County school gear up for new year

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 30, 2002

The words of the Rev. Coley Chestnut, the pastor of the New Shiloh Baptist Church in Sardis, set the tone at the Martin Middle School gymnasium Monday morning.

“I hope this will be the greatest year ever in the history of the Dallas County School System,” said Chestnut, his voice booming during an invocation in which he addressed an audience filled with principals, teachers and other school personnel.

Chestnut was speaking at the Dallas County School Systems State Mandated Teacher Institute. The event marks the beginning of another school year and offers school personnel a chance to meet and to discuss upcoming plans.

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School board members Bill Minor and Cecil Williamson, who represented the school board, said they looked forward to the upcoming year.

Said Williamson, “Last year was one of the greatest ever in the history of the Dallas County School system.” He added that this year the school system had hired 50 new employees and had purchased 20 new buses.

Minor told the audience that although the board’s decisions might not always be “popular,” they would try and make decisions that were best for the school system.

Music could be heard throughout the morning. Dr. Dorothy Riggins, an education administrator with the State Department of Education, entertained the audience singing various selections, including “Wind My Beneath Wings,” which brought the audience to its feet.

Said Assistant Superintendent Freeman Waller, “Your beautiful singing has set the tone for this year. Thank you so much.”

Tommy Green, the Alabama Education Association’s Uniserve director, said that the AEA would be working closely with the school system and that “through hard work and effort” all employees in the school system had received a 3 percent raise.

Cries of “amen” could be heard echoing throughout the gymnasium.

“It may not be much,” said Green, “but every little bit helps.”

Dorothy Irvin, a parent facilitator, then presented an award to Melvin Flanagan-Brown, the principal at Salem Elementary School, for having the most parents in attendance of all Dallas County Schools at the Statewide Parents Day, an event held every year at all Dallas County Schools.

Dallas County School System Superintendent Wayne May then introduced the main speaker, twenty-three-year-old Jeremy Lance Brown.

Brown graduated from Dallas County High School in 1996. He was named the Paul M. Grist Boy of the Year Award, went on to work with Gov. Don Siegelman’s office as the deputy director of public policy, and now works in Montgomery as a political consultant. Brown will be attending Princeton University to complete his doctorate.

Brown said his life was a testimony to the fact that someone from “one of the most under-funded school systems in the state” could “hold his own against anyone.”

“I am proud to have graduated from Dallas County High School,” Brown said. “The idea that someone from a county school system that is under funded could produce a top-notch student — that really amazes [people].”

Added Brown, “[Being as young as I am] they [people I have worked with] ask me if I ever get intimidated. If they knew where I came from, they would know that I can never be intimidated.”

May then addressed the audience, where he discussed the need for more funding for Alabama’s schools, especially for Dallas County, which ranks as the fourth lowest school system in the state in terms of local tax revenue per student.

He noted that Alabama’s citizens pay among the lowest taxes of any state in the union.

“We have the tax base,” May said. “The question is are we ready to fund our schools?”