The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama hosted an education summit this month, featuring presentations from state Superintendent Tommy Bice, Tuscaloosa City and County School System superintendents, and an analysis of school financial and academic performance data from PARCA.
PARCA Executive Director Jim Williams praised the county system’s innovative plan to divide its far-flung schools into three cohesive feeder patterns and Tuscaloosa City’s plan to grant high school credit for career-related coursework.
There were signs of improvement in school performance data, though both systems have work to do in raising graduation rates and closing the gap between poverty and non-poverty students. Here’s a link to the full presentation.
“It’s important to recognize the successes that you can celebrate, as well as areas that you might consider focal points for improvement,” Williams said to the crowd assembled at the Bryant Conference Center. “We do this type of analysis at PARCA because we believe that every student can learn at higher levels, and that means every school can improve its results from year to year.”
PARCA works with schools systems and education foundations around the state to help translate education data for the general public and to provide a picture of how local schools are performing in comparison to peer schools and to the state average. Tuscaloosa City has a level of per pupil spending ($9,593) that is higher that the state average ($7,932). But it also serves more children from low-income households: 64 percent of students, compared to the state average of 59 percent. At $7,048 per student, Tuscaloosa County spends less that the state average. It has a slightly smaller percentage of low income students (54 percent) than the state does. Both systems have high school graduation rates (72 percent for the city and 77 percent for the county) that trail the state average of 80 percent.
Both Tuscaloosa City and County are experimenting with new models for school improvement. The city has increased its focus on career education. At its Career and Technology Academy, it offers programs in fields like engineering, animation and film, finance, information technology, mechatronics, and medical science. Under a waiver granted the system the May, advanced students will be able to take end-of-course tests early when they have mastered the content, allowing them to accelerate their course toward college.
Tuscaloosa County system is implementing a plan to divide its schools into three clusters built around feeder patterns from elementary to middle and high schools. Under this plan, each cluster is headed by a director who will tailor the schools to fit the needs of the area they serve.