 2011-2012 Secondary Teacher of the Year

In global competition, American students are being outperformed in math and science. Recently released results from the Programme for International Student Assessment show only a small increase in science and math achievement since 2006. Our country ranks low in both compared with other industrialized nations. The United States ranked significantly below average in mathematics and performed at the average in science.


y addressing the rigor of content standards and more effectively teaching science content and processing skills, Alabama students will be better equipped to compete in a global economy. That’s what I’ll advocate for as the state’s 2011-2012 Alternate Teacher of the Year and Secondary Teacher of the Year. As any experienced teacher can attest, students will rise to the teacher’s level of expectation. In America, however, content standards are inconsistent in states and, in some cases, from school system to school system. Content standards for all students must be rigorous. Why? Studies show low standards and expectations will lead to low achievement.

Marla R. Hines teaches 10th-grade physical science at Vestavia Hills High School in Vestavia Hills and is Alabama’s 2011-2012 Alternate Teacher of the Year and Secondary Teacher of the Year. Photo courtesy of Charles Creel

Higher expectations lead to higher achievement, even when socioeconomic factors are no longer a variable, according to the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. That study found a huge discrepancy in our country regarding the rigor of mathematics courses. If we allow school systems or states to have lower standards for the students they serve, those students will commonly have a lower level of achievement. To ensure that all students are held to the same standards and given equal opportunity to compete nationally and globally, the states led an effort to develop Common Core State Standards for mathematics and English language arts. Alabama has adopted the standards, as have 41 other states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Standards for science are being developed. The success of this endeavor will depend greatly on the method of implementation, but with a true collaboration of great teachers in our nation, the standards should be a catalyst for a quality examination and improvement of our expectations for our students. The adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards by every state is imperative for our students to be held to high standards that will lead to higher achievement. Higher achievement in science, technology, engineering and math in our public education system will equip American students to choose these STEM fields for college coursework and hopefully lead to a national culture of excellence in these high demand professions. Implementing these standards will mean our state courses of study will reflect them. Local boards of education and superintendents will evaluate the current courses within their school systems and modify them to align with the new state courses of study. Successful implementation depends on the adoption of new teaching methodologies. The core standards that have already been written greatly value higher-order thinking and processing skills. Teachers will need to be encouraged to move toward a classroom environment and culture that are more conducive to evaluation and synthesis of information as opposed to rote memorization of facts. The role of a teacher as a dispenser of information and facts is an antiquated idea that no longer is appropriate for this generation of students. In order to teach thinking skills at a higher level, teachers must be comfortable as facilitators of student-centered learning. Educators (Continued on page 8) Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 7

Celebrating and Supporting Teaching Excellence Continued from page 6

In her book, The Right to Learn: A Blueprint for Creating Schools that Work, distinguished educator Linda Darling Hammond states, “Bureaucratic solutions to problems of practice will always fail because effective teaching is not routine, students are not passive and questions of practice are not simple, predictable or standardized. Consequently, instructional decisions cannot be formulated on high then packaged and handed down to teachers.” The teachers I know are not waiting on Superman to save them. Rather, they go about the day-to-day business of working with students’ families, soliciting community resources and facing these challenges head on. While it is true that more than any other in-school factor good

Close the Achievement Gap in Math and Science Continued from page 7

will need professional development to improve questioning techniques as well. As educators become better at questioning students and guiding their learning, our classrooms will be able to provide the processing skills necessary to meet the new core standards. Additionally, teachers of STEM subjects clearly are not influencing students to have a passion for these disciplines and choose these subjects for college coursework. Only 15 percent of American students graduate in STEM fields as compared to 55 percent in China, for



WWW.ELLISARCHITECTS.COM 8 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

teaching matters most, it is equally true that school systems are the ones that can mold their schools into rich classrooms fostering and celebrating teaching excellence and student learning. Systems can hold high the banner of excellent teachers and make these everyday superheroes more renowned in the world in simple and meaningful ways. Provide mentoring and collaboration time during the week. Develop working conditions that highlight teachers’ expertise. Find ways of effective professional development so that teachers can continually get better at their difficult, but most important work. The teachers I know are extraordinary people who make a difference in the lives of their students day in and day out. Superman is alive and well, and that is good news! n

example. Instead of teaching mathematics and science using traditional or antiquated methodologies, we have to be actively reforming the way that we teach. If our current structure of teaching is leading students to low, global achievement and lack of interest in entering careers in these subjects, we must analyze how we can change that trend. Teachers of STEM subjects must be passionate about their subject, so students can share in that passion. I strive daily to pass that along to my students. Both science and math involve processing skills that extend beyond the content knowledge we must teach. If educators teach students to love the processes of science and math, our students will be affected for a lifetime, even after the content may have been lost. In many ways, the achievement of our students can be attributed to mediocre quality of teaching. A study conducted in Tennessee shows standardized test scores for students taught for three consecutive years by a high-quality teacher are 50 percentile points higher than students taught by a low-quality teacher. Alabama has begun the process of addressing this issue with the newly implemented EDUCATEAlabama formative assessment system. The system is designed to allow a teacher to practice self-reflection and to grow as a professional. In my opinion, the most important aspect of this new system is that it requires a teacher to reflect on his or her practice and to begin planning improvements for professional growth.

It is critical for teachers to routinely practice self-reflection and professional growth in order to continue to be effective. Without requiring this type of practice, teachers may become stagnant. They also may not adapt their teaching to fit student needs, thus hindering students’ ability to compete in a global academic and professional environment. Words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspire me to improve the quality of education for my students and every student in our country. He said, “I don’t ever want you to forget that there are millions of God’s children who will not and cannot get a good education, and I don’t want you feeling that you are better than they are. For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.” As the 2011-2012 Alabama Alternate Teacher of the Year, I advocate for teaching reform that helps close the achievement gap American students face in math and science when competing with other countries. To be all we are destined to be and fulfill our potential as a nation, we must secure educational opportunities for all students. In Alabama, we can address this issue by: • Rejuvenating classes to reflect the high standards of the common core. • Equipping teachers to meet these high standards and better prepare our students for the national and global stage. • Encouraging Alabama students to appreciate STEM fields through highly passionate and effective teachers, so more students will be led to careers in these fields. n

By Kathy Seale

The state of the state’s weight is alarming: Alabama has the second highest rate of adult obesity in the nation and the sixth highest rate of overweight youths ages 10-17, according to a 2010 report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Illustration: ©


ut local and state educators are working with Alabama’s schoolchildren to help change those statistics through strong participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s HealthierUS Kids Challenge and through nutrition and fitness grants, the 2005 implementation of nutritional guidelines that exceed those set by the USDA, and voluntary nutrition and fitness efforts by individual schools and school systems. The HealthierUS Kids Challenge, established in 2004, recognizes schools that are creating healthier environments through promotion of good nutrition and physical activity. Schools must submit an application and meet criteria set by the USDA. The Gold Award of Distinction is the highest award given and carries a $2,000 monetary incentive. Schools can receive silver and bronze awards as well. First Lady Michelle Obama, who incorporated her “Let’s Move” initiative into the

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HealthierUS Kids Challenge, recently promoted the challenge in a conference call with educators nationwide. (Let’s Move provides schools, families and communities strategies and tools to combat childhood obesity.) “I know that in these times, all this isn’t easy, especially with shrinking budgets,” Obama says. “We need your energy and hard work to keep us focused. We’re not going to stop working on this — I know I’m not — until this problem of childhood obesity is eliminated.” Since 2004, 1,139 HealthierUS Kids Challenge awards have been given to schools in 40 states, according to information from the website “We have 68 schools that have achieved an award, and 45 of them are the Gold Award of Distinction,” says June Barrett, the Alabama Department of Education’s administrator of school programs for child nutrition. Twenty of

those Gold Award of Distinction schools are elementary and intermediate schools in Shelby County. State educators aren’t satisfied, though, even with those relatively high numbers. At least nine applications for a HealthierUS Kids Challenge award, including eight for the Gold Award of Distinction, are pending approval from the USDA. “On a daily basis, we’re submitting applications,” Barrett says. Workshops are under way this summer as well to educate non-participating schools about requirements for the awards. A new state physical fitness assessment is in the works, too, thanks to a grant for the Alabama Department of Education through the Alabama Department of Public Health. Like most states, Alabama currently reports physical fitness through the President’s Challenge.

“It was outdated,” says Nancy Ray, the state Department of Education’s health and physical education curriculum specialist. “We were having a lot of complaints.” The new computer-driven physical fitness assessment — piloted this year in eight schools statewide — is based on state standards and includes instructional guides, body mass index (BMI) testing, a section on bullying and physical education, 21st century technology for physical education teachers and recommendations for modifications for special needs students. It also gives more feedback than the current test’s “pass” or “fail,” too. “We hope we’re going to see improved results on fitness tests,” Ray says. Schools hope to see positive nutritional results from the incorporation of more wholesome foods — such as whole grains, low-fat milk and more fresh fruits and vegetables — into their menus, Barrett says. They are de-emphasizing fried food as well, and fryers can no longer be purchased with Child Nutrition Program funding. Some school systems are participating in the Chefs Move to Schools program, administered by the USDA. Homewood, for example, was paired with Chef Chris Vizzina, executive chef at Samford University. Vizzina has prepared lettuce wraps for the students and faculty at

Alabama is committed to the HealthierUS Kids Challenge. Students at Valley Elementary School (above) and Inverness Elementary School (right) are learning that physical fitness can be fun and exciting.

Homewood High School, and a healthy pizza design contest is in the works for one of the Homewood elementary schools, says the system’s Child Nutrition Program Director Carolyn Keeney. Vizzina plans to participate in the system’s summer training program for cafeteria managers and employees as well. “We plan to have him demo preparation of some different menu items that we can possibly serve next year, Keeney says. “Some of these will include items that would be a good fit for the HealthierUS Schools Challenge guidelines.” Columbiana Middle School, along with Shelby County’s Child Nutrition Program, were recognized by the USDA Southeast Regional Office as a 2010 Best Practice Award Winner for their “Promoting a Healthy School Environment” program. The school was awarded a $5,000 grant to implement Fuel Up to Play 60, a program that was founded by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League to empower youth to take action to improve nutrition and physical activity. The school used half the money for physical education equipment. “A lot of the equipment we had was outdated or there wasn’t enough,” says science teacher Andrea Jacobsen, one of two wellness coordinators at Columbiana Middle School who applied for the grant. “We didn’t have something as simple as a ball pump.” The money was also used for sports such as archery, which can be adapted for children with special needs. Pedometers were distributed to faculty, who participated in Scale Back

Alabama — a weight loss contest and public awareness campaign hosted by Alabama’s hospitals and the state Department of Public Health. “This program was not only beneficial to the faculty but also helped them serve as better role models for the students,” Jacobsen says. Students were given pedometers as well, and they also participated in periodic after-school fitness days and set goals and kept up with their daily physical activity and nutrition intake through a computer program. “At the end of the year, we had about 50 kids who kept up with it every day,” Jacobsen says. Those students were rewarded with an activity-filled field trip to Oak Mountain State Park and a healthy lunch at McAlister’s Deli. Inverness Elementary School in Shelby County was one of six pilot schools for “Wee Can Fight Obesity,” a Wii Fit movement-based gaming system program sponsored by the Alabama Sports Festival, Alabama State University and the Governor’s Commission on Physical Fitness. The program includes before and after testing for BMI “to show kids just how the Wii Fit can change their level of healthiness,” says Inverness physical education teacher Mike Daniel. Physical education at Inverness Elementary also includes sports such as basketball and baseball and the use of equipment such as stationary bikes and trampolines, which were purchased through school fundraisers. “We’re very fortunate,” Daniel says. “Everybody kind of backs what you do.” Collaboration of local and state educators with such agencies as the state Department of Public Health and the USDA is the key to a leaner, healthier future for all the state’s schoolchildren, says Sherry Marbury, the state school nurse consultant. Her role includes monitoring health-related issues for school nurses. “We have separate missions, but we work together,” Marbury says. “The overarching goal is the same — good nutrition n and quality student health.” Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 11

Nurses Brighten the Future for First-time Moms and Their Children By Sandra S. Kelley


very year, 600,000 children are born to first-time mothers from low-income households. In Alabama, that number is about 29,000. These women already face enormous challenges beyond poverty — a dangerous physical environment, isolation, being young and lacking education. For them, the anxiety is even greater and the generational risk even more profound. The Nurse-Family Partnership is a unique, evidence-based community health program developed over 30 years ago to transform the lives of these mothers and their children. It was developed by Dr. David Olds who, while teaching in an inner-city day care center, began to suspect that by age 4 or 5 some children from disadvantaged homes were already in trouble. Today, women enroll in the program early in their pregnancy and are paired with a specially trained registered nurse who conducts regular home visits until the child turns 2 years old. There could be up to 64 visits over the course of 30 months — 14 during pregnancy, 28 during infancy and 22 when the child is a toddler.

Kathy Pounds, a registered nurse, visits the home of Nurse-Family Partnership client Christiana Washington and her daughter, Jarviana Landers.

Did You Know? In June 2008, the Gift of Life Foundation launched the state’s only Nurse-Family Partnership under the umbrella of the National Service Office. Alabama’s program has enrolled 130 clients ranging from age 14 to age 32 (participation is voluntary), and 91 babies have been born to mothers in the program. The program focuses on: • Personal health – health maintenance, nutrition, exercise, substance use and mental health • Environmental health – at home, work, school and in the family’s neighborhood • Life course development – family planning, education and livelihood • Parental role – mothering/fathering and physical, behavioral and emotional care • Family and friends – personal network relationships and assistance with child care • Utilizing health and human services Research during randomized clinical trials showed participation in the Nurse-Family Partnership yielded: • An 83 percent increase (by child’s fourth birthday) in the mother’s participation in the work force • A 67 percent reduction in behavioral and intellectual problems at age 6 • A 59 percent reduction in child arrests at age 15 • A 50 percent reduction in child language delays at age 21 months • A 48 percent reduction in child abuse and neglect • 32 percent fewer subsequent pregnancies • A 20 percent reduction in months of welfare use To learn more about the Gift of Life Nurse-Family Partnership, call 334/272-1820 or visit

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Home visits begin with the mother’s personal health and her maternal role. Nurses also work with mothers on environmental health issues and the influence of her family and friends. Life course development focuses on the mother’s future, and nurses also help their clients navigate the health and human services system to take advantage of resources that can benefit both mother and child. Not only does the Nurse-Family program make an important difference in the lives of children and families, it also enhances communities. A 2005 analysis by the RAND Corp. found a net benefit to society of $34,148 per participating family that had such high risk factors as unmarried parents and low socioeconomic status. That’s a return of $5.70 for each dollar spent on the program, a cost recovered by the time a participating mother’s child reached age 4. There were additional savings accrued in health care delivery, child protection, education, criminal justice, mental health and public assistance. In addition, communities also gained increased tax revenue when the parents entered the work force. The Gift of Life Foundation in Alabama contracts with the National Service Office to implement the only Nurse-Family Partnership in the state. Public funding is essential if the program is to be available to every eligible mother. While most funding streams are from Medicaid, states rely on other varied funding streams from public and private organizations to support the program. In 2010, the National Service Office successfully advocated for federal funding, resulting in the historic Federal Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Alabama is one of 32 states with a Nurse-Family Partnership presence. It’s a program that is proven to work. It’s a program that is growing and enjoys a track record of success that has so many communities across the nation confident that investing in the Nurse-Family Partnership makes sense. n Sandra S. Kelley is program coordinator for Alabama’s Gift of Life Nurse-Family Partnership. She may be contacted at 334/273-3093 or by e-mail at


MARK YOUR CALENDAR Make Your Plans Today!

JULY 13 15

National School Boards Association Southern Region Conference Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC 3 Academy Hours


AASB Webinar: Relaxing the Rules to Support ‘Innovation Schools’ 1.5 Academy Hours


AASB Webinar: Defining ‘College & Career Readiness’ 1.5 Academy Hours

AUGUST 22-SEPTEMBER 12 AASB Fall District Meetings on Students First: What School Boards Should Know *1 Academy Hour


AASB Webinar: What School Boards Should Know About the Fair Labor Standards Act 1.5 Academy Hours


AASB Core Academy Conference Leadership for Community Engagement Renaissance Montgomery Hotel *6 Academy Hours


Webinar: Get Out the Good News 1.5 Academy Hours


AASB Core Academy Conference Effective Boards and Relationships Orientation Wynfrey Hotel, Birmingham *6 Academy Hours


AASB Annual Convention

Wynfrey Hotel, Birmingham Note: Every attempt will be made to follow this schedule. * Core credit awarded only once Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 13

Partnership with Pediatricians Inspires Early Reading By Polly McClure

America’s early education system is in crisis. More than 34 percent of American children enter kindergarten without the basic language skills they will need to learn to read. And children living in poverty are especially at risk. Children who start school behind are likely to forever remain behind. National research shows that 88 percent of first-graders who are below grade level in reading will continue to read below grade level in fourth grade.

14 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011


t’s no different in Alabama. According to the Voices for Alabama’s Children 2010 Alabama Kids Count Data Book, more than 100 classrooms worth of our state’s first-graders were not promoted to second grade in the public education system. Reading difficulty increases the risk of school failure, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse and teenage pregnancy. These factors perpetuate the cycles of poverty and dependency. If we don’t invest in fixing the early education system, our future as a nation is at risk. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce recently issued a report calling on corporations and the business community to invest in early learning programs to bolster our nation’s work force development strategy. According to the report, “Global competition for human talent and innovation, long-standing educational achievement gaps, low high school graduation rates and the pending retirement of 77 million baby boomers have placed tremendous work force pressures on American business. These pressures, if not checked, will jeopardize our national economic security

and the viability of the American dream.” The problem is big. The solution, however, begins with something small — reading. Hard research confirms that reading to children improves their chances of success in life. Reach Out and Read is a national, nonprofit, school readiness organization that helps pediatric health care providers spread this crucial message. The program begins at the six-month checkup and continues through age 5, with a special

emphasis on children growing up in low-income communities. In Alabama, 700 pediatric health care providers in 70 clinics participate in Reach Out and Read, distributing new books to children and advice to parents on the importance of reading aloud. The program serves 79,400 children statewide in 27 counties. Research findings from 14 published, peer-reviewed studies clearly demonstrate that Reach Out and Read works. Compared to families who have not participated in the program, parents who have received the Reach Out and Read intervention are significantly more likely to read to their children and have more children’s books in the home. And, children served by the Reach Out and Read program enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed, with larger vocabularies, stronger language skills and a six-month developmental edge over their peers. America spends billions of dollars a year on remedial reading programs. But, the intervention needs to begin earlier. Parents need to start reading to their children at birth to ensure they’re prepared for success in school — and in life. According to Arthur Rolnick, former senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, dollars invested in early learning yield an annual return of up

to 16 percent later in life. “If we want to ensure a productive work force, we must ensure that children enter school healthy and ready to succeed, because when children enter kindergarten behind, they most often stay behind and the gap widens,” said James C. Wiley, M.D., president of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, through which Reach Out and Read serves Alabama’s young children. “I cannot think of a better way to make this difference than through the pediatricians that see these children and, even more importantly, the parents who raise them.” Reach Out and Read children come to their routine visits looking forward to getting a new book and building their in-home collections. They are quick to identify words on signs and enjoy spending time at the library. They’re better prepared to achieve their potential and, in turn, help our nation achieve its potential. And it all starts with the turn of a page. n Polly McClure is statewide coordinator of Reach Out and Read-Alabama, a program of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Reach her at

Did You Know? • 85 percent of a child’s brain development occurs by age 3. • 35 percent of American children enter kindergarten unprepared to learn and without the basic language skills necessary to learn how to read. • Each year, nearly 7 percent of Alabama’s children repeat first grade because they are so unprepared. • Reach Out and Read is the only medically based literacy model in Alabama. • Pediatricians give children a new book to take home at every checkup from 6 months to 5 years of age. • 96 percent of children under age 6 are seen by their pediatrician at least once annually, and parents/guardians tend to trust and value the advice they receive from their child’s physician. • By age 1, if there are books at home, children will “demand” to hear them read aloud and will reinitiate that positive interaction with parents/guardians. • Reach Out and Read serves 79,400 children statewide thanks to 700 pediatric health care providers in 70 clinics in 27 Alabama counties. • Reach Out and Read depends on public-private community partnerships to provide books at no cost to families and “immunize” children against illiteracy. Reach Out and Read-Alabama is a program of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. To help the pediatric health care providers in your practices and clinics provide books and advice to families through Reach Out and Read, call 866/293-4783 or visit

photo: ©

Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 15

BOARDMANSHIP BASICS By Melissa McKie and Melody Zeidan; Bishop, Colvin, Johnson & Kent, LLC

What is a “Policy”? School boards’ policymaking responsibilities are more important today than ever before. The legislative trend has been to require boards of education to address an ever-growing list of administrative and operational issues through policy development and implementation. With increasing frequency, courts cite the existence or the absence of an appropriate policy in assessing governmental defendants’ liability, especially in the federal civil rights context. A well-conceived policy can sometimes save a school system from the misdeeds of a renegade employee, while a poor policy — or no policy — makes it easier to argue that the dubious conduct or practice is the board’s policy. In short, policies can be useful tools or terrible traps, and learning how to create the former and avoid the latter is a critical part of the board member’s role.

The term “policy” is not defined by Alabama statute, and available judicial definitions are not especially helpful as in the example, “the principles underlying the school system.” However, the process of policy adoption is governed by statute (Ala. Code §16-1-30 [1975]). On occasion, courts have declared official action such as the adoption or revision of salary schedules to be board policy even if the board itself has not chosen to do so. Depending on the context, other types of official statements or pronouncements can be considered matters of policy, and the distinction between “policies,” “procedures” and like directives is not always clear-cut. Administrative procedures and handbooks, personnel manuals, discipline codes and operational manuals are sometimes considered to be “official policy.” (Continued on page 18)

Help is Available... The AASB’s Policy service is a proven, cost-effective means for many school boards to undertake long overdue, comprehensive policy manual revision. The service’s goals include: • Shortening, simplifying and reorganizing policy manuals to make them more accessible and user friendly. • Updating policies to conform to contemporary legal requirements and standards while minimizing the board’s overall liability exposure. • Making appropriate distinctions between policies and other administrative pronouncements, regulations and practices. To enroll in the service, call AASB at 800/562-0601 or e-mail

16 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

Illustration: ©

Avoid Policy Pitfalls Continued from page 16

Why is “Good Policy” so Important? Having and following sound policy is good policy because it protects the board and board employees in a number of legal contexts — from federal civil rights claims and corporal punishment liability to insurance coverage. Well-considered policies also promote fairness, consistency and common sense in decision making. Conversely, mistakes in adoption, amendment or adherence to policies can result in litigation and increased liability exposure and can frustrate the exercise of otherwise legitimate administrative discretion. Careful planning and drafting is important because policies can function as the equivalent of contracts, laws or regulations and thereby create legal burdens for boards and their administrators. Policies cannot ordinarily lessen requirements that are imposed by law but can impose greater burdens and obligations on boards of education than would otherwise be established by the law itself.

What are the Common Policy Pitfalls? When developing or revising a policy or policy manual, boards should strive to avoid common pitfalls that frustrate the purposes of policy adoption: • Failing to follow procedural requirements for policy adoption — The Code of Alabama establishes procedures that must be followed by the board in adopting or amending policy. A superintendent’s written recommendation for the adoption or amendment of policy is required. The board, through its superintendent, must consult with the local employee organization whose parent organization represents the majority of school employees statewide. After the policy is adopted, it must be “made available” to all employees affected and employed by the board within 20 days after adoption. These procedural requirements must also be followed when a policy is being amended or revised. • Adopting too many policies on too many topics — The temptation to address every important issue in the form of policy can be strong. However, attempting to anticipate and resolve every problem or to “codify” every good idea and noble aspiration through policy is a mistake. However well intentioned, the adoption of too many policies leads to a policy manual that is unmanageable, dif-

ficult to access, typically ignored and largely useless. Worse, administrative practices that are at odds with official (if long-forgotten) policy create board liability and credibility problems. • Adopting policies that are too detailed, too restrictive or too general to serve any real purpose — Policies that are too detailed, specific and narrow in focus do not lend themselves to consistent, faithful application. The goal of policy should be to provide guidance and enough flexibility to allow administrators to comfortably apply the policy in varying factual contexts. Policies that amount to mere truisms or abstract statements of philosophy — such as “sexual harassment is a violation of board policy” — are of limited value. Conversely, policies that are overwritten — as in “under no circumstances shall a bus driver ever leave a parked school bus for any period of time while any child remains on the bus” — create absolute standards that cannot (and will not) always be met. • Adopting policies that recite or restate statutory or regulatory requirements — Avoid the tendency to use policies as a means of compiling or summarizing laws affecting school board operations. Statutes, regulations and court decisions are constantly evolving. Policies that amount to a restatement of the law will be obsolete and sometimes inconsistent with the law when it changes. Such policies also contribute mightily to chronic PPP, “pointless policy proliferation.”

What Questions Should be Asked Before Adopting Policy? The decision to adopt a policy — even a well-drafted one — should be carefully considered. Answering the following questions can assist boards in determining whether the benefits of adopting a proposed policy outweigh the burdens and risks inherent in policy administration: • Can the circumstance that triggered consideration of the policy be addressed just as well or better by a one-time measure/response? • Is the proposed policy comprehensible, user friendly and easily understood (and applied) by employees? • Is the board willing to provide any training/orientation that may be required? • Is sufficient breadth and flexibility built into the policy, so it does not unnecessarily restrict options or tie hands? • Is it drafted in a way that prevents it from becoming obsolete in a couple years but instead permits its continued and consistent application over time? Policy development is the board’s quintessential administrative function. The task should be approached with the same care, caution and broad perspective that would be applied to the enactment of legislation. The result of that effort will be a more efficient and effective educational n organization. Melissa McKie (left) and Melody Zeidan (right) practice education law with Bishop, Colvin, Johnson & Kent LLC in Birmingham.

18 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

20 21 21 22 26 31 32

Executive Director’s Perspective: A Victory for Students Yes Votes for the Students First Act Education Heroes: In Their Own Words Students First Act of 2011: A Victory for Education Face to Face: Mary Scott Hunter Contacts Make Things Happen Education & the Law: Students First Act Frees Boards

Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 19

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S PERSPECTIVE By Sally Howell, Executive Director, Alabama Association of School Boards


Sally Howell

A day after the Alabama Legislature declared a monumental victory for the students of this state, Gov. Robert Bentley signed the Students First Act of 2011 into law on May 26, 2011. The monumental law put an end to the old tenure and dismissal laws that protected substandard teachers and even criminals, causing an outrageous loss of public confidence and taxpayer dollars.


his is a historic opportunity for Alabama school leaders. We have asked for this authority, and we have been given a tremendous responsibility. We must rise to the challenge. No longer is “we can’t because of the tenure law” an acceptable answer. Now, we can. We can address student needs. We can budget responsibly. We can be courageous. We can, as long as we balance our actions with consideration, as long as we document and evaluate personnel appropriately, as long as we provide meaningful professional development for all teachers and enriching support for new teachers and as long as we respect the authority entrusted in us. Our teachers and support personnel are on the front lines of our efforts to help children succeed. I know you understand that and take it seriously. You’re not alone as we push forward with Alabama’s new education personnel law. This special section is among several endeavors to provide you with the information you need. We’re developing publications, and we’re making the Students First Act the subject of free conference calls in June, our Fall District Meetings Aug. 22-Sept. 12 and a clearinghouse of legal and other questions (a joint project of the Alabama Association of School Boards, the School Superintendents of Alabama and the Alabama Council of School Board Attorneys). 20 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

Additional guidance on implementation will be coming from the association as we continue our work with the coalition that helped pass the Students First Act. In the meantime, please allow me this opportunity to express our appreciation for all that you have done to support your association in this victorious fight that was long, hard and sometimes brutal. Thank you for your grassroots efforts, for speaking on behalf of the bill, for supporting AASB and, most importantly, for believing that the fight to put a competent, professional, high-quality teacher in front of every student was worthwhile.

We couldn’t have done it without the bill’s sponsors. Leading the way were Sen. Trip Pittman and Rep. Chad Fincher. They took the heat from numerous educators and their peers who simply didn’t understand or accept that this bill still provides the protections of tenure and elevates the teaching profession by refocusing on high-quality education personnel. Please, join us in celebrating every brave legislator who dared challenge the status quo and buck politics as usual to stand up for their youngest citizens. A personal call, visit or letter to each of them is warranted (see list of yes-voters on the opposite page). I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing this association accomplish a great deal to improve and enhance education. Passage of the Students First Act is one of the highlights of my 25-plus years with AASB. It was a rollercoaster ride of numerous news conferences and interviews; meetings with legislators; meetings with the opposition; bringing together and reinvig-

Working together to pass the Students First Act of 2011 (l-r, front row) were Stephanie Norrell, lobbyist; Dr. Eric Mackey and Lisa Woodard of the School Superintendents of Alabama; (l-r, back row) John Floyd and Harry McMillan, lobbyists; Tracey Meyer of the state Department of Education; and Lissa Tucker and Sally Howell of the Alabama Association of School Boards. Supporters also included the state Department of Postsecondary Education, A+ Education Partnership, Business Council of Alabama and the Alabama Association of School Business Officials. Photo courtesy of Charles Creel

orating Students First supporters; public hearings, committee votes, pre-dawn filibusters, political sleight of hand and delay tactics in the State House and so much more. Students First had several critical moments in the legislative process, perhaps the most nerve wracking was Senate passage. The filibuster took us to the midnight hour. As fierce negotiations continued and various drafts were presented, the risk that no legislation would pass came much too close. In the end, Students First prevailed. The next hurdle was on the House floor. The Alabama Education Association attempted all it could to swing votes, amend the bill and kill it. Reminiscent of Custer’s last stand, Rep. Chad Fincher and other Students Firstbackers didn’t flinch and fought every amendment to pave the way for final House passage. While we celebrate, AASB is already working hard to make sure every local board has the training and tools they need to implement the new law. Now, we must busy ourselves with ensuring that every student receives a quality education provided by an excellent teacher with high expectations — a teacher who is led by a principal who excels as an instructional leader. Put the weight of your support behind superintendents who understand the value of a high-performing education work force. Invest in professional development that makes a difference and ensure that personnel evaluations are regular and truly reflective of performance. Ensure there is a strategic plan in place that drives achievement and leaves no room for ineffective teachers and employees. Revisit and align your policies and procedures governing employees with the new law. (See related article, page 32). These may include: • Evaluating and documenting employee performance and effectiveness. • Determining tenure status for teachers and the new nonprobationary status for other employees. • Managing a reduction in force. • Handling termination, resignation, suspension, assignment and transfer of employees, including the rules for providing notice. • Conducting board hearings. • Applying the appeals process. Suffice it to say that now the ball is back in our court. Now that we have a common sense, logical approach to managing our work force, school boards will be held accountable for the tenets of Students First. Put every public dollar to work in a way that prepares our graduates for citizenship and global competition and stocks our state with skilled, educated workers. Hire the best people. Make sure every position is tied to your mission, every teacher is moving students forward and every support worker is providing the best possible services. Put supports in place for new teachers and create an environment that helps staff and students thrive. Keep putting students first. n


YES Votes for the Students First Act Senate (18-16, 1 abstention): Allen, Beason, Blackwell, Brewbaker, Brooks, Bussman, Dial, Glover, Holtzclaw, Marsh, McGill, Orr, Pittman, Sanford, Scofield, Taylor, Waggoner and Williams (P). [Note: Key procedural vote for cloture also included Sens. Greg Reed, Cam Ward and Tom Whatley.] House (56-43 with 6 absent): Reps. Baker, Ball, Barton, Baughn, Beckman, Boothe, Bridges, Brown, Buttram, Canfield, Chesteen, Clouse, (Collins intended to vote “yes”), Davis, DeMarco, Farley, Faust, Fincher, Galliher, Gaston, Greer, Hammon, Henry, Hill, Hubbard (M), Ison, Johnson (K), Johnson (R), Johnson (W), Jones, Lee, Long, Love, Mask, McClendon, McClurkin, McCutcheon, McMillan, Merrill, Moore (B), Newton (C), Patterson, Payne, Poole, Rich, Roberts, Sanderford, Sessions, Shiver, Treadaway, Tuggle, (Vance intended to vote “yes”), Wallace, Williams (D), Williams (J), Williams (P), Wood and Wren.

Education Heroes: In Their Own Words You’re an education hero because you worked so hard to win approval for Students First. What do you say?

“I was one person, but certainly this was a team effort.”

Education Heroes (L-R): Rep. Chad Fincher, Sen. Trip Pittman and Sen. Del Marsh.

Sen. Trip Pittman, Senate sponsor of Students First

“Well, I don’t know if we’d call ourselves heroes, but we’re proud of the work we’re doing.” Sen. Del Marsh, President Pro Tempore of the Senate

“I’d say we’re just doing our jobs, and that’s what we were elected to do.” Rep. Mike Hubbard, Speaker of the House

“Everybody contributed to make this great piece of legislation and to make sure it passed this legislative session.” Rep. Chad Fincher, House sponsor of Students First Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 21

By Kathy Seale and Kim Roedl

Supporters of the Students First Act, signed into law May 26 by Gov. Robert Bentley, say it is a victory for public education.


he law repealed and replaced the Alabama Tenure and Fair Dismissal laws that critics say made it time-consuming, costly and far too difficult to dismiss substandard education employees. “Now, we can,” says Alabama Association of School Boards Executive Director Sally Howell. “We can help ensure students are taught by and receive services from committed, competent, caring professionals.” Howell describes the enactment of Students First as a “historic opportunity for Alabama’s school leaders” to answer the public’s demand for accountability. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, she says. “We have asked for this authority,” Howell adds, “and have been given tremendous responsibility. We must rise to the challenge.” 22 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011


Uphill Battle The Alabama Association of School Boards and an education coalition pushed the Students First bill, which carried the state Department of Education’s and state Board of Education’s endorsement. The coalition of supporters also included the School Superintendents of Alabama, Business Council of Alabama, state Department of Postsecondary Education, A+ Education Partnership and the Alabama Association of School Business Officials. Passage of the legislation that began as Senate Bill 310 appears to have been an uphill battle. The Alabama Education Association used its heavy political weight to fight the bill. SB310 narrowly escaped the Senate 18-16, underwent committee changes, avoided what proponents called amend-and-delay attempts and squeaked through the House of Representatives with a vote of 56-43. It was close, but still a win for those who say the importance of Students First can’t be overstated. “It became a top priority for us,” says Rep. and Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. “This was the most significant vote we’ve had this year.” Proponents devoted hours upon hours to writing, rewriting, deliberating and debating the bill. “We just pushed, pushed hard,” says Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh. With good reason, says Hubbard. “The laws we had actually protected the small minority that are poor teachers and poor support personnel,” he says. “That’s just backward.” House sponsor Rep. Chad Fincher says confidently Students First is “the best thing for the students and the best thing for teachers.” He, Senate sponsor Sen. Trip Pittman and the bill’s cosponsors endeavored to find common ground with AEA and the staunch opposition in the Alabama State House who proponents say made inaccurate claims about a lack of due process, tenure’s viability, reasons for termination and the inability to contest a reduction in force. The new act retains due process protections for tenured teachers and nonprobationary classified employees who either already have the status or will earn

photo: Alabama Republican Party

Students First Act supporters speak out on the steps of the Alabama State House. it after three consecutive years with the same employer. The specified grounds for firings stay the same: a justifiable decrease in the number of positions or for incompetency, insubordination, neglect of duty, immorality, failure to perform duties in a satisfactory manner or other good and just cause. The law also protects employers’ ability to reduce their work force

“It became a top priority for us. This was the most significant vote we’ve had this year.” — Rep. Mike Hubbard, Speaker of the House

when a decrease in revenue or enrollment makes it necessary. “I can’t tell you how many meetings took place on both sides of the aisle,” Marsh says. “We negotiated for two months.” A statewide survey of 600 residents was even conducted and revealed a majority agreed that the tenure and dis-

missal laws needed to be reformed. Fincher says, “We faced a lot of confusion from teachers. We worked with them and listened to their concerns. We made changes to the bill regarding some of the issues.” The school boards association, superintendents association and others in the Students First camp “worked really hard with sponsors to ensure everyone is protected,” says Dr. Eric Mackey, executive director of the School Superintendents of Alabama. Because of that work, he thinks most education personnel “won’t even notice a change with the new law.” The bottom line, lawmakers say, is that quality teachers have nothing to fear. They are still entitled to due process. Tenure is not eliminated. Tenured teachers cannot be terminated without just cause and the burden of proof is still on the superintendent. “Many states are abolishing tenure altogether, but we think it’s important to protect this right,” Fincher says. “And, school boards will have to make decisions based on the facts. If school boards make a decision for personal or political reasons, they’re breaking the law.” (Continued on page 24) Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 23

Students First Act of 2011: A Victory for Education Continued from page 23

First Priority Students are said to be the greatest beneficiaries of the new law. “If a student has a bad teacher,” Hubbard explains, “that’s hard to overcome.” Caroline Novak is president of the advocacy group A+ Education Partnership, which envisions “great schools for every child.” She says Students First “preserves tenure for hardworking educators in our schools” while also providing “a tool for effective management of personnel.” She also says it’s a way to refocus on what makes quality education possible. The new law “will allow our school systems and school leaders to focus on making progress toward the goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom,” she says.

“Every day that an unacceptable employee was allowed to have access to our students, draw a salary and remain was a further erosion of the public trust.” — Postsecondary Chancellor Dr. Freida Hill

The law also further elevates the teaching profession, Howell adds. She encourages school board members and other education leaders to celebrate teachers’ successes, to put dollars behind what works in classrooms and to create an environment that supports education professionals. “Our teachers and support personnel are on the front lines to help children succeed,” Howell says. “They must be confident that school leaders have their backs. It is about balancing courageous 24 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

“School boards and superintendents are urged to be very judicious in enacting this law. We have to work very diligently to accomplish the goal the legislation hopes to accomplish — to put the students first.” — Sen. Trip Pittman, Senate bill sponsor

actions with consideration. That’s easier to do when school boards and administrators have confidence in their faculty and staff and have the freedom to meet student needs by budgeting responsibly.”

Restored Trust Postsecondary Chancellor Dr. Freida Hill emphasizes that the new law will help restore public trust in Alabama’s educational system and the general public’s “confidence in our ability to effectively and efficiently provide educational services.” Hill says the former Fair Dismissal law was anything but fair. “Under the old law, unacceptable employees had a financial motive to drag out the termination process, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary legal expenses and substitute salaries and wasting countless hours of staff time,” she says. “Every day that an unacceptable employee was allowed to have access to our students, draw a salary and remain was a further erosion of the public trust,” Hill says. “Something had to be done, not only to restore some sanity to our dismissal process but also to demonstrate our desire to be accountable.” “Taxpayers,” Hubbard adds, “should not have to foot the bill for someone who’s not doing their job.” Fincher made it clear how he feels on

that issue. “We have to allow our school boards the ability to remove those individuals to protect our students,” he says. It was Fincher who amended the old 2004 tenure law last year to end pay for convicted felons. A loophole in the law allowed “teachers who had committed serious crimes to sit in prison collecting paychecks,” he says. “It convinced me that we had a serious, serious problem.” Pittman says a major problem was that school leaders, though charged with the responsibility, didn’t have the authority to manage school personnel to the best of their ability. State Superintendent of Education Dr. Joe Morton explains. “Students First represents needed change to Alabama’s former Teacher Tenure and Fair Dismissal laws. Both of the laws covering justified releases of employees from public education jobs were flawed, beginning with the use of arbitrators to rule on school personnel issues,” he says. Federal arbitrators, generally out-ofstaters who may not be familiar with Alabama’s education laws, heard employee transfer and termination appeals. Arbitrators could overturn or supersede the employer’s decisions. “Arbitrators were basically controlling the process,” Pittman says. “We’re bringing local school boards back into the decision process.”

“Students First is the most massive change in the state’s school governance in 70 years. It begins the process of making schools more governable from top to bottom. It is a major change for the better.” — Dr. Eric Mackey, Executive Director, School Superintendents of Alabama

“Students First represents needed change to Alabama’s former Teacher Tenure and Fair Dismissal laws. Both of the laws covering justified releases of employees from public education jobs were flawed, beginning with the use of arbitrators to rule on school personnel issues.” — Dr. Joe Morton, State Superintendent of Education

Landmark Legislation Mackey says, “Students First is the most massive change in the state’s school governance in 70 years. It begins the process of making schools more governable from top to bottom. It is a major change for the better.” The law is now “fair both to the employee and the employer,” Morton said. Employers may find it appealing that the Students First Act stops pay immediately for reasons outlined in the law, while terminated employees on appeal may find solace in knowing they have a buffer of up to 75 days before their pay ends. Either way, this particular change is expected to result in reduced termination costs. Before, there was no maximum, and arbitration typically took more than 200 days to resolve. “Some dragged on for years,” Pittman says. “There’s a definite timeline now.” Anticipated costs for arbitration cases led some financially strapped school systems to forgo termination proceedings altogether. “I had a superintendent tell me they had an employee that needed to be terminated, but they couldn’t afford it,” Hubbard says.

Fincher believes the money saved due to Students First could be substantial. “You could easily say it could save school systems millions of dollars,” Fincher says. He cites one example where three of the state’s school systems spent a total of $1.2 million during the last few fiscal years on legal fees and pay for terminated teachers and support staff. “That’s $1.2 million,” he says, “that did not go into classrooms.” Proponents say major provisions of the new law are the elimination of hearings contesting necessary reductions in force and the increased leeway administrators have to reassign employees on campus or transfer employees within their feeder pattern of schools. “Things change,” Marsh says. “Systems change. School boards have to make changes that make financial sense for the systems.” And, administrators must have enough flexibility to adjust in ways that make academic sense, too, Hill says. “The reforms make it possible for administrators to act quickly when teaching and student learning is not taking place,” she says. Looking back on the journey, Hubbard says there are teachers who, despite AEA’s differing view, approve of the Students First Act. “We’ve heard from dozens and dozens of teachers who say, ‘You’re doing the right thing.’ They want the school boards to get rid of bad teachers,” he says. Those portions of Students First that didn’t immediately go into effect will do so July 1. Lawmakers who supported the bill say they will be watching. “At the end of the day, they (AEA) are

“Things change. Systems change. School boards have to make changes that make financial sense for the systems.” — Sen. Del Marsh, Senate Pro Tem

“Many states are abolishing tenure altogether, but we think it’s important to protect this right. And, school boards will have to make decisions based on the facts. If school boards make a decision for personal or political reasons, they’re breaking the law.” — Rep. Chad Fincher, House bill sponsor

not going to support this legislation, and you just have to move on,” Marsh says. Pittman urges school boards and superintendents “to be very judicious in enacting this law. We have to work very diligently to accomplish the goal the legislation hopes to accomplish — to put the students first.” Mackey said the next big challenge is making sure those implementing and affected by the new law “understand what the law says.” Howell said AASB is joining forces with superintendents and the Alabama Council of School Board Attorneys to develop a clearinghouse of questions. AASB is also launching a series of conference calls, publications and fall seminars on the law. One thing seems certain among supporters. Students First is landmark education legislation. Hubbard says it’s not likely to be the last. “I think you’re going to see this as the turning point in education in Alabama,” he says. n

Kathy Seale and Kim Roedl are free-lance writers. Denise L. Berkhalter contributed to this story. Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 25

FACE TO FACE By Dr. Jennie Robinson, Huntsville School Board

Mary Scott Hunter


r. Jennie Robinson is not only a member of the Huntsville school board and the Alabama Association of School Boards Board of Directors, but she is also actively involved with AASB’s Leader to Leader grassroots advocacy group. Leader to Leader is a resource for lawmakers, government officials and those who make decisions Dr. Jennie Robinson about state education policy. In each issue, Alabama School Boards features the face-to-face conversation one of these local education advocates has with a state leader. In this issue, Robinson interviews state Board of Education member Mary Scott Hunter. s Robinson: Tell us how you came to be on the state school board. u Hunter: I like to make a difference in people’s lives. I like a challenge. I am motivated by service — as you can see from my service in the Air Force, my work with church and philanthropies. I also have always enjoyed education and education issues. This opportunity just encompassed all of those things that I am motivated by and love to do. s Robinson: I’ve noticed that you have a strong desire for public service. Tell us a little bit about your background, both in the military and your previous run for public office. u Hunter: I went to law school and graduated in 1998. Afterward, I was looking around and thinking about what I wanted to do. I have always felt called to serve my nation in the military and put on a uniform. I was privileged to be able to do that, and I went into the Air Force as a United States Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) and served 10 years — half of it in active duty and the other half in the Reserves and in the Alabama Air National Guard. Several years ago, I decided to run for political office. At that point, there was an opportunity to run for the Alabama Senate in a special election. I was not successful in that run. And, that’s OK because I am where I am today, and I am exactly where I want to be. s Robinson: What did you learn about the political process when you ran for the state Senate? u Hunter: Just the ins and outs of a campaign. There is an art and a science to a campaign as you know, and it’s a learning 26 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

curve like anything else. And, you can get better at it. sRobinson: What lessons did you take away that you used when you ran for the state board? u Hunter: It’s important to work hard. There is no substitute for working hard. s Robinson: You learned a lot about relationships, too, didn’t you? u Hunter: Oh, absolutely. Your relationships are so important, and you can’t please all of the people all of the time, nor should you try. The best thing you can do in a campaign and in politics is communicate. s Robinson: Has that served you well now as you’ve come on the state board? You’re now one of several new members on the state board. u Hunter: Well, there has been a learning curve. We have learned it together. The members that came before me that have served there for some time had a knowledge base, and they have been helpful to the new ones. We have had some things to learn — all of us —

I loved the name of the bill (Students First). We had not put them always at the forefront in education policy. We need to put the children ahead of all else, because their future is so important. — Mary Scott Hunter

because it has been a new day in Alabama politics. s Robinson: In addition to new state board members, we have a lot of new folks in the Legislature, so you’re all learning together. What has that been like? u Hunter: Challenging, at times, and long meetings, but very,

We are on the road to reform, but inertia it a tough thing to overcome. The ‘we’ve done it this way forever’ — even though it may or may not work — is difficult for some people to move past. So, we try to move them gently and as diplomatically as we can. Sometimes, we have to push a little harder. But, I will say that reform is coming, and we have a partner in the Legislature and partners among our leaders and in the state Department of Education and Department of Postsecondary Education. — Mary Scott Hunter

very exciting and gratifying. s Robinson: Has the state board experience been what you thought it would be? How have you learned to balance everything that’s going on? u Hunter: I campaigned as an education reformer. My life for a year was education reform and all things related to education reform. Because I was so intensely involved in that and watching reforms across the country and thinking about how we could put our own reforms in place in Alabama, I sort of thought everybody would be like-minded and would want reform. What I found was that my partners in reform didn’t necessarily come from the places I expected them, and that has been great. And, we are on the road to reform, but inertia it a tough thing to overcome. The ‘we’ve done it this way forever’ — even though it may or may not work — is difficult for some people to move past. So, we try to move them gently and as diplomatically as we can. Sometimes, we have to push a little harder. But, I will say that reform is coming, and we have a partner in the Legislature and partners among our leaders and in the state Department of Education and Department of Postsecondary Education. So, I am very encouraged about our opportunities for reform and for being the best in the nation in education. s Robinson: What have you done to accelerate your learning? u Hunter: My method for becoming more knowledgeable on an issue is to read and study but then go to the place where that’s done to watch. So, I read a lot of books and talked to a lot of people. For example, when I wanted to learn more about data-driven achievement, I went to my child’s school, Blossomwood Middle School, and I asked the principal to

show me how she does it. When I wanted to learn more about language study and how it is done, I went to the Academy for Science and Foreign Language and had a great visit. The Middle Years Conference this June, for example, was not only an opportunity for me to collaborate on middle years education with participants districtwide who shared ideas, but it was also another way for me to learn so I can help drive good policy in that area. This was something that I spearheaded, and I invited each of the superintendents to nominate three persons from their district so we would have a good mix of teachers, administrators, principals and assistant principals. It was an all-day conference moderated by Dr. Tommy Bice from the state Department of Education, and we talked about best practices in the middle years. One of the things I found out in my learning is that nationwide, and in Alabama as well, we have a dip in the middle years — middle school education. I think it has to do with the fact that it is very hard to teach in those years. s Robinson: When you look back, what are you most proud of so far in the six months you have been in office? u Hunter: I’m proud of the support that we gave the Legislature in reforming the Alabama Teacher Tenure and Fair Dismissal acts. I am also proud of our three initiatives within District 8 — the Middle Years Conference; an effort to advance Principally Speaking, an initiative to raise the caliber of leadership among principals; and a series of presentations I’m giving on our work force. We have wonderful principals across the district, but our principals do not get what they need in terms of professional development. Principals are no longer managers of buildings. Principals are academic leaders. And, there is much to being an academic leader. We have to bring all principals to the place where they understand their role as an academic leader. I can’t emphasize that enough. One of the most heartbreaking things I see is when I sense that there is a very effective faculty at a school but the school is not being led effectively. That is a heartbreaking situation. (Continued on page 28)

ABOUT MARY SCOTT HUNTER Hunter grew up on the Alabama Gulf Coast and resides in Huntsville. She is the daughter of former NFL championship quarterback Scott Hunter and Deborah Hunter. She is a graduate of the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Law. She and her husband, Maj. Jon Shultz, have three children. What she does: She was elected November 2010 to represent District 8 on the Alabama Board of Education. Her term ends in 2015. She served 10 years as an Air Force Judge Advocate General (military attorney) and attained the rank of major. She and her husband own Torel Technology LLC. She is an employment law attorney with the Siniard, Timberlake & League law firm. State Board District 8: Encompasses Limestone, Madison, Jackson, DeKalb and Etowah counties. Contact her: E-mail or call 888/531-1312.

Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 27

Face to Face: Mary Scott Hunter Continued from page 27

It masks effectiveness. To bring principals along, we are trying to expand Principally Speaking from one county to five counties. It now functions within Madison County, and we’d like to take that across the district. (Principally Speaking provides a network of professional support among principals to enhance their leadership skills.) We did not get the initiative included in the appropriations process. I’m hopeful that next year it will be included. The Schools Foundation is fund raising and attempting to get money for this initiative to take it across the district, and I am hopeful that we will be able to do that. I am very, very proud of the series of presentations that I will be doing in late summer to the chambers of commerce and other business and industry groups about the strengths and weaknesses of the work force within their local area. It’s something we really have to think about. You know, my philosophy on education is very practical. I focus on jobs. If a person gets a job, a lot of the other problems and things that happen in life and in society just sort of take care of themselves. Education exists to do many things, but its most important function is to prepare people for jobs. That really starts in the early years and gets more intensive as you go along. In particular, in vocational technical training, at least the exposure part of it, starts in middle school. So, I’m very proud of this initiative. s Robinson: What changes do you see in education policy? u Hunter: One of the big changes I see is in the partnering of the Legislature with the state Board of Education. The state board is obviously the stakeholder. The local boards are stakeholders. The Legislature is a stakeholder, a very important stakeholder. One of the things that just happened is that after the May 25 House vote for the reform of the tenure and fair dismissal acts, on Thursday the drafters of the bill, Sen. Trip Pittman and Rep. Chad Fincher, both came to the state Board of Education’s meeting and took a few moments to

28 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

thank the state board for their support of the bill while it was working its way through the processes. I have been talking a lot to my delegation, and, of course, I have contacts across the state, particularly where I grew up in Baldwin and Mobile counties. There is a sense that there needs to be a lot more partnering between the Legislature and the state Board of Education because the state Board of Education can do a lot in policy. In fact, most of the things that we need to do can be done in policy. There are some items that can’t be done in policy; they have to be done in the Legislature. But, the Legislature only meets for a finite period of time every year, and they have a tremendous amount of legislation to get through – not just education, the gambit of legislation. So, what would be smart is for the Legislature and the state board to partner and have a shared vision for education, and for us to have a constant discussion. s Robinson: So, you have a common goal and a common direction, and you’re each working in your roles and responsibilities to get there? u Hunter: That’s right. And that is one of the big shifts in policy I would say. I don’t believe that sort of interaction has happened in the past. s Robinson: A good example of that would be Students First. You played a really critical role in the passage of that. u Hunter: Well, when I campaigned for this position, one of the first things I did was go back and read the law — Title 16 of the Code of Alabama. That’s our section on education. And there is a section in there on the powers generally of the board of education, and then there are some subsections. I read those, and it says that the board of education shall essentially determine the direction of education in Alabama and shall send to the Legislature its legislative needs and those legislative needs can be sent in the form of a bill. I’m not sure that’s ever been done. When I was running, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that we don’t do that kind of interplay and don’t have that kind of constant communication. So, when I got on the board that was a surprise to me. But, I have worked to try to bring the board to the place where the people who drafted the rules and who put us in motion contemplated we would be. I’ve tried very hard to go back to what we are supposed to do. So, I found out this Students First legislation was percolating through the committee process and was being amended. I was given the legislation, and one of the things that made me unhappy at the outset was that I hadn’t been involved in the drafting. I wish that I had been more involved in the drafting, but that happened as it did. When it came to me in March, I read through it a couple times, put it out there to some people, got some input back — got some input from teachers, in fact — and then took my laundry list of items that I created and sent those to the drafters. And, for the most part, those were probably items that others were seeing, too. The drafters were able to put all that together and,

I think, amend the bill in ways that were good. It offered a few more protections to education employees, but didn’t lose what was extremely important for that bill, which was the prioritization of students. In the past, we have not prioritized students first, and so I loved the name of the bill. We had not put them always at the forefront in education policy. I love the quote from the film “Waiting for Superman” when I think (former Washington, D.C. schools Chancellor) Michelle Rhee says, it is important to remember that this is not about the adults, it’s about the students. Now, certainly we don’t want to abuse any adults in the process. That’s not the goal, either. But as parents, as educators, as members of churches, as members of communities that care about children, I think anybody would say that if a child was drowning in a river, you would jump in for him. If a house was on fire, you would run into the building to try to save a child. This isn’t different. This is the way we are wired. We need to put the children ahead of all else because their future is so important.

The state school board is a statewide policy-making board. That is our mission. Our mission is not to be meddling in the affairs of the local school boards, except in areas where they are not following the policies that we’ve set. — Mary Scott Hunter

s Robinson: You and I both had the opportunity to speak to the joint session of the House and Senate Education Policy Committees when Students First was introduced. On that day when you spoke, you talked about data and how we need to use data in evaluating teachers and to better meet the needs of students. u Hunter: Education data in Alabama in the past has been focused on pushing information up and out. We test in order to meet the federal requirements for data. What we have not done a real good job of doing is assessing in order to be able to push our data down and to make useful tools for education leaders, administrators and teachers to be able to drive academic achievement. We need to do a much better job of that. In fact, it’s essential. So, I am very data-driven, and it is extremely important that we drive achievement. What I don’t want anyone to think is that testing is everything and everything is about a test. That’s not true, because students have to know how to think. They have to know how to analyze. Sometimes these are items we can’t get from a test. But, in this global economy, our students have to be smart. They just have to be smart. To help them become smarter, we must own our data, know

where we’re failing and not let any mysteries happen. Right now, there is a lot about achievement in Alabama, both success and failure and everything in between, that we don’t completely understand. It’s a mystery. s Robinson: Will Students First make it easier to use data in guiding and developing principals and teachers? u Hunter: I think so. One of the items that was stripped out of the bill was a connection to achievement. It was important to the drafters of this bill that achievement be included as one of the measures of effective teaching. I agree with that. It caused problems in the bill because it was not very well understood — how it would function, how it would play, how it would be applied. And what I submitted to Sen. Pittman and Rep. Fincher was that I felt that the state board could do that piece better. I didn’t oppose that being stripped out of the bill, not because I don’t want to include achievement as a measure of teaching success, but because I believe that the state board is able to be more responsive and nimble and do that better. You will recall that when I testified, I spoke of improvement models, which are important because students don’t all start in the same place. What we expect from a teacher is a year’s worth of growth. And, to know what a year’s worth of growth is, you have to know where they start. I understand that. Through the use of technology and assessments and by archiving and mining our data, we can know whether or not we’re getting a year’s worth of growth. Teachers themselves can know where their own skills may be lacking and where they aren’t being as effective as they could be. Through the use of data, teachers can also know where their students are starting from, where they are weak and where they are strong. Teachers know where they don’t need to put a lot of effort or where, as a whole, the class is not as good at something. So, data is important. In fact, it’s essential and must be used effectively. s Robinson: Where do we go now that Students First has passed? u Hunter: We are going to make sure that it works. Sen. Pittman said that to me five times. We have to make sure it works. And, (Continued on page 30)

Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 29

Face to Face: Mary Scott Hunter Continued from page 29

he is so right. What we have to do now is ensure that local school boards know how to implement it. It’s not an easy thing to put on a hearing. So, they need some training. We need to make sure that politics, favoritism and corruption are not entering into decision making. Doing so is absolutely in antithesis to what this legislation was about. So, it’s very important that we look at policies that will promote good decision making in this area. s Robinson: Has the passage of Students First indicated that there has been a power shift in the way the Legislature works and the way education policies ought to be decided? u Hunter: I think what you’re referring to is the Alabama Education Association’s past hold on politics in Alabama. Not just education politics, all politics. It’s not healthy for any one organization to be able to control so much. AEA has done a wonderful job and continues to do a wonderful job representing its teachers and employees. But, a change was due. No organization should be so powerful. I think that there is a shift now to a balance. A balanced approach to policy and a balanced approach to legislation. And I think that is very healthy. s Robinson: Let’s talk about the value of strategic planning in education. u Hunter: One of the items that I have been pushing for is strategic planning. With my military background, I have a certain way that my mind works. It starts with strategic frameworks, strategic goals, strategic planning. Underneath that, you fill in with the tactical goals, tactical planning. At the strategic level, you’ll find that it’s rather easy because you get very little disagreement. A strategic goal may be that we want a 95 percent graduation rate, and another may be 100 percent of second graders are able to read. These are strategic goals that very few people are going to disagree with. It’s when you get down to the tactical level that you start disagreeing and having to rack and stack priorities. I believe the state board needs to lay our strategic goals because if you don’t work your way backward from your

strategic goals, you don’t have a framework in which to fit in all of the items that you need to fit in to get to your goal. In Montgomery, one of the things that I have learned is that if a group or individual isn’t part of the planning, you can’t get them onboard with you. If they’re not a part of the process that brought the plan into being, then they’re not going to support it. So, what’s extremely important for us as a state board to do is to first start with a strategic framework and then push that framework out to our stakeholders — all of them — to get their input. Then we’ll have a beefed up strategic framework to go to the Legislature. I propose a retreat in the fall, inviting 30 members of the Legislature to come to the retreat with the state board, and for us all to achieve via discussion of that framework a shared vision. Then, let’s turn that framework into a strategic plan, which would consist of strategic goals. I think that is the next most important thing we can do, because everything that we do in education — from pre-k through 20 — is included in that strategic planning process. s Robinson: As you go through that strategic planning process, are there any specific K-12 issues that you hope will be addressed? u Hunter: Definitely. As part of that strategic plan, one item needs to be vocational technical training. We have to promote it. Business and industry are crying out for it. Another area that we need to focus on is the graduation rate. An issue you’ll likely see me talking about everywhere is achievement. Recently, Alabama was ranked 25th in the nation in education. Of course, that’s not where we want to be, but that represents a marked improvement from where we were. We did not do as well as we should have in achievement. Our economic bookends, regional competitors Tennessee and Florida, are putting a tremendous focus on achievement. States like Colorado are putting a tremendous focus on achievement. Again, I don’t desire to make all students little robots, but achievement is incredibly important. You will not maintain your state’s prosperity, your state’s economic wellness or a bright future unless you focus on achievement. Raising achievement needs to be one of those strategic goals. s Robinson: Name a good book that you have read. u Hunter: The Leader in Me by Stephen R. Covey. That was something that I read or am reading. It’s based on Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and this is a book that has been adapted for use among students, elementary students in particular. It was given to me by the principal at Julian Newman Elementary School in Athens. Character education exposes students to why it’s important to do the right thing for the right reasons and why it’s important to be a leader who says ‘yes’ sometimes but also knows it’s important to say ‘no’ sometimes. We don’t do enough character education. We know we need to do more, and I was intrigued by the idea of character education in this form. (Continued on page 34)

30 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

CONTACTS MAKE THINGS HAPPEN By Lori Tippets, a member of Leader to Leader

We have all just witnessed what can happen when people work together to achieve a common goal. AASB Executive Director Sally Howell along with Director of Governmental Relations Lissa Tucker worked endlessly to pass Senate Bill 310, putting our Lori Tippets Students First. They had the help of an incredible AASB staff who also spent many hours on this monumental legislation. These two women, and the staff, deserve all the praise we can give them. Something this big, however, could not have come about without the efforts of the Leader to Leader program. E-mails went out from Lissa to Leader to Leader board members to make sure that members of the state Legislature knew our feelings about SB310, and we responded. Calls were made and e-mails were sent and the bill passed. Having been involved with Leader to Leader from its grassroots inception, I have seen time and time again how effective this program can be. All it takes is for us, members of school boards, to get in contact with our district representatives and senators and to let them know what K-12 public education needs. Trust me, they welcome this. They have no idea what we want unless we let them know. Get to know your governmental leaders, so when you e-mail them or talk to them, they can put a face with what they are listening to or reading. During the early stages of trying to get the SB310 bill passed, Lissa took me around in Montgomery at the

Alabama Legislature to talk to my district representative and senator. What a thrill it was to hear my name announced on the House floor as they welcomed me as a special guest! My representative took the time to call me from the floor and invite me to lunch. While my senator was busy, he made sure he called me the next day, and we had a great talk about the Students First bill and what it would mean for our students and our schools. It was not their first time speaking with a local school board member. It’s a good idea to take the time to invite your government leaders to your school system for a breakfast meeting or for a public meeting during which they can answer questions. It’s also a perfect time to thank them for the interest they have taken in what is important to your school system or to education in Alabama. A meeting that we had when I first became a part of the Leader to Leader program was especially successful. We invited several district representatives and senators to a meeting comprised of several school boards. It was great because it was an election year, so they all came or sent someone to represent them. They all were given time to speak, to introduce themselves and to tell what they felt were the big issues coming up in the state Legislature that involved education. They also took the time to answer questions from the board members in attendance. Afterward, we had refreshments, and board members were able to meet the members of the state Legislature on a very casual and informal basis. This is what Leader to Leader is all about, interacting with our leaders in the capital city. As we have seen, n it really works!

Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 31

EDUCATION & THE LAW By Ramadanah Salaam Jones, Montgomery County school board attorney

STUDENTS FIRST ACT FREES BOARDS Recent passage of the Students First Act is a welcome change to the Alabama Teacher Tenure Act and Alabama Fair Dismissal Act, which for many years held school boards hostage to inconsistent arbitrator decisions and extended compensation for terminated employees. Students First will require local boards to adopt and apply new methods of implementing personnel actions.

Termination Notices The fundamental elements of due process require an employer to provide an employee with notice and the opportunity to be heard before his property interest can be affected. The Students First Act does not negate that requirement. School boards will still have to give notice to the employee that his or her termination is being recommended for one of the reasons listed in the act and supply facts that support the reason given. Under Students First, employee notice changes as it relates to the extent of due process given in that notice. Traditionally, under the tenure and fair dismissal acts, school boards have given employees notice of due process beyond board action even if the employee did not request a board conference. This will no longer be necessary under Students First. Instead, employees will be informed of their right to request a hearing. If a hearing is requested and the board votes to terminate the employee, then the employee will be given written notice of the decision with an explanation of the right to an appeal as provided by the Students First Act.

Transfer Notices Although many of the transfer scenarios under Students First will not require a hearing or afford any right to an appeal, school boards should, at a minimum, still give the employee written notice of the action taken by the board.

Tenure Although not having the word “tenure” in the original version of the Students First bill caused a great deal of debate, the actual word — now in the enacted legislation — has no effect on school boards. Whether the verbiage is “tenure,” “continuing service status,” “permanent employee” or 32 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

“nonprobationary status,” our only concern is the rights afforded to the employee. The timing of when an employee receives certain rights as a tenured or nonprobationary status employee is now clearly defined in Students First. The old tenure act previously granted continuing service status upon a teacher once the teacher had been employed by the board for three consecutive school years and re-employed for a fourth. What exactly did that mean? According to the Alabama appellate courts, any employment during a school year counted toward gaining continuing service status. (Springfield v. Talladega City Board of Education, 628 So. 2d 704 [Ala. Civ. App. 1993].) Therefore, even teachers who started well after the beginning of the school year were given credit for having served the entire school year. Under Students First, a teacher will have to be employed prior to Oct. 1 of the school year and complete the school year for that year to count toward attaining tenure status. Classified employees gain nonprobationary status in the same manner as teachers under Students First. The new legislation also prohibits certified tenured service from counting toward classified nonprobationary status service and vice versa. The tenure and fair dismissal acts were silent on this issue, but the Alabama Supreme Court has at least on one occasion allowed a tenured, certified employee to apply his tenure toward a classified position. (Ex parte Oden, 495 So. 2d 664 [Ala. 1986].) The court justified this decision based upon the premise that the old tenure act should be liberally construed in favor of the teacher. Now, the issue is no longer ambiguous and courts have clear language to cite in future cases.

Dismissal Termination or dismissal under Students First provides a meaningful role for the board. The tenure and fair dismissal acts provided the employee with an optional conference before the board and a full evidentiary hearing before an arbitrator. Now, there is a full evidentiary hearing before the board. The board will have the charge of weighing the evidence, considering all of the facts and rendering a decision. The compensation to a terminated employee ends after the board’s hearing for specified grounds but others receive 75 days of severance pay. The appeal of a termination no longer requires the appointment of a hearing officer (arbitrator) from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services and instead allows parties to choose a hearing officer from a panel of neutrals (retired Alabama judges) supplied by the Alabama Bar Association. More importantly, the hearing officer must give deference to the board’s decision. As a school board attorney, the termination process provided by the Students First Act gives great possibility for school boards to successfully terminate employees who have committed egregious acts with a lessened fear that the decision will be overturned by an out-of-state arbitrator who is not accountable to the public. Nonetheless, the change places a great responsibility on the board of education.

The board is given great authority and deference in terminating an employee under the Students First Act, so the board is required to be present and involved in a hearing that allows the employee to present witnesses, cross-examine the administration’s witnesses and present their best case in favor of maintaining employment. The faster elimination of compensation and elimination of the criminal stay after the board hearing are other great changes under Students First. My first Fair Dismissal Act case involved an employee who admitted to the administration that she had stolen money from a school’s child nutrition program. She even pled guilty to theft charges related to the same incident. An easy win for the school board, right? Well, not exactly. Even though she pled guilty to criminal charges, the employee contested her termination and then requested a stay from the circuit court on the termination proceedings until she was sentenced for her crime. The court granted the stay because there was a possibility that testimony given in the personnel hearing could affect her criminal sentencing. A year and a half later, the employee was sentenced to probation and restitution and then retired from the school system. She remained on payroll the entire time. This was a classic case of an employee contesting simply to take advantage of the continued compensation.

Updating Policies The Alabama Teacher Tenure Act and Alabama Fair Dismissal Act are repealed by the Students First Act. Any time a statute is repealed, updating board policies is a must. School boards should use this change in the law to create policies that model the advice that has been consistently given to us by the Alabama Association of School Boards, which is to create simple policies that can stand the test of time. There is no need for us to recite the Students First Act verbatim in our policy manuals. Many of our boards have references to the tenure and fair dismissal laws in their manuals. These references should be eliminated to prevent any argument that the school board intended to confer any additional rights that are not granted under the Students First Act. n Ramadanah Salaam Jones is staff attorney for the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Free Students First Conference Calls Join AASB from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on June 23

and June 29 for free conference calls on the new Students First Act of 2011. The calls will feature AASB Executive Director Sally Howell and veteran school board attorneys Carl Johnson and Jayne Williams Harrell. To register, contact your board secretary.

Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 33

Face to Face: Mary Scott Hunter


Continued from page 30

Books at Bedside Loving Our Kids on Purpose and the Bible

s Robinson: Well, career technology is a huge piece of our curriculum, particularly in the middle and high schools. In fact, there has been a lot of discussion about taking career tech down to the elementary schools. Are you familiar at all with Project Lead the Way as part of the career tech effort? u Hunter: We need to do a better job in career tech. Right now, we have issues with making sure that the Perkins money gets spent on career and technical education. (The Perkins Act provides federal funds for vocational-technical programs and has been deeply cut for 2011.) We know that’s not always being done like it should, so we’ve got to focus on that. We also need to acknowledge the fact that we haven’t done a really good job of listening to business and industry and them telling us what they need. We have good jobs available for students who get just a little bit of training out of high school, and they can make a good five-figure income. The line between white collar and blue collar and between professional and non-professional is getting awfully thin in some areas, and business and industries are crying out for skilled workers. They need them.

Inspiration I have always been inspired by individuals who, because of faith, courage and perseverance, never give up and, therefore, achieve their dreams.

s Robinson: That’s going to mean a real shift in the way public education works with the state college system and with the chambers of commerce and with business. u Hunter: You’re right. We need to be responsive. It’s not practical not to be.

Kim Benos School Board Vestavia Hills Hometown Vestavia Hills How long have you been a board member? 6 years

Motto as a Board Member Every human being has immense value and the ability to learn. Walter Mitty Fantasy I’ve always wanted to own a major league baseball team. Advice to New Board Members Attend as many AASB conferences and trainings as possible. Greatest Accomplishment as a Board Member This is a really difficult question to answer. It’s much easier for me to recognize the accomplishments of others. Pet Peeve as a Board Member Resistance to and/or fear of change. Reason I Like Being an AASB Member It has afforded me the opportunity to be part of an extraordinary group of individuals who have dedicated their time, talents and lives to serving the children of Alabama. My Epitaph No greater love is this, that a man lay down his life for a friend. n 34 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011

s Robinson: Let’s talk about the relationship that you have discovered between local boards and the state board and how you think that relationship could be enhanced. u Hunter: I get a lot of calls from constituents that view me as a sort of appeal authority – from the local board it then comes to me and maybe I can give them redress. Sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. The state school board is a statewide policy-making board. That is our mission. Our mission is not to be meddling in the affairs of the local school boards, except in areas where they are not following the policies that we’ve set. s Robinson: Really, there is no control or authority there. u Hunter: I don’t see it as a control or authority. The local boards have been set up to be very independent, and I am very, very respectful of that. On the other hand, I want to bring them all the resources that I have and have access to. In District 8, I think it is so important that I visit the local school boards. I have been to every single one and have had meetings here in Huntsville with all the superintendents in my district. My role is to be available to them as a helper. If they want advice, then I’ll give it. I have to be respectful of their independence. s Robinson: If you had every school board member and every superintendent in the state here in this room, what one message would you want to give to them? u Hunter: Leadership is everything. You’ve got to exercise it, because if you don’t, there is no expectation that you will have any success in an individual school or individual system. n

Alabama Association of School Boards

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Montgomery, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334/834-2038

• Columbus Bank & Trust (CB&T Card Services) Columbus, GA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 706/644-0283

• Hecht Burdeshaw Architects Opelika, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334/826-8448

• JBHM Education Group Jackson, MS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .601/987-9187

• Krebs Architecture & Engineering Birmingham, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/987-7411

PLATINUM Sustaining Member • American Fidelity Assurance Birmingham, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/987-0950

SILVER Sustaining Members • Ellis Architects Tuscaloosa, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/752-4420

• Goodwyn Mills & Cawood, Inc. Montgomery, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334/271-3200

• Alabama Supercomputer Authority Montgomery, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334/242-0100

• Almon Associates Inc. Tuscaloosa, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/349-2100

• Davis Architects Inc. Birmingham, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/322-7482

BRONZE • High Ground Solutions -


• M.B. Kahn Construction Co. Inc. Huntsville, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 803/360-3527

• Payne Lee & Associates Architects Montgomery, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334/272-2180

• PH&J Architects, Inc. Montgomery, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334/265-8781

• SACS CASI Montgomery, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334/244-3163

• Siemens Building Technologies, Inc. Pelham, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/403-8388

• TCU Consulting Services Montgomery, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334/420-1500

• Energy Systems Group Helena, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/994-0490

• Evan Terry Associates, P.C. Birmingham, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/972-9100

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

• Information Transport Solutions Wetumpka, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334/567-1993

• Interquest Detection Canines Demopolis, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 334/341-7763

• KHAFRA Engineers, Architects and Construction Managers Birmingham, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/252-8353

• Lathan Associates Architects P.C. Hoover, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/988-9112

• Seay Seay & Litchfield P.C. Montgomery, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .334/263-5162

• Southland International Bus Sales Birmingham, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 888/844-1821

• Synergetics DCS Starkville, MS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 662/461-0122

• Transportation South Pelham, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205/663-2287

• Thompson Engineering, Inc. Mobile, AL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 251/666-2443 Alabama School Boards • Summer 2011 35

Alabama Association of School Boards Post Office Drawer 230488 Montgomery, Alabama 36123-0488

Non-Profit Org. U.S. Postage PAID Montgomery, AL Permit No. 34

2011 Summer Alabama School Boards Magazine  

This edition of Alabama School Boards magazine includes a Face to Face Q&A with state board member Mary Scott Hunter and articles about scho...

2011 Summer Alabama School Boards Magazine  

This edition of Alabama School Boards magazine includes a Face to Face Q&A with state board member Mary Scott Hunter and articles about scho...