Friday, November 30, 2007

Delay in notification to judge could postpone work on White Plains Middle School

Construction on the new White Plains Middle School may be delayed because a provision of a 1970 desegregation order says a federal judge must approve any new school construction. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

A federal judge wants to hear from Calhoun County Schools officials why a new middle school in White Plains was a quarter of the way finished before he knew construction had begun.

Should the judge decide to delay further work, the school’s $12 million price tag could climb even higher.

The county system is under a federal desegregation order issued in 1970 as part of a lawsuit that encompassed dozens of systems in the state and seeks to end vestiges of dual systems divided along racial lines.

One provision of the order requires approval from a federal judge for any new school construction.

In court filings, Judge C. Lynwood Smith Jr., who handles most matters in North Alabama related to the order, wrote to the county that he had received proper notification for four construction projects since 2004 at White Plains, Ohatchee, Pleasant Valley and Alexandria.

But for the White Plains Middle School project, he didn’t receive a letter about construction until Nov. 2. By then, he had already read newspaper accounts of plans and visited the school’s Web site to see photos of the groundbreaking.

School system documents show construction began June 21. The schools filed their petition for Smith’s approval Sept. 17.

Smith wrote that the delay in notification “made this court all the more suspicious about the motives of the school system.”

He set a hearing for 10:15 a.m. Dec. 6 in Anniston to find out why the delay occurred.

Following that, he has asked to tour the construction as well as schools in Saks, which have the county’s highest concentration of black students, and White Plains, which have the second-lowest.

Superintendent Judy Stiefel did not wish to talk extensively about the judge’s inquiry before next week’s hearing.

“We’re committed to satisfying the court’s concerns,” she said.

See the full story here.

Read the 244 pages filed so far in federal court here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oxford Middle among first to use ARI-Project for Adolescent Literacy to improve students’ reading

Oxford Middle School algebra teacher Heather Smith works with eighth-grade student Auburn Ramey. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

OXFORD — A reminder to WIN greets students in almost every class this week at Oxford Middle School.

The message — to understand the What of everything they read, find the important Information, and Narrow it to the shortest summary possible — is part of a statewide reading program the school was among the first to adopt.

A new report from the Alabama Department of Education shows it’s working, and state officials hope the results are convincing enough to the Legislature come budget time.

Since 1998, the Alabama Reading Initiative has focused intensive training on students in grades K-3. The program began at 16 schools, and the Legislature provided money to put it in every school in the state last year.

The investment appeared to pay off, as Alabama fourth-graders showed the largest gains in the nation on reading scores this year.

But eighth-grade students in the state held steady. The ARI-Project for Adolescent Literacy aims to change that.

ARI-PAL began in 14 pilot schools—selected from 26 applicants—last year, including Oxford Middle.

Principal Janice Williams said the school’s commitment to train teachers and use the research-based methods won the school its status as a pilot site.

“We would all agree that (reading instruction in upper grades) has been the overlooked area,” she said.

“A lot of times this is the crucial age. They’re either going to make it or break it here. We need to get them the intervention to save these students at risk of dropping out.”

See the full story here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Local schools make use of innovative Smart Boards


The new equipment protruding from the wall in Donna Plunkett’s classroom at The Donoho School looks a little intimidating.

But Plunkett knows it offers new, engaging ways for her elementary science students to learn.

Plunkett’s room on Monday became the second at the school to be equipped with a Smart Board, a high-tech combination white board, projector and computer monitor.

“The children today aren’t afraid of any of this new technology,” Plunkett said.

“I knew it would mean turning my room upside down for a day, but it’ll be exciting once I get going with it and see all the fun things we can do.”

The board allows teachers to write with a stylus or with their finger. The notes can download to a computer to be printed or e-mailed later.

Teachers also can navigate Web pages using the touch screen, or play DVDs for their classes.

Plunkett said she’ll be able to project dissection projects so each student can see the proper method.

“Our math and science teachers have made a compelling case for how they can use them,” said Ben Cunningham, technology director at Donoho.

“Really, you’re only limited by your imagination.”

See the full story here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Researchers say kids will eat healthy school lunches

Hope everyone had time to sleep off the tryptophan this weekend. To wrap-up our weekend of feasting, here's an item from the AP today on school lunches:


MINNEAPOLIS — Maybe getting schoolchildren to eat healthy foods isn’t a hopeless struggle.

Bucking some common notions, a University of Minnesota study has found that school lunch sales don’t decline when healthier meals are served, and that more nutritious lunches don’t necessarily cost schools more to produce.

“The conventional wisdom that you can’t serve healthier meals because kids won’t eat them is false,” said Benjamin Senauer, one of three economists who wrote the study.

Previous studies have concluded that students prefer fatty foods and that healthier meals cost more to make, the authors noted.

The study, which appears in the December issue of the Review of Agricultural Economics, analyzed five years of data for 330 Minnesota public school districts. It looked at compliance with federal standards for calories, nutrients and fats.

When the researchers crunched all the numbers they found that schools serving the healthiest lunches did not see a falloff in demand.

While serving better meals does entail higher labor costs, the study found, that’s offset by lower costs for more nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables compared with processed foods. However, many districts need to upgrade their kitchens and train their staff to prepare these foods, the researchers said.

See the full story here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Takin' a turkey break

Schools began their five-day recess for the Thanksgiving holiday today, and likewise the Classroom Blog will take a brief respite.

In the meantime, check out The Star this holiday weekend for stories about a volunteer in Saks who's been carrying the chains on the sidelines at Wildcat football games for 40 years, and another about giving books as Christmas presents for children this season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

County BOE keeps officers

At its regular monthly meeting last Thursday--covered ably by staff writer Dan Whisenhunt in my stead--the Calhoun County Board of Education voted to maintain its officers for the next year.

Tom Young will remain the board's chairman and June Evans keeps her post as vice chair. They were the top-two vote getters in the 2006 election and were elected to those positions after being sworn in last November.

Also at the meeting, the board approved its meeting schedule for the next year:









4:00 p.m.

Central Office




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Central Office




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Central Office




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Central Office

December No Meeting Scheduled

Monday, November 19, 2007

State will lure teachers with scholarships

Sallie Owen, of the A+ Education Foundation, passed this note along recently:

The state will begin offering $2.4 million in scholarships for teacher education students. Priority will be given to applicants who want to teach math, special education, science and English language arts. Applicants must be Alabama residents enrolled at in-state institutions, and recipients will be required to teach in Alabama. Scholarships will be available for traditional four-year undergraduate students as well as those pursuing a three-year alternative teaching license. The first awards will be announced by May.

Information on how to apply is not immediately available. Keep an eye here for updates when we know more.

Ashland, Lineville school merger on the table: Consolidation would end 84-year-old rivalry

Photo Illustration: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

ASHLAND — It might seem that the annual Clay Bowl is the only time Ashland and Lineville residents care to be within shouting distance of each other.

Maybe that’s because they’re on opposite sides of a football field. Shouting.

Lifelong residents here will tell you that the rivalry between Clay County and Lineville high schools has historically burned as fiercely as any in the nation.

But Superintendent Ben Griffin says he has encountered mostly open minds as he pursues what some think could be a once-a-generation opportunity to offer more classes, save money and merge the two schools.

This year, the Legislature approved a $1.07 billion bond issue for school construction statewide. Griffin said the Alabama Department of Education has advised superintendents that interest earned from the sale of those bonds could be available for grants specifically tied to school consolidation.

That’s an idea that fails to gain traction in many communities as simmering emotions about links to rural, local schools boil to the surface.

It’s even happened before in Clay County as residents — including Griffin — resisted closing two high schools in 2003.

Some in the county say while they might not have personal objections to combining the high schools, they doubt the community as a whole would ever go for it.

But Griffin said the circumstances are different — and more favorable — now.

See the full story here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Lineville alumna wins state teaching honor

Proud parents John and Linda Garrett wrote in this week to let us know their daughter, Bonnie Garrett, has been named one of the Milken Family Foundation's top teachers in the country.

Garrett, 29, teaches biology and aerospace science at Ed White Middle School in Huntsville. She was Alabama's only recipient from Milken this year. The honor comes with a $25,000 check.

Garrett graduated from Lineville High School in 1996 and went on to earn a degree from Alabama A&M University. Her parents still live in Lineville.

"Ms. Garrett has exhibited the ability to motivate the difficult to teach students," Principal Annie Savage told The Huntsville Times. "Because of her calm demeanor and caring attitude, all of her students work up to their potential."

Anniston schools still short of funding


The Anniston City Schools system remains shy of its state-mandated general fund balance, but it did not lose ground from last year.

State law requires school systems to maintain one month’s operating expenses in their general accounts.

At the school board’s meeting Thursday night, Chief Financial Officer Tanya Holcombe said Anniston ended fiscal 2007 with about $1.09 million in reserve.

That’s about 75 percent of the $1.455 million needed to meet the mandate, which is about where Anniston stood at the end of fiscal 2006.

Interim Superintendent Joan Frazier also noted that a school construction bond will be paid off this year.

The City of Anniston has given the school system money for those payments. The schools could net an extra $600,000 next year if the city maintains that appropriation.

Frazier said officials at the Alabama Department of Education likely will meet in January with systems that don’t have the required reserves. She said she is already speaking with officials there and will be ready to present a plan, just as the schools did last year.

See the full story here.

County BOE plans to seek system-wide accreditation


The Calhoun County school system will seek district-wide accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, replacing individual school accreditations, the Calhoun County Board of Education agreed Thursday evening.

Accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools measures such factors as the quality of a school’s teachers, its core curriculum, efficiency and the school’s environment. SACS accreditation is mandated by the State Department of Education.

The district accreditation protocol is a relatively new process, according to information from SACS’ Council on Accreditation and School Improvement.

The SACS information says the new protocol was developed “in response to requests from superintendents and other district leaders throughout the nation who wanted to better coordinate accreditation with ongoing system improvement initiatives and state mandates.”

School systems may voluntarily seek the district-wide accreditation.

In the past, the Calhoun County system’s 15 schools were accredited on a school-by-school basis, Superintendent Judy Stiefel said Thursday night.

See the full story here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Donoho calls off Friday classes

Administrators at The Donoho School have decided to call off all Friday classes to allow students and faculty to attend memorial services for 17-year-old student Benjamin Stanford.

"We just felt like that's our way to the family of saying we love them and we support them," said Donoho president Jan Hurd.

Hurd said that in a faculty meeting Wednesday, about three-quarters of the school's faculty said they had planned on attending the services Friday. She and other administrators made the decision Wednesday afternoon.

Stanford's body was found in a wooded area in Villa Rica, Ga., Tuesday after a search by more than 100 volunteers.

The family will receive friends today from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Speed Channel Dome at the Talladega Superspeedway near Lincoln.

The memorial service will be Friday at 11 a.m. at the Speed Channel Dome.

The Donoho School will hold a candlelight memorial service at 5 p.m. today in the grassy circle on campus.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Meet Patty Hobbs

Patty Hobbs left Northeast Alabama for the big city after college, but her alma mater persuaded her to come back home.

Hobbs graduated from Jacksonville State University and briefly taught at Weaver High School. But her interest in politics lured her to Washington, D.C., where she worked for 27 years, first on Capitol Hill for then-Rep. Dick Cheney. She moved to the Reagan White House and then on to the U.S. Department of Education, where she spent 21 years.

"Everything good that came out of the Department of Education, she had a hand in," joked Eric Mackey, Jacksonville superintendent and chair of the Chamber of Commerce education committee, at a recent meeting.

But when JSU's Child Development Center was in need of a new director, they turned to Hobbs.

"It's really not something I had thought about," she said of working with younger children. "But JSU has done a wonderful job with this place."

Homewood poet talks creativity to White Plains students


WHITE PLAINS — Charles Ghigna knows there’s still time for some converts.

Growing up, like most boys especially, he despised poetry and preferred sports.

Tuesday, the author of 38 books and more than 5,000 poems from Homewood tried to spark some creative interest in students at White Plains Elementary.

“I hated English,” he told the students, drawing out the subject he disdained in a nasally voice, inducing an echo of giggles.

“I thought poetry was for sissies and grandmothers. Gerunds and participles were green and gooey, waiting there to get me.”

Then came his 10th-grade English teacher, a Mr. Summers, a lover of poetry.

Ghigna bailed on his original topic for his first poetry writing assignment — death.

“I thought you had to write about these big emotions,” he said. “But I had never died before.”

So he chose to harness his affections for a new girl in class and tackle life’s other grand inspiration, love.

The writing — aside from a sprinkling of vocabulary words from that week’s lesson — showed the emotional novice typical of a teenage boy. But when the class applauded that day, and the girl offered a kiss on the cheek after school, it led to a career in verse.

See the full story here.

Learn more about Ghigna here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Talladega College is awarded grant for black health-care study


Talladega College has received a $83,000 grant to gather information on black health-care problems.

Dr. Angela Martin of Anniston will assist in the three-year study to identify challenges black Talladega residents face with access to health care and health-care information.

Talladega College will hold monthly open forum meetings with an estimated 350-person group from Rocky Mount Baptist Church of Talladega.

During the meetings, participants will discuss problems with health care they see in their lives and communities.

Martin said the venue will be a good opportunity to listen and will allow her and others to evaluate the community’s needs.

Leonard Cole, director of the office of sponsored programs at the college, said the program is one of at least five pilot studies across the country working on what’s causing health-care disparities among the races.

“We are trying to bridge or narrow that gap,” Cole said.

See the full story here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Jacksonville board member re-elected to state post

Sue Jones, a member of the Jacksonville Board of Education, has been re-elected as leader of the Alabama Association of School Boards sixth district.

She's one of nine members of AASB's Board of Directors, which governs the association. Jones sits on the bylaws and Teacher of the Year selection committees and has presented at AASB's summer conference.

Jones was first elected to the Jacksonville school board in 2000 and won re-election in 2004. She retired as a teacher in Jacksonville after 27 years in the classroom. She now also works as a health education consultant.

"Sue has proven her deep commitment to serving Alabama's schoolchildren, her community and District 6," said Sally Howell, executive director of AASB. "She has been a true asset to the association's leadership team, and I look forward to continuing to work with her."

District 6 includes the city school boards of Anniston, Attalla, Fort Payne, Gadsden, Jacksonville, Oxford, Pell City, Piedmont, Sylacauga and Talladega and the county boards in Calhoun, Cherokee, Cleburne, DeKalb, Etowah, St. Clair and Talladega.

Low revenue could signal tuition hikes: Presidents to meet next week

By Markeshia Ricks
Star Capitol Correspondent

MONTGOMERY—A slowdown in revenues going into the Alabama Education Trust Fund and a continued rise in fixed costs for four-year colleges could lead to tuition hikes for students at four-year institutions around the state.

The education fund is expected to grow by 6 percent, down from its initial 8 percent projection, and four-year university presidents plan to ask for at least level funding from the state to help them absorb the increased cost for health care and utilities institutions have to pay.

Alabama Commission on Higher Education Executive Director Gregory Fitch said to meet the costs of providing a higher education, the state’s institutions might have to pass on more of the cost to students by way of higher tuition.

It’s an option that Jacksonville State University President William Meehan, however, said he’s going to try avoid.

Meehan said JSU hasn’t raised tuition in the last two years, and he would like to keep it that way.

For the 2007-08 school year, a semester’s tuition for the 12 hours most JSU students take, along with room and board, is $3,657, according to the university’s Web site.

“We’re trying to hold to that for our students because 80 percent of them are receiving some financial aid, and we try to be very conscientious about that when it comes to tuition increases,” he said. “Any decision we make about that would likely be made in April, not now.”

See the full story here.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Felton talks buyout with Russell board

From the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer today, Sammy Lee Felton, Anniston's former superintendent, interviewed with the Russell County school board to become their next schools chief.

The paper reports Felton addressed questions about his buyout in Anniston this past August. The school board here clashed with Felton over who should be assistant principal at Anniston High School, and the disagreement eventually led to the board terminating his contract. He remains on paid administrative leave until February.

Anniston BOE attorney Jim Campbell told The Star last week that the system would have to pay Felton his buyout package of one year's salary plus benefits regardless of his future employment.

Ledger-Enquirer reporter Sara Pauff writes today that Felton said he did not recommend renewing the contract of Charles Gregory it was not in the best interest of students.

Felton also cited his experience with school construction after the high school was damaged by a May 2006 fire.

Felton is one of five candidates for the top job in Russell County. The final candidate interviews with the board tonight.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Anniston schools tech coordinator thrives in role

Anniston City Schools Technical Coordinator David Land checks on computer hardware in an Anniston High School classroom. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

As Melinda Hicks erases equations off her white board, she asks her Anniston High School calculus class a question.

But with a smile she directs it at David Land.

“This would be so much easier with a smart board, wouldn’t it?” she says, with a wink, referring to the electronic gadget teachers use to write on from anywhere and project for the class to see.

Land gets the hint.

As the new technology coordinator for Anniston City Schools, he assures her help is on the way.

The school board hired Land in August. Before the vote, some board members made sure he knew the challenges that awaited him.

Now, after about three months on the job, Land is focused on bringing the school system up to date.

“We’re going to bring kids back,” he said. “Anniston is going to offer more opportunities than anyone else.”

Land brings a career of experience with computers to his first job in education. After time working in counterintelligence with the Army, he spent seven years working in computer espionage at the U.S. Department of Energy.

He took leave on disability, but before he could return, the department eliminated his job.

Land cast a wide net searching for his next job, but an opening where he grew up tugged him hardest.

“I went to Noble Street and Cobb” schools, he said. “It’s a different school system that I came back to.”

See the full story here.

State preschool program highly ranked, lacks accessibility


Alabama’s state-funded preschool program consistently ranks among the highest quality nationwide.

But it serves less than 2 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds, the least accessible in the country.

That’s where private preschool centers, such as Jacksonville State University’s Child Development Center, come in. The Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce education committee toured the facility at its meeting Wednesday.

“It’s amazing how much really young children can learn,” said Patty Hobbs, director of the center.

Rather than provide a babysitting service, several studies find the best facilities offer a curriculum that prepares children for school.

The Alabama Partnership for Children is developing the “Blueprint for Birth to Five.” The plan will set out what quality preschools will teach and what parents should look for when it’s time to enroll their children.

“What you hope to find in a good preschool is what you see here,” said Eric Mackey, who chairs the committee and whose son is enrolled in the center.

Hobbs said the Child Development Center is working to align its curriculum with the statewide standards. “We expect some will be reading before they get to kindergarten,” she said.

The center also serves as the host site for hands-on training for Jacksonville State University students in early childhood education or nursing, Hobbs said.

“We’re happy JSU has seen the benefits as a real community service they want to continue to do,” she said.

See the full story here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Biz and ed on the same page

A few leftovers from this morning's meeting of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce education committee:

- Lynne Smith from the Community Foundation of Calhoun County, was one of 13 local representatives who traveled to Washington, D.C., recently for a summit of the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, part of the national Chamber of Commerce. During the conference, she heard from business leaders whose top priorities included training students for whatever comes after high school. "We're all saying the same things," she said.

Smith said Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that if he offered investment advice, the room would empty as they rushed to call their brokers. But he said his best tip was to invest in education. The group also met with the ambassador from Finland, who said that the biggest shift in education there happened because of recession and the country had no other choice.

- Donna Jackson of Westinghouse Anniston delivered 24 boxes--one for each public school in the county--with school supplies donated by Westinghouse employees. She also said the deadline for $500 Wee Care grants--to help teachers with classroom needs--are due by 4:30 p.m. Nov. 14.

- The community foundation has 42 scholarships available to 2008 high school seniors worth anywhere from $500 to $32,000. The deadline to apply for those is Feb. 1.

- Bobby Burns, assistant superintendent of Calhoun County Schools, said he received a notice from the office of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., this week saying that Kennedy, chairman of the Senate education committee, would not offer any proposals for No Child Left Behind for the rest of the calendar year.

Alabama is among leaders for standards for school principals


Alabama is among the South’s leaders in making sure quality principals lead every public school.

The state has shown improvement since 2002 in five of six areas for designing programs to train and certify principals, according to a report from the Southern Regional Education Board.

Those strides trail only Louisiana among the nonprofit board’s 16 member states.

Kathy O’Neill, director of SREB’s learning-centered leadership program, said Alabama’s progress is impressive because the state has only worked on the issue for two years, compared to six years in Louisiana.

“Alabama has a brand new set of standards, which I personally share with other states,” she said. “They have done a wonderful job with them.”

The board is helping states coordinate efforts to shift the role of principals from their administrative duties to focusing on the teaching and learning happening in schools.

“When I was a school leader, we were charged with making sure the books were in place, the halls were clean, the buses ran on time,” O’Neill said. “We still have to do that. But the issue of student achievement wasn’t even on the radar. If we train potential leaders right, they can really make a difference.”

SREB is encouraging states to look at six areas to ensure principal quality, including:

• Recruiting future principals.

• Requiring internships with proven leaders.

• Redesigning programs that train principals.

• Offering extra help to schools with poor performance.

• Maintaining certification only for principals who show improvement.

Alabama lagged only in creating alternate paths to becoming a principal.

See the full story here.

Local high school students get life lessons on leadership

Monte Abner, guest speaker at Tuesday’s Anniston High School leadership workshop, makes a point to students during his presentation. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star

As an Anniston High School senior, Stacy Jackson tries to set an example for his peers.

He’s helped organize homecoming events with student council, and he’s debated legislation with other students around the state with the Youth in Government program.

“It’s the simple fact of taking an active role to help the school,” he said.

Tuesday, Jackson joined fellow student government and Future Business Leaders of America members from Anniston, Talladega and Saks high schools to discuss the skills and training demanded of leaders.

Anniston High hosted its first leadership workshop, titled “Developing the Leader within You.”

Darrelyne Jackson, student council adviser at Anniston High, said the school organized Tuesday’s seminar to engage students in thinking about their future.

“We hope they leave inspired to be great,” she said. “They can observe us and each other.”

See the full story here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

AHS construction updates

A few notes from my visit to Anniston High School today, covering their first ever leadership retreat (which you can read about in tomorrow's Star):

- The Anniston City Council approved giving the school system $44,250 Monday morning for repairs to the Anniston Center for the Performing Arts. The money will pay for lighting, sound and other equipment damaged by water and smoke after a May 2006 fire at the high school. It will be used by the Knox Concert Series but will be available for the high school's use as well. The school wasted no time ordering the equipment, and a crew was unloading a truck into the auditorium this morning.

- Work was also under way to install a covered ramp leading to the high school's main entrance. The work is required to bring the school into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The ramp has been poured and a coat of white paint was being applied.

- Even more work was going on in the high school gym. A new floor is being installed as part of the school system's capital plans.

- Lastly, the bookshelves at the high school library are coming back to pre-fire levels. The school received a shipment of about 4,700 books in late September, and they're all tagged, cataloged and up on the shelves. Librarian Becky Brown plans to put in another order in December to bring the collection back to about 9,000, where it stood before the fire.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Schools to offer computer science classes


Anniston schools may be home to the next generation of computer whizzes with the help of some new classes.

The Young Computer Scientist Academy will come to the city’s seven schools to increase students’ knowledge of how computers work and what they can do on them.

“You want to get them young, when their brain is still fresh,” said Andrea Simmons, president of the academy.

“We want to focus them on understanding the advantages to learning about computers.”

Simmons earned her degree in computer science from Samford University in 1988 and has worked in technology with Lawson State Community College, Bessemer City Schools, the University of Alabama-Birmingham and Miles College.

Now she’s turned her attention to a young audience.

The academy’s lessons include Internet literacy, desktop publishing, Web site design and networking technology.

See the full story here.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Writing lessons

A big thanks to Connie Whorton and Elizabeth Wise, fifth-grade teachers at Kitty Stone Elementary in Jacksonville. The two invited me to visit with their classes yesterday to speak with students about descriptive writing. Wise brought in roasted pumpkin seeds on Wednesday and assigned students to write vivid essays, using all their sense, to describe the seeds and the scene in the classroom.

On my visit, the students brainstormed all their descriptions and we wrote a paragraph together. I got the chance to show the students what I do every day in trying to craft lively stories that will grab and hold the attention of busy readers.

Judging from some examples I heard, the class could be home to some successful future scribes.

Talladega College names new president


The three-month search for Talladega College’s next president ended this week.

Billy Hawkins will take office Jan. 1 as the college’s 20th president in its 140-year history.

Hawkins replaces Oscar Prater, who announced he would retire in May.

Hawkins comes to Talladega from Tyler, Texas, where he has served as president of Texas College since 2000.

While there, the college earned its first accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, increased its fundraising by 90 percent and more than tripled its enrollment.

Jim Thornton, chairman of Talladega College’s Board of Trustees, said Hawkins’ work in Texas made him a natural fit for Talladega College, which came off SACS probation for financial instability last December.

“We thought it was important for the institution not in any way to have miscues as we go through this critical step,” Thornton said.

“He had those successes and it made him very attractive to us.”

Previously, Hawkins has worked at Mississippi Valley State University, Morrisville Technical College in New York, Ferris State University in Michigan and Saint Paul’s College in Virginia.

“Talladega College stands as a beacon for historically black higher education in this country,” Hawkins said in a prepared statement.

See the full story here.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Felton finalist for Russell County post


Anniston’s former superintendent is a finalist for the top job with Russell County schools.

Education consultant Harold Patterson recommended Sammy Lee Felton as one of five finalists for the vacant superintendent post at a Russell County Board of Education meeting this week.

Patterson told the school board he was familiar with Felton. Patterson led Anniston’s superintendent search when it hired Felton in 2002, and he recommended Felton for the schools-chief post in Midfield in June.

The Anniston school board signed Felton to a four-year contract in 2005 but voted 3-2 to buy him out in August.

Felton clashed with some board members this summer over who should be the assistant principal at Anniston High School.

He remains on paid administrative leave with Anniston through February, when he will receive a year’s salary and a benefits buyout package.

The buyout will total about $167,000 plus benefits.

“He’s got a lot of experience, and he’s been successful, except he got into a brouhaha with a board over employment,” Patterson said. “You take a stand, and sometimes it gets you.”

See the full story here.