In Alabama, ‘A Good Attitude is Infectious’
By Greg Johnson, NEA Executive Committee
At the end of February, I visited several schools in Montgomery, Alabama, that all had one thing in common: All of the schools had received School Improvement Grants (SIG), which means they were identified as needing improvement, corrective action, or restructuring, as to enable them to make adequate yearly progress.
What struck me, however, was not one school was like another.
The schools were at various stages of transformation efforts, with varying degrees of success. Some school staff told me with pride about their efforts to collaborate with other stakeholders, while in other places, collaboration was not yet a shared value. Staff members at one school were facing the dreaded final step of school closure. But, I’m getting ahead of myself….
My first school visit took me to a place where educators and parents were communicating well and parental involvement was up. Prior to SIG, the Parent Teachers Association was all but dead – but now the PTA was back, and school leaders are seeing a high level of participation from parents.
At another school I visited, collaboration among educators and administrators was non-existent, to the point that conversations were even hard to facilitate. But despite that obstacle, our members continued to gear up for the work ahead, absolutely committed in their mission to engage and teach students!
A place where I did see great collaboration in the flesh was in a school that had a reputation for being less than orderly. Yet, faculty here reported that the administration involves them in decision making about curriculum, instruction, and discipline—all of which affects the whole school.
Along the way, I met phenomenal educators doing amazing work. One school was using SIG funds to implement data-driven techniques to track the progress of each student. Faculty members were learning to use data both to design instruction and adjust instructional practice, and as a result, student achievement was on the rise.
This school also had lots and lots of ties to the community. Educators reported having access to mentors for students, mental health counselors, and community center-based group counseling. The SIG grant was also used to provide extra tutoring for students and to develop a voluntary Saturday school, where students could pursue their topic of choice.
Despite all of the great things going on in that particular school, I am sorry to report that while I was on my school tour, a day after my visit, the county education board voted to shut it down at the end of the current school year, citing budgetary reasons.
Despite their own emotional reactions to the devastating news, educators were maintaining their same passion for excellence and commitment to their students. Just one example: The media specialist continued scheduling mini-workshops on cross-curriculum instruction for her colleagues while she also continued supporting students in the National Honor Society. Her energy and enthusiasm never waned. At one point in my visit, even though she was sitting in back of the classroom, she exuded such energy that it felt as if she were sitting right next to me.
Her attitude: “A good attitude is infectious.” I would have to agree.
Keep your spirits up and continue your good work, Alabama!