Friday, April 6th 2018, 5:58 pm
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) –
In a sit-down interview with WSFA 12 News, Interim Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson covered a number of topics concerning the status of Montgomery Public Schools, a system that remains under state intervention.
As MPS draws closer to the end of the school year, families are still without a final answer on whether four of its schools will close and if LEAD Academy will open as a public start-up charter school in the fall. There are also a number of other moving factors facing the school system.
Five of the seven school board members are nearing the end of their term in just months with many candidates seeking their seats. The school board is also preparing to search for a county superintendent at the same time the State Board of Education searches for a new state superintendent to replace Dr. Richardson.
On top of all of that, MPS is scheduled for an accreditation review before the end of 2018. AdvancED sent a team to survey MPS in March. A group is expected to return in mid-May with a list of findings and recommendations. MPS will have about six months to show improvements concerning those recommendations or the system’s accreditation could be in jeopardy.
Dr. Richardson attributes the lack of progress in the portion of his plan to fix MPS’ financial woes on a pending lawsuit from the Alabama Education Association that questions his authority to make certain decisions.
But Richardson says financial matters are actually not the greatest issue facing MPS, despite issues like closing schools to save money resulting in an uproar from the community.
He said the biggest issue facing MPS, and the one that will take the most time to fix is student achievement. It will also be a factor contributing to whether MPS will be able to remain accredited.
“They talk about Georgia Washington [Middle School] or I haven’t been respectful to them or whatever the combination is,” Richardson said of the school board. “But no one speaks about student achievement, which is the big problem here.”
A large portion of the intervention plan Richardson presented in February centered on staggeringly low test scores throughout MPS. Richardson said the latest test scores from MPS are no better.
While he said finances and academics are intertwined in the sense that a system should be able to show, in its budget, that it has the support and resources to boost academic achievement, actually implementing the programs to boost achievement is time-consuming and difficult. He said his plan, which has not been able to move forward because of the financial component, was intended to spark change over a five-year period with the goal being for MPS test scores to just hit the state average.
“That is not a high standard,” Richardson lamented. Alabama ranks at or near the bottom on many national education reports.
In past discussions, Richardson has referred to MPS as a “diploma mill”, saying that it is “deceptive” to graduate students without properly educating and preparing them for the real college and the workforce. Richardson has mentioned multiple ideas for ways to help with student achievement, some of those programs he said needed money from the sale of Georgia Washington.
Another option he has supported is the option of bringing charter schools into Montgomery.So far two groups have submitted applications to start charter schools in Montgomery County.
LEAD Academy applied to open as a start-up charter school this fall. The Alabama Public Charter School Commission approved the application, but the process is currently on hold because of another lawsuit trying to stop it from the AEA.
The Montgomery Education Foundation submitted its application to Dr. Richardson, who is able to accept it on behalf of the school board under state intervention, because the group is looking to start a number of public conversion charter schools in Montgomery. If approved and able to move forward, the first phase of the plan would be to open a converted elementary school in 2019.
Richardson said he has not yet approved the application but is waiting on a recommendation from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. He said if he receives a good report and recommendation, he will approve the application.
Despite some having negative views of the way charter schools are run in other states, Richardson said he believes the way they are handled in Alabama would be a positive solution to some of Montgomery’s academic issues.
“They’re public charter schools, so they have to meet all the standards of all the other public schools,” Richardson said. “They don’t get a dollar more than any other public school, but the beauty of it, in my opinion, is that we hold them to very high academic standards. If they don’t make substantial, annual improvement, then we cancel the contract. I wish I had that same authority with the existing schools.”