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NCLB Outrages

They Call It Transformation; I Call It Something Else

Ohanian Comment: The newspaper headline writer calls this "revamping the schools"; officials call it a "transformation." I call it the degradation of schools. It's hard to see how a district will ever recover from debasing people this way.

The Mobile County school board voted Thursday to remove more than 300 employees from five low-performing schools at the end of the academic year, to prepare for what officials called a "transformation."

Employees meeting certain requirements can reapply for their jobs but will be competing against teachers and principals who want $40,000 to $60,000 worth of bonuses for moving to those schools.

Thursday's action was the first step of a plan that the board adopted last month to attract highly qualified teachers and administrators to five of the most academically troubled schools in the system.

The schools, chosen because they had the county's lowest scores on the Stanford Achievement Test, are: Brazier and Hall elementary, and Calloway-Smith, Mae Eanes and Mobile County Training middle schools.

The incentive program will cost the system $1.8 million, which will be taken out of federal funding.

To be eligible for the bonuses, teachers, principals and others must commit to the five schools for five years. They would receive the full bonus only if schools can raise test scores and meet other performance criteria.

"Our goal is to make sure all children are receiving a quality education," school board member David Thomas said.

Based on Thursday's board votes, 60 teachers, counselors and librarians and 25 support employees will enter the termination process. Another 140 teachers, counselors and librarians face mandatory transfers, as do 95 support personnel.

Paul Tate, assistant superintendent for human resources, said the system would try to keep all of the more than 300 people affected, although many likely will wind up at different schools.

Each of the schools' principals has tenure in the system and will be guaranteed jobs, Tate said. But they might not be hired back as principals, Tate said.

Officials with the Mobile Area Education Foundation teachers union and two board members -- John Holland and Peggy Nikolakis -- have expressed concerns over what they describe as a lack of planning on the school system's part in organizing the personnel moves and bonuses.

They have said that some employees are confused, and other schools in the system might be harmed if their top teachers and staff leave to seek the bonuses.

Tate said Thursday that none of the system's other schools will lose more than 10 percent of staff members to the five schools. "Our plan is not to hurt our other schools," Tate said.

Nikolakis and Holland voted against Thursday's motions. Thomas and board members Lonnie Parsons and Hazel Fournier favored the changes.

State tenure law requires school systems to keep teachers and other employees who have worked three years plus one day, unless the systems have significant cause for firing them.

Tate said the Mobile County system wanted to "start from scratch" as it reorganizes the five schools.

Tate said he and his staff will recommend the principals for the five schools by Tuesday, when the board is scheduled to meet next. Those principals will play key roles in hiring the rest of the employees.

The staffs at all five schools should be determined by the time the present school year concludes in May, Tate said.

Teachers chosen to work at the five schools must be designated as "highly qualified" by the state, meaning they have passed a standardized test in their subject area or taken a certain number of college courses in it. They also must have at least one year's teaching experience.

Twenty six applicants applied for the principal jobs, and 18 were undergoing interviews this week, according to Tate. Of the five principals presently serving at the schools, only two asked to keep their jobs, including Douglas July, principal at Mae Eanes Middle.

"One of the problems at Mae Eanes is the lack of stability," said July, who is in his first year as principal at the school. "I don't know what this plan will do for Mae Eanes, but I hope it will be for the better."

July said he has implemented programs to recognize student achievement, and attendance and morale are on the rise at Mae Eanes.

The Mobile Register could not learn the name of the other principal who had applied to stay put.

Gloria Burks, principal at George Hall Elementary, said she did not reapply for her job and she's not sure what she wants to do next year.

The other three principals could not be reached for comment.

— Rena Havner
Board takes steps to revamp schools
Mobile Register


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