New board members Emily Sims and David Glass, along with re-elected incumbent Kelley Haynes Pearce, joined sitting members Steve Smith and Mike Poe on Friday for a daylong orientation session with district administrators to get them acclimated to the district’s landscape.
And a shifting landscape it is.
The new members will take over just as a new governance law takes effect, which Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell said “is so new they’re not even doing training on it yet.”
Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama School Boards Association, said that for the most part, the new law is a “codification of the responsibilities of a school board both through Alabama code and good practice.” She said she expected the Department of Education to give her organization further guidance on implementing newly-required orientation and ongoing training hours very soon.
In the meantime, Campbell said, the district planned to give new board members an overview of how a board meeting functions and what is expected of members.
“I have a little anxiety,” said Sims of her upcoming first meeting, “only because I want to know what protocol is going to be and I think after that first meeting I’ll be OK.”
In addition to the new regulations directly affecting board members, the district and state are in the midst of employing new educational systems.
Becky Fearon, the district’s director of curriculum, explained to the board that Jacksonville’s schools started the transition to the Common Core Curriculum in math last year, before the state began its transition at the beginning of the current school year. The Common Core is a cooperative initiative of states that has developed common curriculum standards in both math and English.
The transition to these plans focused on college and career readiness is part of the Alabama Plan 2020, a new model that is intended to replace the idea of “No Child Left Behind” with a vision of “every child a graduate, every graduate prepared.”
Malissa Valdes-Hubert, a public information manager with the Alabama Department of Education, said Friday that the state is still awaiting authorization from the federal government to use the Plan 2020 instead of No Child Left Behind guidelines. “We are still going forward with the plan” as state schools Superintendent Tommy Bice planned, she said. “We anticipate and hope it will be approved.”
A major change in the plan is how students and schools are assessed. It will employ more formative – growth-oriented, explained Campbell – assessments and replace state standardized tests with a variety of other college- and career-ready summative – or after the fact Ñ assessments.
Pam Inmon, head of Career and Technical Education in Jacksonville, said the district began employing some of those assessments in the high school years ago.
In the midst of these changes, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill that was signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley in May requiring the Department of Education to create a system to assign Alabama schools a traditional letter grade of “A” through “F.”
“I want you to know what’s coming at the end of the year,” Campbell told the board members “but we have no idea what the criteria will be.”
Despite the fact that professionals have spent a great deal of time and energy crafting a comprehensive plan for assessing schools, said Campbell, the Legislature passed the law requiring that schools be given traditional letter grades with no guidelines as to what criteria should be used to assess the schools in each circumstance. The legislation gives the state until the end of this year to formulate a system for assessment for implementation for the 2013-14 school year.
Campbell likened the situation to a teacher telling her class that she would be giving them a grade at the end of the year but not telling them what she was looking for in their work Ñ a situation he said was sure to cause problems in that class.
Board members expressed concern over being given letter grades that may not convey the intricacies of the new evaluation process and could misrepresent the district’s progress.
Glass told the group that he feels there is often confusion among the public about how to know which school districts have quality schools, and Poe said that the district could do a better job communicating the district’s successes to residents.
“It’s up to us to get the word out on the good things that are happening,” Poe said.
Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.