If you are an old-timer like me, or maybe just someone who listened while your daddy told you about the “good old days,” you know that Dick Tracy was the square-jawed detective in the comic books and Sergeant Friday was the star of Dragnet back in the days of black and white TV. Like all good detectives, they always got to the bottom of things.
Which is exactly what we need right now in the case of the state charter school commission. We need to find out why they have ducked and dodged and failed to look out for the best interests of students and school systems in their unabashed zeal to sprinkle the landscape with charter schools–whether the local community wanted them or not.
Unfortunately, we tend to pass laws in this state and then never look back to see if they are working as we thought they would. We just create things, forget about them, and have no oversight.
Would we buy a new car and then expect it to run forever without changing the oil from time to time, getting new tires, checking the air filter, getting new brakes and on and on? Why don’t we treat legislation the same way?
And goodness knows, if we have learned anything from the Washington County charter debacle, it is that we need to ask lots and lots of questions about how the state charter school commission operates. In other words, is their oil running low?
Either the Senate or the House education policy committee needs to open an investigation and interview all the players from both sides.
Here are some of the questions that need to be asked:
The law says before a charter is approved, the commission will look to see what the current situation is in regards to the quality of local schools. In this case, Washington County schools got a B on the last state report card.
That is as good as any county system in southwest Alabama and better than several. In addition, there is not a private school in Washington County, which speaks volumes as to how the local community feels about its public schools.
The law says the commission should determine how much local support there is for a charter school. One of the ways they do this is by holding community meetings to hear from the pros and cons. The commission did this. One of the meetings was at the Chatom library. I have been told that about 50 people came. Those who opposed the charter greatly outnumbered those in support. A commission staff member videoed the meeting and said she would show the video to commission board members. Was this done?
This same staff member later said the commission was unaware of opposition. Yet, prior to the commission taking up this application on May 14, 2018, opponents sent several hundred postcards to commission board members expressing their view. (And then were rebuked for having done so when they came to the meeting.)
Why did the commission ignore the recommendation of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to deny the application of Woodland Prep and approve it instead? NACSA tells me they have reviewed at least 500 charter applications in the past 10 years so it would seem they should know what they are doing.
NACSA was hired by the commission to review applications from the beginning. Records show the state paid them $113,000 for their work. However, the commission no longer uses them and instead, uses the Auburn Center for Evaluation. Try as I might, I can not find out if this group has any experience in evaluating charter applications.
Does the commission do their due diligence on applications? The were 22 “support” letters submitted with the Woodland Prep application. But a review of them calls several things into question. Why were some not signed? Is an unsigned letter legitimate? One of the letters never mentions Woodland Prep, or even charter schools. How is this a support letter? At least one of the writers of a letter has documentation that they asked the Woodland
Prep folks to not use their letter. But it was submitted any how.
The application lists someone as a “team partner” without their knowledge. This was posted on the charter website for a year before this person discovered what was done. They are beyond irate now.
Since the charter commission is a public body, why are not all their meeting minutes posted on the commission web site? Minutes from meetings in 2018 and 2019 are posted. But not ones from 2015, 2016 and 2017. The commission had held 17 meetings since August 2015. More than half of them have been teleconferences, including five of the last six?.
How conducive is this to being open to the public?
Where is state superintendent Eric Mackey? For months now he has said over and over that he is powerless to monitor the state charter commission. However, on page 25, line 18 of the original charter law it plainly states; “The department shall oversee the performance and effectiveness of all authorizers established under this act.”
I have shown this to a number of lawyers, without fail, each has agreed that it DOES gives the state department jurisdiction over the charter commission. Yet Mackey’s lawyers can’t seem to figure this out.
State board member Ella Bell, whose district includes Washingt9on County, recently asked the superintendent to give her the status of Washington County. Here was the written reply she got, done by state department staff members.
M“There have been many questions posed regarding the department’s oversight of Woodland Prep in Washington County. At present, Woodland Prep is not a school, therefore, we have very little oversight nor can we hold them accountable for any action thus far. Based on our review of its recent actions, Woodland Prep has not violated any of the Charter Commission rules. A retired superintendent (Dr. Bobby Hathcock) has been contracted to provide assistance to the Washington County School System.”
That’s it. One paragraph. Four sentences. Seventy-five words. How did they reach this conclusion? Apparently by asking the charter commission. They certainly did not talk to anyone in Washington County because they have documentation of deadlines missed and other non-compliance issues. And the mention of Bobby Hathcock is definitely disingenuous because he is working with the county on another matter. In fact, when someone with the school system there asked him about the charter school he quickly told them that he knew nothing about it.
Yes, we need both, drouth lol, Tracy and Sergeant Friday working to get to the bottom of this. But since they are both now in retirement, we need to ask the legislature to get involved. After all, they are the ones who enabled this stuff to all happen.
Both the Senate and House have education policy committees. This is the logical place for an inquiry to begin.
In the senate Senator Tim Melson ([email protected]) chairs this committee, Senator Donnie Chesteen, a former educator ([email protected]) is Vice Chair and Senator Vivian Figures ([email protected]) is ranking minority member.
Send them each an email and politely ask them to open an investigation into what the charter commission and the state superintendent are doing–or not doing. Or just forward this article to them. Who knows, they may know where to find Dick Tracy.
UA staff, faculty and students want on building names review committee
The University of Alabama Systems last month announced the removal of three Confederate memorial plaques and the formation of a group to study the names of all buildings on all UA System campuses.
But that group consists of a group of trustees only, who are tasked with the work and charged with making the final decision which doesn’t sit well with the United Campus Workers of Alabama Local 3965, which on Friday asked that UA faculty, staff and students should be included in the process.
“Though we applaud the UA System’s commitment to removing painful reminders of racism on campus, we believe it can do better and move faster to remedy a situation that is long overdue,” the union chapter said in a press release Friday. “We believe that the expertise and critical perspective of UA staff, students, and faculty must be included in any future decisions about renaming buildings.”
The local union chapter in the press release made a list of demands, including:
- A) faculty, staff, and student representation from all three UA System campuses. We demand that faculty, staff, and students from each campus be appointed as full members on the Committee.
- B) complete transparency of committee business. As faculty, staff, graduate employees, and students, we are the people suffering the everyday violence of entering buildings named after and plaques glorifying slave owners, scientific racists, Confederate leaders, and segregationists. All meetings and deliberations must be open to the public and announced through system-wide press releases at least 48 hours before the meeting. All email or other communication dealing with the committee or committee business must be voluntarily provided to any person or organization that requests them without the submission of a formal FOIA request.
- C) public hearings/listening sessions. We demand the full committee host public hearings or listening sessions so that the voices of community members, faculty, staff, graduate employees, and students suffering the everyday violence of walking by or entering buildings named after and plaques glorifying slave owners, scientific racists, Confederate leaders, and segregationists are heard and placed in the public record.-MORE-
- D) committee recommendations be executed by January 15, 2021. We demand the Board of Trustees require the committee report be completed, published, and made publicly available via online PDF no later than October 1, 2020, with board approval and official name changes in place by the first day of spring 2021 classes.
“Al Brophy’s foundation work, University, Court and Slave and other scholarly works have addressed these building namesakes as had James Sellers, several Crimson White journalists and other campus chroniclers. Faculty expertise will help make the committee’s work more efficient, if consulted,” the local union chapter states in the release.
UA Systems Board of Trustees President pro tem Ronald Gray appointed Trustees Judge John England, Jr., Barbara Humphrey, Vanessa Leonard, Harris Morrissette, Scott Phelps and Stan Starnes to the committee to review building names.
The announcement by UA Systems states that the final decision regarding recommendations by the committee “will be made by the full Board of Trustees at a public meeting, at a time to be announced.”
Analysis | There’s a better plan for reopening schools — if Alabama leaders will use it
Maybe there will be a plan for reopening schools after all.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is set to meet with Gov. Kay Ivey’s staff on Tuesday morning to discuss an ambitious and comprehensive plan to reopen Alabama’s public schools that would see every school in the state get a new, stand-alone nurses station, a testing machine, a full-time nurse and tools to test and check students’ temperatures.
The plan, known as the Safely Opening Schools Program, or SOS, was put together by the Alabama School Nurses Association and has the backing of several doctors and the Alabama Education Association. It was presented to some lawmakers earlier this month.
State Sens. Jabo Waggoner, Jim McClendon and Bobby Singleton — two top Republicans and the highest-ranking Democrat — have since submitted requests for funding out of Alabama’s portion of CARES Act money to pay for the various components of the plan.
In a letter sent last week to Ivey, Singleton said he was “excited by the plan,” and believes it will “address, to some degree, the inequity (in his local school districts) and allow my constituents to feel that they are receiving the same support to reopen their schools as the more affluent districts of our state.”
The SOS program contains, essentially, three pieces: Building 500-square-feet nurses stations/isolation rooms at every school, purchasing testing machines and supplies and hiring approximately 300 nurses for the schools around the state that are currently lacking one. (Every school is technically required to have a school nurse, but the systems have circumvented that requirement by allowing a district nurse to cover multiple schools.)
In total, the plan is projected to cost roughly $150 million — almost all of it (around 90 percent) coming from the nearly $2 billion in CARES Act funds provided to Alabama by the federal government. (The remaining portion is projected to be covered by other grants.) Included in those costs are the nurses’ salaries for two years and the construction of more than 1,300 stand-alone nurses stations/isolation rooms — each costing a little less than $50,000.
In addition, each school would receive its own testing device, which nurses would be trained to use, and testing supplies. If used as the program projects, Alabama schools would turn in more than 500,000 tests in nine months, with blind results being sent to the Centers for Disease Control for data collection purposes. The testing machines can also be modified to test for other ailments, such as the different types of flu.
To put the total cost in perspective, the state has already spent at least $150 million — it received $115 million in grants from the CDC and received part of the more than $450 million the federal government sent to Alabama earlier this year — to test less than 10 percent of the state’s population over the last six months.
The SOS program could potentially test between 12-15 percent in far less time, and in a setting where early detection could prevent massive hotspots.
It’s a good program, and it would likely be worth the costs if only for the things mentioned.
But those things are only half of the benefits of this program. Maybe not even half.
Consider this: Included in the costs, every school in every city in Alabama, regardless of income level or parental involvement or poverty rates, will get a state-of-the-art nurses station and a fulltime school nurse.
To care for children who rarely see any sort of healthcare professional. To diagnose the early signs of disease or mental health issues. To spot the early warning signs of physical abuse or drug addiction.
In every school in Alabama. For two full school years.
“This is extremely important to my communities, as they lack school nurses and other critical health access,” Singleton wrote to Ivey. “The opportunity to have testing/screening on-site and nurses to address students’ health needs would be of tremendous assistance to the residents in my district.”
The same could be said for school districts, and for school children, all over the state.
The simple fact is there is no better plan offered for reopening Alabama’s schools. The others, including the “roadmap” presented by state superintendent Eric Mackey last week, mostly fail to account for known shortages in teachers, staff and nurses, and they offer no assurances for worried parents.
The SOS plan would take the burden of monitoring and quarantining sick students off the staff and faculty, would establish a clear protocol for dealing with the virus in our schools and would assist the state and federal government with accurate, real-time data. In addition, it could be a health lifeline for kids in rural and impoverished areas.
There is no better plan.
State releases plans for expected school reopenings in the fall
Schools are expected to reopen at the start of the school year but rules will vary by district and by school, with guidelines and recommendations from the Alabama State Department of Education instead of a mandated statewide plan.
Remote learning will be key, said State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey on Friday. Many parents around the state want it, especially for children with medical conditions, he said.
The Department of Education plans to build out a statewide remote learning system that includes WiFi hotspots and a learning management system that makes lessons, tests and teacher correspondence accessible on smartphones.
As many as 80 percent of parents polled in some counties said they want to keep their kids at home when school starts, Mackey said, so fully remote learning will be an option for those who want it.
There is no deadline for districts to report their individual plans to the state.
Contact-tracing will be an important tool to prevent outbreaks and keep students and staff safe, said State Health Officer Scott Harris. Measures taken seasonally to prevent the spread of flu will become routine procedure, with stricter cleaning regimens and quick response to possible symptoms of illness.
The most important screening begins at home, the officials said. Parents will need to check temperatures and watch for early symptoms.
Mackey said that some things will need to change more than others. Athletic competitions can go on with social distancing measures in place, like spacing out students on the sidelines and spectators in the bleachers.
Activities like choir practice will need to adjust more creatively due to the higher risk of contagion that comes with packing students together to sing for long periods of time.
Small groups will be preferable to large gatherings. Outdoor activities are better than indoors. Shorter events are safer than longer ones. Congestion in hallways and at choke points like school entrances should be mitigated. Such will be the guidelines and recommendations that individual facilities will consider.
Harris said he was confident that the department’s approach is a good one, but said that decisions are being made according to present circumstances. Cases are increasing daily, he said. He stressed that the public’s behavior moving forward is critical.
“The decisions we make every day will determine how this turns out,” Harris said.
The Alabama Education Association issued a statement that approved of the state’s deference to local decision-making.
“With AEA’s strong presence in every school district in the state, AEA will be there when those plans are drafted and make sure student and educator voices are heard in the process,” said AEA President Sherry Tucker. “The health, safety, and success of students and educators are top priorities for AEA. We welcome parents and other community leaders to join with us as we move forward.”
AlabamaWorks Governor’s Survey deadline extended one week
AlabamaWorks and the Alabama Workforce Council announced on Thursday the deadline for responses to the Governor’s Survey of Employer Competencies — a new tool to survey business owners in different sectors and regions and identify current, in-demand occupations and the credentials of value aligned to those occupations — has been extended one week and will now close on Friday, July 3.
“This survey is vitally important as we continue in our ‘Strong Start, Strong Finish’ education and workforce initiative,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “We remain committed to our post-secondary attainment goal of adding 500,000 highly skilled employees to the workforce by 2025, and this survey will help us clearly identify the in-demand careers and associated skills that will help us develop the necessary competency models needed to reach that goal and provide quality opportunities for Alabama’s citizens.”
The majority of jobs lack specification regarding the necessary skills required to perform the job and, as a result, the bachelor’s degree has become the default certification for most jobs that require a postsecondary education. Identifying the skills, knowledge, abilities and attributes needed to succeed at in-demand jobs will prepare Alabama’s workforce for the future.
The Governor’s Survey of Employer Competencies will be conducted annually to assist the 16 Technical Advisory Committees of the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways with their work of linking credentials of value to one or more specific competencies and then sequencing competencies to build the DNA for a career.
“The AWC has consistently engaged in and supported efforts regarding credentialing,” noted AWC Chairman Tim McCartney. “The future of workforce in Alabama will be highly impacted by these efforts to establish clear career pathways that are built upon the skills and knowledge shown to be in the most need and provide the highest value for employees and employers across the state.”