Friday, September 28, 2007

Some light moments

Last night's meeting of the Calhoun County Board of Education provided a few moments of levity for all those in attendance.

John Griffin, a math teacher at Wellborn High School, presented the board with a presentation on his most recent trip to Japan. Griffin traveled to the country in 2004 as part of a program from Toyota, which sends U.S. teachers abroad for a cultural and professional exchange. Griffin told the board last night that, after Japanese students shared some native song and dance, the American delegation did the same. They performed the Hokey Pokey. And, just as in any Japanese building, he had to remove his shoes before he went in. "They had some lovely size 5 slippers that almost fit over two of my toes," he said. Griffin also reported that he thinks American facilities, technology and interactions with students are preferable to Japanese schools.

After the entertaining presentation, board Chairman Tom Young told Griffin, "If you had been my math teacher, maybe I would have got it."

Also last night, board member Mike Almaroad asked Bob White, the schools retiring chief financial officer, about the bond issue approved by the Legislature this year. White said the money would probably arrive in February or March. Almaroad asked Superintendent Judy Stiefel whether it would come in two waves or all at once, and as soon as Stiefel responded she heard it would be one lump sum, the lights in the meeting room flickered.

"Was that the governor talking?" Almaroad joked.
"Somebody higher, I think," central office assistant Kenneth New.

Schools’ enrollment counts due next week

Susan Hinton, a fifth-grade teacher at 10th Street Elementary School, talks to her students Thursday. Schools will have to have their enrollment counts in to the State Department of Education by Tuesday. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

By Tuesday, schools need to make sure they have no child left uncounted.

That’s the state’s cutoff day for enrollment counts.

Alabama Department of Education officials use average enrollment figures for the 20 days after Labor Day to determine how many teachers, librarians, principals, nurses and other staff — and how much money — each of the state’s schools will get next school year.

Anniston Interim Superintendent Joan Frazier planned to meet this week with County Commission officials to clarify school system boundaries.

“The lines don’t always necessarily go with the city limits,” she said. “They kind of skew around. It gets difficult in some parts of town.”

Frazier said attendance has been a focus for Anniston since the school year began in mid-August.

“It’s important, because everybody wants to be paid for the students who are supposed to be in their system. We’ve sent parent specialists to homes to make sure everybody’s coming to school.”

See the full story here.

Who were directors of state’s 2-year-college foundation?


MONTGOMERY — The long-standing Alabama College System Foundation could disappear or evolve into an independent foundation if state education officials have their way.

At the behest of members of the State Board of Education, Chancellor Bradley Byrne is investigating the operation of the the foundation, which manages the endowment of a scholarship program for two-year college students, but which also reportedly paid for receptions to honor school board members and college employees.

Though there has been no implication of wrongdoing, those looking into the foundation’s activities have learned that for many years it operated with a board of directors that existed in name only.

People, including school board members, who have been named in IRS documents as directors of the foundation’s board repeatedly have denied any affiliation with, or knowledge of, the board or its actions.

Neal Wade, director of the Alabama Development Office, was listed as a board member in IRS filings for 1999 and 2000, but Wade said he never had been asked to serve on the foundation’s board.

Wade said the only reason he might be linked to the foundation is through his work with the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, which he headed for the first 10 years of its existence. The partnership had its own foundation, he said.

See the full story here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

'Today' coming to Alabama

Folks up in Decatur will get a chance Friday to try to prove the "Today" show wrong, according to The Decatur Daily.

On Sept. 20, the NBC morning program aired a segment on real estate, explaining the differences in what $500,000 will buy in various parts of the country. Correspondent Barbara Corcoran said half a mill will get you more in Decatur because they have "bad schools." She said she based the comment on a writer's research of test scores.

The comment drew an uproar in the town, and Superintendent Sam Houston called producers to complain. Earlier this week, "Today" exec producer Jim Bell planned to air a correction. Instead, he's decided to dispatch Corcoran and another producer to the town for another segment, to air Tuesday or Wednesday.

School boards ask for changes to law


School boards across the state are asking Congress for changes in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The Alabama Association of School Boards is asking all 181 local school systems in the state to adopt resolutions endorsing changes to the 2001 law, which requires schools to show state-defined progress on standardized tests in reading, math and soon science.

Oxford’s school board is the latest to take a look at the resolution. Members received it last week and will probably vote on it in October.

“We’re not saying (reauthorization) will be perfect,” said Oxford Superintendent Jeff Goodwin.

“Most people, as they find out more about the law, really aren’t as supportive of it as they are of local school systems working with the citizens they represent.”

Oxford board member Mally Moody said she thought the resolution was a good idea.

“No teacher ever wants to leave a child behind,” she said. “Some of the mandates that come down are not looking out for the best interest of the child.”

The resolution asks Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, to support an improvement act introduced in the House in January. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, has languished in committee since then.

See the full story here.

Read the full text of Young's proposal here.

Student pushes teacher at Anniston Middle School

Shortly after 9:30 Tuesday morning police were called to Anniston Middle School after a 13-year-old girl pushed a teacher. Assault charges were filed against the student and she was taken into juvenile detention custody. Neither the student nor the teacher was treated for injuries, reported Anniston Police. By law any assault on teachers could constitute a felony if convicted.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wellborn student a national achiever

A local student is a semifinalist for the 44th annual National Achievement Scholarship Program. Wellborn high schooler Erica N. Bell is among 49 students in the state to receive the honor.

The program began in 1964 to support black students nationwide. Alabama's semifinalists are eligible to advance to the finalist level and compete for $2.5 million in privately financed scholarships, to be awarded in the spring. The program has awarded more than $88 million in scholarships since its inception.

To become a finalist, students must show high academic achievement, a recommendation from their principal and earn an SAT score that matches the performance on the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

Forty of this year's 49 semifinalists in the state came from public schools.

Alabama students lead nation in reading improvement

Kim Oliver, a fourth-grade teacher at Kitty Stone Elementary, watches Lexie Daughtery work a problem. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

Alabama's fourth-graders showed the nation's greatest gains on reading test results released Tuesday.

Scores for the state's eighth-grade students held mostly steady from 2005, the last time the nation's public schools administered the tests.

State Superintendent Joe Morton credited the Alabama Reading Initiative, a $64.4 million program this year, for aiding the increase for fourth-grade readers.

"We're No. 1on the list … and it's not because the states are listed alphabetically," Morton said.

Known as the Nation's Report Card, the report Tuesday came from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only ongoing nationwide test of student achievement.

See the full story here.

Legend of 'the freshman 15' alive and well, students say

Jacksonville State freshmen Erica Crane, left, and Stephanie Chambers have lunch at Jefferson's. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

JACKSONVILLE — Many french fries and sodas ago, Jacksonville State University senior Paige Baker was 25 pounds heavier.

"It happened, I gained 25 pounds and just recently lost it," she said Tuesday, in between waiting tables at Jefferson's restaurant on Pelham Road.

"I ate out all the time. There was the beer — I was eating really, really late at night."

All the while, the nightmare weight-gain scenario, often referred to as "the freshman 15" — the proverbial 15 pounds students gain their first year of college — was dismissed as a fantasy, she said.

"I used to say, I'm not going to gain that weight," Baker said.

As freshmen wade into the next four years of college, the fear of gaining weight might not be a top concern alongside the pressures of maintaining grades for scholarships and forming lasting friendships.

But as obesity rates around the nation continue to rise, the lasting effects of eating and exercise patterns developed in college could be shaping people for years after graduation according to researchers and campus health experts.

See the full story here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More than 10,000 students scheduled to see T. rex at Anniston Museum of Natural History

A group of students, above and below, from Saks Middle School tour the Sue exhibit at the Anniston Museum of Natural History. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

School officials have found a new way to make teachers feel younger.

They let students learn something from a real fossil.

Sue, the cast skeleton of a 65-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex on display at the Anniston Museum of Natural History, will be visited by thousands of school children during her four-month stay. Most of the students would make little more than a snack for the 15-foot-tall carnivore.

Museum officials said schools in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi already have booked enough tours to ensure that more than 10,000 students will see Sue over the 15 weeks the skeleton is on display here. The museum normally brings in about 10,000 to 12,000 in an entire year.

"The schools are really excited about it," said the museum's marketing manager, Margie Conner. "It's a great opportunity for their students to have some science up close and personal."

The first group to visit only had to cross McClellan Boulevard.

Saks Middle School brought all 400 students to the museum. Principal Wendy England said it was the first time in 30 years that the entire school had gone on a trip together.

See the full story here.

Officials try to make enrolling in school easier


OXFORD — Homeless, migrant or non-English-speaking parents may soon have an easier time when it comes to enrolling their children in Oxford schools.

Debbie Nothdurft, human resources director for the school system, said Oxford already had a policy on the books, but she and others researched ways to simplify it.

Federal laws require all U.S. schools to accept those groups of children even if they can't immediately produce the documents required of other students.

Nothdurft said schools who accepted students displaced by Hurricane Katrina found out why such children need special rules.

"Those are exceptional cases," she said. "Of course they didn't have their shots record. If people had to wait on that, they would have been out of school for months."

The policy states children cannot be denied access due to lack of a birth certificate, school and health records, transportation or custody requirements.

See the full story here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Helping hand from Hamburger Helper

Two Anniston groups are seeking public support for their grant proposals through the folks at Hamburger Helper.

The familiar dinnertime company is awarding $100,000 to projects around the country. Anniston High School has submitted a proposal for $6,000 to help restock the library, where about 9,000 volumes were destroyed by a May 2006 fire. Another group, Independent Reading/Counseling and School Children, is asking for $6,000 to refurbish a kitchen where they feed disabled children.

Visitors to the Web site can comment about the projects, and community support counts toward selecting which proposals to fund. The awards will be announced in two waves, on Nov. 15 and May 15.

With the expense of textbooks and materials for classes, costs for college students are stacking up

Tim King stacks textbooks on Friday at the Jacksonville Book Store on the square. Photo: Kevin Qualls/The Anniston Star

It’s only about 5 percent of what they’ll spend for their college education.

But every year, as students feel out their schedules and decide which classes to take, shelling out for textbooks seems to cause more consternation than any other expense.

Sure, there’s the long-held tradition of selling those books back at the end of each semester (usually for 5 percent to 35 percent of the original cost, according to the Government Accountability Office).

But more and more textbook publishers are changing their techniques — they say to improve quality, critics say to artificially jack up prices and limit resale ability.

More than half of all professors nationwide now assign textbooks with supplemental materials, usually CDs or codes to access Web sites with additional lessons, study guides or 24-hour homework help.

“If they can’t get me, they can get somebody,” said Jim Rayburn, a biology professor at Jacksonville State University and president of the faculty senate.

But a GAO report said those extras, almost always sold in bundles with textbooks, best explain price increases over the past few years.

See the full story here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Oxford man surprises son at school after 14-month deployment to Iraq

Maj. Shane Sparks hugs his son, Cayden, 7, after surprising him at Oxford Elementary School on Thursday. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

Eighteen third-graders sat Indian style, on the floor in Lyndsey Ward’s Oxford Elementary classroom Thursday afternoon, sounding out sentences about plants.

When two photographers walked into the room, the kids knew something was up. They started to ask questions but were shushed by their teacher. Their concentration suffered again as they noticed faces — other teachers, staff, aides — peeking in from time to time.

Then, from behind the seated group of reading children, came the thud of a pair of desert combat boots.

Cayden Sparks’ dad had come all the way from Iraq to pick him up early from school.

“I’ve talked to him on the phone,” Maj. Shane Sparks said on the drive to the school. “And he keeps on telling me, ‘Dad I haven’t got but two more days until I see you!’ I figured that if I was his age, and my dad were gone, it would mean a lot if he came to get me out of class early.”

See the full story here.

Anniston school board rehires Gregory


Anniston High School’s former assistant principal, Charles Gregory, is back on the job this morning after the Anniston Board of Education approved rehiring him during its meeting Thursday night.

The board approved a list of personnel actions in May that included non-renewal of Gregory’s contract among of dozens of other items. Three board members later objected to the termination and said they had not known it was on the list.

They battled through the summer with former Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton, who three times recommended someone else for the position instead of bringing Gregory’s name back to the board for consideration. Last month, the board voted to remove Felton as superintendent, buying out his contract.

Nathaniel Davis, Bob Etnire and Bill Robison, the three board members who had asked for a chance to fix the error, voted Thursday to rehire Gregory.

Vivian Thompson voted against the move. Jim Klinefelter abstained.

See the full story here.

Calhoun’s tech center director explains new requirements


JACKSONVILLE — About 40 leaders from education and business gathered Thursday night for dinner and to learn the latest about training the county’s future workers.

David Talley, director of the Calhoun County Career Technical Center, said Congress changed some requirements for the nation’s tech centers this year.

Among the changes: a greater focus on academic training.

Now the Tech Center, with more than 400 students, will teach “career clusters” instead of focusing training on one specific area of industry.

“We’re adapting to what business and industry are telling us we need to do,” Talley said.

“We wanted to bring them in and let them know ahead of time what we’ve got to do in order to meet their demands.”

See the full story here.

JSU free to expand 2 degree programs


MONTGOMERY — Jacksonville State University has received a green light to expand its degree programs in public administration and in secondary education.

The Academic Affairs Committee of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education approved two proposals Thursday that will allow the university to offer a concentration in athletic administration in its Master of Public Administration program and a concentration in coaching for its Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education.

While this does not change the number of graduate programs the university offers, it does allow students more options, said JSU President William Meehan.

More options could mean more graduates. Though the number of students enrolled in graduate courses dropped from 1,183 in 2005 to 1,091 in 2006, the number of degrees awarded has gone up.

According to the proposal for the master’s program, the athletic administration concentration targets those interested in working for municipal recreation departments, athletic departments for community/junior colleges, and entities such as the YMCA.

See the full story here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The cost of Alabama's dropouts

The Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit advocacy outfit, seeks to illustrate the benefits of quality education. Today, they released a report calculating some of the ways high school dropouts affect Alabama. For example:

Alabama would save $245 million in health care costs for each class of dropouts, over their lifetimes, had these dropouts stayed in school and earned their diplomas.

Alabama households would have more than $1.5 billion more in accumulated wealth if all heads of households had graduated from high school.

More than $2.1 billion would be added to Alabama's economy by 2020 if students of color graduated at the same rate as white students.

If Alabama's high schools graduated all students ready for college, the state would save more than $53 million a year in community college remediation costs and lost earnings.

Alabama's economy would see a combination of savings and revenue of almost $125 million in reduced crime spending and increased earnings each year if the male high school graduation rate increased by 5 percent.

Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia and president of the alliance, said "All of us pay the price--not just the dropout, who is looking at a severely limited future, but also the rest of us, who need these new members of the workforce prepared to support the nation in a 21st Century world that is becoming more and more competitive.

Joan Frazier guides Anniston City Schools in interim period

Joan Frazier talks to students on Wednesday at Anniston High School during a class change. The Anniston Board of Education appointed Frazier in August as interim superintendent. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

Joan Frazier doesn’t talk like a caretaker superintendent.

She peers over the top of the multicolor-rimmed glasses resting low on her nose at stacks of paper varying in neatness and height. She describes her plans in dynamic terms, eschewing the vocabulary of a placeholder, of someone keeping a seat warm.

Frazier has had an “interim” in front of her new title since the Anniston Board of Education appointed her last month. That tag will stay there until at least February, once Sammy Lee Felton comes off paid administrative leave and the board completes his contract buyout.

What happens then is still unsettled, as the board hasn’t discussed plans to search for a permanent superintendent. In the meantime, Frazier has moved down the hall into Felton’s old office.

“My style of leadership is to talk to administrators and principals, so there can be a kind of collegial contribution,” she said.

“I realize I’m the one out on the limb, but we don’t always have a lot of input in education. You have to make your plan and get some things prioritized to make sure the system keeps moving in the right direction.”

See the full story here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Groups warn schools' funds from Medicaid may get cut


Schools might no longer recoup money spent helping low-income children with disabilities under a rule change proposed by the Bush administration, education groups warned Tuesday.

Under the federal Medicaid program, schools are reimbursed for administrative costs related to identifying children eligible for the program, enrolling them and coordinating health-related services.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates the change could save $3.65 billion over the next five years.

The department found the costs were "not necessary for the proper and efficient administration" of Medicaid and were not eligible for repayments, according to the proposal, published this month.

Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said the federal government does not plan to change its requirements that schools continue to offer services, such as fitting specialized buses, driving children to medical appointments and coordinating screenings.

See the full story here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sue photo gallery

Here are 25 pictures of the Anniston Museum of Natural History crew building the T. rex skeleton.

Inside Out Day

On Monday, Gov. Bob Riley and Joe Morton, the state's superintendent, announced that Friday would be "Inside Out Day" in Alabama schools.

Schools across the state will view the documentary "Inside Out," filmed in two Alabama maximum-security prisons. In it, prisoners discuss how a lack of education affected their lives. A creation of the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, the movie aims to be a tool for teachers around the state to reduce the dropout rate. About 60 percent of Alabama inmates never graduated from high school.

Filmmaker Shelly Stewart's father killed his mother when he was 5. He was homeless for several years but persevered through school. His brother died in a California prison.

According to the AP today, the film is drawing poster-worthy reviews from state officials, including "stunning," "powerful," and "the best I've ever seen." The emotional, unscripted 34-minute documentary contains no profanity.

Planning for Oxford High expansion could begin soon


OXFORD — Planning could begin as early as next month on a $26 million project to expand and renovate Oxford High School.

The Oxford Board of Education unanimously approved its fiscal 2008 budget Monday night, and it includes spending the first $10 million from a city bond issue next year.

Eric Burrage, director of operations for the school system, said Oxford will let bids next week to begin site planning for a new freshman academy on the high school campus.

Burrage said the school system hopes to open the academy by January 2009.

See the full story here.

Rogers offers career advice to students


JACKSONVILLE — As a student in the 1970s, Mike Rogers worked part-time while studying at Jacksonville State University on his way to becoming his family's first college graduate.

One of those part-time jobs almost led to a shift in career plans. But after working in psychiatry and law, the Republican from Saks is now the three-term congressman representing Alabama's 3rd District.

Rogers offered some career advice to current students Monday morning as the first speaker in a series at JSU.

"I came from a family of the working poor, who made enough to get by but not enough to get ahead," he said. "But you don't just have to be from a privileged background to succeed."

Janet White, director of the university's Career Placement Services, said this was the first year for the speakers series, titled "My career, my success, my JSU."

See the full story here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ed talk for '08

Now for a bit of blog cross-promotion this afternoon.

The Education Writers Association (whose numbers include yours truly) is presenting a blog leading up to next fall's presidential election. EWA, a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional group, has tabbed members to track what each of the candidates for both major parties has to say about education as they campaign. It aims to keep education at the fore of the debate as we head toward next November.

Richard Whitmire, editorial writer for USA Today and EWA's president, has also asked all the major-party candidates to sit down one at a time with a panel of three reporters. But, as Whitmire writes in the Orlando Sentinel, "To date, the response from the campaigns has been a polite we'll-get-back-to-you. Apparently, to campaign strategists the idea of an unscripted chat with veteran education writers sounds risky. Better to stick with set speeches."

New Sue teaser

JSU looks to future with hopes of five-digit enrollment, possible doctoral program additions, modern buildings

Jacksonville State University students must visit Bibb Graves Hall for admissions and financial needs. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

JACKSONVILLE — Ashley Marcum grew up with a Gamecock-crazed dad.

They made the trip from their home in Bremen, Ga., and back on many a football Saturday. As the college brochures began arriving in the mail, her father, Larry, was always nearby, whispering in her ear about following his path to Jacksonville State University.

Now, as a freshman, Marcum still is attending those football games. But her beloved Gamecocks might have some new, big-time opponents soon. And now that she’s out of the house, the brochures in the mailbox have been replaced by appeals from Dad’s alma mater for a little help as the campus looks to grow and lure more classmates for his daughter.

“It’s where my father went, so I’m glad to be here, too,” Marcum said. “But it’s not exactly the same place. We see they want to move forward.”

With JSU’s 125th anniversary approaching, officials remain realistic but also optimistic that their campus is ready for a promising future. They’re chasing an enrollment that tops 10,000, a $25 million fundraising goal, modern buildings to teach in and a football program that can compete at college’s highest level.

See the full story here.

Friday, September 14, 2007


News from ACT ACT Media Relations 319.337.1028


The next ACT test will be administered on October 27, 2007. Students who wish to take the college admission and placement exam must register by September 21 – the deadline for having the registration postmarked. There is an additional late registration postmark deadline of October 5, however, an extra fee is charged for late registrations. Students can register online at , or pick up registration forms from high school counseling offices.

The cost is $30 for the traditional ACT and $44.50 for the ACT Plus Writing. Some colleges require ACT’s optional Writing Test score while many don’t, so students should find out the requirements of prospective colleges before registering for the exam. ACT scores are accepted by all major four-year colleges and universities across the United States.

ACT’s website ( ) has helpful information, sample tests and the opportunity to order inexpensive test preparation materials.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

2 local students named national merit semifinalists

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, based in Evanston, Ill., announced today that the list of 16,000 semifinalists across the country include to students from The Donoho School. They're Morgan S. Aveni and Edward Chen.

Vestavia Hills High School had the most semifinalists in the state with 20. The number of semifinalists in each state is proportional to the state's percentage of all graduating seniors nationwide.

About 90 percent of the semifinalists will be named as finalists, but only half the semifinalists will be compete for a share of $34 million in scholarships. The process begins when about 1.4 million high school students take the P-SAT qualifying test. Merit scholar are designated based on academic skills, a student essay and participation and leadership in community and school activities. Scholarship winners will be announced in April and July.

Calhoun BOE approves record budget


The Calhoun County Board of Education approved its largest budget ever Tuesday night.

It projects about a $4.5 million deficit, due in large part to construction of a new White Plains Middle School, but some board members cautioned against overspending in the future.

A long-range capital plan the county schools filed with the state last year estimated the new school to cost between $6 million and $8 million.

But estimates from architect David Christian this summer put the cost closer to $12 million.

"If the estimates had stayed there, we would not have a deficit budget," said board member Mike Almaroad.

"We've got to do a better job of holding their feet to the fire (when hearing estimates) and hope somebody has done the legwork to make sure it comes out like that. We've been led down a road I hope doesn't happen again."

To see the full story, go here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Seeking student volunteers

The Alabama Department of Education is seeking nominees for the 2008 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for student volunteers. In February, the state's top two candidates--one each from middle school and high school--will win $1,000 and an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. in May.

From there, they could become one of 10 national honorees eligible for $5,000 cash, crystal trophies for their schools and $5,000 grants for the nonprofit or charity of their choice.

Alabama's 2007 winners were Zachary Woolley, now 17, from Shelby County, who raised money for cerebral palsy, and Lindsey Jones, now 11, from Madison County, who raised money for the American Cancer Society's Relay for life.

Prudential and the National Association of Secondary School Principals have honored more than 75,000 youth volunteers since 1995.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Meet Kelley Haynes

Kelley Haynes, coordinator of the McClellan Center for Gadsden State Community College, offered some insights to how she teachers her history courses there when she welcomed the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce education committee last week.

To jolt some life to the group's 8:30 a.m. meeting, she offered a few prizes for correct answers to some trivia questions, explaining how William Howard Taft needed a specially made bathtub to hold his girth and how those who think Hillary Clinton or Nancy Reagan tried to intrude on their husbands' presidencies obviously never read about Abigail Adams.

"I try to introduce these important people in our history in a way that makes students understand they're regular, accessible people, just like them," she said.

Her enthusiasm for the McClellan center shows. Several times she advertised the CAST production of South Pacific going on this month. She's also excited about the latest opportunity for GSCC at McClellan: a grant to build a cadaver lab, so students interested in forensics won't have to travel to UAB anymore.

Riley to host education leaders in Huntsville from 18 states

The AP reports today that Gov. Bob Riley will play host to leaders from 18 states today to discuss Alabama's efforts to improve math and science education.

Riley's office said the National Governor's Association chose Alabama as the host site because the state can model recent successes with the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, which The Star wrote about last week.

The state also received a grant for $13.2 million to improve math and science teaching and put more students in Advanced Placement courses.

An announcement from Riley said he chose to hold the meeting at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center "to highlight the need for all states to focus on math, science and technology."

Friday, September 7, 2007

A new era

The Anniston Board of Education convened for the first time last night since the departure of Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton. Felton's placard was removed from the dais, and interim schools chief Joan Frazier took over his usual seat.

The calm atmosphere last night was in stark contrast to the tension that existed all summer, as Felton and some board members sparred over who should be assistant principal at the high school. Those meetings remained professional, with cordial hellos and handshakes. But everyone in attendance seemed a bit more at ease last night.

In a sign she's ready to welcome input from school staff and community members, Frazier introduced every central office administrator, principal and teacher in the audience. She also listened attentively and jotted down notes as Rose Munford, a community member and frequent audience member, asked about ways to bring nonprofit service providers into the schools--rather than sending students to them--to increase efficiency and maybe save some money.

And Tom Sudduth, local rep for the Alabama Education Association teachers union, complimented the entire staff afterward for presenting the budget--which can be a tedious process--in the most effective manner he's ever seen.

The presentation was the product of three folks in new positions: Frazier, plus Tanya Holcombe, chief school financial officer, and David Land, technology coordinator, both of whom were new hires this summer. It offered a glimpse of the potential new era for the city's embattled school system.

Anniston City Schools officials plan to rebuild reserve despite tight budget


Anniston City Schools officials plan to rebuild the system’s reserve fund to state-mandated levels this year.

But interim Superintendent Joan Frazier called the margin “very tight” Thursday night, as system officials unveiled their fiscal 2008 budget at the first of two required budget public hearings.

With one month left to operate under the current budget, Tanya Holcombe, the school system’s chief financial officer, said she expects the system will have about $1.3 million in reserve by Sept. 30.

That’s about one month’s worth of operating expenses, as required by state law.

The 2008 budget projects a surplus of about $120,000. But Holcombe said the Alabama Department of Education will reset expectations for every system’s reserve account in November, and Anniston’s probably will go up.

To make sure the schools preserve their cushion, Frazier said, she will monitor the budget closely while she serves as schools chief.

See the full story here.

State to get funds for AP programs


MONTGOMERY — East Alabama schools will have to wait for a shot at applying for money from the largest private grant the state has ever received for K-12 education.

Gov. Bob Riley announced Thursday that over the next six years the state will receive up to $13.2 million from the National Math and Science Initiative to beef up its Advanced Placement programs in math, science and English.

Of 29 states that applied for the grant, Alabama was among seven states selected to receive funding starting this year.

Riley said the funding will expand the success the state has seen through programs such as the state’s AP Initiative, and the ACCESS distance learning programs, and ultimately make Alabama students more competitive.

See the full story here.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

JSU's 2007 Outstanding Alumni

The Jacksonville State University Alumni Association announced the 2007 Outstanding Alumni awards this morning. They are:

Syble H. Brindley, Alumna of the Year. Brindley graduated in 1964 with majors in biology, health, physical education and recreation. She taught at every level of education and retired as chair of the kinesiology department at the University of Montevallo. She also helped establish the Alabama Coalition for School Health and the Health Educators Association of Alabama. Brindley and her husband Joe live in Oneonta.

Timothy C. Tyson, Alumnus of the Year. Tyson earned graduate degrees from JSU in public and business administration in 1976 and 1979, respectively. He is CEO of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International and serves on the company's board of directors. Prior to his work at Valeant he was part of the executive management team for drug companies GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Co. He was an officer in the Army. He and his wife Amy live in Newport Coast, Calif.

Sarah V. Latham, Outstanding Faculty Member. Latham became dean of JSU's College of Nursing and Health Sciences in November 2005. After earning nursing degrees and teaching at UAB, Latham came to JSU in 1982 as an assistant professor. Her specialty is in critical care. She and her husband Joel live in Cedar Bluff.

Kelly Brooks Friery, Young Alumna of the Year. Friery earned bachelor's and master's degrees from JSU with a bachelor's degree in education. She completed her doctoral degree at the University of Alabama in 2005 and is currently director of the Exercise Physiology Lab at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Friery was also captain of JSU's cross country and track teams and was inducted into the JSU Gamecock Scholar Athlete Hall of Fame. Friery and her husband Dean live in Monroe, La.

Col. Stephen K. West, Military Alumnus of the Year. West was a distinguished military graduate of JSU in 1978. During his career, West has held troop and staff positions in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, California, Germany and Turkey. In 2006, he returned to Alabama at the Air College at Maxwell Air Force Base as an instructor for the Department of International Security Studies.

Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce: Members tour JSU’s resource center

Kelley Haynes, director of the Gadsden State Community College McClellan Campus, speaks to members of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

It’s one of the cinder block buildings at McClellan that once housed either chemicals or textbooks for the Army.

Now, the warehouse next to Jacksonville State University’s center at the former fort is stocked with cotton balls, Elmer’s glue, graphing calculators—and more chemicals and books—for hands-on math and science lessons.

Members of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce education committee toured the facility at their monthly meeting Wednesday.

As the teacher resource center for Jacksonville State University’s region, the warehouse is home to more than 7,000 items for more than 400 kits that rotate among teachers from the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative.

The kits provide all the materials for math projects and science experiments.

See the full story here.

Legislators don’t plan to leave either job


MONTGOMERY — Don’t expect any announcements about leaving their jobs, or giving up their seats in the State Legislature from two legislators working at Gadsden State Community College.

At least, don’t expect those announcements anytime soon.

In recent weeks, two state legislators, Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, and Rep. Neal Morrison, D-Cullman, have respectively terminated contracts with the two-year college system, and resigned a seat in the Legislature.

Guin, who serves as the House majority leader, terminated contracts with Shelton State and most recently Bevill State community colleges. Morrison, who resigned, was already employed at Wallace State and will become interim president at Bevill State.

Their decisions come in advance of the implementation of a new policy that would force them to choose between their jobs with the two-year college system, or stay in the Legislature.

Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, and Rep. Jack Page, D-Gadsden, don’t plan to follow in their footsteps.

See the full story here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Looking for volunteers

At the Chamber of Commerce education committee this morning, Marian Haynie, who directs the career transitions program at Gadsden State, said their employability skills program is expanding to Piedmont High School this year.

It's the fifth high school in the county to receive the program, which brings business leaders into schools to teach them about searching for job openings, writing cover letters and resumes and interviewing. It started at Wellborn and had since expanded to Anniston, Ohatchee and Jacksonville. June Bentley, a Wellborn teacher whose class attended the program, lavished praise for it today.

"I tried to find students to come with me, but they were all either in school or employed," she said.

With more students to reach, Haynie needs more volunteers to go into classes. Anyone interested can call her at 549-8168.

t's a couple of weeks behind schedule, but JSU's art department has a new home

Charles Groover, head of the JSU art department, shows off one of the new rooms. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

JACKSONVILLE — It's a couple weeks behind schedule, but sculptors, photographers and designers at Jacksonville State University will soon get some elbow room.

The art department expects to open the new Gladys M. Carlisle Applied Arts building Sept. 15.

JSU's art enrollment has grown by about 60 percent over the past 19 years. Students first outgrew their home in Hammond Hall 10 years ago and moved into a house behind the visitors' bleachers at Paul Snow Stadium.

"It was intended as a temporary space," said Charles Groover, head of the art department. "It served the purpose, but it really was inadequate for our needs."

Groover first sat down with architects five years ago to design the new art annex. Delays in shipping steel and roof work pushed back completion slightly.

The art department found space for classes during the first couple of weeks until the new annex opens. Signs in the Hammond lobby sort through the temporary confusion.

Art history, printmaking, painting and graphic design will stay in Hammond, while photography, drawing, graphic design and ceramics will make a new home in the Carlisle annex.

Jacksonville schools in line for renovations


JACKSONVILLE — Expect renovations and additions to the high school and elementary school in the next five years, as well as more technology funding.

Board members Tuesday signed off on a five-year capital plan which includes seven projects prioritized according to need.

The first project, which will be funded in the 2008 fiscal year, involves $1.3 million in additions and renovations to Jacksonville High School.

Some $500,000 in additions at Kitty Stone Elementary school is the next project on the list, which will be funded in 2009.

The next two priorities on the list include committing $200,000 in information technology to city schools and another $300,000 in renovations at Kitty Stone.

Despite enrollment dip, Oxford funding rises


OXFORD — Schools in the county's fastest-growing city will receive state money for slightly fewer students next fiscal year.

But the Oxford Board of Education still plans for a surplus and expects to build its reserve account to state-mandated levels.

The board met Monday morning for the first of two public budget hearings.

The Alabama Department of Education allots money for every school system based on rigid formulas and the previous year's enrollment.

When Oxford bought DeArmanville Elementary School from the Calhoun County system in February 2005, it allowed some students who lived outside the new zone to stay in the school.

Superintendent Jeff Goodwin said the transition of the school from a K-6 to a K-4 school was complete last school year, so Oxford lost a few students to White Plains in the county system.

"If they decided to stay, we kept them as long as we could," he said.

For the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, Oxford will receive money for 3,926 students, down from 4,014.

Projections show enrollment to increase to about 3,969 this year.

Oxford plans for about $22.2 million from the state. Despite the enrollment dip, that's an increase from last year because the Legislature provided a 7-percent raise for teachers.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

JSU students increasingly choosing to live off-campus

Jacksonville State student Ashley Brown stands in front of her home that she and her roommates own in Jacksonville. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

As JSU students began the new school year only a fraction moved into dorms, the stereotypical back-to-college scenario.

JSU has about 9,000 students and 1,600 on-campus beds, roughly 96 percent of which were occupied last year, according to Rochelle Smith, assistant director of JSU's housing office.

So a far greater number of the students move at the start of each year into apartments and houses in Jacksonville, becoming the nine-month neighbors of Jacksonville's permanent residents.

The number of apartments under construction in Jacksonville has increased each year in the past several years. Just more than 30 apartments per year were built in the city in 2005 and 2006. More than 200 have been built this year, 192 of those at The Grove, an apartment complex geared toward JSU students.

Many students who live off-campus are renters, but some live in houses their parents have purchased. Area real estate agents say parents often look at the purchase of a home for a child attending JSU as an investment.

"You make more money really investing in real estate than just about anything else right now," said Amy Angel, an agent with Billy Isom Real Estate in Jacksonville. Parents often purchase a house for a child's freshman year and sell it once the student graduates, she said.

Anniston can cast widely for school chief


The Anniston Board of Education could have a broader pool of superintendent candidates than those looking to fill similar positions in other states.

Alabama is one of a dozen states that allows school chiefs to come from a field other than education.

"I liken a superintendent to the CEO of a large firm," said Richard Rice, director of the University of Alabama Superintendent's Academy. "You have to be knowledgeable in a number of areas and show leadership. Public education is not an easy task."

The UA academy began in 2002 as part of a lawsuit settlement involving two minority employees from the Talladega County and Phenix City school systems as a way to increase the diversity of superintendent candidates.

The academy brings 20 to 25 aspiring superintendents — mostly principals or central office administrators — for a series of three-day weekends each year.

Current or retired superintendents comprise most of the faculty. But Rice said he ensures experts from other areas are brought in as well.

They include financial consultants and communications specialists.

"Improving student achievement is what we're all about," he said. "We draw on the theoretical as well as the practical."