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Jemison schools leading county in STEM, test scores

By STEVEN CALHOUN/Staff Writer

Chilton County Schools Superintendent Tommy Glasscock conducted a town hall meeting in Jemison on June 1. About 75 citizens were in attendance.

Attendees came to hear updates on the new Middle School Academy in Jemison, ask questions and voice concerns about the city’s schools.

Glasscock opened the meeting by sharing information about the transition to the new Middle School Academy. Seventh- and eighth-grade students will have new opportunities in the renovated location, including a cybercafé, a resource room where community leaders will visit, access to their own Chromebooks and a new STEM program called Project Lead the Way. Family and Consumer Sciences and Agricultural Sciences will be revamped as well.

“We’re going to focus on creating a really unique learning environment for students attending [JMS],” Glasscock said.

The school will try to move away from using bells to signal class changes.

“I don’t know what that’s going to look like,” Glasscock said. “There has to be something that’s more pleasing to a student when they’re moving from point A to point B.”

Students will break into smaller groups to learn. They will split off to work on a project and rotate with other groups, providing the opportunity for teachers to focus on students who might be struggling.

The school’s administration will consist of principal Kendall Jackson and assistant principal Scott Ellison.

 

Project-based learning

County schools will begin moving towards project-based learning to try to achieve an “athletics mindset in the classroom.” Glasscock suggested that sports are unique in that children will go out and be pushed by coaches to do their best, lose a game and still show up to practice the next week ready to try again. He said he believes project-based learning is a way to harness this same motivation to improve academic performance.

“Not every single student is going to learn the same way,” Glasscock said. “I think that we’re beginning to change that mindset in our classrooms … and treat every student individually.”

 

Successes in Jemison

Glasscock praised Jemison Elementary School for being above the state average and, in some cases, above the national average in test scores.

“Your test scores are probably the best in the state of Alabama,” Glasscock said.

JES will have four Pre-K classrooms at the start of the 2017-2018 school year and has also started Project Lead the Way. Jemison High School leads the county in STEM, according to Glasscock.

 

Questions and Answers

Glasscock opened the floor for questions after delivering his updates on Jemison city schools.

One parent asked about what would be done for students who are not involved in athletics, but instead prefer band, arts or theater. According to Jackson, the middle school students will have the chance to work with the high school to grow the band, and the possibility of streaming art classes from the high school is being discussed.

At this time, seventh-grade students will not have lockers in the middle school. Alternatives are being considered to avoid students having to carry all their books throughout the day.

Councilman Rex Bittle voiced his concern that there are not enough textbooks for students in some of the classrooms, and asked what role laptops and e-books would play in the future of Jemison schools.

“I think, personally, that textbooks are going away. So if we put half a million dollars into textbooks, and two years from now we go digital, I think it’s going to create a problem,” Glasscock said. “I think in most classrooms, you have the digital textbooks and you can export it and print it [when needed]. A lot of the larger districts, that is their backpack — the Chromebook.”

Glasscock said the advantage of the one-to-one initiative, with the goal of eventually giving students a laptop to take with them, will allow students to do their homework activities remotely and mobile.

Bittle enquired about the possibility of building a new school in the near future instead of renovating the existing schools.

Glasscock said there are options, including tearing down the middle school to build a two-story building or constructing a new school closer to the interstate. 2019 would be the earliest date any funding is expected to become available.

One parent suggested that CCS conduct a survey of students one year after graduation to evaluate effectiveness of the school system in preparing students for college or a career. She said her child scored well on the ACT, is a student at Auburn and is being successful, but “at the cost of a real struggle” because she believes he was not prepared by his high school education.

Glasscock said the idea of following up with students was great, and that the technical school is required by law to conduct a similar survey. He pointed out that the state average for the number of students who obtain a college degree is 28.5 percent, but Chilton County’s average is 13.9 percent of students.

Denise Glenn proposed some sort of test to evaluate students before allowing them to take advanced courses. She said this might keep teachers from having to slow down the classes and would ensure that top performing students are challenged.

Steps are being taken to improve student preparedness in the county, according to Glasscock. English and Math teachers from county schools are meeting with professors at Jefferson State Community College to learn what to focus on. Also, the recently created Division of Teaching and Learning will work to align standards across the county district and evaluate teacher effectiveness.

Upcoming town hall meetings are scheduled as follows: Verbena High School on June 29 at 6 p.m., Clanton City Hall on July 17 at 6 p.m., Thorsby Town Hall on July 24 at 6 p.m., Maplesville Town Hall on July 25 at 6 p.m. and Isabella High School on July 27 at 6 p.m.