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Atmore schools awarded $50K

By By Adam Prestridge
Principals and faculty members of three local schools are celebrating after receiving monetary rewards from the State Board of Education and Alabama Governor Bob Riley last Thursday in Montgomery.
Huxford, Rachel Patterson and A.C. Moore Elementary schools were among 313 schools that were chosen to receive the rewards of almost $3 million for making significant improvements and student achievement. Huxford was the leader in Escambia County with a total reward of $25,000, A.C. Moore followed with $16,500 and Rachel Patterson was given $8,500.
The school rewards -ranging from $2,500 to $46,500 for each school- came from a combination of state and federal funding – $2,467,250 from the state and $448,777 from federal funds.
Governor Riley first proposed the financial rewards as part of his fiscal year 2007 education budget request to the Legislature.
"These rewards honor our teachers and schools that demand excellence in the classroom and are achieving results, and they will inspire other schools to do the same," Gov.Riley said. "With these rewards, the schools can offer bonuses to teachers, provide for additional
professional training or put new technology in their classrooms. I hope this is a program we can continue and expand next year and for years to come."
Gov. Riley has proposed an education plan that provides $50 million over the next four years in monetary incentives to schools that demonstrate their commitment to improving student achievement. The monetary rewards will be made available to each of the 313 schools after October 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Despite having to wait a couple of weeks for the actual reward, the local principals are celebrating just the same. Betty Warren, principal of Huxford elementary, hasn't touched the ground since Thursday's meeting in Montgomery.
"When we went up there I thought we were getting $15,000 from the letter I had received," Warren said. "Mr. Hines leaned over to me at the table and told me that Huxford was getting $25 thousand. I showed him the letter and said 'No, it says it right here, we're getting $15,000. When they announced $25,000 don't even ask me if I screamed! I picked Jean Sands (A.C. Moore guidance counselor) up off the floor, she didn't know if she was going to fly or hit the floor. I was so excited."
Huxford was chosen for the monetary reward based on the criteria of Meeting the Challenge two years in a row by meeting the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and also for being a Torchbearer school.
"For the first time ever, schools that are doing well are being recognized by the state with financial rewards that are really needed by most of them," Warren said. "I give Tony Thatcher with the State Department of Education a lot of credit for this. He is the one who started the Torchbearer program that recognized schools for accomplishments."
Warren said that her faculty and staff shared in her excitement as she made an announcement over the school speaker.
"They all went wild," Warren said. "Teachers started buzzing the office immediately. They were all excited. We are looking at new things in the area of technology in the classroom that we would like to have and we have a computer lab that needs to be replaced."
Unlike other monetary awards given to the schools Gov. Riley told principals that the only stipulation was that the faculty and staff have a say in how the money is used. Rachel Patterson principal Susan McKenzie couldn't be happier about that.
"A lot of times the money given to a school has stipulations attached to it, " McKenzie said. "This has no strings attached. We are going to allow our faculty to decide how it will be spent. Our grade levels will meet and have input and then bring it back to the faculty and decide how it will be spent."
McKenzie will be holding a faculty meeting Monday afternoon to begin the process. She was also pleased to attend the meeting with former principal Beth Drew by her side.
"I called Beth when I got the letter," McKenzie said. "I felt she should be a part of it since she is the one who had done the leg work. She needed to be there. We had a great time. We both got to speak with the Governor and were just so excited about the recognition. Everyone is thrilled. I am just as proud for the teachers as I am our school. These teachers have worked really hard and it is time that they are recognized for their efforts and I am very proud of them and for them."
Beth Drew, who resigned as principal of Rachel Patterson after six years was equally excited about the monetary reward and the accomplishments the school had made.
"It was an awesome day for Atmore," she said during Monday's faculty meeting. "We were the only three schools in the county that received funding. This should prove to you that all the hard work was worth it."
A.C. Moore principal David Nolan was out of town at the time of the meeting, but school guidance counselor, Jean Sands who attended the meeting stated that Nolan shared the exciting news with his faculty and staff when he returned to school Monday morning.
"Mr. Nolan met with everyone yesterday afternoon (Monday) after school and threw a little party for the faculty,"Sands said. "Mr. Nolan announced the amount that we received and we briefly discussed plans for the money. He told everyone that we would all be able to come together as a faculty to decide how we would spend the money. Everyone is really excited about it."
Nolan was unavailable for comment at press time.
Escambia County School Board Superintendent Billy Hines attended the state board meeting with the three local school principals and representatives and is as excited as they are about the rewards.
"We are proud of our schools and the accomplishments that they have achieved in the past year," Hines said. "I'm already looking forward to more next year. The Governor said that this will be an annual event for all of the schools in the state and I think that it is great to recognize them for their hard work. . We hope to have more schools recognized in our county next year. I am extremely proud of our teachers and students for achieving such greatness."
A committee of Alabama educators and stakeholders used student test data from the 2005-2006 school year to determine which schools were eligible for the rewards. The State Department of Education identified five major categories by which schools were identified for outstanding achievement, and the following criteria were used for identification of schools eligible for rewards based on 2005-2006 test data:
Huxford Elementary
A.C. Moore Elementary School
Rachel Patterson Elementary School