Working for our schools

Published 7:40 pm Monday, August 10, 2009

Larry Lee, director of The Center for Rural Alabama, dropped in the office at The Selma Times-Journal Monday for a visit. He brought along a copy of a publication “Lessons Learned from Rural Schools,” which Lee, Gerald Carter of Gerald Carter and Associates and Dr. Owen Sweatt of The University of Alabama worked on together.

These three men examined 10 schools that ranked far above average in 10 different communities to find out why these particular schools were successful.

Here’s what they said about the project, “We found communities where resources are limited. Communities where the last census says the collected average median household income was only 78 percent of the Alabama average and only 63 percent of the U.S. average. Of the 10 communities, only one has a smaller percentage of families below the poverty level than the state average and only one has a higher percentage of high school graduates than the state average.”

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In an essay in that booklet, Lee points out that much more than pencil and notebook paper go into the education of children. Two of the 10 schools are in this area: F.S. Ervin in Pine Hill and Albert Turner Elementary in Marion. Lee writes about the guiding principals that these schools focus on.

First, there’s create a culture of expectations — success and pride are key. Kids respond as much as they are expected to.

So, how to get the message across. Richard Bryant at F.S. Ervin uses the motto “Welcome to Success.” Bryant seems pretty creative. They show pride at his school. Lee writes that 20 miles to go to Wilcox Central High School in Camden is a long way to travel for a parade. Each October on a Saturday, F.S. Ervin puts on a parade for the children. The event started five years ago when Bryant gathered high school bands, fire departments, church groups and anybody else to participate so his kids could have a parade. It continues.

Second is build trust with the community and parents. Buddy Dial at Albert Turner Elementary works to create ways to get parents and grandparents into his school. He has Grandparents’ Day and Dad’s Day. He opens up the school to the local media to let the community know what’s going on.

Third is have a clean, neat and attractive facility. None of the 10 schools are new. The latest one was constructed in 1994; the oldest in 1924. F.S. Ervin gets painted every two or three years and it never costs the central office a penny.

You get the point.

By the way, Albert Turner Elementary has 553 students and 99.4 of them are on free-reduced meal plans. F.S. Ervin Elementary has 360 students and 100 percent of them are on free-reduced meal plans.

It appears that nobody really has magic. These folks work together as a team. They expect a lot from each other and the students. They communicated with their communities and their parents. The schools were hubs of activities for their communities and as a result, students felt safe, secure.

There is no one-size-fits-all for education. But every educator should read this booklet.