County schools show big improvement in one year
Butler County Superintendent Mike Looney has a unique video on his laptop.
It shows a leopard chasing a gazelle in the wilds of Africa and just about to catch it when out of nowhere a faster-than-a-speeding-bullet running man arrives, picks up the gazelle, and speeds it away to safety.
Looney said the video draws laughter from everyone he shows it to. But he uses it with his teachers to make a point.
“In spite of what obstacles in front of us, if we have commitment and resolve we can really do what to many people seems impossible,” he said.
They “impossible” for the past five years for many educators has been the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Federal guidelines stipulate that all schools meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) in reading and mathematics.
The school system has struggled in the past, but Butler County has made significant strides in the last year in all areas, according to the annual report cards released by the State Department of Education on Tuesday.
Last year, just two schools - R.L. Austin Elementary in Georgiana and McKenzie School - met all AYP. This year, five of seven public schools in the county met AYP. Georgiana High School and Greenville High School also met the academic benchmarks in reading and math set forth by the state, but missed on the graduation rate, according to Looney.
“It's not based on last year's figures,” said Looney. “It's based on the seniors in 2005. When I walked into the door, I couldn't affect that period. It was already determined. What we could affect was the academics and they did what was expected. They made dramatic improvements in reading and math. For Greenville (High School) it's been seven years since they met they academic requirements. For Georgiana, it's been five. Every single school met the academic criteria and in some cases have exceeded next year's benchmark.”
Looney said the results were even a surprise to him.
“It really exceeded my expectations as a first year superintendent,” said Looney. “It shows what can be accomplished as a team. These are the most substantial academic gains in school history.”
Rita Wright, who oversees curriculum and instruction for the school system, said there was a change in the formula used by the state to grade schools. The change allowed Alabama schools to grant half-credit for students that partially met AYP standards.
The formula change allowed Butler County to show a 29 percent growth in mathematics and 18 percent growth in reading.
“Those are the numbers you live by and those are the ones you use,” she said. “But we don't want to overstate the reality.”
Butler County students actually showed a 16 percent increase in reading and 13 percent increase in math, according to the criteria used last year. Which is still more than enough to make AYP in academics, said Wright.
Schools across the state showed improvement, according to the Department of Education. Out of 1,366 Alabama public schools, 725 schools met 100 percent of AYP goals compared to last year's 319.
“The gains made by schools this year are very encouraging,” said State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Joe Morton. “Educators statewide worked extremely hard to improve the status of their schools and to achieve greater accountability than has ever been reported in the history of this state's public education system.”