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Fifteen of Alabama’s most challenged elementary schools are getting a multimillion-dollar infusion of support through a new initiative championed by Gov. Kay Ivey.
This spring, Ivey added a $10 million line item in the state budget for what is being called the Turnaround Schools Initiative. The state department of education added another $5.4 million initially allocated for a measure that failed to pass the legislature, which means more than $15 million will go to support these 15 schools.
“When Alabama is investing a historic amount of funding for our schools, we shouldn’t have our elementary students left behind,” Ivey spokesperson Gina Maiola told AL.com. “The governor believes that it is too critical of a time in a student’s educational journey to not be giving it our best.”
State Superintendent Eric Mackey said the communities where the schools are located are dealing with high levels of poverty and “overwhelming” needs.
“It bleeds over into school with academic underperformance year after year,” Mackey said.
Many of the schools, located primarily in urban and rural areas, are already receiving some support from the Alabama Department of Education.
“A lot of them already have this program or that program. And so we didn’t want to go in and disrupt what they’re doing. What we want is to go in and ask what pieces are missing. And how do we make sure that all of it is coordinated for one effort aimed at total success.”
Maiola said three state agencies, the Departments of Mental Health, Early Childhood Education and Human Resources, will be a part of the turnaround effort.
The initiative will test whether support for the community outside of the school can improve student achievement inside the school.
Both Ivey and Mackey said it will take years to see sustained impact.
“We’re not coming in, spending a bunch of money, and the next year everybody’s test scores are great and we move on to other communities,” Mackey said. “We don’t expect everything to work immediately.”
The Department of Education contracted with Montgomery-based Professional Development Services, LLC, in May to coordinate services among agencies and manage the initiative for a total cost of $780,000 through Sept. 30, 2023.
State funding for the initiative isn’t officially available just yet, he said. “But they have done all the pre-work to get ready to launch on Oct. 1.”
The schools were chosen based on multiple measures, Mackey said, including whether a school was already on the “failing” schools list or had a low grade on the state’s most recent report card from the 2018-19 school year.
The 15 schools chosen for the initiative are similar in a number of ways, besides being among the academically lowest-performing in the state. Every school has a majority-Black student body and more than six in 10 students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, an indicator of poverty.
The percentage of third-graders reading on grade level ranged from 38% to 65% on spring 2022 tests. Statewide, 78% of third-graders were reading on grade level.
Results from spring 2021 tests show that in more than half of the schools, fewer than 1% of students reached proficiency in math, and the highest level of math proficiency was 5%. Between 3% and 26% of students reached proficiency in English language arts.
Thirteen of the 15 schools have been on the state’s “failing” school list one or more times, and 12 were on the most recent “failing” list.
The schools are listed below. Click here if you are unable to see the table.
Updated 9:35 a.m. to correct Gina Maiola’s statement. We apologize for the error.