Irish delegation impressed by efforts of school system

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 28, 2006

The lilt of Irish accents was heard in schools all over the Camellia City Thursday, as a delegation of educators from the Emerald Isle visited with teachers and students for an educational and cultural exchange.

A beautiful day weather-wise, Thursday also proved to be a &uot;marvelous day&uot; for the Butler County School System, according to Mike Looney, schools superintendent.

&uot;The delegation got to see some of the best practices our system offers – and they were very complimentary of their observations,&uot; Looney said.

The group, part of the Education for Citizenship Program of the Irish Institute at Boston College,

visited the U.S. Jan. 17-27 to compare and contrast the U.S. and Irish educational systems, as well as to study civic and civil rights issues.

After several days in Boston, the delegation flew to Alabama to spend some time in schools and community centers in Montgomery, Birmingham and Greenville. They were able to tour facilities, see classes in progress and talk with teachers and faculty members.

Looney believes the local system made a very favorable impression on the foreign visitors, who took &uot;tons of notes.&uot;

&uot;They were impressed with our county education and community center (on School Highlands Road), where we serve everyone from children as young as a few months old, to senior citizens in their 70s and 80s who are working on their GEDs.&uot;

Two areas particularly stood out for the visitors, Looney said.

&uot;They were very interested in our collaborative education program, where we mainstream our special education students into some of the regular curriculum. They also were impressed with the way we are ramping up our curriculum at the high school.&uot;

The delegation called the dual enrollment program offered by GHS, one that allows students to earn high school and college credits at the same time, &uot;ingenious.&uot;

Looney said the Irish and Alabama educators found much common ground.

&uot;We learned we are facing many of the same educational obstacles and issues they are facing in Ireland. We were able to share strategies on what works and doesn’t work.&uot;

All in all, the superintendent said the experience was &uot;reaffirming.&uot;

&uot;In education, we have to depend a great deal on research to tell us if we are headed in the right direction. It seems their research is telling them the same things as our research – for example, the need to return to a phonics-based reading curriculum,&uot; Looney said.

He also spoke of the &uot;wonderful&uot; sense of humor the Irish visitors displayed, and their congenial and personable natures.

&uot;It was a very enjoyable and informative day – for me, a powerful and invigorating experience.&uot;

Looney did point out there was one area where the delegation &uot;felt sorry for us&uot; – funding.

&uot;When they saw our budget, the needs we have for building refurbishment and our debt service, they knew we are working with a big handicap. But they were also impressed with how much community support we do have for our schools.&uot;

The group also visited the YMCA during their time in Greenville and officials said the delegation was &uot;very impressed&uot; with the facility.