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MONTGOMERY BUSINESS JOURNAL V O L U M E 1 0 I S S U E 3 / M AY 2 0 1 8

MBJ

MONTGOMERY AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

MOMENT OF TRUTH DOES MONTGOMERY REALLY WANT GOOD PUBLIC SCHOOLS?

SAFE & SOUND T H E I M PA C T O F MGM’S INSURANCE I N D U S T RY

ALL RELATIVE

THE INS & OUTS O F FA M I LY B U S I N E S S


THE TIME IS NOW

Transforming Montgomery’s Public Schools

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MONTGOMERY BUSINESS JOURNAL


“Based on the numbers of people who have announced they are running for the board, there is an increased interest in MPS, which I think is very positive.” – Dr. Ed Richardson

CALL FOR LEADERSHIP

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OUT OF

Montgomery voters blame the Board of Education for Montgomery’s failing school system.

IMAGE COURTESY OF JOHNATHON KOHN

By Jennifer Stewart Kornegay / Photography by Josh Moates and Brooke Glassford 11

MONTGOMERYCHAMBER.COM


At the Chamber’s Annual Meeting in December,

A Fresh Take

Dr. Ed Richardson asked 700 business and community

It seems clear that shaking up

leaders, “Do you really want good public schools

the entrenched mindset of the

for Montgomery?” The Answer is YES

Education could go a long way

Montgomery County Board of in addressing the problems MPS is facing. This year, five of the Board’s seven seats are up for

Montgomery has earned some impres-

to the Alabama Department of Education’s

sive accolades, scored major economic

Interim Superintendent of Education Dr.

election, and 19 new faces are

development wins and hit multiple high

Ed Richardson, we can fix this. “I want

running. This alone signals bet-

marks: The city was named one of the 52

to assure concerned parents and others

ter things ahead to Dr. Ed Rich-

places in the world to visit in 2018 by The

all over the

ardson. “Based on the number of

New York Times; tourism numbers soared

city that these

to new records; and the entire area

problems can

people who have announced they

celebrated the landing of the F-35, an

be solved,” he

achievement that will have an $80 million

said. “It will take

annual economic impact.

commitment and

are running for the board, there is an increased interest in MPS, which I think is very positive,” Richardson said.

a focused effort Things have been going well, and there

on the issues,

are more bright spots on the horizon.

but we can

But amid all of the good news and sunny

do it. Don’t be

skies, there’s a single dark cloud, one

discouraged.”

years; Richardson pointed to a

and one that could billow and grow into

Richardson says the first step is being

from the current group. “There

a storm that stops the area’s forward prog-

honest about where things stand. The

are some board members trying

ress in its tracks.

student achievement of MPS is among the

to do the right thing but, as I

lowest in the state. “That speaks for itself,”

have told the board, if it wishes

The need for change on the Dr. Ed Richardson

already raining on the capital city’s parade

Montgomery’s public schools are failing;

Richardson said. As do other disappoint-

they’re failing the students they exist to

ing numbers. MPS has lost more than

serve; they’re failing the city and its res-

2,300 students in the last four years, for

idents whose tax dollars fund them. And

an average of 585 lost per year. “Most of

they’re negatively affecting the business

these losses are due to concerned par-

community by stifling economic develop-

ents taking their children either to another

ment efforts.

public school system [Auburn, Pike Road, Autauga County] or putting them in private

board has been apparent for few of the complications arising

to be active in this process and the discussion, it has to demonstrate that it is willing to be more involved.” He outlined the activity he’d like to see. “Acknowledge the magnitude of problems we are facing; take responsibility for

school,” he said.

these problems; identify specific

and the poor performance of Montgomery

The next move needed is a perspective

seen very little interest by most

Public Schools. When the state board of

shift, as Richardson explained. “During

of the board members in that

education announced its intervention in

recent discussions with the Montgomery

regard [finding solutions].”

the system in early 2017, it only under-

County Board of Education, you seldom

scored the issues residents and city lead-

hear anything about improving achieve-

ers have been wrestling with for years.

ment for students. You hear, ‘It’s all about

Mayor Todd Strange recently made a direct link between losing a major employer

the students, but actions don’t show that Yet it’s not all doom and gloom. According

statement to be accurate.”

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MONTGOMERY BUSINESS JOURNAL

solutions. Unfortunately, I have


The public agrees that the problem is dire

engaged and get involved, which could

and change is needed. According to a

prove to be one of the tougher tasks. “Many

recent poll conducted by the Montgomery

of the parents really interested in improving

Area Chamber of Commerce, 7 out of 10

public education are no longer a part of

people believe Montgomery Public Schools

MPS,” he said.

are in crisis and blame that crisis on the leadership at the top.

Money Matters

While Richardson has shown himself dedicated to telling the hard truths, he’s still positive when he talks about MPS. “There

Continual money woes only exacerbate the

WE CAN

DO IT

situation; the system is currently considered financially unstable. Richardson announced a plan to address this earlier this year, and it places major emphasis on keeping teachers in the classrooms. “It addresses the financial deficits without having to fire a large number of staff,” he said. “We’re closing some schools and selling unneeded central office buildings.” Each piece of property sold means fewer people losing their jobs. “That’s a big objective,” he said.

“I want to assure concerned parents and others all over the city that these problems can be solved. Don’t be discouraged.”

Funding is essential to public education,

are several schools in the system doing

but it only goes so far and isn’t the remedy

exceptionally well. There are some strong,

for every ailment. Developing strategies to

talented teachers and administrators,” he

improve student achievement is even more

said. “But their performance is adversely

important, and Richardson is looking at

impacted due to the fights for control over

an array of options, ranging from opening

the system.”

alternative schools to hiring more teachers.

Come Together

The real key is a commitment to keep pushing ahead, despite a hard road, and working together. “The local school officials have to be able to work with the accrediting body, as they will make specific recommendations to help boost student achievement,”

He believes that before the start of the next school year, a final list of school closings will be out, giving teachers the security of knowing where they will be assigned. And as for the 2018-2019 school year in Montgomery, Richardson remains hopeful: “I think we can see some significant improvement during the next school year.”

Richardson said. More parents need to get

WHAT THE VOTERS SAY: The Chamber conducted a poll of registered Montgomery voters that revealed some stunning statistics:

Nearly

90 % believe the state’s

intervention was needed due to the lack of

MORE MONEY? Yes, but not yet. Throwing money at MPS’ problems won’t solve them, but according to Dr. Richardson, there will come a time for a discussion about possible increased funding. “Not now, but at some time, MPS will have to consider allocating more resources to its schools,” he said. “But right now people would be too skeptical for that. We have to fix what’s wrong now. We have to show that we are listening and being responsible and responsive. That is how MPS builds the confidence needed to ask for those additional funds in the future.”

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leadership, mismanagement of the system, quality of education and discipline.


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OTHER VOICES: Parent Perspectives

It’s all well and good for city officials, politicians, administrators and teachers to voice opinions and ideas on how we can improve our public schools. But some of MPS’ harshest critics and its biggest cheerleaders are those most affected: area parents. We asked a few to share where their hearts and heads are when it comes to their children’s options for education. Bethany Garth and her husband moved to Montgomery from Nashville after living in Auburn for several years before that. The couple has two daughters, ages 3 and 18 months. As soon as her husband’s colleagues at Neptune Technology heard he and Bethany were settling in Montgomery they asked: “What will you do about school?” “That’s sad,” Garth said. “We as a community are not educating our kids, our future, and I think it is our duty to equip them,” she said. Some of her feelings stem from her Christian faith; part of it is just practical wisdom. “Different options – private school, home schooling, public school – are right for each different family, but for us, we feel strongly about getting our kids out of the Christian bubble, to send them out as arrows of light, and we believe school is an effective way to do that and a way to expose our kids to the fullness and diversity of this community. So we want to invest in our city by being a part of the public school system,” she said. “That being said, I’m not willing to make my kids martyrs for that cause. We won’t sacrifice their future for it, and sending them to the public schools

BETHANY GARTH

“We as a community are not educating our kids, our future, and I think it is our duty to equip them.”

as they are right now would do that.” She is pleased with recent progress. “Dr. Richardson is taking Garth stressed that she and her husband have not made

definite steps in the right direction,” she said. “Just finally

any decision regarding public education for their daughters

acknowledging the problem is major.”

yet, but she did express a specific concern. “At least in the public schools we know the most about, thanks to friends in

She also understands the importance of MPS’ budget with

our neighborhood who are involved, overall, there is so little

a caveat. “There is no amount of money you can put into

parental involvement,” she said. “I think that creates such an

schools to compensate for the lack of parental involvement,

uphill battle for teachers. And the catch is, if we don’t figure

so it can’t stop there.”

out how to fix that, it is a cycle that will repeat.” Aquan Robinson was born and raised in Montgomery and She believes it will take parents who care coming together

now works as a lease portfolio manager at BMW in Mont-

and putting their kids in public school to change things from

gomery. He and his wife have a son in first grade at Dalraida

the inside out. She knows that’s a huge ask. “Three families

Elementary and another child not yet school age. They’re

can’t do it; you need a lot of people coming in, working to

currently pleased with their son’s education, but he’s unsure

make things better. I’m not sure that’s at all realistic though.”

about the next few years. “I am very happy with the school

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MONTGOMERYCHAMBER.COM


AQUAN ROBINSON

my son is in right now, and I know other parents at that school feel the same way,” he said. “But once he gets to 5th grade, that’s where it drops off, and that’s when parents have to make a hard decision.” He echoed Garth’s worries about public schools, but had some additional thoughts about root causes. “There’s a lot of blame to go around. Some board members have been in place a long time, and I’m not sure if it is just complacency or a resistance to work with others, but their inactivity has played a role, so I think

“There’s a lot of blame to go around. Some board members have been in place a long time, and I’m not sure if it is just complacency or a resistance to work with others, but their inactivity has played a role.”

it’s time for some change,” he said. “There is a butting of heads between the school board and other powers above them and

and brightest aren’t with other kids, where they could have a

not enough working together.”

positive influence. And you’re taking all of the involved parents and putting them in one place. So, I love them, but I wonder if

He also believes race still plays a role. “When you talk about

they are hurting other schools. Same with charter schools. I like

MPS, and the magnet schools, the majority of the students are

the way that sounds, but I’m not sure how it really works.”

minority kids, while a lot of the law makers and policy makers are white, and typically, their kids aren’t even in MPS,” he said.

Pride in his city has pushed Robinson to stay active and

“On the flipside, you have school board members who are

engaged; it sparked him to form the South Central Business

minorities who have not been making the best decisions, and

District, a group of concerned citizens and business owners

there is so much finger-pointing and not much accepting of

working to help revitalize and reenergize the area around the

responsibility.”

Southern Boulevard, Troy Highway and McGehee Road. It also prompts him to look for the good. “There are a lot of things

He’s a product of the magnet schools, graduating from BTW,

wrong with the school system, and we hear a lot about that,

but he’s conflicted about the program today. “The magnet

but no one talks about what is right, and that is unfair to the

schools are great for the students they have,” he said. “They

teachers and administrators working their tails off to do right by

are the best and the brightest, but that also means the best

the students.”

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MONTGOMERY BUSINESS JOURNAL


TRUTH BE TOLD

“There are a lot of things wrong with the school system, and we hear a lot about that, but no one talks about what is right, and that is unfair to the teachers and administrators working to do right by the students.”

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MONTGOMERYCHAMBER.COM


MEET THE CANDIDATES:

We asked all of the new candidates for the Montgomery County Board of Education what motivated them to seek the position. Here’s what they had to say.

The Montgomery County Board of Education’s Districts

EDITOR’S NOTE: We contacted all new candidates (not incumbents) and gave them the

1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 are all up for election. Earlier this year,

opportunity to share their thoughts; two candidates did not respond before press time.

the Chamber launched educatemgm.com to provide information and cultivate interest among the public to run for the board. As a result, 19 new candidates are

DISTRICT 1

seeking election. Liletta Mahone Jenkins / As a citizen of Mont-

june

gomery, parent and an advocate for education,

november

july

I can no longer watch the public schools in my hometown fail. Because I care about the children in our public school system, I decided to

PRIMARY ELECTION

RUN-OFF ELECTION

run for the board. I believe all children deserve

GENERAL ELECTION

a quality education and failure is not an option. Marcus Vandiver / I believe the school board is in need of fresh ideas, new perspectives and energy. My knowledge of K-12 education, ex-

FIND YOUR DISTRICT:

perience as a teacher and an educational pro-

3

fessional, and data-driven approach to problem

1 2

solving will positively impact the decisions

7

facing the board over the next few years.

6 4

Frederick Turner / The reason I'm running for

5

FIND YOUR DISTRICT AT educatemgm.com

Montgomery County School Board is because I am MPS, and I believe in the future of MPS. It's up to us to change the culture of our schools!

MONTGOMERY COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES: SOURCE: Montgomery County Elections Office DISTRICT 1

Liletta Mahone Jenkins (D) Lesa Keith (R), Incumbent Frederick Turner (D) Marcus Vandiver (D) DISTRICT 2

Brenda Irby (D) Larry Lee (R) Ted Lowry (R) Misty S. Fairbanks Messick (D) Clare Weil (D) DISTRICT 3

Brenda DeRamus-Coleman (D) Phillip Ensler (D)

DISTRICT 2

DISTRICT 5

Jannah Morgan Bailey (R)

Larry Lee / I am running for the MPS board

Dianelle Gross (D)

because we need people with common sense,

Rhonda Oats (D)

maturity, the ability to cooperate and an under-

Carey Owens Jr. (D)

standing of what goes on in our schools and

DeVona Sims (D)

the challenges they face. We certainly need

Melissa Snowden (R), Incumbent

members who are fiscally conservative. Ted Lowry / I know we can have a world-class

DISTRICT 6

Jessica Johnson Anderson (D)

public school system. Montgomery Public Schools must have new leadership that is will-

Timothy Bass (D)

ing to make difficult decisions and back those

Claudia T. Mitchell (D)

decisions with appropriate action. Our children

Robert Porterfield (D), Incumbent

deserve no less.

Deena Weston (D)

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MONTGOMERY BUSINESS JOURNAL


DISTRICT 2

Do Your Homework

Misty S. Fairbanks Messick / I am running for the board because I want to be part of the

Since a clear line can be drawn be-

solution. Our children deserve better. And they

tween quality public schools and eco-

need better if they are going to grow into suc-

nomic development (and therefore,

cessful adults. As a smart, hardworking lawyer, I

quality of life), even if you don’t have

believe I have something to contribute.

children, the state of MPS should concern you. And area parents are

Clare Weil / I am running for the board because

all too aware of how it affects their

I believe every child deserves a first-class edu-

families, knowing that their children’s

cation. The current board has failed to expect

futures are at stake. So what can you

excellence. Leadership has been missing, and

do? Dr. Ed Richardson offered a few

I hope to bring that back as well as a sense of

suggestions:

optimism that we can fix this problem.

1 / Review the current board members and the board candidates for your district.

DISTRICT 3

Brenda DeRamus-Coleman / I am a candidate for the board because I have dedicated my

Learn as much as you can about

life to education, and I want the opportunity to

them; listen to what they are saying;

help to formulate sound policies and programs

ask them questions and be specific.

to move our community forward. I believe that what is good for children and schools is good

Vote. 2/

for the community. Phillip Ensler / I am a civil rights lawyer and former Robert E. Lee High School teacher, and I am running because our public school students deserve a fierce advocate who will fight to en-

3 / Stay informed and involved.

sure that they are receiving access to an equal, quality education.

You can’t just vote and walk away. You have to communicate with board members and hold them account-

DISTRICT 5

able. That doesn’t mean every single

Jannah Morgan Bailey / I am a product of MPS

time something little pops up you

and I want children in our community to have

cry foul. It means attending meet-

the same quality education and opportunities

ings, expressing your opinions and

that I had. I believe this can only come with

offering your ideas. And don’t just let

change. I am running for the board because

them know when there is a problem

I have the experience to work with groups of

affecting your child. Look at and be

diverse people for a common mission.

concerned about the overall issues.

Dianelle Gross / I am a United States Air Force veteran with no education experience; yet I am a proud parent of two MPS graduates and two current MPS students. I don’t feel our children nor our schools are failing; they are victims of a failed system. It’s time to rebuild MPS.

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MONTGOMERYCHAMBER.COM


DISTRICT 5

DISTRICT 6

Rhonda Oats / I am running for the board

Jessica Johnson Anderson / I believe that by

because I firmly believe that education matters

investing in children, we are investing in not

for students, teachers, parents and the commu-

only their future, but our city’s as well. As a

nity. I believe our schools must provide a safe

mom, the thought that we are failing children

environment and ample opportunities for all

means I can’t stay on the sidelines anymore,

students to achieve and excel.

even if it means an uphill battle. Claudia T. Mitchell / I am running for the board

Carey Owens Jr. / The Montgomery Public

because our school system is facing chal-

School system is the foundation of our commu-

lenges that require responsible leadership. I

nity. However, our foundation is cracking. We

understand the importance of ensuring that all

have an opportunity to make adjustments. I am

perspectives are heard, policies are enacted,

asking to be the voice for the children, parents

timely budgets are adopted and decisions

and community.

properly meet the needs of our constituents.

DeVona Sims / I am running for the board

Deena Weston / I believe that MPS can be-

because I believe that public education is ul-

come a success story for all families. I want to

timately connected to the vitality of our commu-

serve on the board because I believe Mont-

nity. I am running because our future depends

gomery should expect more from our public

on leaders who are willing to take a stand and

school system, and I believe I am prepared to

do the right thing.

lead MPS toward the high performing lists.

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The Time is Now - Transforming Montgomery's Public Schools  

The Time is Now - Transforming Montgomery's Public Schools