An audience of interested educators heard Alabama education policy director Emily Schultz discuss Governor Robert Bentley’s plan for improving the state’s schools in a program at Samford University Tuesday, Jan. 31.
For many, it was the first time to connect with Schultz, who assumed the new post in November, and learn specifics about the governor’s education reform plan. The program was planned and sponsored by Samford’s Orlean Bullard School of Education and Professional Studies.
Schultz acknowledged that while there is great work going on in the state’s education efforts, there is room for improvement.
“All kids, regardless of zip code, need a good education,” she said. “Until every single child has access to a great education, we can’t slow down.”
The governor’s office, she said, believes the most important factor in the process is the teachers and principals who are present in each school, and also recognizes that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for schools.
Schultz outlined four points of the governor’s education reform plan: empowering school systems through budget and curriculum flexibility, promoting legislation that provides for charter schools, supporting teachers with assessment and evaluation, and providing teachers credit to purchase classroom supplies.
Merits of charter schools include flexibility and ability to share best practices, said Schultz, who several times underscored that charter schools are public schools. Unlike magnet schools, they feature open enrollment which means that any child can attend regardless of performance level.
Bentley and legislative leaders will introduce the plan, titled the School Flexibility Act of 2012, in the upcoming legislative session that begins Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Most of Schultz’ hour-long visit was spent fielding questions from the audience on a variety of topics.
Conversation ran from parental involvement, which she agrees needs improvement, especially in rural areas of the state, to transportation issues and the future of career and technical education (CTE). “The governor is dedicated to seeing an effort to create better alignment between the business community and CTE,” she said, noting a desire to create a smooth alignment of all levels of education, including higher education.
Regarding pre-kindergarten initiatives, she said that the state now has different programs that are disjointed, with no method to exchange best practices. Attempts will be made to beef up early childhood alliances, funnel funds as needed, and hold all to high standards.
The proposed School Flexibility Act, she said, includes a revenue stream strategy. “We want you to be able to put money where you need it,” such as for library books or other needs, said Schultz. “We’re hearing that you don’t have that flexibility and we want you to be able to use what money you do have where it needs to go.”
The audience included about 100 teachers and administrators, Samford education alumni and current students.
Graduate student Laine Williams, who is enrolled in a practicum of school improvement course in Samford’s master’s in institutional leadership curriculum, found the session helpful and insightful.
“It was a great opportunity to hear Governor Bentley’s views and strategies for education in Alabama,” said Williams. “I was thrilled that we had such access to someone so knowledgeable about the topic and who is daily on the front lines, fighting for high quality education for all students.”
Della Fancher, Samford education school advancement officer who organized the program, looks forward to more.
“The School of Education was pleased to organize such an event that allowed discussion between local educators and the person charged with directing the state’s education policy,” said Fancher. “We hope it proved helpful to many.”