School system shows big improvement, says Looney

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Butler County School System is making &#8220significant gains.” That's the word from Schools Superintendent Mike Looney and his team of administrators this week.

&#8220There are several areas worth highlighting in our system that show we are moving ahead…we aren't where we want to be yet, but we are certainly making progress,” Looney said.

Fay Stokes, attendance officer for the system, said the effort to raise attendance levels had paid off.

&#8220We compared the first 40 days of this school year, 2005-2006, to the first 40 days of year 2004-2005, and found in all our schools, the overall daily attendance is up,” Stokes said.

The superintendent is practicing what he is preaching to the students, administrators said.

&#8220Mr. Looney is excellent about making home visits or even stopping kids in the street during a school day,” Stokes said.

The county schools also contact parents either through an automated system or through an individual to notify them if a child is absent.

A system called &#8220early warning,” operated in conjunction with Terry Lewis, juvenile probation officer and District Judge MacDonald Russell, is also in place, Stokes said.

&#8220Parents are given advance warning of the consequences if their children aren't in school…if there are seven unexcused absences for their child, the parents go to court.”

Judge Russell then fines the individual $20 per day for days missed from school. If the parent refuses to pay the fine, &#8220they can spend the night in jail.”

While such measures may seem extreme to some, Looney said it boils down to this: &#8220If the kids aren't in class, we can't teach them and meet Average Yearly Progress (AYP) on a regular basis. We are putting a structure in place to hold the parents and kids accountable and the administration accountable.”

Administrative Assistant Rita Wright, who is curriculum administrator for the county, said every school in the system had shown improvement in the number of students who have passed all sections of the Alabama High School Graduate Exam (AHSGE).

Students are given multiple opportunities to take the exam, which is a requirement for high school graduation in the state.

&#8220We are seeing gains every year, so we are obviously being successful in getting the students prepared well enough to pass the test,” Wright said.

Dr. Kathy Murphy, principal of Greenville High School, was pleased to point out GHS has made gains with each of the last four years straight with its graduating seniors.

According to Wright, the system is also seeing growth in specific content areas.

&#8220I now know which objectives they are performing better or worse on…in the past, we did not have this kind of data.”

Murphy said the work Wright had done in formulating the data &#8220was really important.”

&#8220It's critical to us. We can make better curriculum decisions through these breakdowns.”

Based on the data thus far received, Looney said, &#8220It looks like we have made significant gains at the high school level in our schools. We aren't there yet – but we are closing the gap.”

The system has also taken steps to give 36 Butler County seniors who have not passed all sections of the AHSGE one last chance to earn a real diploma come May 26.

&#8220We are currently bussing these kids to the education center in Greenville and letting them complete coursework that will allow to get their GED,” Wright said.

LBWCC is administering the test for the Graduate Equivalency Diploma. Students who pass will be able to get an Alabama Alternative Diploma.

&#8220This will also certainly help positively impact the high schools' graduation rates,” Looney said.

The superintendent was also proud to point out W. O. Parmer Elementary School was chosen to be spotlighted in a national publication.

&#8220Alabama: How Reading First Helps Make The Grade” spotlights four elementary schools in Alabama who have proved particularly successful in implementing the Reading First Initiative.

&#8220This is going to be used by the U.S. Department of Education across the country to share the successes Alabama has had with the program,” Looney said.

WOP Principal Carole Teague said the school had been particularly commended for the way &#8220we celebrate our children's success and some of the specific things we do to celebrate that success.”

&#8220We couldn't do it without our great reading coaches, Wanda Norris and Doris Peagler, who have worked very hard, along with all our teachers, to make this happen,” Teague said.

Murphy said plans are in the works for a reading specialist to be added to the high school &#8220to help our students who may be struggling with their reading skills.”