Tallapoosa County Schools and Alexander City Schools share a mission to evaluate the needs of their students and keep them at the forefront of every decision made. Tallapoosa County Superintendent Joe Windle and Alexander City Superintendent Dr. Keith Lankford are passionate about preparing local children to not just get good grades but also to succeed outside the walls of the schools.
“Every kid has their own pathway to success,” said Lankford. “We are charged with maximizing their potential and opening their minds to discovery, not just putting them on a pathway chosen by us. College, career and life-ready are our goals at Alexander City Schools.”
Windle said administrators and teachers should treat students as gifts and strive to create a school system worthy of the children they serve.
“We need to prepare them to become better people, responsible citizens and for success in life after graduation,” he said.
The two school systems are poised in different positions on how to approach this goal, but both intend to imrpove reading skills, relate subject matter to real life and propose capitol projects that would provide more technologically driven, more acceptable facilities in which the students can learn.
Lankford said his focus is very data driven, and he analyzes information to identify areas for targeted professional development that will build capacity and collective capital in teachers to be more adept and students to be better equipped to absorb their studies.
“We’re doing a good job, but we need to be great,” he said. “We want to increase literacy in grades K through 12 by 10 percent, without any slide. We want to increase math skills, and we want to decrease discipline by 10 percent.”
One of the main objectives to accomplish this goal is re-instating the Alabama Reading Initiative in all elementary schools, which both school systems are working on. By re-focusing the way students learn how to read, Lankford said, he feels it could decrease the literacy gap.
Last month, educators in Alexander City went through a training program to implement the ARI program where they gained knowledge in the mornings and applied those techniques hands-on with summer reading students in the afternoons.
Lankford also is working with the housing authority to implement a satellite pre-K classroom closer to the students who need it but may not have transportation. Jim Pearson now has five pre-K classrooms, and Lankford said he could see that growing into eight in the near future.
“We want to change the way we’re doing things. If it’s not working, let’s figure out why and implement a plan to change it,” said Lankford.
He added that some students graduating from Benjamin Russell High School are struggling to find employment or even join the Army due to low performance on required admission exams and lack of quality credentials. By implementing a more data-driven focus on interm standardized assessments, such as Scantron achievement testing, he hopes teachers and instructional leaders will compare their results to the state and nation to provide acceptable intervention strategies throughout the course of the year.
“We realized only 30 to 33 percent of our students were going on to college, so what about the other 70 percent?” said Windle.
A strong push has been made toward the improvement of the Edward Bell Technical Center, which teaches technical programs and labor skills to fulfill preparedness for careers outside of school.
“We want to expand the capability of the Edward Bell Center, and in January we are adding a cosmetology program to the six programs we already offer. The second expansion will follow in 2021 when we hope to incorporate computer science to our curriculum,” said Windle.
Lankford also plans to launch a career builder program to bridge the gap between students and life outside school walls by beginning to expose kids to possible job opportunities at the pre-K level and up.
“We want to bring in someone that can relate these subjects to a real life job. The program will culminate in the second semester of each grade with an interactive learning day where kids will visit certain careers and businesses to learn what would be expected of them,” said Lankford. “You can’t dream to become something if you don’t know what that something is.”
A forward-thinking approach is a necessity for leaders in the school systems, as technology and employment needs are ever changing.
“We need to figure out what’s going to be developed in 10 years. We have to think about what jobs these kids in kindergarten are going to need when they graduate,” said Lankford.
This upcoming year, Alexander City Schools will host Professional Learning Communities; teachers instructing other teachers on a subject of interest to them or in which they excel.
“We hope we can grow and foster these instructors, which increases a level of teaching,” said Lankford.
About 16 to 18 classes will be taught for one-and-a-half hours for four days during the first semester and another four during the second semester. Those teaching a class will receive a stipend, and those attending will receive two flex days.
Both school systems have a proposed extensive capitol project strategy in the works as well. The 1-cent sales tax implemented years ago has improved the school’s financial situations, and the superintendents hope the county commission will vote to continue this 1-cent sales tax long term to support necessary construction.
“We have approximately $30 million in projects we want to start simultaneously and another $7 million to pay for out of our local money all over the next three years. This could be the largest construction project in the history of Tallapoosa County Schools,” said Windle.
The wish list includes a new stand-alone auditorium and performing arts center at Horseshoe Bend School; a new gym fieldhouse and weight room at Dadeville High School; renovations at Dadeville Elementary; and a new elementary school in Reeltown.
“Over the next 20 months, our major focus would be facilities renovations and new construction to create more equal campuses,” said Windle.
Lankford’s major projects include a proposed brand new high school in Alexander City and additions to Jim Pearson Elementary School. The high school would cost under $40 million, which for its size and proposed amenities is a good deal, he said.
“We’re asking teachers and instructors to be involved in how things should be designed and set up. We want their input so we get it right the first time,” said Lankford.
The plan at Jim Pearson is to add on a library, STEM classrooms, more general classrooms and tie the buildings together. A renovated front entrance would resemble the proposed design of the high school.
“Rather than doing things as an after-thought, we are making an attempt to listen, think ahead and create opportunities,” said Lankford. “If we grow our students, we grow our schools, we grow our town.”
Windle said the current 1-cent sales tax generated at least $1.5 million each year for 44 months, which has benefited three school systems, including Tallassee.
“It was really a life saver, and we’re at the point that we need a long-term commitment to embark on our future journey,” said Windle.
The partnership between the cities, county and communities helps strengthen the all-around education and growth of its residents.