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.
Slight decline in number of Alabama graduates attending college, report shows
The number of Alabama high school graduates enrolling in college has slightly decreased over the last five years, according to a report published by a nonpartisan research group based at Samford University.
The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) has a tradition of reporting college-going rates for Alabama and its local systems and schools.
The percentage of high school graduates in Alabama enrolling in college after graduating in 2018 remained the same as the graduating class of 2017, at 62 percent. The number and percentage attending two-year colleges slightly increased. The number and percentage of recent graduates entering four-year colleges both slightly decreased.
The data, drawn by ACHE from the National Student Clearinghouse, follows Alabama public high school students who graduated in the spring of 2018 and enrolled in higher education in the fall or spring of 2019. The data includes records for in-state and out-of-state institutions, both public and private.
Over the past five years, the college-going rates for Alabama’s high school graduates have declined slightly. In 2014, the first year this set of statistics was produced, 65 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college the year after their graduation. In both 2017 and 2018, 62 percent of graduates enrolled.
At the same, the size of the senior classes has been larger and graduation rates have been higher. That has produced more high school graduates going into college.
While 2018’s 62 percent college-going rate is tied for the lowest rate over this five year period, the actual number of graduates enrolling in college increased in 2018 compared to 2017. Only in 2016 did more students attend college, 31,414 in 2016, compared to 31,337 students in 2018.
However, the larger classes of seniors and higher graduation rates have resulted in greater numbers of students graduating with a high school diploma but not immediately continuing their education. Among graduates of the Class of 2018, 19,191 did not enroll in higher education after graduating high school.
The report found that the top five systems sending students to four-year colleges includes:
- Mountain Brook City: 86 percent
- Vestavia Hills: 79 percent
- Homewood City: 71 percent
- Hoover City: 64 percent
- Trussville City: 59 percent
The report also found that the top five systems sending students to two-year colleges includes:
- Lamar County: 67 percent
- Boaz City: 69 percent
- Roanoke City: 60 percent
- Marion County: 57 percent
- Winfield City and Winston County: 55 percent
Alabama farmers are providing students with virtual field trips
The COVID-19 global pandemic and forced economic shutdown have left most of Alabama’s school children at home; being educated by their parents, with some resources being sent by the school systems. Most parents are struggling to find educational resources to keep their children both learning and engaged. Alabama farmers are coming to the aid of parents by hosting virtual field trips every Friday through May 22.
The Alabama farmers are hosting the virtual field trips through Facebook Live on the Alabama Farmers Federation Facebook page every Friday at 10:00 a.m.
The first of these programs was held on Friday, April 3rd and addressed peanuts.
Roughly half of the peanuts grown in the United States are grown within a 100-mile radius of Dothan.
The farmers explained how peanuts grow, the life cycle of the peanut plants, and how farmers use nature, hard work, and science to turn the legumes into the common household peanut derived food stuff that we all enjoy.
During future presentations will explain when do Alabama farmers grow different fruits and vegetables? What’s the difference between a cow, a bull and a calf? How do farmers get honey from bees? How do farmers raise catfish? And many more interesting topics.
The Alabama farmers will answer all those questions and much more during the Virtual Field Trips offered through Facebook Live on the Alabama Farmers Federation Facebook page every Friday at 10 a.m. through May 22.
“Parents and their children are making huge adjustments as their homes become classrooms, and we want to help by offering entertaining and educational field trips from some of our farmers,” said Alabama Farmers Federation Communications Department director Jeff Helms. “While these videos will target third through fifth graders, people of all ages will learn more about how farmers grow food, fiber and timber.”
“For all of the parents who are helping teach kids from home, this virtual field trip will be coming up,” said Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville on social media. “Thank you to all the teachers and parents who have had to adapt to distance learning during these Stay at Home days.”
The farmers are gearing up for their next Virtual Field Trip on April 10. Friday’s topic will be fruits and vegetables.
The list of currently scheduled topics, subject to change, include:
- April 3 – Peanuts and other row crops.
- April 10 – Fruits and vegetables.
- April 17– Beef cattle.
- April 24 – Honeybees.
- May 1 – Catfish.
- May 8 – Greenhouse and nursery products.
- May 15 – Forestry.
- May 22 – Cotton and other row crops.
To receive Facebook notifications about the Virtual Field Trips, respond as “Interested” in the event or follow the Alabama Farmers Federation page.
This Virtual Field Trips project was developed in conjunction with Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama (GSSA).
(Original reporting by Alabama Farmer Federation’s Mary Wilson contributed to this report.)
Alabama institutions of higher learning respond to COVID-19 pandemic
Thursday, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education reported that throughout Alabama higher education is responding to the call for help during the Coronavirus pandemic. The support has been widespread from food supplies to equipment needs.
“I am heartened by the generosity of college and university staff and students in supporting their community, hospitals and healthcare professionals,” said Alabama Commission on Higher Education Executive Director Jim Purcell.
The institutional efforts have expanded beyond the boundaries of converting to online coursework for students into the communities they serve.
Alabama’s community colleges, along with the University of Montevallo and the University of Alabama, have supplied healthcare workers with 3D printed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The University of Montevallo is providing free WIFI to the downtown area of Montevallo. This particularly helps area public school children who are having to now take all of their classes online as Alabama K-12 schools are closed through the end of the year.
The Greek community on the campus of the University of Alabama have donated 5,000 pounds of food to the West Alabama Food Bank.
Outside-the-box-thinking has led chemistry and geoscience professors at Jacksonville State University to help Yellowhammer Brewery and Distillery transition to manufacturing hand sanitizer at the Huntsville-based beer distillery. What was supposed to be spring break for the northeast campus turned into a volunteer effort to analyze the company’s first batch of sanitizer to ensure it met the recommendations of the World Health Organization.
East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC) has received medical supplies from Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Auburn has donated three ventilators and multiple disposable supplies to EAMC.
Although athletic games and training are all on hold, the equipment staff members at Auburn have turned their attention to sewing face masks to be used to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
ACHE’s Purcell called the varied efforts of assistance inspiring. “We are benefitting from technology being used in ways never before seen,” he said.
Troy University has partnered with Troy Elementary School for years to develop a community garden. Social distancing has transitioned the garden into the home of a university coordinator who is continuing to offer lessons on nutrition and gardening via Zoom. Troy’s Rosa Parks Museum has gone virtual through tours and resource sharing.
The University of South Alabama is offering the South CARES Student Emergency Fund to direct critical resources to students who have urgent expenses. USA is collaborating with the city of Mobile to provide appointment-only drive through testing for COVID-19. Virtual visits, provided by USA Health, will give patients access to healthcare providers.
Alabama A&M University is maintaining contact with students via telehealth services for those experiencing depression and anxiety related to the Coronavirus disruption of their academic lives.
James E. Purcell is the Executive Director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.
“ACHE will continue to work with our institutions in innovative ways to assist students and the state’s needs during this pandemic,” Purcell said. “This will be recorded as an impossible semester that has produced many heroes and new life lessons.”
A team of Auburn engineering faculty, students, and alumni developed an accessory that added to a common household CPAP machine turns the CPAP into an emergency life-saving ventilator. The prototype was developed March 20 to 22 by Tom Burch and Michael Zabala, faculty in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Hayden Burch, a sophomore in mechanical engineering. Additional engineering faculty and alumni joined the team to refine the mechanical design, control system, user interface, and alarm to have an improved design finished on Monday.
This is on top of the efforts of researchers, like UAH’s Jerome Baudry and UAB’s Frances Lund, who has been enlisted in the effort to find cures, treatments, and vaccines to fight COVID-19.
Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “We all have our roles and can offer support amidst the COVID-19 crisis, and the higher education community has risen to the occasion. The brainpower and manpower supplied by Alabama’s colleges and universities demonstrate a willingness to serve and is greatly appreciated during this time of need.”
UAB students helping healthcare workers
Most of America is spending more time at home and working to find something to stay occupied as our schools and workplaces are largely shut down in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. For America’s hospitals, particularly the intensive care workers, their job has never been more stressful or more important.
215,300 Americans, as of press time, have been confirmed as being COVID-19. For most of them their illness will just mean flulike symptoms and two weeks at their house reading internet news sites and watching way too much bad daytime TV. Unfortunately for nearly ten percent of patients, COVID-19 will mean hospitalization, often in serious or critical condition. Currently 5,004 COVID-19 patients are in the fight of their lives. They can’t win their fight without a lot of help from the skilled doctors and nurses who have made medicine their life’s work.
Students with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Health Services Administration are thanking those healthcare workers on the frontlines, while supporting the local restaurant businesses they love.
Through a partnership with Frontline Foods, the students are independently supporting local clinicians in the fight to keep our communities safe, while simultaneously supporting Birmingham’s local restaurant industry.
Frontline Foods began with independent groups in San Francisco and New York City with the same central idea. They help health care workers and local restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic, that has already claimed over 5,100 lives.
“As this crisis grows in scope and scale, we want to continue to push that mission forward by boosting the morale of our frontline warriors in need across our communities, all while helping local restaurants and their employees,” said Christina Fortugno, a critical care nurse, second-year Health Administration graduate student and MBA student within the department, and co-organizer of Frontline Foods Alabama.
Fortugno and Bradley Tipper, another second-year MSHA and Health Informatics graduate student, decided the entire process of donating needed to be as transparent as possible.
100 percent of donations made to the Birmingham chapter of Frontline Foods through World Central Kitchen’s website will be used to sponsor meals prepared by our local restaurant community and delivered to local hospitals.
Fortugno and Tipper say their group will absorb all of the administrative overhead.
“Being in the Health Services Administration program, we’ve been trained on how to support and help our providers,” Tipper said. “We knew that, even though we were about to leave Birmingham, we wanted to be a part of the solution here.”
In addition to providing meals to health care workers, care packages are another way community members are able to say “thank you” to the doctors, nurses, techs, environmental service workers and others. Care packages contain snacks, goodies and handwritten notes of encouragement, to be delivered to our health care heroes. You can purchase items to be included here.
“We are so inspired by the efforts of these leaders,” said Christy Lemak, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Health Services Administration. “They identified what was needed and quickly went to work to fill those needs right here in our community, and the fact that this helps both frontline caregivers and local restaurants is a fabulous ‘synergy’ that I think everyone can relate with as well. This is what servant leadership looks like. It’s great to see the students take charge in this way.”
Fortugno and Tipper began delivering these meals on March 30 to UAB’s Emergency Department. They hope to exp of COVID=1and their efforts to other Birmingham-area hospitals in the in the coming days and weeks.
Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “We all have our roles and can offer support amidst the COVID-19 crisis, and students within UAB’s Department of Health Services Administration certainly have stepped up to offer a kind gesture and boost morale during this time of need. And what a smart idea to order carry-out from local restaurants – small businesses can certainly use (and are appreciative of) the support right now, making this is a ‘win-win’ situation for all.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House’s coronavirus task force said recently that he expects “millions” of Americans will get COVID-19. Fauci expects more than 100,000 Americans will die. As these numbers grow, the strain on America’s healthcare workers will only continue to grow.
Based on an original report by UAB’s Adam Pope.
Alabama small business task force forms subcommittee on reopening state’s economy
Feds seizing needed supplies slowed state’s COVID-19 testing efforts
400 Alabama health care workers and 155 nursing home staff, residents positive for COVID-19
Mobile County jail inmates, officers test positive for COVID-19
Governor Ivey launches new COVID-19 search engine tool
Pardons and Paroles: Restarting parole hearings “under review” amid COVID-19 crisis
ER doctors in frontline battle against COVID-19 are facing pay cuts
ADOL begins paying federal $600 stimulus benefit
Over the last week, COVID-19 cases in Alabama increased faster than 40 other states
Montgomery’s Jackson Hospital near breaking point with COVID-19 patients, ER staff say
Lieutenant governor criticizes state’s lack of preparation, response to COVID-19
45 COVID-19 cases hospitalized at UAB, 18 on ventilators
Growth of Alabama COVID-19 cases looks a lot like Louisiana. That should worry us
State Superintendent Mackey addresses concerns about plans for public schools
Gov. Kay Ivey orders Alabama to stay at home as cases near 1,500
Governor prohibits evictions, foreclosures during COVID-19 outbreak
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