2013: Education

Published 11:01 pm Monday, December 30, 2013

Troy City Schools Superintendent Lee Hicks speaks during a Troy City Schools Board of Education meeting in Troy, Ala., Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. (Photo/Thomas Graning)

Troy City Schools Superintendent Lee Hicks speaks during a Troy City Schools Board of Education meeting in Troy, Ala., Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. (Photo/Thomas Graning)

Policy changes and construction projects highlighted a busy year for the local school systems.


Alabama Legislature passes Accountability Act

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The biggest change to education policy in 2013 came when Gov. Robert Bentley signed the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.

When the law was initially passed, Sen. Bryan Taylor, who represents Pike County, said the law would create fiscal responsibility in school systems around the state. “This new law doesn’t take a dime away from education. It’s not a question of how much money we’re going to spend on education in Alabama.,” Taylor said. “The total amount of education funding does not change under is bill. The debate is whether we’re going to keep throwing our tax dollars at chronically failing schools or give parents more freedom to choose where to send their own tax dollars in order to obtain the very best education for their children.”

Under the Accountability Act, local school systems are able to opt out of certain policies and regulations set by the State Board of Education, provided that the local school system follows certain guidelines.

The act also allows the parents of children who are zoned for a “chronically-failing” school to receive an income tax credit to offset the cost of sending their children to either a non-failing public school or a private school.

In the same vein, the act also created tax credits for businesses and individuals who donate money to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships for students to attend either private or non-failing public schools.

In order to qualify as a “failing” school, the school must have either performed in the bottom five percent of schools in the state for three years in a row, have been ranked in the bottom 15 percent of schools based on annual reading and math assessment scores or have received a “D” grade from the State Board of Education for three years or an “F” grade for one year.

Sen. Taylor reiterated his support of the bill at a meeting of the Pike County Republican Women in September. “Administrators have proven that, if given the opportunity, leaders will turn their schools around,” Taylor said. “Competition breeds quality. The bill is designed to help caring parents and good kids who are trapped in bad school systems based only on where they live. In the first year of the act, 50 students have moved to private schools, while 700 students have transferred to new public schools.”

Local officials have been less enthusiastic about the new law, however. In September, Troy City Schools Superintendent Lee Hicks expressed his reservations about the law. “I think when the law was passed, legislators thought this was going to turn out a different way,” Hicks said. “When money is allocated through the state it goes into the educational trust fund and is divvied out to all the schools. Whenever you cut that dollar amount down, it definitely hurts school systems.”

Hick’s counterpart in the Pike County School System, Dr. Mark Bazzell, said earlier this year that he was also unhappy with the new law.

There are currently no schools in Pike County that have been designated as “failing” schools by the State Board of Education.


County, city schools see new construction projects

Construction crews, bulldozers and power tools have been a common sight at Pike County High School, Goshen High School, Charles Henderson Middle School and Charles Henderson High School during this past year.

Pike County High School completed one large construction project in 2013 and is well on its way to completing another in 2014.

On November 5, PCHS formally dedicated the Pike County High School Arts Complex. The new complex houses the music and arts programs at the school. The new building was necessary so that the school could expand its arts programs. The school’s programs had simply outgrown their previous facility. In total, the construction project cost around $1.2 million.

PCHS is also in the process of constructing an athletic facility to supplement the school’s athletic programs. Construction began earlier this year and is expected to be complete by spring or summer of 2014.

Goshen High School has also been busy upgrading its athletic facilities this past year. The school opened its new gymnasium this past month by hosting the Goshen Holiday Tournament. While the school is still waiting for permanent bleachers to be installed, all interior and exterior construction has been completed.

GHS is also in the process of constructing a new softball field. Construction on the field began in the fall after a generous $10,000 donation from the City of Goshen. Officials hope the new field will be ready in time for the 2014 softball season.

In June of 2013, Whaley Construction began tearing down Charles Henderson Middle School so that the school could undergo a $7 million renovation. The renovations are the final, and most expensive, part of a $15 million plan launched by the Board of Education in 2011.

A new building, which will house larger classrooms and a new cafeteria, will be built, and the school’s gym, band room and science lab will receive a total overhaul. In addition, a road will be built behind the school to allow parents to drop off and pick up their children more easily.

While construction is ongoing, sixth grade students are being taught at Troy Elementary School. Seventh and eighth grade students moved up to Charles Henderson High School. Construction is expected to be completed in August 2014.

The Charles Henderson High School softball team will have a new home in 2014. The school began and completed construction on a new softball field on school grounds during the year.

Prior to the construction of the field, the Charles Henderson Lady Trojans had played their home games at the Troy Sportsplex. Charles Henderson will open the 2014 season at their new home off George Wallace Drive.


City schools, plaintiffs come to agreement

In December, Troy City Schools and a group of parents reached a mediated settlement on a pending lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in class selection practices.

In August, the parents of three children enrolled in Troy City Schools sued the school, claiming that the school’s policy of allowing parents to request certain teachers and classmates for their children was a “violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The plaintiffs’ complaint stemmed from their belief that the policy allowed for the creation of segregated classrooms.

By December, school systems signed a consent agreement and agreed to cease the practice of allowing parents to request teachers. The consent agreement did not assign any fault in the district’s administration of the practice.

In addition to ending the practice, the school system agreed to partner with the Teaching Tolerance program at the Southern Poverty Law Center to “enhance interaction between the races, tolerance, and appreciation of diversity, by providing—at no cost to schools—a variety of multimedia teaching kits, online curricula, professional development resources, and special projects.” The program will be at no cost to the school system.

The school system also agreed to pay $10,500 in attorney’s fees for the plaintiffs.