Friday, August 31, 2007

Coming next week

Two of our local school boards will get their first look at their budget drafts for the year starting Oct. 1. Oxford will meet at (yikes!) 7 a.m. Tuesday, and Anniston plans to follow at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Also next week, the Chamber of Commerce education committee will meet Wednesday morning at McClellan. The group gets together once a month to find ways the business community can advance education in the county.

The Classroom Blog will break for the Labor Day weekend, but we'll see you back here early--oh so early--Tuesday morning.

Colorado school bans game of tag after students complain

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- An elementary school has banned tag on its playground after some children complained they were harassed or chased against their will.

"It causes a lot of conflict on the playground," said Cindy Fesgen, assistant principal of the Discovery Canyon Campus school.

Running games are still allowed as long as students don't chase each other, she said.

Fesgen said two parents complained to her about the ban but most parents and children didn't object.

In 2005, two elementary schools in the nearby Falcon School District did away with tag and similar games in favor of alternatives with less physical contact. School officials said the move encouraged more students to play games and helped reduce playground squabbles.

ACCESS program is expanding


MONTGOMERY — More students in east Alabama soon will be able to take classes being taught elsewhere in the state without leaving their own high schools.

Another 100 distance-learning sites will come on line during this school year as part of the Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators and Students Statewide (ACCESS) program, Gov. Bob Riley announced at a press conference Thursday.

“Our ACCESS distance-learning program is expanding at an incredible pace, and it is offering students world-class opportunities to learn,” Riley said. “It levels the playing field so students throughout the state have more chances to take advanced coursework, regardless of where they go to school.”

Seventy sites are currently up and running in state high schools. More than $20 million in state funding has been set aside to expand the distance-learning program to an additional 100 sites during the 2008 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

The ACCESS program allows students to take Web-based and interactive videoconferencing courses taught by teachers who have been trained and certified to teach those kinds of courses.

Jacksonville High School will be among the schools receiving $85,000 to expand distance learning for students.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Racial makeup of schools

A new report out today from the Pew Hispanic Center finds two seemingly contradictory trends in the racial integration of the nation's public schools. First, white students became less isolated from minority students over the past dozen years. At the same time, black and Hispanic students became slightly more isolated from white students.

It stems from a 55 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students in the United States.

In 1993-94, a third of white students attended a school with a minority population of less than 5 percent. By 2005-06, that number fell to 21 percent.

Over the same period, the number of Hispanic students attending a mostly minority school grew from 25 to 29 percent, and the figure for black students increased from 28 to 31 percent.

Alabama saw the same trends. The number of white students attending all white schools dropped from 22 to 16 percent. The number of Hispanic students attending a mostly minority school jumped from 1 to 6 percent, and for black students int jumped from 33 to 40 percent.

In Calhoun County, Anniston High School is the only mostly minority school, with 2.4 percent white students.

For a look at the whole report, go here.

Hit ’em with your best shot: Officials recommend freshmen receive vaccination

Freshman Traye Willis from Alpine arranges his dorm room in JSU’s Daugette Hall. College health officials recommend new freshmen receive a vaccination against meningococcal disease. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

JACKSONVILLE — Darius Higgins has plenty to worry about.

The new freshman at Jacksonville State University worked his summer job in his hometown of Scottsboro through the weekend to pay his tuition. So he moved in to his new dorm with a roommate he’d never met the day before classes started.

But his health away from home doesn’t rank high on his list of concerns.

“We met with the (resident advisers), and I think they’re pretty well trained in what to do,” Higgins said. “They’ll take good care of us.”

Higgins hasn’t done it yet, but the state’s health department and college health officials nationwide recommend new freshmen get vaccinated against meningococcal disease, also known as meningitis.

Nancy Edge-Schmitz, director of JSU’s student health center, said college freshmen living in dorms are six times more likely than the general population to acquire the disease.

“They’re in a new environment, a residence hall in close contact with other people,” she said. “We usually try to let the parents know their options when they come to orientation.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease is spread through person-to-person contact by coughing, kissing or sharing eating utensils.

Symptoms may take two days to appear, and they include high fever, chills and a rash. They can be mistaken for the flu, but the disease is fatal for between 10 and 14 percent of those who acquire it.

Jacksonville State renews its marketing strategy


JACKSONVILLE — Colleges are like their students, constantly analyzing what their strengths are and trying out new ways of presenting themselves to the world.

A college’s image is particularly important for wooing prospective students and donors.

And in a state dominated by Auburn University and the University of Alabama, smaller schools like Jacksonville State University must work particularly hard to create a memorable brand.

“When you’re looking at recruiting a kid out of high school, by the time they hit sophomore or junior year, they’ve already made a list of the schools they’re interested in. In Alabama, you’re probably looking at either one or both of the flagships,” said Steve Kappler, executive director of consulting for STAMATS, an organization devoted to college and university marketing. “The more that Jacksonville State can do to market themselves to be on that short list, the more opportunity they have.”

Like many public universities, JSU is currently renewing its focus on marketing. With the help of an alumnus who is a former marketing professional, the university is staffing what it hopes will become a Department of Marketing/Communications that will combine all of the university’s promotional resources to present a unified image for JSU.

“Effective institutions have those common themes, and they are wiser users of their limited resources,” said JSU President William Meehan.

A unified institutional image will also bring in more resources, said Tim Garner, a JSU alum who has been working as a marketing advisor to the university for the past year and a half. “We have to provide our product in a finished piece so that people want to open up their purses,” Garner said.

Fundraising is more important than ever, because JSU has to share its state funding with an increasing number of schools, said Joe Serviss, the university’s vice president for institutional advancement. In the 1960s, JSU got the funding for about 45 to 50 percent of its operating expenses from the state, while today it only gets about 34 percent, Serviss said.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hear this

OK, so it wasn't the winning name for our new music blog, but it's an effective title here.

Over at Behind The Star, take a listen to the Bobcast (you'll see it on the right side of the page) as I discuss with Editor Bob Davis today's story on how Jacksonville State University fared in this year's edition of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.

It's a daily podcast as Bob chats with reporters each day about what we're up to. Take a listen.

Almost 10 years later, former Wellborn student to receive high school diploma

Munford's Chris Stevens tries to bring down Wellborn's Marreo Thomas in this file photo. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

His macaroni and cheese needs stirring.

Marreo Thomas is running behind, so the well-worn stainless steel pot holds the dinner, or maybe breakfast, he'll take with him to the graveyard shift at Anniston's chemical weapons incinerator.

His means are limited for now.

He hopes his success on the high school graduation exam this summer — 10 years after most of his peers passed it — will provide some opportunities he's missed in the past decade.

Though his class left in 1998, Wellborn High School will celebrate its most recent graduate in a ceremony today.

"Every time I took the test, something came up," Thomas said.

His father died around test time one year. Later, work obligations occupied his mind and time.

"But I had a lot of help. With the right people behind me, it wasn't too bad."

Thomas, known as "Train" during his high school days for his prowess as a running back, passed all his classes. But he stumbled on the reading and language portion of the exit exam.

Without a passing score on the graduation exam, Alabama won't award a diploma.

Making the grade: Should JSU be concerned about its ranking among colleges?

A crowd of students gathers outside the financial office at Jacksonville State University on Monday. JSU was ranked as a third-tier school by U.S. News and World Report. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

Some of the 9,000 or so students who will return to classes at Jacksonville State University today likely had the campus in their sights long before orientation.

But many college-bound students locally and across the country turn to U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings for comparison and evaluation before choosing.

A growing vocal minority of college officials insists students can find better alternatives to use in planning for their future.

This year's U.S. News and World Report's listing finds JSU lagging many of its peer institutions. JSU did not make the list of the top two tiers, (top 61 including ties) of the best universities in the South that offer mainly master's programs as their highest degree level.

U.S. News ranked JSU as a third-tier Southern master's university. Those ranked between numbers 62 and 88 are only listed alphabetically.

Based on the criteria in the U.S. News guide, JSU likely took a hit in the rankings because of its six-year graduation rate of 36 percent, a larger student-faculty ratio of 20 to 1, and lower average ACT scores than other peer institutions.

JSU President William Meehan said university leaders monitor the rankings each year, but they're not a driving force in their mission.

"We serve different populations than those in the first and second tiers," he said. "We're a public institution that serves the people of Northeast Alabama, and we're sticking to that."

U.S. News uses 15 criteria to rank about 1,400 of the nation's four-year accredited schools. To introduce the rankings, Robert J. Morse and Samuel Flanigan try to put the list in context.

"Clearly, the college experience consists of a host of intangibles that cannot be reduced to mere numbers," they wrote. "But if you combine the information in this book with college visits, interviews and your own intuition, our rankings can be a powerful tool in your quest for college."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Alabama continues trend of high SAT scores

The College Board released its national and state results on the SAT for the graduating class of 2007 this morning. Alabama continued its trend of higher scores than the national average, posting an average total of 1119 to the national average of 1017 on a 1600-point scale.

There are a few reasons Alabama shows such high numbers on the SAT as opposed to the ACT, where the state lags the nation. First, more than 34,000 students took the ACT compared to about 3,700 for the SAT. Also, those who take the SAT belong to the subgroups known to have academic advantages across the board.

Alabama's SAT takers come disproportionately from families with an income of more than $100,000 and whose parents have a graduate degree. More students also have A averages and are in the top tenth of their graduating class.

Fore a breakdown of the numbers, see tomorrow's Star.

A Valley Cubs legend steps down: Larry Ginn resigns as Alexandria football coach

Coach Larry Ginn talks to a player on the sidelines of an Alexandria game against Carbon Hill in this Nov. 12, 1999, file photo. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

ALEXANDRIA — When the Alexandria football team gathered around coach Larry Ginn for his customary end-of-practice speech Monday, he broke the news to them.

"He told us that he couldn't coach anymore, and that he was sick and he didn't know what was wrong with him," Valley Cubs quarterback junior Ethan Vinyard recounted later.

"I cried," Vinyard added. "It was just like a shock to us really."

A legend has stepped down, an era has ended, and all of it has happened less than five days from the season opener.

Ginn resigned Monday as football coach at Alexandria High School after more than 20 seasons at the helm. The resignation is effective immediately. His Cubs will play host to Oneonta on Friday night.

"It's time to retire as a football coach," said Ginn, who was 195-54 including a pair of Class 4A state championships in 1995 and 1997.

"Like anything else, there just comes a time in everybody's life when it's time to make a change and go in a different direction. It was pretty much that time."

Ginn's tenure as football coach dates back to 1986, when he took over the program after legendary coach Lou Scales stepped down.

While football is now in the past, Ginn said Monday that he's yet to make a decision on whether he'll coach basketball.

"I'm taking it one day at a time," said Ginn, who led Alexandria to a 12-1 record in 2006 and a fourth consecutive trip to the state semifinals where the team lost to eventual Class 4A champion Guntersville, 24-3.

"Today I resigned as the football coach. I will go to school tomorrow as a teacher. That's as far as I've gotten right now, I don't know what lies ahead."

What he's left behind is one of the greatest coaching careers in the history of Calhoun County high school sports.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Why am I here?

It's a question some of the 9,000 or so students who will begin classes at Jacksonville State University on Wednesday will probably ask themselves this week.

The folks at have some answers.

They polled their Web site's users on what college means to them. Here's what they found:

College Is:
52% - An Investment in My Future
22% - An Opportunity to Learn
16% - Necessary to Get a Job
6% - 4-6 Years of Fun
4% - Freedom from My Parents
2% - A Great Way to Meet Girls / Guys

"The cost of college continues to push higher and higher. College graduates are leaving with more and more student loan debt. It only makes sense that young adults are beginning to view college in cold, hard financial terms of 'investment and return.'" president Mark Rothbaum said.

Prepaid tuition to offer new product


MONTGOMERY — The annual enrollment period for Alabama’s prepaid college tuition plan opens Oct. 1 with a new tuition option for parents and improved investment returns for the state.

The Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan, commonly called PACT, was started by the state in 1990 to provide four years of tuition and mandatory fees at a public university in Alabama or an equivalent amount at a private or out-of-state university.

The enrollment period for this year is Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Parents, grandparents or others can make a lump sum payment ranging from $21,830 for a newborn to $23,388 for a ninth grader, which is the oldest age covered. Extended payment plans are also available.

With Alabama’s plan and those offered by other states, enrollment has declined most years as the price increased. State Treasurer Kay Ivey, whose office administers the program, said that in an effort to make PACT more affordable, the state will offer contracts for one year of college tuition and fees.

The lump sum price ranges from $5,767 for a newborn to $6,167 for a ninth grader. Extended payment plans are also offered for one-year contracts.

The board that oversees PACT has hired an advertising agency, Blue Olive Consulting of Florence, to promote the program after 17 years of using the state treasurer’s staff to do it.

Officials want new start for schools


With Anniston now searching for a new school superintendent, some city leaders are hoping for a fresh start for a city grappling with ways to grow.

The Board of Education voted 3-2 Thursday night to end the contract of Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton, who spent much of the summer at odds with some board members over the firing of an assistant principal at Anniston High School.

Some officials admitted this week that the struggling school system at times has weighted down efforts to move forward, but said new leadership may provide a brighter future.

"Perception is that the education offered is not at a level the community would like," said Mayor Chip Howell.

"I say perception, because there are good students, caring parents in this system who want it to succeed, and the community needs to rally behind it."

Anniston has been no stranger to challenges in recent years, with the closing of Fort McClellan, issues surrounding PCBs pollution, and a chemical weapons stockpile nearby.

But, Howell noted, those are finite obstacles.

"The school system and its challenges have continued to be a focus of need," he said.

The school board put Felton on immediate paid administrative leave and installed the system's director of federal programs, Joan Frazier, as interim schools chief.

Buyout to pay Felton maximum in contract


The contract buyout for former Anniston Schools Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton will pay him the maximum set out by his contract.

The Anniston school board approved the buyout in a 3-2 vote Thursday night, put Felton on immediate administrative leave, and appointed long-time school system administrator Joan Frazier as interim superintendent. Frazier took over the position Friday morning.

The buyout clause in Felton’s contract requires 180 days’ notice of termination. It also requires the board to pay him one year’s salary — $111,300, based on the most recent information obtained by The Star — and a full year’s benefits package. Efforts to obtain the details of the benefits package were unsuccessful Friday.

The overall buyout package will cost the school system about $167,000, plus benefits.

Tanya Holcombe, Anniston’s chief financial officer, said Felton will continue to receive his monthly paycheck for the next six months while he is on paid administrative leave.

“We’ll pay him as if he were here,” she said.

She said she has not been told how the board will handle his year’s salary payout.

“That’s up to the board and the lawyers and what they work out,” she said.

It remained unclear how the buyout might affect the system’s overall finances.

JSU gets Communications Committee report


JACKSONVILLE — The Jacksonville State University news bureau should have a mission statement, a code of ethics, and a system for verifying its releases, the university’s Integrity in Communications Committee recommended Friday.

The recommendations were part of the committee’s four-page final report, which also details the results of the committee’s investigation of the news bureau. The committee presented the report to JSU President William Meehan.

“I can’t say I was surprised (by the recommendations),” Meehan said after the committee meeting. He added that he was “very pleased” by the committee’s report.

Meehan formed the committee Aug. 9 to examine the news bureau following reports of suspected plagiarism in the “Town and Gown” columns ghostwritten by a former bureau employee, Al Harris. Friday’s report completes the group’s work.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Board fires Felton: Frazier named interim superintendent

Dr. Sammy Felton, left, looks at the crowd as Bill Robinson, right, asks the Anniston School Board to fire Felton. Bob Etnire, middle, looks on. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

The Anniston Board of Education voted 3-2 on Thursday night to terminate the contract of Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton.

Felton’s contract requires 180 days notice of termination, but the board voted by the same margin to place him on immediate paid administrative leave and install Joan Frazier as interim schools chief.

Board members Nathaniel Davis, Bob Etnire and Bill Robison voted to terminate Felton. Jim Klinefelter and board President Vivian Thompson voted against.

Frazier, who has served as Anniston’s federal programs director since 1998, said she will begin work leading the system this morning.

“We have a mountain to climb,” Frazier said. “We will continue our road to improvement. We have some issues to address, which I will meet with our board members about.”

Frazier declined to say what issues she might bring to the board until she first talks with members individually.

After introducing the brief agenda, Felton did not speak during the meeting.

Following adjournment, he said: “I just appreciate the opportunity that’s been afforded to me to serve the children of Anniston.”

Largest budget ever for county schools


The Calhoun County school system will have its largest budget ever for the 2007-2008 school year, largely because of construction at White Plains Middle School.

Calhoun County Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Bob White presented the first public budget hearing for the 2008 fiscal year at the Calhoun County Board of Education meeting Thursday night. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The school system is slated to spend about $12 million to build a new White Plains Middle School, White said.

The system’s total revenue for the year is projected to be $84.7 million — about $64 million in state funds, $6.4 million in federal funding, and $13.9 million in local funding. The state revenue includes money for a 7 percent teacher pay raise.

With projected expenditures of about $90 million, the school system will spend about $5.5 million more than it is projected to bring in. The system still should finish the year with a balance of about $8 million. The state requires that school systems maintain a minimum reserve of one month’s operating expenses. For the Calhoun County Schools, that’s about $5.5 million.

Dropout-prevention program gives grants to Alabama schools


MONTGOMERY — Some east Alabama school districts will receive financial help from the state for new programs to prevent students from dropping out of school.

As part of two dropout-prevention initiatives the State Department of Education is implementing this year, Talladega County Schools, Cleburne County Schools and Oxford City Schools have received grants for programs that state education officials hope will boost graduation rates.

States were able to compete for more than $5.1 million in grant money to be pilot sites for the new Dropout Prevention Adviser program and the Preparing Alabama Students for Success (PASS) program. The former puts dropout-prevention coordinators in all eight of Alabama’s school board districts, and the latter is an early intervention program for students identified as “at-risk” for dropping out.

As part of the Dropout Prevention Adviser program, Lincoln High School in Talladega County will be able to hire a dropout-prevention adviser to work with students and establish a community network that provides the support needed to graduate.

“The dropout prevention adviser is much like a graduation coach,” said State Superintendent of Education Joseph Morton. “They are at these schools to guide, direct and encourage students.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Police arrest Saks Middle School teacher, husband on drug charges

By Andy Johns
Star Staff Writer

A Saks Middle School teacher and her husband were arrested on drug charges today, after Calhoun County Drug Task Force officers found marijuana plants and a "significant amount" of marijuana on the couple's property near Ohatchee.

Agents arrested Robert Trammell at his home Tuesday and his wife Susan Trammell at the Calhoun County Board of Education Building this morning.

Drug Task Force Commander Richard Smith said the officers saw the marijuana plants outside the Trammell's home on Bucks Drive off of Gilberts Ferry Road near Ohatchee during a helicopter flyover Tuesday.

Once they obtained a search warrant, agents raided the home and found a man inside who was taken into custody and identified as Trammell. When Trammell's wife did not show up for work at Saks Middle School Wednesday, school officials asked her to report to the board of education building Thursday, where she was arrested.

Both are charged with trafficking marijuana, which means there were at least 2.2 pounds of marijuana recovered. Smith said his agents had not weighed the total amount, but said there were about 50 plastics bags--some gallon sized some quart sized—in the house in addition to the plants outside.

Agents confiscated the marijuana and a tractor from the property.

Kudos for AHS

Thanks to Zelma Isaacs, a business teacher at Anniston High School, for sending this my way. The state recently recognized the AHS business and marketing program as one of the best in Alabama. Here's the press release from the Alabama Department of Education:

Anniston High School
has been selected as having one of the state’s best business and marketing programs and was awarded the Business/Marketing Education Program of the Year Award during the 2007 Alabama Career and Technical Education Professional Development Conference, which was held at Huntsville’s Von Braun Convention Center, July 18-20.

Only the top ten business/marketing education (BME) programs in Alabama receive this award each year. Currently, there are more than 400 different BME programs statewide.

The purpose of the Program of the Year Award, which is sponsored by the Alabama Department of Education’s Career/Technical Education (CTE) Section, is to recognize the outstanding achievements of local high-performing programs.

Teachers attending this year’s Alabama Career and Technical Education Professional Development Conference had an opportunity to participate in over 60 different professional development workshops. The Alabama Jump$tart Coalition, part of the Jump$tart National Coalition based in Washington, D. C., presented financial literacy workshops, sponsored a special awards luncheon for teachers, and gave copies of free professional resources and materials to all BME teachers attending this three-day event. More than 1,100 teachers, administrators, and advisers from public schools statewide attended this conference.

Anniston High School’s business/marketing teachers are Mrs. Zelma Isaacs, Mrs. Nicole Bell and Mrs. Judetta Cowden (Anniston Middle School).

Alabama's BME programs give students an opportunity to develop their leadership skills, and promote student achievement and academic success. The program’s two student organizations, Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda (FBLA-PBL) and DECA, are not clubs, but instead are nonprofit co-curricular programs that teach students the real benefits of career credentials and the importance of earning a high school diploma and postsecondary degree.

CTE is a statewide program designed to prepare students for college and a variety of career opportunities in the fields of Agriscience, Family and Consumer Sciences, Health Science, Technical Education, and Business/Marketing Education. Currently, one out of every two high school students in Alabama participates in a career/tech program.

A new meaning for Sunday school

Derrick Hartley, minister of missions and college ministry at the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville talks about multi-site strategy in the Jacksonville High School cafeteria. Photo: Kevin Qualls/The Anniston Star

JACKSONVILLE — In small towns all across the South, church buildings and schoolhouses provide an identity, a sense of community.

Two congregations in Jacksonville are hoping to use school space to extend their reach and expand their flocks.

Superintendent Eric Mackey said it’s the first time at least in recent memory the school system will rent out its buildings for Sunday morning services.

“Nationally, there’s a big trend,” he said. “It’s kind of been thrown around, but we didn’t have anything serious until this spring.”

Dale Hollingsworth, who began a nondenominational church last month called The River, moved here from Nashville, Tenn., and was surprised the school facilities were available.

“Up there, almost all the schools are used for churches,” he said. “It’s not being used on Sundays. I thought I would see what would happen.”

Hollingsworth, who comes to Jacksonville with 24 years in ministry, formerly worked for the 700 Club, the flagship program of the Christian Broadcasting Network. The congregation of about 50 meets Sunday mornings in the basement chapel of Our Father’s Arms, a Christian rehabilitation center.

Pending approval from the school board, The River hopes to begin services in the cafeteria at Kitty Stone Elementary.

“We need a facility,” he said. “We won’t interfere with the school system, so why not minister there from the school?”

Earlier this year, Mackey said leaders of Jacksonville’s First Baptist Church approached him about holding services in the high school cafeteria.

Derrick Hartley, the missions pastor for the church, said First Baptist is considering “multi-site revolution,” a relatively new movement in American religion.

“It’s been tradition with so many churches that, when you run out of space, you start building more,” he said. “We’ve decided instead to go where people are.”

College policies may pass today


MONTGOMERY — When the State School Board meets today it will likely set down a precedent in the state that could give the governor the ammunition he needs to put an end to dual-employment of state legislators in state agencies.

The board is expected to adopt policies that force legislators to choose between their jobs with the two-year college system, or serving in the Legislature.

Gov. Bob Riley is confident that he has the votes he needs to get the policies passed, which will soon allow him to set his sights elsewhere.

In the weeks leading up to today’s vote, Riley has stumped hard for the policies, and vowed that if he can get them adopted, he wants similar polices adopted by all state agencies, including four-year colleges and universities.

Jeff Emerson, communication director for the Governor’s Office, said Riley has already begun to talk informally with the trustees of state universities about double-dipping, though many of the state’s four-year institutions already have some sort of policy in place.

Byrne revises 2-year system policy proposal

By Desiree Hunter


MONTGOMERY — Two-year college chancellor Bradley Byrne revised a policy proposal Wednesday that would have required 13 legislators employed by the system to get his permission before leaving their posts to perform legislative duties.

The previous policy proposal said the legislators could only use unpaid leave while doing legislative work outside the system and such leave could only be granted by Byrne, who was doubtful about approving it.

Under the revised proposal, lawmakers who work in the post-secondary system would have the option of using annual leave — which is earned vacation time — in such a way that they could attend to legislative work and keep both jobs until their terms end in 2010.

A second policy proposed by Byrne would end so-called “double dipping” after 2010 by prohibiting system employees from also holding elected office.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Anniston BOE to discuss Felton's employment

By Steve Ivey
Star Staff Writer

The Anniston Board of Education will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday in a special session to discuss the employment of Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton.

An announcement of the agenda, required by state law for all public meetings, lists Felton's status with the system as the only item for discussion.

Felton has squared off with some board members this summer over an assistant principal at Anniston High School.

In May, Felton recommended not renewing the contract of Charles Gregory. The board approved the move among a block of other personnel matters taken en masse, but three members have since said they did not see Gregory's name and have asked for a chance to re-instate him.

Three times Felton has recommended someone else for the post, and the board has rejected the candidate each time.

At the end of a July meeting, board member Nathaniel Davis made the first public call to end Felton's contract. A 2-2 vote stalled the issue, and no one made a similar motion at the regular August meeting last week.

Felton came to Anniston in August 2002 from Greenville, Miss. He is under contract through April 2009 and is set to earn about $200,000 between now and then.

Former St. Clair County school chief indicted

Updated 11:18 a.m.

ASHVILLE — The former superintendent of St. Clair County Schools surrendered to sheriff's deputies yesterday. A grand jury indicted 49-year-old Tom Sanders on two felonies and one misdemeanor count for using campaign contributions for personal use.

The indictment also alleged he failed to report the contribution to his campaign when he ran for superintendent in 2002.

The allegations surfaced in the theft case against a former Ashville High School bookkeeper. In May, Amy Murphree was convicted and sentenced for embezzling more than $140,000 from the school.

Sanders is scheduled to make his first court appearance October 3rd in Ashville.

This year's blistering heat has some wondering if it's ... Too hot for school?

Heflin High School Band member Dan Parsons enjoys shade provided by a xylophone while the band practices in scorching afternoon heat Tuesday. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

Thermometers may have climbed as high as 102 degrees on Aug. 9, the first day of school.

Since then, temperatures have hovered in the triple digits, inciting parents and legislators in favor of delaying the start of the school year.

State Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, plans to propose a bill mandating a school start date on or after Aug. 25. The specific start date for each district will remain up to school boards, Ford said.

He proposed a similar bill two years ago but never brought it before the House. But he said he expects this year's bill to pass.

The bill, according to advocates of later school start dates, would benefit students, who may be endangered by the hot weather and whose summer break is too short for them to get excited about returning to school, said Tina Bruno of the Coalition for the Traditional School Year, who acts as a spokesperson for Save Alabama Summers, a nonprofit organization in favor of later school start dates.

The reasons for the school year's early start are a mix of historical – the current calendar is designed for an agrarian society – and modern. An earlier start date allows for pre-Christmas exams and more instructional days before standardized tests, said Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards.

But those instructional days could be added as easily by eliminating breaks during the school year, Bruno said.

And starting school in early August could put students at risk for dehydration and other heat-related injuries during physical education classes and bus rides.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Star Special Report: Home schooling today — State has no way to know number of home-schoolers


Nobody knows how many students are being home-schooled in Alabama.

Star Multimedia
By the numbers .(pdf)

According to the last National Household Education Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, 1.1 million students were being home-schooled nationwide in 2003.

Gail Mulligan, project manager for the NHES, said the survey can’t help to estimate home school populations for specific states. However, she said it’s clear that home schooling has continued to grow in recent years — between 1999 and 2003 the percent of students in kindergarten through high school being home-schooled increased from 1.7 percent to 2.2 percent.

More children are being home-schooled in the United States than there are children enrolled in charter schools or conservative Christian schools, said Steven Broughman, a statistician at the National Center for Education Statistics.

Some researchers argue that the Department of Education’s estimates are too low, saying home-schoolers were less likely to have participated in the survey or to have answered honestly, Mulligan said.

Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute and a home-school father, is one of the critics. He estimates that in 2006 between 1.9 million to 2.4 million students were home-schooled in the United States, and he said 30,000 to 38,000 of those students were in Alabama.

Yet, the Alabama Department of Education and local enrollment supervisors say they have no way to count students being home-schooled in the state.

The only connection the state has with home-school families is a single piece of paper — a church-school enrollment form that includes a student’s name, date of birth, grade, home address, and the name and address of the specific church they will be attending, said Dee Black, a lawyer for the Home School Legal Defense Association.

Most local enrollment supervisors keep count of these forms. In 2006, Calhoun County had 422 children enrolled in church schools, and Shelby County had 525. Yet public school officials admit these numbers don’t truly reflect their districts’ home-school populations.

The information they receive does not differentiate between actual parochial schools and home-school organizations. And though some district officials ask church schools to update their enrollment yearly, a parent only has to declare their child’s absence from the public school system once, said Mike Stiefel, the Calhoun County Schools enrollment supervisor.

If a parent begins home schooling a child in the first grade and continues until 12th grade, they only have to file the form once, Stiefel said.

The Christian Home Education Fellowship of Alabama has a membership of more than 300 church schools with home-schoolers, but Chris Christian, president of CHEF, said the number is not a comprehensive list. The Alabama Department of Education does not monitor church-school enrollment or the number of church schools in the state, said Michael Sibley, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Education.

Black said he was recently notified of an attempt by the Alabama Department of Education to count the number of church schools in the state. However, HSLDA has told church schools that they don’t have to comply, he said.

W.Va. University tops party school list

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- To the disappointment of school administrators - and the pride of some students - West Virginia University is No. 1 on The Princeton's Review's annual list of the top 20 party schools.

The school has made the list seven times in the past 15 years, despite efforts to curb underage drinking and rowdy behavior.

But not since 1997 have the Mountaineers taken the top spot. Last year, WVU was No. 3, bested by the University of Texas at Austin and Penn State, both of which remain in the top 10 this year.

Senior Katie O'Hara, 22, said WVU is No. 1 because "no matter what kind of party you want it's here - bars, fraternities, house parties. ... If you want to take shots all night, there's a bar; no matter what you want to do, it's there."

Still, O'Hara said her friends "know how to manage their time. They know when to party and when not to," which wouldn't explain the school's No. 1 ranking in the category of Their Students (Almost) Never Study.

The rankings are contained in the 2008 edition of "The Best 366 Colleges," which is going on sale Tuesday and is based on a survey of 120,000 college students at those schools, mostly during the 2006-07 school year.

No. 2 on the party list was the University of Mississippi, followed by the UT-Austin, the University of Florida and the University of Georgia.

West Virginia's No. 1 ranking is just speculation, said West Virginia sophomore Stuart Sauer.

"I think there's no way to measure that," said Sauer, 20, of Richmond, Va. "Every school's a party school."

Incoming WVU President Mike Garrison focused on the positive rather than the rankings, saying the students he met over the weekend and on the first day of classes Monday are more concerned with their futures "and with the great year we have ahead" than with partying.

"I'm focused on the way this university changes people's lives, the research that we do and the service we provide to the state of West Virginia," said Garrison, who officially replaces David C. Hardesty Jr. on Sept. 1. "This is a special place, and the whole state is proud of it."

The Princeton Review says the guide to the best schools is intended to help applicants who can't visit every school in person.

Guide author Robert Franek said each of the 366 schools "is a 'best' when it comes to academics.

"But as anyone visiting colleges can attest, their campus cultures and offerings differ greatly," he said. "It's all about the fit."

At the other end of the partying spectrum is Brigham Young University, claiming the top spot in the "Stone Cold Sober" category for the 10th straight year.

The book has 62 categories in all, including: Best Campus Food, Virginia Tech; Most Beautiful Campus, Sweet Briar (Va.); Dorms Like Palaces, Smith College (Mass.); and Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians, Hampshire College (Mass).

This year, WVU finishes among the Top 10 in several other categories: No. 4 in Students Pack the Stadiums; No. 5 for Best College Library; No. 6 for Lots of Beer; No. 7 for Lots of Hard Liquor; and No. 8 for Best College Newspaper.

The Princeton Review, which is not affiliated with Princeton University, is a New York company known for test preparation courses, educational services and books. It published its first survey findings in August 1992.


On the Net:

The Princeton Review:

West Virginia University:

Committee mulls recommendations for JSU news bureau


JACKSONVILLE — The members of Jacksonville State University's Integrity in Communications Committee on Monday discussed recommendations they may make for JSU's news bureau.

The five committee members said they hope to present final recommendations to JSU President William Meehan on Friday.

Those recommendations could include a requirement that the news bureau create a mission statement and a code of ethics, or that the bureau agree to abide by the code of ethics of a professional organization such as the Society of Professional Journalists or the Public Relations Society of America the committee members said Monday.

The committee may recommend that the news bureau establish a process for vetting its work, they said.

The committee also may urge Meehan to address the faculty and to call for a university initiative focusing on academic integrity.

"I think [Meehan] would be the first to say this is a teachable opportunity," said committee member Michael Malone, former executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

Meehan formed the committee Aug. 9 to scrutinize the news bureau following reports of suspected plagiarism in columns produced by a former news bureau employee, Al Harris.

Three "Town and Gown" columns were credited to Meehan and appeared in The Jacksonville News and The Piedmont Journal, which are owned by Consolidated Publishing Co., the parent company of The Anniston Star.

JSU Vice President for Institutional Advancement Joe Serviss said at the meeting that everything produced by the news bureau since February had been examined and that there was no further evidence of plagiarism.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Alabama to conduct three-year study of school bus seat belts

Updated 11:26 a.m.

MONTGOMERY — Students now staring kindergarten will be in the third grade when a state task force created after a deadly school bus wreck in Huntsville wraps up a study on whether Alabama school buses should have seat belts.

The panel voted unanimously Monday to seek proposals from Alabama universities to do a three-year study using 10 to 15 school buses equipped with safety belts, which would go over shoulders and across laps. The selected university will have to wrap up the study by Sept. 30, 2010.

State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton, chairman of the study group, said three years may seem like a long time, but it's not when compiling data that will help the study group chart the best course for Alabama students.

"Having or not having seat belts on buses is a very emotional issue. We need data," Morton said.

Gov. Bob Riley formed the study group after four Huntsville students died in a school bus wreck on Nov. 20, 2006.

"It was a tragedy, but out of this tragedy something very position came," said Huntsville Superintendent Ann Roy Moore, who serves on the Gov.'s Study Group on School Bus Seat Belts.

The Legislature has allocated $750,000 to start the study.

Morton said the study will use 10 to 15 buses equipped with lap and shoulder belts. The buses will have cameras front and rear to see whether students use the belts and what effects they have.

Equipping buses with safety belts takes more room for each student, and the buses carry about 30 percent fewer students than traditional buses without belts, Morton said.

A Star Special Report: Home schooling today — The Joshua Generation

Adam Franklin campaigns for conservative Paul Broun. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

The thin blonde teenager was wearing a pink bikini top and cut-off shorts as she sauntered slowly toward the lake, oblivious to the worried stares of onlookers.

Without pause, the counselor walked toward her with a smile and explained that she should leave, pointing a finger toward the entrance.

Besides learning the tenets of conservative ideology — yes to intelligent design, no to same-sex marriage, yes to prayer in schools, no to new taxes — students attending the National TeenPact Conference in Winder, Ga., a gathering of politically active home-school students from around the nation, are required to look a certain way.

“Oh my gosh! Was that one of us?!” said a young girl with braces, retreating to the side with a group of friends to discuss the incident.

Star Video
The politics of
home schooling

The first thing the camp counselor saw was the flash of flesh.

“That is totally not T.P.A.”

Belly buttons may not be T.P.A., or TeenPact Approved, but neither are a lot of things, said 16-year-old Lineville native Steven Franklin.

“Outside ... there are so many distractions that can get in the way of learning,” Franklin said. “At TeenPact they are trying to get you to focus on politics, on the attitude they are trying to teach you, and on God and stuff.”

TeenPact, and organizations like it, want to provide the ideological backbone for a Joshua Generation — an assemblage of Christian home-schoolers who will claim the culture much like the biblical Joshua led the Israelites to claim Canaan.

And teenagers like Franklin are on the front lines, part of an intricate grassroots youth network that home-school leaders believe eventually will overturn Roe v. Wade, stop same-sex marriage, and bring the country back to what they believe is its biblical heritage.

“These students are impacting political organizations all over the country,” said home-school mother Jean Whatley, 55, whose four children have worked a combined total of 20 political campaigns. “They want to transform the culture for Christ.”

Yet educators who have studied home education question the civic education of home schoolers.

Instead of influencing people for the better, they see home-school students as nothing more than messianic messengers who peddle their convictions in a world they know nothing about.


Anniston’s Class of ’91 to raise funds for school library with skating party


A group of Anniston High School alumni hope to relive some fun from their youth and help current students at the same time.

The Class of 1991 will host a party Sept. 2 at Skate Country to raise money for the AHS library fund.

“Over the past few years, the high school has suffered a great deal,” said Krystal Truss, the fundraising chair for the alumni group.

“We’re in hopes if we step up, others will see us and try to get involved.”

Truss said a skate party will allow some of the alumni to reminisce on their old pastimes.

“In the ‘80s, we had a really big time when we went to Sunshine Skating Rink every Saturday evening,” she said. “Everybody fell in love with the idea.”

Just for authenticity, the group even drafted Freddy Cunningham, who served as DJ at Sunshine for 14 years.

He plans on playing their favorite songs from the era and calling out some of their favorite dances they used to do each weekend.

“I’m flattered to be a part of it,” said Cunningham, who now works for a car dealership in Talladega and only DJs a couple times a year.

“We’ll try to re-create the fun we used to have.”

Truss said the Class of ’91 keeps an e-mail list, and she’s received responses about the party from alums all over the state and in Georgia.

“And we’ve had sponsors come out of the woodwork willing to help out,” she said.

Those will help pay for the building rental, food and door prizes.

The party will run from 7 p.m. to midnight Sept. 2. Tickets cost $12 in advance and $15 at the door.

Only skaters age 25 and older will be admitted, she said.

Truss said the party could raise up to $10,000 for the high school library, which was damaged by a fire in May 2006.

The City Council, county commissioners and other private donors have pitched in recently to restock the shelves.

“The community at large has really opened up their pocketbooks to give us plenty of assistance,” said AHS Principal George Jordan.

“It’s very gratifying.”


What: Anniston High Class of 1991 skate party
When: 7 p.m. to midnight Sept. 2
Where: Skate Country, 33 Old Gadsden Highway, Anniston
Cost: Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door

For more information: Call Krystal Truss at 205-362-1530 or Tara Rives Hunley at 591-1942.

Only open to ages 25 and older.

A Star Special Report: Home schooling today — The history

By Joan Garrett

Melanie Thompson helps her sons David, Daniel and Joshua with a chemistry project. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

Home schooling crystallized as a social movement in the late ’70s and early ’80s as a big tent for two groups with perpendicular views of human nature, according to academics who’ve researched the movement.

Some home-school parents were influenced by the intellectual traditions of the New Left and Free School movement. They sought to apply the teachings of John Holt, a famed ’60s author who disavowed institutional education and called for children to be unschooled, said Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of education and history at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.

“To many on the left, schools were oppressive institutions,” Zimmerman said. “It was a ... philosophy, that kids have a natural inclination to learn.”

At the same time, he said, many parents of the religious right were following the trumpet call of organizations like the Moral Majority, which railed against social corruption and the Godlessness of public education. Many evangelicals became involved in the Christian day-school movement, others turned to home education.

Full Story

A Star Special Report: Home schooling today — The new home school

By Joan Garrett

Daniel studies a periodic table on the computer at the family’s home in Riverside. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

“Science. Leadership. Physical Education. Cooking. Chess. Soccer. Basketball. History. Art. Music. Drama,” Melanie Thompson rattled down the list of her children’s classes and activities as if she were trying to catch up to it herself.

She’s not as busy as she could be, said the Pell City mother. After all, as a home-school mother, she stresses the value of time spent at home.

“It’s the karate class and gymnastics,” the 45-year-old said, frustrated. “When were those?”

And somewhere between shuttling her kids to class, cheering their games and putting dinner on the table, Thompson found time to work as a part-time nurse, run a home-based business and direct a small fine-arts academy.

“It’s a different kind of experience, but it is very rewarding,” she said.

Star Multimedia
Video: Tour the 2007 CHEF of Alabama Convention

Thompson, who has been home-schooling her three children for seven years, represents a changing social movement.

Twenty years ago in Alabama and nationwide, home schooling was a bastion for ideologues. It allowed those among the religious right to escape what they viewed as a Godless public education system, and it allowed students of the anti-establishment left to provide education without borders.

The two factions disagreed on politics, but they agreed on one principle: Home schooling was a commitment to raising children free from the influences of teachers and classrooms, said Mitchell Stevens, an education sociologist at New York University.

Today those parents, who were among the small number of Alabama home-schoolers in the early ‘80s, lead organizations of thousands across the state. While they welcome the numbers and credibility to their movement, they also grapple with change, said Chris Christian, president of the Christian Home Education Fellowship of Alabama, an organization with 6,000 member families and connections to more than 300 home-school organizations.


Friday, August 17, 2007

National publicity

Alabama colleges got the attention of two national publications this week.

U.S. News and World Report released its annual rankings of the nation's top colleges and universities. Jacksonville State was not listed in the top tier of the 60 best master's-granting institutions in the South. Some of its peer schools from the Ohio Valley Conference--Murray State (14) Tennessee Tech (25) Tennessee-Martin (50), Morehead State (53) and Eastern Kentucky (60)--made the list. JSU was listed in the third tier of similar schools in the South.

Elsewhere in the state, Alabama was the No. 42 public university and Auburn ranked No. 45. Both slipped from their tie for No. 39 last year.

Also this week, The Chronicle of Higher Education listed Alabama as one of the "Seven Sorry Sister" states, joining California, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, New Mexico and either Missouri or Wyoming. The list indicates states with lax oversight on colleges; they're often havens for "diploma mills," or institutions that grant degrees with little if any work required.

Watch The Star next week for an analysis of the U.S. News and World Report rankings and JSU's reaction.

Anniston BOE votes down another assistant principal

Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton, left, recommended an assistant principal candidate other than Charles Gregory to the Anniston School Board on Thursday night. The board again rejected Felton’s choice, but no board member renewed last month’s call for his removal. Photo: Kevin Qualls/The Anniston Star

For the third time this summer, the Anniston Board of Education voted down a candidate Thursday night to be assistant principal at Anniston High School.

However, unlike a meeting last month, the impasse did not result in a call to remove Sammy Lee Felton as superintendent.

Felton in May included non-renewal of assistant principal Charles Gregory’s contract in a list of dozens of other personnel recommendations. The board approved the list en masse, but three board members later said they did not notice Gregory’s name on the list. To reverse the action they did not intend, they have asked Felton to recommend rehiring Gregory. However, Felton has not complied with the request.

Thursday night, Felton recommended someone other than Gregory for the post for the third time in as many months.

Board members Bill Robison, Bob Etnire and Nathaniel Davis voted to reject Felton’s candidate. Jim Klinefelter abstained. Board President Vivian Thompson was not at the meeting.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Meet Bernard Bray

I met Bernard Bray, the main source for my story today about Talladega College, for the first time Wednesday over lunch at Cafe Royale on the square in Talladega. He's been a political science professor at the college for 37 years, and he's perhaps one of the most interesting people I've met in my time at The Star.

For starters, he's blind. But a note on his class syllabus encapsulates his attitude about it: "Your professor is hard of seeing. Please work with this attribute as an asset, rather than a liability."

Last year, he and his students wrote and produced an original play titled "Socrates at the Ritz" that they performed at the Ritz Theater in downtown Talladega. He wants to further pursue drama as a way to teach civic education.

Also, when I was in college, I know I heard plenty of my professors explain that their classroom is certainly not a democracy. But Bray encourages students to think about it differently. The classroom is political space, he says, and they should think critically about their powers and his, and, when appropriate, examine manipulating both.

And he's been all over. From his curriculum vitae he provided me, he holds degrees from Indiana University, Kansas State University and the University of Kansas. He has also studied at New York University, the University of Michigan, Princeton University, Vanderbilt University and an international seminar in Salzburg, Austria.

Oh, and if you find yourself hungry in Talladega, try the Tom Terrific at Cafe Royale. It's ham, turkey, swiss, mustard and broccoli-cauliflower salad on wheat. And it's delicious.

If it's around noon, you'll probably see Bray sitting in the corner.

Talladega College students reach out to the community


TALLADEGA — New students will mill about Talladega College this week, finding their bearings on campus before classes start Monday.

A veteran political science professor hopes orientation isn’t the only time this year the student body is so visible.

Entering his 37th year of teaching at the college, Bernard Bray is the longest-serving professor and trails only Provost and Vice President Arthur Bacon in years of service at Talladega. He has long strived for innovative teaching.

This year he will seek cooperation between his students and community officials and leaders in Talladega. It’s part of making sure his students learn by doing.

“We could give a little presentation, lecture on it, and then on an exam they could repeat it all back to us,” he said. “That’s not the kind of education that’s satisfying to us.”

Bray said he will seek anyone in the city interested to build up a database to call on when needed. Students preparing a project may need outside expertise or help finding an internship; city leaders may need academic expertise or student volunteers.

“We’re making an effort we’ve never made before, to reach out to people around Talladega to provide whatever we can offer them,” he said. “And it lets all the folks know the kind of things we offer to students who come to Talladega.”

Enrollment explosion: Christian school sees significant growth in second year

Christian Capstone Academy teacher Jennifer Parris reads a book to some of her K 2 and 3 class. Christian Capstone started its school year this week with 66 students after beginning last year with just five. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

PIEDMONT — The focus at the Capstone Christian Academy is molding students’ bodies, souls and spirits, according to Shelia Jennings, administrator and principal at the school, which just opened its second year.

Compared to last year, when only five students were registered the first week of school, a lot more molding should take place this year.

Molding to the count of some 66 children — and growing.

“There’s really no limit. I had originally said 150,” Jennings said, explaining that the grades range from day care to fourth grade.

She notes there is plenty of room for expansion with 7,000 square-feet of building space tucked away on Industrial Park.

There are also plans to renovate a 5,000-square-foot addition that would become a large cafeteria and auditorium.

The nonprofit school charges between $70 and $175 per month.

Ultimately, Jennings said, the success of the school will depend on parents recognizing the quality of care offered students.

“We’re a service to these parents,” she said.

“I have never really thought about it not being successful when you have such high standards and high quality.”

Program brings high-tech labs to students statewide

Science teacher Carolyn Nevin looks over instruments delivered to a Southside High School classroom by Science in Motion. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

The bottles of shampoo and household cleaners lining the shelves in a third-floor stockroom at Jacksonville State University aren’t there because Janet Evans is a clean freak.

Evans, for 17 years a science teacher at Jacksonville High School and now the biology specialist for Alabama Science in Motion at JSU, will use those products in science labs at area high schools.

“We extract strawberry DNA from the shampoo,” she said.

Doing so requires equipment that most high schools can’t afford. Creating instructional labs, as Evans does, also takes time that many classroom teachers don’t have.

That’s where the Alabama Science in Motion program comes in.

Created in 1994, ASIM was based on a program in Pennsylvania that brought science teachers and laboratory equipment to schools. Then-state Sen. W. Fred Horn, D-Birmingham, introduced legislation to bring the program to Alabama, which became the first statewide Science in Motion program in the nation.

“It was designed to help many rural areas, to bring them up-to-date and to prepare their students for higher education,” Horn said in a telephone interview.

JSU is one of 11 universities around the state providing space and administering the regional program as part of its in-service department. In 2002, ASIM was rolled into the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI), which includes programs at the elementary and middle schools.

JSU professors address Integrity committee


JACKSONVILLE — The members of Jacksonville State University’s new Integrity in Communications Committee heard presentations on plagiarism Wednesday from professors in JSU’s English and communications programs.

Jerry Chandler, who teaches a media ethics class in JSU’s Department of Communication, and Robert Felgar, chair of the English department, addressed the committee about what their departments teach students regarding plagiarism.

“From the get-go we emphasize the importance of attribution,” Chandler said. Students are told about well-known incidents of plagiarism in journalism so they are aware of the consequences, he said.

A person’s intent to plagiarize is “critical” in determining whether an incident constitutes plagiarism, Chandler added.

English Department Chair Robert Felgar told the committee his department defines plagiarism as “the unacknowledged use of someone’s writing,” regardless of the user’s intent. The department uses a computer program called MyDropBox to catch student plagiarism. But a professor won’t confront a student he suspects of plagiarism unless he has “incontrovertible” proof, meaning the professor can produce the original text the student has copied, Chandler said.

JSU President William Meehan formed the Integrity in Communications Committee last week to scrutinize the news bureau following reports of suspected plagiarism in columns produced by former bureau employee Al Harris.

Three “Town and Gown” columns were credited to Meehan and appeared in The Jacksonville News, which is owned by Consolidated Publishing Co., the parent company of The Anniston Star.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More library donations

Since The Star ran a piece last month on the lack of books at Anniston High School, donations totaling about $100,000 have rolled in. A May 2006 fire destroyed the library, and the school is working to restock its shelves.

The most recent gift of $30,000 came from the family foundation of Anniston attorney Donald Stewart. Thanks to AHS librarian Becky Brown for sending this photo my way. Pictured, left to right, are Principal George Jordan, Brown, Priscilla Stewart and Lulu Stewart.

State ACT scores keep pace with national average


Alabama's 2007 high school graduates kept pace with national gains on the average ACT score, but the state's average still trailed the country on the college-entrance exam.

The state also set a record for the number of students to take the test.

For '07 graduates, Alabama's average ACT composite score was 20.3, an increase of 0.1 from last year on the test. Scores range from 1 to 36.

The national average increased by the same margin, from 21.1 to 21.2

Alabama also increased slightly the number of students making a benchmark score—18 in English, 22 in math, 21 in reading and 24 in science—in all four subject areas.

Jacksonville board members get first look at 2008 budget


JACKSONVILLE — Board of education members Tuesday night got their first look at the 2008 budget — a roughly $13 million proposal that represents a $2.3 million increase from the $10.7 million budget for 2007.

About $8 million will go toward financing instruction with some $2 million used for funding institutional support staff, such as technology instructors and assistant principal positions.

Operation and maintenance costs round out the top three with $805,082 budgeted, most of which will go toward paying the power bill, according to Superintendent Eric Mackey.

Transportation, child nutrition and administrative costs account for other spending with $250,000 going toward debt service.

"You could say we're spending $10 million in the classroom," said Superintendent Eric Mackey, explaining that support staff account for vital academic support.

ELL classes help more students learn English

A group of children enrolled in the English Language Learner class at Saks Elementary School share a laugh Tuesday. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

The number of K-12 students in Alabama grew 1.5 percent from 1994-1995 to 2004-2005; the number of students in Alabama speaking little or no English grew in the same period by 336.8 percent.

The little boy's parents put him on the school bus the first day of school, trusting he would get to his classroom. After all, they had enrolled him a few days before.

But when he arrived at a Calhoun County elementary school, nobody could understand his name. Like many kindergarteners, he was a bit overwhelmed. The words the teachers used to ask him questions didn't sound like the words his family used at home.

That's because his family's first language isn't English.

So the office workers called April Blakeney, one of three Calhoun County School System teachers for English Language Learner (ELL) students.

Blakeney, who taught Spanish at Saks High School before becoming an ELL teacher, got the child settled into his classroom.

"I reassured him as much as possible that we would help him," Blakeney said.

But Blakeney couldn't stay with him. It was also the first day of school for a fourth-grade girl who had arrived in the United States just two weeks before and Blakeney needed to help her.

The students come from all over the world and from a variety of socioeconomic and previous learning backgrounds.

Proccess to give school $26 million approved


OXFORD — Oxford City Council began the bond process which will give the city's school system $26 million for construction projects at Oxford High School.

Following a heated debate at Tuesday night's city council meeting between Mayor Leon Smith and the council the council voted unanimously to pass the resolution.

Smith asked the council for more time to review funds.

Council President Mike Henderson said the city had looked at the issue beginning in 2005 and waiting longer would only delay work and increase construction costs by more than $4 million each year.

Smith said repeatedly that he was for education and pointed toward monies he had approved for re-roofing school buildings among other projects.

"A city cannot pay for all of what a school wants and we've paid our share and they've never wanted for anything," Smith said.

Returning member could cast swing vote

By Steve Ivey


An Anniston Board of Education member returns Thursday and could cast the swing vote in deciding the superintendent's fate.

At the July 26 meeting, board member Nathaniel Davis moved to begin the process of ending Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton's contract. Board member Bob Etnire was absent from that meeting, and a 2-2 vote stalled the matter.

Attempts by The Star to reach Davis on Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful. But board President Vivian Thompson, who voted to keep Felton on, said a work obligation will keep her from the 6 p.m. meeting Thursday.

Davis will likely chair the meeting in her absence.

Etnire has returned from an overseas trip. He declined to discuss how he might vote should Davis renew his call for Felton's ouster.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Spontaneous combustion

As The Star learned last week, it has not, in fact, been hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement (or a cast iron skillet).

In Arlington, Texas, however, it was apparently hot enough for a school playground to spontaneously go up in flames.

From the Jeff Mosier of The Dallas Morning News today:

ARLINGTON – The sudden heat wave has brought something more menacing than sunburns and higher electric bills. The latest sign of summer just might be spontaneous combustion.

Arlington schools Superintendent Mac Bernd announced Monday that he would replace all the "engineered wood fiber" material on the district's playgrounds after one burst into flames last week. A review of footage from a surveillance camera determined that no one was around to start the fire – either accidentally or intentionally.

"It was like a perfect storm," Deputy Fire Marshal Keith Ebel said.

He said the fire Thursday at Anderson Elementary apparently started from heat generated by decomposition of the wood chips and high temperatures from the recent heat wave. Marshal Ebel said this might not have happened without the rainy first half of the summer followed by high heat.

Dr. Bernd said 35 playgrounds at 20 schools would be closed by the end of the day Monday. He said it would take two weeks and $200,000 to replace the wood fiber with pea gravel.

See the full story here and see the video here.

Rules of the game

From time to time, organizations send us information they know we're going to be interested in. To give reporters a head start on their stories--dozens or hundreds of pages with raw numbers need background and context to make any sense, and that takes time--they send out their data before it's released to the general public. That's the case with ACT scores this week.

ACT sent journalists their national and state results on Monday morning. But the information is embargoed until 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, meaning it can't appear in publications or broadcasts until them. So check out Wednesday's edition of The Star to find out how Alabama's 2007 grads performed on the college admissions test.

Journalists for years have abided by the embargo rules, and they risk losing access to the organization of they break them. But this 2002 piece from the American Journalism Review documents some of the problems they can cause.

JSU's integrity committee holds first official meeting


Jacksonville State University's Integrity in Communications Committee discussed creating a code of ethics for the university's news bureau at the committee's first official meeting Monday.

The five-member committee is examining JSU's communications with the media and the public following reports of plagiarism in columns produced by a former news bureau employee, Al Harris.

The three plagiarized "Town and Gown" columns were credited to JSU President William Meehan and appeared in the Jacksonville News, which is owned by Consolidated Publishing Co., the parent company of The Anniston Star.

"I hope that the recommendations you have will become internal policy for the news bureau," Meehan told the committee Monday.

At its upcoming meetings — the committee hopes to complete its work in two more sessions — members plan to discuss what JSU courses teach regarding plagiarism and media ethics, and to examine whether other universities have codes of ethics, before arriving at recommendations.

The university is still examining past "Town and Gown" columns to make sure there was no other plagiarism, but the committee will focus on the news bureau's policies more broadly rather than just on the columns.

"This committee is not here as any kind of jury," Sam Monk, the committee chair, said Monday.

The five committee members are Monk; Glen Browder, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and JSU faculty member emeritus; Chris Waddle, president of the Ayers Institute for Community Journalism and a former editor of The Star; Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association; and Michael E. Malone, former executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and former president of Troy State University-Dothan.

The committee will meet again Wednesday at noon and Monday at 2 p.m. in Bibb Graves Hall at JSU.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Fun facts to know and share

A secret about education reporting: Just about anything you can write about, somebody out there has studied it and has research and statistics to drop in my inbox. Today, some interesting data from the U.S. Census Bureau on back-to-school season:

Back-to-School Shopping

$7.1 billion: The amount of money spent at family clothing stores in August 2006. Only in November and December — the holiday shopping season — were sales significantly higher. Similarly, sales at bookstores in August 2006 totaled $2.1 billion, an amount approached in 2006 only by sales in January and December.


75.8 million: The number of children and adults enrolled in school throughout the country in October 2005 — from nursery school to college. That amounts to about one-fourth of the U.S. population 3 and older.

55.8 million: The projected number of students to be enrolled in the nation’s elementary and high schools (grades K-12) this fall.

11 percent of elementary and high school students enrolled in private schools this fall.
41 percent of elementary and high school students were minorities, as of October 2005.
22 percent of elementary and high school students had at least one foreign-born parent in October 2005.
42 percent of children 12 to 17 participated in sports as of 2003, which was the most popular extracurricular activity.


10.5 million: Number of school-age children (5 to 17) who speak a language other than English at home, about one in five in this age group. Most of them (7.5 million) speak Spanish at home. (


18 million: The projected number of students enrolled in the nation’s colleges and universities this fall. This is up from 12.8 million 20 years ago.

37 percent of all college students were 25 and older in October 2005
56 percent of undergraduates were women in October 2005. Among graduate students, the corresponding percentage was even higher: 59 percent.

$13,425: Average tuition, room and board (for in-state students) at the nation’s four-year public colleges and universities for an entire academic year (2005-06). That is more than double the corresponding figure in 1990.

$36,510: Average tuition, room and board at the nation’s four-year private colleges and universities for one academic year (2005-06). That also is more than double the corresponding 1990 figure.

Other figures:

1.1 million: Number of students who were home-schooled in 2003. That was 2 percent of all students 5 to 17.
6.8 million: Number of teachers in the United States in 2006. Some 2.7 million teach at the elementary and middle school level. The remainder include those teaching at the postsecondary, secondary and preschool and kindergarten levels.
$57,300: Average annual salary of public elementary and secondary school teachers in Connecticut as of the 2003-2004 school year — the highest of any state. Teachers in South Dakota received the lowest pay — $33,200. The national average was $46,800. High school principals earned $86,938 annually in 2004-05.
$14.18: Average hourly wage for the nation’s school bus drivers in 2004-05.

From the weekend

Here's a roundup of education news over the weekend:

New grant to be used for scholarships

With local demand for skilled welders high, a new grant for Gadsden State Community College is expected to fund new scholarships for welding students at the school's Gadsden and Anniston campuses. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

Officials at Gadsden State Community College hope a federal grant will help produce more workers local industries need.

The college will use $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor to offer at least 40 scholarships — including tuition and tools — for welding students at the main campus in Gadsden and at Anniston's Ayers campus.

"The job market around here right now is unbelievable," said Gary Udaka, a welding instructor at Ayers. "I don't have the welders to meet the demand. If all my students were ready to go to work, I'd need more."

The grant is part of President Bush's plan for community training for high-growth, high-demand jobs. Suzanne Zahorscak, a specialist in Gadsden State's Training for Industry and Business division, said the grant will cover the unemployed or underemployed — those with low-paying, part-time jobs — or those who can't advance at work without learning new skills.

AHS Class of 1952 joined at reunion by German classmate

Detlef Heise, a retired judge from Germany, shows off a gift given to him by his former classmates at an Anniston High School Class of 1952 reunion Saturday. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

Detlef Heise remembers long, green rides from Oxford to Anniston.

The retired German judge was not short of memories Saturday at the Anniston High School class of 1952 reunion.

"When I was here," he said, "everything was quiet and nobody moved."

Around 35 classmates gathered for dinner at the Classic on Noble Friday night, followed by brunch Saturday morning at the Victoria Inn in Anniston.

Among memories of who got the first television and of sartorial protests — a few members of the class wore black to support others who shaved their heads — Heise stood out as the main event.

In high school, "he was a quiet fellow, a smart and stern type person," said Peggy Burleson, who said she found the adult Detlef impressive as well.

"He's just a fine fellow; he always wanted to learn something," she said.

Chancellor : Managers are needed to lead Alabama's 2-year colleges


POINT CLEAR — The new chancellor of Alabama's system of two-year colleges said Saturday that a background in education is not a requirement to be a college president.

"We're looking for managers ... people who have the intelligence and the background and the experience. It doesn't matter whether you get it in education," Chancellor Bradley Byrne told a meeting of the Business Council of Alabama. "You, too, could be a two-year college president."

Gov. Bob Riley also spoke at Saturday's meeting and said the two-year system should be reconfigured to better serve the state's industries.

Riley said the two-year college system is "uniquely situated" for the task because of its many campuses spread throughout the state. He added that college programs could be tailored to company-specific and product-specific needs.

Byrne will get a chance right away to search for college presidents.

Five colleges in the state's two-year system, including Mobile's Bishop State Community College, have presidential vacancies.