Bob Davis: Anniston’s schools, by the numbers
Nov 10, 2013 | 2543 views |  0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston High School. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
Anniston High School. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
What does this city do about the 44 percent?

We already know about Mitt Romney’s infamous 47 percent “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

We already know about the Occupy movement’s arch-enemy, the 1 percent of Americans who control the majority of the nation’s wealth.

But Anniston’s 44 percent? What’s that?

According to a recent poll, it’s the percentage of residents who believe Anniston’s city schools don’t prepare graduates for success after graduation. (Of the rest, 36 percent said grads are prepared and 20 percent said neither or failed to answer.)

The 44 percent are on to something, too, and it’s more than uninformed perception. Recent statistics tell us about one-third of the district’s students don’t earn a high school diploma on time. The district’s middle school was recently labeled as “failing” by the state.

Perhaps an appropriate question might be: What should city schools do to prepare 100 percent of its students for a prosperous and fulfilling future?

By the way, our numbers come from a survey The Star paid Jacksonville State University’s Center for Economic Development to conduct this summer.

The background data look like this:

• 11,008 questionnaires mailed to Anniston residences.

• 581 responses returned.

• A margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Division was one of the big takeaways when The Star published the results in late September. Only a few of the 16 school-related questions were met with 50 percent or higher responses.

A slight majority — 52 percent — said the school system doesn’t have enough funding to do its job.

The response with the biggest margin dealt with Anniston schools forming partnerships with institutions of higher education. The 77 percent who approved of this notion were likely pleased at the recent announcement that Jacksonville State is working to formalize an arrangement that would put JSU student-teachers in Anniston classrooms.

On another front, kudos to Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart for playing matchmaker between Gadsden State Community College and city schools. That, too, seems precisely what the vast majority of survey respondents say they seek — a way to form partnerships that benefit everyone.

Another idea with broad agreement (64 percent) is the creation of an independent advocate for city schools. The possibilities are bright here. Imagine a person who can (a.) generate big ideas to fix our public schools, (b.) call in financial support from nonprofits dedicated to improving systems like the one in Anniston and (c.) independently and objectively say what is and what is not working in the schools.

Call it a “critical friend.” Call it a “one-man (or one-woman) think-tank.” Call it a “bridge to connect a city that’s too often divided.”

Our schools’ advocate would know how to apply praise and pressure in proper proportions.

Will such an advocate step on some toes in the process, particularly among the school system’s elected officials and bureaucrats? Quite likely. Too often it seems toe-protection and turf-protection is driving the school system’s agenda.

We’ll really know it’s working when the 44 percent are shown that Anniston city schools are producing graduates ready to take on the world.

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.
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