Was Early College doomed from the beginning?

Published 10:57pm Saturday, September 22, 2012

Editor’s note: This is part one of an indepth look into the former Selma Early College program and what lead to closing of the educational program.

 

Last Thursday, the Selma City School Board voted, with no discussion, to pay an invoice of $19,000 to Wallace Community College-Selma for the Early College Program.

The scene seemed far removed from board meetings in January when the school board was split between the legality of the invoice — the board argued whether it was their place to pay for tuition for children past 12th grade.

Though the invoice was paid, and there is now a zero balance between WCCS and Selma City Schools, the fact that remains is there is no Early College program any longer. Those who graduated form the program in May were the last to do so in Selma.

Now the school system turns its attention to who is at fault for Early College’s failure. What went wrong with the Early College program in Selma, while 240 other programs through the nation are operating so successfully?

According to an Early College High School Initiative official, Selma’s program was doomed from the start.

“It has always seemed at a disadvantage,” Michael Webb, associate vice president of the Early College High School Initiative out of the Jobs For the Future headquarters. Webb explained the structure of Selma’s Early College program was set up in a way that led to its demise.

“About 96 percent of the early colleges are started as schools. They have their own number, they have their own autonomy and they are able to do things that schools can do that programs can’t do,” Webb said. “[Selma Early College] was never really a school. It was a program of Selma High School. So it really wasn’t eligible to attract the kind of funding that schools can get, and it didn’t have an appropriation based upon the formula for public education that schools can receive so it has always seemed at a disadvantage.”

Webb said in most cases when an Early College High School begins, it is its own school. The school will have its own principal, its own phone number, etc. But for Selma, when the program came to Selma High School, the board as well as Selma High School was hesitant to give over liability of their students, leaving the Selma Early College program caught in the middle of Selma High School and its partner, WCCS.

“What Dr. [James] Carter said is ‘we can’t separate the school,’ so the principal of the Early College program cannot be called a principal — they are going to be a director, because Selma High has a principal already,” Donitha Griffin, dean of students at WCCS said in a meeting with the Times-Journal to explain the inception and financial working of Early College. “So [SECHS] kind of fell under Selma High School and then the principals changed during that process.”

Griffin said the program changed hands too many times and the Selma City Schools changed superintendents several times during SECHS’ existence. Griffin said because of the “changing of guards” factor that happened more than several times, the perception and true understanding of SECHS was lost.

School board members argued during the period of discussion of paying the invoice that this program was not a Selma City School program — it was a WCCS program and Wallace profited from it.

“We were one of the partners in the program, however, with the change of the guard and the perception the community had — it became Wallace Community College program, which it was never our program,” Griffin said. “It was always Selma City School’s program, but because all of the other entities of the program, we were the only thing that was going. We were the only partnership that continued.”

Other entities included other facets and opportunities in the program. For example, when the program first came to Selma, there was a professional development side to the program that educated students on agriculture through internships (or Lifeternships) at Tuskegee University, one of the first partners in the program to fall out after funding stopped coming their way. Another part of the program was Empowering Parents to Excel at Parenting, a part designed to educate parents on how to get their children through college — something that only existed the first year of the program’s existence.

Selma Early College High School had a perception of just being a free dual enrollment program. But according to Griffin and Webb it was much more, but as funding slowly slipped away and grant funding became scarce, the program ended.

“The bottom line is the fact that there really was not money to pay for tuition, for books, for fees, all of the costs associated with going to college. And the college was able to raise money — quite a bit of money — for a number of years. They kept the thing floating by,” Webb said. “The district and the college were not able to come up with a reasonable plan for how to finance that, so the next couple of years it has been dwindling until a decision was made to just close it down.”

Webb said there is really no one specifically to point a finger of blame because it was the fact that a program cannot raise money like a school can. And even further, the state of Alabama has no statute or post-secondary education option program where high school students can receive public monies for accelerated learning, like other states do.

“I have heard rumblings that people are going to think about how they can bring it back and maybe in a different way.” Webb said. “New partners, new structure, maybe looking for some new funding. Trying to think about how we can do it right. That school had some great successes. I am hoping to see it come back.”

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