Senator-elect visits schools
By Stephanie Johns
Newly elected State Senator Burt Jones visited Morgan County schools Tuesday morning. He shared that he is no stranger to the life of an educator: his mom was a principal and his dad was a superintendent.
During the first part of his visit he heard highlights of the Morgan County Charter School System and each of its five schools: primary, elementary, middle, high and CrossRoads.
Prior to the site visits, Jones met with principals, members of the Board of Education (BOE) and others to hear about the schools.
Superintendent Dr. Ralph Bennett said he was glad to offer Jones the opportunity to see the schools firsthand.
Bennett shared student demographics with those present: 3,300 students with about 50 percent on free or reduced lunch.
He said they strive for personalization of instruction with every student. Money helps this happen.
“We will work toward that, just not as rapidly,” Bennett said. He added that they had a $27 million budget this year but that over the past five years it has gone down significantly.
He noted that they are one of 16 charter school systems in the state.
“There’s not a lot of understanding of what a charter school system is,” Bennett said. “It’s flexibility with greater accountability.”
Jones asked how he liked the transition to a charter system.
“I like the flexibility,” Bennett said. “Accountability’s not a problem.”
Bennett said their numbers for state tests show they outperform other schools in the state.
“We’re looking at a testing program even more rigorous than the state’s,” he said, adding that this would offer the system a comparison to schools nationwide.
Keith Howard, vice chairman of the BOE, said he was very proud of the school system.
“We should be the role model for others schools,” he said.
Jones agreed that the system is “impressive.”
“Teachers are involved,” he said. “And parent involvement is something most would be envious of.”
BOE member Dave Belton spoke about parent buy-in and teachers who share.
“It’s a great community,” he said. “They share school-to-school as well.”
Dr. Betsy Short, primary school principal, said they set high goals in reading, language arts, and math. She spoke about their teaching clusters and how they use the early intervention program in reading and a hands-on approach to teaching math.
Ken Kuperberg, chair of the District-wide Governance Council, said all three of his children have gotten a great education here.
“Everybody seems to be getting what they need,” he said. “The best thing we can do is alleviate funding then (teachers) can focus on teaching and not where their next ream of paper is coming from.”
Jean Triplett, elementary school principal, said one of her school’s strengths is that they set clear goals. Their three goals this year: implement Common Core, pursue STEM certification, and increase technology use.
“Our success is largely teachers and how they use what we have,” she said.
Bill Mahoney with the Elementary School Governance Council said there is no disconnect between teachers on the front line and administrators.
“It’s completely integrated top to bottom,” he said.
Lydia Norburg, middle school principal, said she is proud of her school’s reading program.
“The first hour is reading,” she said. “All of the teachers have reading certification.”
She noted that they use both small group and individual reading time. Also, 98 percent of students met or exceeded in reading last year.
Dr. Jim Malanowski, high school principal, spoke about how they encourage their students to dream.
“Our task is to get them to believe that they can do it,” he said. He added that they are 16 in the state in terms of school quality.
Another thing they do at the high school: they give their students KASH every day. That stands for Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, and Habits.
Dr. Jannie Broadnax, CrossRoads co-principal, explained that her school fills the gap for middle and high school students who have made bad choices. They follow the schools’ curriculum for grades six through 12.
She added that artists come from the Steffan Thomas Museum on Wednesdays to help with their arts program.
Madison City Councilman Michael Naples said he is “very pleased” with what he sees happening in the schools.
“The students are happy,” he said. “The parents are happy.”
Jones then visited four of the schools before having a lunch served by Chef Yallery and the MCHS Culinary Arts students. Maryann Dartnell and the MCHS Robotics Team gave a demonstration as well.
Printed in the January 10, 2013