For the past few months school leaders across Alabama have wondered if they would be put on a list of failing schools in the state. Seventy-eight schools didn't make the grade. That includes two in the Wiregrass: Barbour County Junior High School and Samson Middle School.
“It was very disappointing. Mostly for the teachers and students and the people in Samson because I know they work very hard every day,” said Geneva County Schools Superintendent Becky Birdsong.
The Alabama department of education determined which schools are failing by compiling data from the last 6 years on reading and math scores. Failing schools are in the bottom 6 percent.
Many are high poverty schools and middle schools.
Although some have been on a downward decline, Birdsong said the list doesn't show the schools that have been turning themselves around like Samson Middle.
She said, “We've improved from 57 percent proficient in 2007 to 78 percent in 2012. So it's hard to understand when you've improved 21 percentage points in six years how you're labeled as failing.”
The new law will give about $3,500 in tax credits to families at failing schools for tuition at a private school or a non-failing public school. Birdsong says they'll keep working hard.
She said, “The old saying that that which does not kill you makes you stronger, this is one of those times where we have to buckle down and continue to make improvements and know that we are doing a good job. We want our parents to have confidence in our school and our school system.”
Parents like Lisa Baine said this list doesn't reflect the quality of the school.
“I have all the confidence in the world with them. Because we are a part of this community and we're going to support it through the good times and the bad,” said Baine.
Birdsong also said this could cost the already cash-strapped school system more money. If students choose to transfer to another school within the county they must provide transportation. That could mean having to hire at least one more bus driver.
If they are transferring, parents must fill out a transfer notice by August 1st so schools will be able to make the necessary adjustments.
Meanwhile, many other school leaders let out a sigh of relief that they didn’t appear on this list.
A few Dothan City School showed up on a preliminary list earlier this year, but leaders said they felt confident in that state of their schools.
Dothan City Schools Superintendent Tim Wilder said, “I was never really too nervous, but you always have that in the back of your mind. You want to see this list and prove to everyone that you're not on this failing list and move forward.”
Houston County Schools Test Coordinator Cas Haddock said, “We're a team. We work together. We plan well. We do our best with what resources we are given. Thank goodness for the board for giving us good funding for trying things. We were very, very pleased to see that we were not on this list.”
Because this is part of a new law, many leaders expect to see changes to it over the next year.
The Alabama Education Association has already backed a lawsuit.