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Stephens no fan of 'No Child Left Behind' law

By Barry H. Hendrix, Managing Editor

Gerald Stephens, superintendent of the Clarke County School System, again criticized the federal "No Child Left Behind" act of 2001 after Jackson Intermediate School and Gillmore Elementary School were recently placed on "School Improvement, Year Two" status.

Stephens made his comments at the Aug. 9 meeting of the county school board. "We have programs that are not funded yet," he said, "and we try to deal with that. When people see the test scores (for the two Jackson schools)â¦it's unfair."

Stephens encouraged parents to come to the schools and see the quality of the education there. "To be punished and think you are in a school that is not performing because you had handicapped children that didn't meet the goals - it gives people a bad view of the school when they're not bad," he said.

"These are good schools." The two schools were placed under "School Improvement" chiefly due to the performance of special education students in math and reading. "When you have your special education children included in a regular classroom, it's unfair to the special ed child," Stephens said. The federal law has a goal that all children will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. "He (the special ed child) can't be as successful as we say he'll be by 2014." The standards of "No Child Left Behind" can't be met. "It's practically impossible," he said.

"â¦What we are doing is making the situation worst. The handicapped child is expected to do so much, and he can't do it. He becomes frustrated. He drops out, and then they hold the student dropping out against us on our accountability report card.

"â¦All children can succeed, but not at the same level."

Stephens said he continues to ask representatives in Congress for help with these federal requirements. "Every time we talk to one, they say they are going to help us." The "No Child Left Behind" law must be reauthorized this year.

Julia Ann Deas, testing coordinator, said the state is developing a new test for severe needs students, but that will not be available for a few years.

In other action from the school board meeting, the first of two public hearings on the fiscal 2008 budget was held. According to information provided by Carmen Rotch, chief school financial officer, the school system is predicted to have federal funding in the amount of $16,972,790.00 and local funding totaling $2,159,320.00.

(The prediction of local funding assumes the school system will receive property tax revenues from the Boise Cascade paper mill in Jackson. Boise is contesting the assessment of portions of the mill. The entire county tax bill, over $1 million remains unpaid until the taxes in question are resolved. If not resolved, Rotch said the system would have to fall back on its reserve. If the problem with Boise continues past this year, the system could have a funding problem, she said.)

— Barry H. Hendrix
Clarke County (AL) Democrat


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