In response to new data on the performance of the Tuscaloosa City and County Schools, the leaders of both systems are talking about challenges and opportunities facing their schools.
For the past several years, the independent research from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama has been presented at an Education Summit hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. The data charts the progress of both school systems in selected areas, and compares it to statewide numbers.
Some of the challenges facing both the Tuscaloosa City and County Schools include finding enough well-qualified teachers, preparing more students for college or a career, and closing the gap between students from poverty and non-poverty backgrounds.
For Tuscaloosa County Schools Superintendent Walter Davie, he believes closing that gap is one of the most important challenges facing his system.
“How do we address those kids from different backgrounds and different homes and create those experiences that perhaps they’ve not had as much opportunity for?” Davie asked. “So many of our kids are coming to us now that are not ready for school. We think pre-K programs are important for that.”
For Tuscaloosa City Schools Superintendent Mike Daria, improving reading scores is a key focus of his system.
“Thirty-nine percent of our third graders are proficient in reading. That’s not okay,” Daria said. “If a student is not reading by third grade, all the learning that takes place after that is at risk. So we’re putting our resources, our efforts, our energy to pre-K, kindergarten, first and second reading.”
Both Davie and Daria also identified the decline in people entering the teaching profession as a major challenge for their schools. They pointed to a 45 percent rate of decline from 2010 to 2014 in the number of new teachers in Alabama.
“The bottom line is, if we want good quality engineers, if we want people who have applied mathematics training in science and all of those areas, it starts with a good teacher in K-12. So we really do believe that is a community concern,” Davie said.
Daria said several different remedies are needed to fix this problem.
“It’s in compensation, it’s in retirement benefits, it’s in health benefits, it’s in support. It’s communities supporting their teachers. And states supporting their teachers. Both as a structural design, but then also individually. And that’s why we ask people here today to thank our teachers," Daria said.
Although the systems are facing challenges, both leaders also stress the good things happening in their schools every day.
Specifically, Davie pointed to increased middle school math scores, and the ongoing focus on instructional coaching that has helped to achieve improved scores.
In the Tuscaloosa City Schools, Daria said the strategic plan, which will impact curriculum, staff and facilities system-wide, is just now in the implementation phase. He says this will have a positive effect on student learning and expects future research to show improvement as a result of the plan.
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