Alabama superintendent scraps proposals after board pushback

Alabama superintendent Michael Sentance showed state board members he heard them loud and clear: keep popular instructional programs in place and don't take away career technical education's status on the organizational chart. 

Those mandates were reflected on the proposed reorganization of the Alabama state department of education Sentance shared at the board's work session on Thursday.

Copies of the plan were shared on-screen but were not given to attendees. 

Alabama state board member Jeff Newman, R-Millport, reviews the proposed organizational chart for the state department of education at the March 9, 2017, work session.Trisha Crain / tcrain@al.com 

The reorganization plan, prepared by consultant Jim Williams, the former executive director of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, originally moved the Office of Career Technical Education and Workforce Development into the Office of Academic Affairs.

In today's version, career tech was returned to its original place.

That move came after massive pushback from career technical educators last Friday, and board members telling Sentance at Wednesday's work session their reasons for keeping career tech as a separate office.   

The presentation was brief, and board members still had many questions, as the proposal collapsed some areas and created new ones.

Four new high-level positions created

During the meeting, held prior to the work session, Sentance announced four new high-level positions needed to implement the reorganization.

Dr. Jeff Langham was promoted from Assistant to Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Shanthia Washington was promoted to Assistant Superintendent, and Dr. Tony Thacker was promoted to Assistant Superintendent.

Dr. Jermall Wright, currently assistant superintendent in the Philadelphia school district, was appointed to oversee a new office focused on school improvement. 

The board attempted to table those personnel appointments until detailed job descriptions could be obtained. However, according to the department's human resources director, the board has no authority to hold up personnel decisions made by the state superintendent according to a resolution they passed in 2015. So the appointments stood and will become effective March 17.

The department currently employs 390 full-time and 60 part-time personnel, according to the human resources director for the department. 

Keeping ARI, AMSTI, and Alabama Science in Motion  

The proposed organizational chart clearly reflected popular instructional programs for reading (Alabama Reading Initiative), and math and science instruction (Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative) were kept in place, but board members asked Sentance to add a place for the Alabama Science in Motion program, which provides science supplies to high school classrooms across the state. 

Sentance said his proposal for "research universities" will be taken off the chart. After the meeting, he said there was no way to incorporate his original ideas for using research universities to provide evidence-based analysis and professional development for teachers as originally envisioned. 

Dr. Eric Mackey, executive director of the School Superintendents of Alabama, said, "We are glad to see that the re-organization is moving forward but in a fluid manner that is responsive to the concerns and input of superintendents. Superintendents value career and technical education and were vocal about maintaining focus on growth and excellence in those programs." Mackey said ARI, AMSTI, and ASIM may need refocusing and re-tooling, but are successful and can be saved. 

Alabama board of education members said they were pleased to see their input incorporated into the proposed reorganization of the department, though there are still some questions. 

Newman said he was happy to see career tech keeping its spot on the chart. "It's worked so well. I've been in it since 1979, and I've seen the highs and the lows all the way through. We've got something going good in career tech and we need to keep it," Newman said.

Saying she needs to study the proposal, board member Dr. Cynthia McCarty, R-Jacksonville, said she is "much comforted" compared to how she felt prior to Wednesday's meeting. 

McCarty said she still has questions about what roles and duties the new positions will entail and is "trying to determine whether that position needs to be where it is" along with all of the others 

Asked her response to keeping ARI, AMSTI, and ASIM in place, board member Jackie Zeigler, R-Mobile, said simply, "Tickled pink."

Board Vice President Dr. Yvette Richardson, D-Birmingham, said she is still looking the plan over and wants to see how it ties into the big strategic plan, which is expected to be ready for discussion in May.

Richardson is glad to see career tech won't be moving. "If you have something working, why change it? It's something we can be proud of and is recognized nationally," she said. She is pleased educators voices were heard. 

"For people who have asked for no change, I would ask them to be a little open right now," board member Mary Scott Hunter, R-Huntsville, said, adding external reviews of those popular programs will likely show "holes" in the programs that need renovation. Hunter said she believes that can be done within the current framework of those programs.

The board and Sentance "had a meeting of the minds around some important issues," Hunter said, and sharing their perspectives allowed them to reach better solutions. 

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