Board says: Failing school classification caused by multiple factors

Published 11:45 pm Friday, July 12, 2013

After the Alabama Department of Education released a list of “failing schools” in June, which named four Dallas County Schools and one Selma city school, Dallas County School Board members took a stance — arguing there are many factors that contribute to a school being labeled as failing.

“I’m not saying we don’t need to work harder, because we do — but I resent the idea that the teachers are not doing a good job and the administrators are not doing a good job when in fact, it’s more complicated than that,” said Dallas County Schools Superintendent Fannie McKenzie.

The discussion arose during an unscheduled school board meeting in which members discussed schools that were labeled failing — which included Brantley Elementary, Keith Middle-High School, Southside High School and Tipton-Durant Middle School. R.B. Hudson Middle School was the one Selma City School labeled failing.

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Board President William Minor said a strong effort needs to be made to remove these schools from the list, while McKenzie said the problem runs deeper than whether or not children are completing their homework and studying for tests.

“You have student A and student B,” McKenzie explained to the board. “These students come from different cultures, different environments. If you test those students using those traditional assessments, there is going to be a gap.”

This gap, McKenzie said, is not an achievement gap, but rather an “opportunity gap.”

“Student A’s environment helps them more easily to facilitate the educational processes because of the experiences they’ve had,” she said.

Also, by labeling Dallas County Schools as failing, this only hinders the school system’s ability to recruit able teachers and administrators, McKenzie argued.

“All that does is create a situation where it’s difficult for us to get the kind of people that we need in those areas. When you put it out there that ‘this is a failing school,’ that only harms us,” McKenzie said. “If we don’t toot our own horn, who will?”

Board member Peggy Williamson agreed with McKenzie and said that many factors, such as home life, affect whether a child will perform well in school — and these are factors that are out of the school’s control.

“I think a lot of it comes back to parenting. You have to get encouragement at home from the parents,” Williamson said. “And as a system, we’ve made progress, and then to say we’re failing — that just doesn’t help at all.”