Three Dallas Co., two Selma schools make failing list

Published 4:36 pm Saturday, January 27, 2018

By Adam Dodson | The Selma Times-Journal

The Alabama State Department of Education released its list of 75 schools deemed “failing,” with five of the schools listed in the Selma and Dallas County school systems. Two come from Selma City Schools, and three come from Dallas County Schools.

These schools are: Selma High School (Selma); R.B. Hudson Middle School (Selma); Keith Middle-High School (Dallas County); Tipton Durant Middle School (Dallas County); and Southside High School (Dallas County).

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Out of the 11 middle schools on the list, Selma and Dallas County have three of them.

According to the ALDOE, the definition of a “failing” school is one that falls into the bottom six percent of math and reading performance standards. The data is based on information from the Spring 2017 ACT Aspire scores.

While the other four schools have been on the list for various periods of time, Tipton Durant is a school that is new to the failing list. According to Dallas County Schools superintendent Hattie Shelton, this drop in performance and percentage is due to a multitude of factors, including attendance and teacher certification.

“The kids can be very transient, and attendance can become an issue,” Shelton said.

“All schools need certified teachers to educate our students, but there is a difficulty retaining them. There is stiff competition.”

Since measurements for the failing list have been based on math and reading alone, much of the focus has been on hiring teachers certified and experienced in these areas.

According to Selma City Schools Superintendent Dr. Avis Williams, one of the plans in place to get schools off the list is by becoming more attractive to specific types of teachers.

However, the competition can put the Selma and Dallas County School systems under stress to perform well and keep the teachers. Williams said reasons why teachers may choose to go elsewhere is to be a part of a bigger school system or believe the quality of life may be more fitting to their needs.

Solutions to this problem have been introduced at the state and local level.

Many residents are displeased with the method used to collect the data to judge a school as “failing,” believing that the tactics used in the past have too narrow of a criterion.

According to Michael Fibley, communications director for the ALDOE, the ACT Aspire will no longer be used as the standardized method of collecting data for the list.

He said the education department will implement a temporary “stopgap measure” for the next two years until a new method is selected.

Other options being considered by public officials is the changing of the culture and attitudes at the schools themselves.

Keith Middle-High and Southside High have new principals and vice principals. Williams says they will also conduct what is known as “equity and culture audits” in an attempt to get a better gauge on what can be improved. Shelton advised for the increase of enforcement of school attendance. However, teachers and administrators cannot stop the problem on their own.

“We are taking a close look at the professional development with teachers and have been examining our culture. We also need to spend more time on secondary education,” Williams said. “However, the problems do not start in seventh grade. We need everyone to contribute to these kids’ lives.”

One person who echoed this belief of “it takes a village” is Rosie Cook, the head of the Parent Teacher Organization for Keith Middle-High. Cook has high hopes for the new administrators and teachers in the school systems but understands that it will be the same end-result if the students don’t receive the full scope of support.

“We need parents, administrators and also the students holding each other accountable,” Cook said. “I hope they will all be contributing. It takes a community to move forward with this.”

According to the Alabama Accountability Act, students who are part of a failing school may transfer, with different transfer guidelines depending on the type of school. A student attending a failing school may transfer to another non-failing public school in the district. This same student would also be eligible for any scholarships that would pay for tuition at private schools or participating non-failing public schools outside the district.

Parents of students at failing schools have until May 1 to notify school officials of their intent to transfer. The transfer costs can also qualify for a tax credit on the parents’ income tax liability.

Birmingham City has the highest number of schools on the list with 14, one up from last year. Second is Montgomery County with 11, one up from last year. Jefferson County, which had five schools on the list from the previous year, dropped down to two. Selma and Dallas County saw a one-school increase from four to five.

Despite the one-school increase, both Shelton and Williams were pleased to have eight schools and nine schools not on the failing list, respectively.