Monday, March 31, 2008

Programming note

I will be out of the office starting April 2 because I am getting married on Saturday. There probably will be few or no education blog updates until April 16- but remember, we try to provide information about area schools and educational organizations in one handy index. So I hope you'll take advantage of it if you need it- its on the left-hand side of the blog under the links section.

Hope everyone took note of the the story that ran in today's paper about the state tests.

These are important, ya'll. Like a permanent record, how we'll the kids do on the test sticks with them and the schools.

Principals and assistant principals said parents need to make sure their children:

• Get plenty of sleep (eight to 10 hours, preferably.)

• Eat breakfast.

• Get to school on time.

Just a friendly reminder, though I'm sure most of you knew that. I'm working on a Sunday story about the Anniston Schools and a piece about security at JSU for when I leave.

Take care. See you in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Last night's meeting

If one thing is clear from Anniston's cost-cutting meeting last night it's this: there is no one solution. I've been working on a larger story concerning economic development and how it relates to the schools; the story will also examine what the picture looks like as we approach elections this summer. A letter in today's speakout, by Rose Munford- a concerned parent whose daughter recently graduated Anniston High School- surprised me...

Re "Report details 9 standards violations" (News story, March 15):

This story is very disturbing. What role did the five elected Anniston City School Board members play in the forming of the policies, procedures and overall management of the Anniston City Schools?

Former Superintendent Sammy Felton's management style existed through the majority voting approval of its elected board members. It is unfair for the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges report to document a majority of the findings against the former chief administrator and not hold the Anniston City School Board members equally responsible for the failures in their findings.

The superintendent did not hire himself to his position, nor did he make any decisions, recommendations, policies, procedures or rulings without the approval of the board. Who does the superintendent work for? Is it not for the Anniston Board of Education?

If six of the nine violations of the SACS standards shall be documented against the "chief administrator of the system," it should also reflect that the board be responsible for six of the violations, as well.

What a loss it would be to lose the only public high school in the "Model City." Maybe it is time to start considering merging the Anniston City School System into the Calhoun County School System so that money and our children can be saved!

Rose Munford

I wonder how the other parents feel....

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lineville assistant principal killed while hunting

THE STAR- An assistant principal at the Lineville elementary and high schools, who also was a former Ashland City Council member, died in a hunting accident over the weekend, the Clay County coroner said Monday.

Charles Gerald "Gerry" Elliott Jr., 39, was turkey hunting early Saturday when he tried to climb a barbed-wire fence and slipped, Coroner Dale Rush said.

Rush said it looked like a wire came loose and Elliott's shotgun discharged, hitting him in the chest. Rush said officials may never know exactly how it happened.

The details were still under investigation, according to the Clay County Sheriff's Department.

All Clay County schools will dismiss at noon today so students and faculty can attend the funeral, Superintendent Ben Griffin said.

Read the rest of the story here.

Pair of local teachers among finalists for award

THE STAR- Two local teachers are on a short list of finalists for Alabama's Teacher of the Year award, the Alabama Department of Education reported Monday.

Amber Trantham, a third-grade teacher at Alexandria Elementary School and Deedee Adams, a math teacher at Oxford High School, made the department's "sweet 16" list of educators from around the state.

Get reactions from the teachers here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Stories I'm working on

A feature obituary of Lineville High School/Elementary School Assisstant Principal who died in a hunting accident over the weekend.

Also, two local teachers are among a "Sweet 16" list for Alabama Teacher of The Year.

Also, check out this cool link my editor Bob Davis sent me. It shows how Alabama's schools stack up to our neighbors and the nation. I've added the link to our helpful links section in this blog (its on the left-hand side, toward the bottom.)

Education stories

The beat goes on, as they say. Here are a few stories I published last week.

Local school boards working out boundary dispute

THE STAR-Jacksonville City Schools officials say 14-year-old Cody Chapman belongs at White Plains High; the Calhoun County Board of Education, which runs White Plains, says he belongs at Jacksonville High.

Each school system has a different map showing who is responsible for educating the children who live on Scotty Lane.

For now, Cody will have to live with the uncertainty while finishing out the school year at Jacksonville. Jacksonville Superintendent Eric Mackey, who agreed to enroll him in the Jacksonville system for the time being, and County Superintendent Judy Stiefel say they are working on a solution.

Both say it's an uncommon case.

"We've got two months of school left," Stiefel said. "We don't need to be redistricting kids in the last two months of school."

Cody's father, Robert, moved to Scotty Lane on March 1. He said neither White Plains High nor Jacksonville High would agree to enroll Cody, causing him to miss a week of school.

Read more about that here.

No movement in superintendent search

THE STAR-In the seven months after the Anniston Board of Education fired Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton, the board has not begun looking for his permanent replacement.

Interim Superintendent Joan Frazier's contract will be up at the end of June; board elections are in August.

As of Friday there were no clear answers about the board's plan for a search and no explanation for the delay.

School Board President Nathaniel Davis said the board would talk about the job opening at its 6 p.m. Tuesday work session on cutting costs. He offered no reason why the board has not addressed it until now.

Learn more about this issue here.

Calhoun County BOE discusses nonprofit for art

THE STAR-Wendy Chapman, a third-grade teacher at White Plains Elementary School, uses art to help children visualize concepts in science.

Wednesday, the children broke out their Crayolas and drew landforms such as mountains and volcanoes.

"There is not a lot of tie-in for art when it's not connected to what we're studying in class," Chapman explained.

Like other elementary schools in the county, White Plains is left to its own devices when it comes to teaching children about art and music. There is zero instruction in foreign languages, Principal Joe Dyar said.

And like school systems across the country, White Plains and the rest of Calhoun County's schools face twin pressures of limited financial resources and increased need to show their students can perform on math and reading tests.

That often squeezes out such subjects as the arts and foreign languages.

But an idea borrowed from higher education could help expand local elementary schools' offerings.

The county school board used a recent work session to talk about creating a non-profit group to better fund arts, music and language education in the schools.

Hear more about this idea here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Study: 'Flutie Effect' more than a myth

AP Photo

As a big sports fan this is interesting to me. I admit that I never would have hear about Gonzaga, Xavier or Drake if it wasn't for picking them in my March Madness bracket every year. -aj

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Turns out there's some basis for the long-held belief among college admissions officials that the better their schools' teams do in high-profile sporting events, the more applications they'll see.

Until recently, evidence about the "Flutie Effect" - coined when applications to Boston College jumped about 30 percent in the two years after quarterback Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass beat Miami in 1984 - had been mostly anecdotal.

So two researchers set out to quantify it, concluding after a broad study that winning the NCAA football or men's basketball title means a bump of about 8 percent, with smaller increases the reward more modest success.

"Certainly college administrators have known about this for a while, but I think this study helps to pin down what the average effects are," said Jaren Pope, an assistant professor in applied economics at Virginia Tech who conducted the study with his brother Devin, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

The brothers compared information on freshman classes at 330 NCAA Division I schools with how the schools' teams fared from 1983 through 2002.

Full story

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

stories I'm working on

Tomorrow morning I'll visit McClellan and see an event coordinated by the Calhoun County Extension Office in honor of Earth Day.

Today, I'm working on a story about arts education in local elementary schools. I visited White Plains Elementary School and talked with some of the other principals at other county schools- all of which have been extremely positive, professional and helpful.

Look for that tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two stories dealing with the Felton fallout

Felton sues Anniston Board of Education

THE STAR-Former Anniston schools superintendent Sammy Lee Felton is suing the city's school board for firing him, The Star learned Monday.

According to court documents filed Thursday, Felton alleges he has not been paid one years' salary and benefits to which he says his contract entitles him as severance pay. Felton asks the court to make the school board pay him $250,000, plus additional money for interest, cost and attorneys fees.

The lawsuit says the Anniston City Board of Education gave Felton no reason for putting him on administrative leave last year. Felton's firing came after he and the board could not resolve a dispute over whether to rehire an assistant principal at Anniston High School.

You can read the rest of that story and see a copy of Felton's contract here.

Here's one looking at Felton's recent history with the school board.

Anniston BOE extended Felton's contract after teachers' complaints

THE STAR-In 2005, the Anniston school board unanimously voted to extend Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton's contract.

In 2007, the board fired him.

Last week, interim Superintendent Joan Frazier released a report showing multiple violations of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) standards at Anniston High School. The report says many of the violations were the result of Felton's management style, including a habit of not seeking input from school-level administrators, teachers, parents and the community.

SACS was not the first group to raise such concerns about the superintendent.

Read more of the story and read the SACS report here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Report details 9 standards violations

THE STAR- A report compiled by an independent school-accrediting team details a number of problems at Anniston High School, and says many stemmed from the management style of former Superintendent Sammy Lee Felton.

Interim Superintendent Joan Frazier released the report Friday.

The report, compiled by a review team for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, lists nine violations of SACS standards for high schools.

Read more of that story and read the report here.

And dont' forget about....

Event raised money for Relay for Life

THE STAR-Philip Jenkins, a math teacher at Oxford Middle School, can recite some of it to the Brady Bunch Theme. Hannah Galloway, an eighth-grade math student, can recite it to 60 places, without theme music.

Pi, the mathematical symbol defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, begins with "3.14" and trails off into infinity.

But pie, the cream-filled kind, provided a short-term thrill Friday. It was, by no coincidence, March 14, or the 14th day of the third month of the year (think 3.14).

The school divided students into five teams. Each raised money for Relay for Life, an annual event to help fund cancer research, by voting for which teacher they would most like to see hit in the face with a pie.

Read more about that here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Status report

Thanks to all the school employees who helped me with my stories this week; I came down with an illness Wednesday and on Thursday found myself way behind on everything. Your prompt responses and professionalism was appreciated.

I have a story coming out tomorrow about Anniston High School which should interest more than a few people.

Went to Oxford Middle School for their homage to Pi and Pie. It was a lot of fun.

I'll post stories and their links soon...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Saks High School

Had a job shadower follow me today as I interviewed Lisa Amerson, the technology director for Calhoun County Schools. She recently received an award for her work. Expect that story to run later in the week.

The computer lab reeked of mildew from the recent storm damage- but the computers were ok, she said.

I'm also working on a story examining why Anniston has higher legal fees than other local school systems, according to the Alabama School Journal.

Jacksonville and Anniston discuss delayed report cards

As some of you in education circles are aware, the state department allowed the area Superintendents to sign off on every piece of data contained in the massive annual data compilation known as school report cards. Some schools, including Annistion and Jacksonville, were held up- and J-Ville has gotten the state to take their's down because of faulty data. (It was still removed this morning.)

But we have the data and published some of it in today's paper- here's the story.

Anniston, Jacksonville discuss report cards

THE STAR- School report card information for 2006-07 is out for two Calhoun County systems that had delayed release of the cards over one issue: highly qualified teachers.

Both systems disputed the information the state showed them before it printed the cards. The state allowed superintendents in each system to sign off on the cards before they were made public.

Anniston City Schools saw a dramatic gain in the number of highly qualified teachers at its high school and a substantial gain at the middle school.

Jacksonville City Schools Superintendent Eric Mackey says the state Education Department reported inaccurate information on highly qualified teachers at Jacksonville High. In response, the department removed Jacksonville's report card from its Web site.

Both systems initially would not sign off on release of the report cards because they disputed the state's count of the number of "highly qualified" teachers in their schools.

Read more here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Story in today's paper

Schools look at ways to keep teachers in class

THE STAR-Two local school boards are exploring plans to keep teachers in the classroom.

A recent study, which showed a link between declining student achievement and teacher absences, says that one of the plans on the table — paying teachers who do not use personal leave or sick days — can help.

The August 2007 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that 10 days of teacher absences reduces student achievement in math.

The study cites other studies that show the rate of teacher absences drops when schools offer bonuses for not using leave.

Read more here.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Here's a couple of stories that ran over the weekend.

Weaver Elementary School serves breakfast to moms, dads

THE STAR- On Thursday, the school served muffins to the moms. On Friday, it was doughnuts for the dads.

Every parent who visited their kids for an hour at Weaver Elementary School this week said it was time well-spent.

The school celebrated the National Education Association's "Read Across America" event with an open-house for moms and dads. After breakfast the parents visited their children's classrooms.

Read more here.

There's a cool video that went with this next story, with good job of editing by Brandon Wynn, in our online department. It's on the Web page linked below..

'Math in Motion' visits Saks Elementary

THE STAR- Writing about music, as some clever wag once put it, is like dancing about architecture.

But dancing about math may have its uses.

The Children's Dance Foundation of Birmingham performed "Math in Motion" for Saks Elementary School students Friday. The show illustrates such concepts as rhythm and symmetry through dance set to music.

Read the rest of the story and check out the video here.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Here's one that'll inspire parents...

I should've gone to Brazilian law school....

Brazilian boy, 8, passes law school entrance exam

AP- Brazil's lawyers have been shocked to find that a boy aged eight has managed to pass the entrance exam to law school.

The Bar Association said the achievement of Joao Victor Portellinha should be taken as a warning about the low standards of some of Brazil's law schools.

"If this is confirmed, the Education Ministry should immediately intervene ... to investigate the circumstances of this case," said the association's president in Goias state, Miguel Angelo Cancado.

Joao Victor is still in fifth grade, two levels ahead of normal for his age, but his mother says he is not a cloistered genius. "He is a regular boy," she told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper. "He is very dedicated, likes to read and study, but he has fun and makes friends."

The Universidade Paulista, a multi-campus private university, said yesterday that the boy would not be enrolling any time soon: he still has to graduate from high school.

Still, the school said the "student's performance, considering his age and level of education, was good, especially in the essay test, which revealed his good capacity to express himself and handle the language."

"My dream is to be a federal judge," the boy said, according to Globo TV's Web site. "So I decided to take the test to see how I would do ... it was easy. I studied a week before the test."

Brazil requires every student to take an entrance exam before being admitted to college. Each university administers its own test, and the exams from private institutions are usually considered to be easier than those of public universities, which are free and attract many more candidates.

University officials said they could not release figures on the number of people who pass and fail the law school entrance exam.

As a former colony, Brazilian civil law is largely based on that of Portugal with statutes derived from the Romano-Germanic legal tradition, but has been amended to include some precedent-based common law.

Stories in today's paper

Jax State business school top ranked for women

THE STAR- The first thing visitors to Jacksonville State University's business school see is a mosaic profile of a naked man.

He's part of a large mural in the lobby. He drinks from the fountain of knowledge.

Women were once scarce in business schools and the business world.

It's different now, professors at the business school say.

Today many of JSU's top business professors are women, like many of the school's students.

According to a recent report by the Princeton Review, JSU is one of the top 10 business schools in the country providing the "greatest opportunity for women."

Read more here.

Area students take graduation exam

THE STAR- After 12 years in school, it all comes down to one test.

High school students spent the last week taking the Alabama High School Graduation Exam. It's a test that every student must pass before they can receive a high school diploma.

The test is 100 percent multiple choice and covers five subjects — reading, language, mathematics, science and social studies.

It's written at an 11th grade level and given to sophomores, juniors and seniors.

With the stakes so high, the test wears on the nerves of some.

Read more here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Weaver Elementary and other things

I missed the good sausage biscuit breakfast at Oxford High School this morning. Being new to the beat, I couldn't find my way into the cafeteria. By the time I got there the students were being locked down for Graduation Exam testing.

Shot on over to Weaver Elementary and chatted with the parents there about a special "Muffins for Moms" breakfast. I had forgotten, being a grownup with no children, how good it feels when your parents come and see you at school. The parking lot was jam-packed, by the way. I think I parked near a ditch somewhere.

They're doing the "Donuts for Dads" thing tomorrow---mmmmm, donuts.

I am working on a couple of stories for the weekend and Monday- Teacher Absenteeism- how big a problem is it in Calhoun County and how does it affect student preformance? A recent study suggests a definite negative impact- and points out some of the remedies that are being considered by our local school boards.

Tommorrow, I'm going to hang out at Saks Elementary to watch and film a dance troupe. Should be neat.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

State of the work week

Finished my work on a story about opportunities for women in the business college at Jacksonville State University. I appreciated all of the wonderful sources that took time out of their day to help me put it together. The art (the photo, I mean) looks good, too.

I have been told it will run Friday, major disasters notwithstanding.

Did some preliminary work for a Sunday story I hope will run sometime in the next couple of months. It explores the relationship between Anniston City Council and the Anniston City School system.

Tomorrow morning, I'm planning trips to Oxford High School and Weaver Elementary School. The High Schools are taking graduation exams and Weaver will have an event for the parents of the students there.

Another day another field trip.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

OMA meeting and JSU field trip

Every day is a field trip on my job- my first big meeting was with Calhoun County School's Superintendent Judy Stiefel, Board Chairman Tom Young, and their attorney on the open meetings act. I felt some extra clarity was needed because the board has held closed-door meetings, known as executive sessions, for the last two meetings, I think.

There is nothing improper about what the board's been doing, as best I can tell. I just wanted more clarity on the reasons behind these meetings so I will be able to better explain them to my readers. We also talked about a story I'm working on regarding teacher absences and chatted about the roof at Saks High School. (NO, they still don't know what it costs yet. I'll keep you posted.)

Next, I went to JSU's business college where I talked with women students and faculty about the role they play there. The story should run Thursday.

Please feel free to comment or e-mail me at for any news tips or information you may have.

Celebrating Seuss: Children's author's birthday honored by local students

THE STAR-They would read them on a train. They would read them in the rain.

They do like books, Sam I Am. They dig books like "Green Eggs and Ham."

Elementary school students at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School flexed their mental muscles Monday as part of "Read Across America," a national event promoted by the National Education Association. In addition to celebrating their love of reading, children also gave props to the original rhyme meister, Dr. Seuss.

Read more here.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A closer look at AMSTI

Local schools learn new tricks in Alabama Math and Science Technology Initiative

The Star- Brigett Vernon's second grade class at Jacksonville's Kitty Stone Elementary learned about balance and weight Friday; but they didn't get it from a textbook.

The school, which is part of the statewide Alabama Math and Science Technology Initiative (AMSTI), learned about balance by sitting on their hands and knees. They played with colored blocks and a tiny "see-saw" balanced on a fulcrum.

"They get to make discoveries on their own," Vernon said.

Seven more county schools will soon be making discoveries of their own. This week, AMSTI announced a list of additional K-12 schools that will receive the specialized science and math training.

Read more here.

Oxford BOE met

I just got back from the Oxford school board meeting and found out some exciting news about a building project there.

Of course, you can only find the details on The Star's Web site. So be sure to check the "since this morning" section for a quick update.

On a personal note, there's not enough coffee in the world to make me fully coherent for a 7 a.m. meeting. Makes me glad I didn't chose a career as a farmer...