As 2023 comes to a close, it naturally offers an opportunity to look back at all we have done over the last year. In Alabama, I believe we have, once again, made progress. When I was sworn in for my second term as governor last January on the front steps of the State Capitol, I promised the people of Alabama that improving our students’ education would be my number one priority. I think our year reflected those efforts. A highlight for me personally was visiting our 15 Turnaround Schools.
During my visit to Hayes K-8 School in Birmingham, I was speaking with students in a kindergarten classroom when one girl raised her hand. I called on her, and she informed me she wanted to be a doctor. I asked her what kind of doctor she might want to be, and she quickly responded by saying, “a good doctor.” Then her classmates started excitedly raising their hands to tell me what they dreamt of being one day. One boy told me he wanted to be a police officer. Another girl told me she wanted to be a teacher.
Hayes K-8 is one of 15 schools in my Turnaround Schools Initiative. This is a strategic program designed to transform low-performing schools and the surrounding communities. We have schools in some very rural parts of Alabama, like in my home county of Wilcox, included in this program. We also have schools like Hayes K-8 that are inner-city schools. But no matter what a child’s zip code is, we must afford them the chance to achieve their dreams. The Turnaround Schools Initiative will do that.
Receiving a quality education opens doors to whatever you want to be, whether it be a teacher, a police officer or a “good” doctor. Think about what it means to be an educated person in America: We can truly do anything when we put our minds to it. This is where the American Dream begins.
I visited each of the 15 Turnaround Schools, and to say I was encouraged and inspired by these students would be an understatement. Not even a year in, the Turnaround Schools Initiative is delivering results. Almost all 15 schools have jumped off the Comprehensive School Improvement List or the Priority Schools List. A school in Huntsville, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary, which was previously scoring an “F” on the state report card is now at a “C.” Highland Gardens Elementary in Montgomery has been able to add art, music and Spanish classes, as well as a STEM teacher. I was proud to learn Wilcox County had the highest percent increase in 3rd grade reading out of any district in the state. Perhaps most importantly, we are seeing greater parent engagement. The list of progress goes on, but it all can be credited to the Turnaround Schools Initiative and these students and teachers springing into action.
The Turnaround Schools receive additional funding that is customized to that school’s specific needs. And on top of the targeted support these schools receive from the Office of School Improvement, community and state partners such as the Department of Early Childhood Education, the Department of Human Resources, the Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Arts Alliance and others are all at the table and ready to help. Truly, this is an all-hands-on-deck, team approach. We all know that a quality education begins at home, carries into the classroom and expands through the community, so our wholistic approach is necessary if we want our students to thrive. I am committed to the Turnaround Schools Initiative being an ongoing effort. We want to get this model right for both turnaround efforts and continuous school improvement.
As policies like the Literacy and Numeracy Acts take full effect, efforts like the Turnaround Schools Initiative help students become proficient in both reading and math, and most importantly, it continues to support them in the grades ahead. When we see Alabama’s reading and math scores improve in the years to come, we can look right back here to this initiative.
The hard truth is that some may want to write these students off, but I choose to see Alabama’s future doctors, police officers and teachers.
As I visited many of the schools, I reminded these students that they – Alabama’s students – are our future and my number one priority.
This is a vital effort that will change the trajectory of the lives of thousands of students, which is exactly why I will continue championing this program in the years ahead. Our students are counting on us to help them succeed and achieve their dreams.