Budget forces changes at ECHS

Published 4:24 pm Wednesday, August 10, 2011

With a new school year just days away, students can expect more than fresh paint and waxed floors when they return to Escambia County High School next week.

Principal Zickeyous Byrd said with the new year comes new opportunities and challenges that will prove beneficial for students this year and for years to come.

“We are busying scrambling to offer new, innovative classes in the confines of staff cuts,” Byrd said. “Classes such as art have been eliminated this year due to recent budget cuts. When you still have the same amount of students, or more, those students must flow somewhere into the schedule.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Byrd said the art class elimination is hopefully a temporary situation, but the staff and administration at the school are looking ahead to the future when coming up with options for the lost class.

“Thanks to funds donated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians last year we are planning to offer more career/technical classes in place of art this year,” Byrd said. “Classes such as cosmetology and welding are going to be offered.”

The classes planned for the new schedule this year will include a dual enrollment program that Byrd says will mirror that of other systems.

“We plan to use funds allocated by Poarch until we are able to get the ongoing financial support we deserve,” Byrd said. “The problem with higher-learning institutions is that none of their classes are free.”

Byrd said Escambia County High School has not had a dual enrollment classes free of charge in the past. Other school systems like those in Washington, Baldwin and Mobile counties, have had such programs in place and Byrd said he hopes to see that kind of program offered in Atmore.

“It’s really unfortunate because I feel as though our kids are even more deserving than some of those from other school systems,” Byrd said. “We should be able to offer those same programs to our students. I hope to do more research to make this a reality for our kids for years to come.”

Although the career/technical course changes are expected to be popular among students, Byrd said those on an academic track may also be pleased with course offerings for the new year.

“There will be more engaging academic classes offered this year as well,” Byrd said. “I am in a fortunate situation in that I now have my first preparatory students from the middle school as seniors this year. Those students took additional classes such as algebra and biology in the middle school. Those are traditional high school courses. Those classes put them ahead of most students. Now that they are seniors, we are faced with the decision of what we will be able to offer them this year since they are so far ahead of their peers.”

Byrd said he has seen other schools in Escambia County offering advanced placement programs and hopes to put such a program in place at ECHS.

“I have discovered some schools across the county offer advance programs that allow students to graduate with their two-year college degree at the same time they graduate from high school,” Byrd said. “Essentially, on the night of their high school graduation, they receive both their high school diploma and their college degree. This is what I want for ECHS students. We are about to embark on that program.”

Advanced Placement, or AP, is a rigorous academic program that enables students to pursue college-level studies while in high school, Byrd said.

“AP offers more than 30 college-level courses each culminating with a rigorous exam,” Byrd said. “I am so excited about the possibility.”

Byrd said the potential benefits surpasses a good education for students and becomes a financial benefit to their parents.

“I see this as a huge step for our students and parents,” Byrd said. “The potential college savings alone is enough to make you shout for joy. As educators, we must continue to look for new and innovative ways to keep our students motivated to achieve.”

Byrd said Alabama received $13.2 million to increase the number of schools offering AP classes to their students; however, Escambia County wasn’t included in the funding.

“I don’t know why Escambia County was not listed,” Byrd said. “I don’t know if the school system applied. I know that I can’t sit and wait. The program is out there. Our students deserve it and I want to give it to them. We will use our funds donated from Poarch Creek Indians to offer the classes and train teachers to implement the program.”

Byrd said classes expected to be offered in an AP setting will include U.S. History, biology, English literature and calculus during the first year of the program with plans to expand in ensuing years.

“There is so much I desire to offer our students,” Byrd said. “I believe we should constantly research the latest trends and innovations in education. If it doesn’t work, it needs to be thrown out. For too long we have stood idled and waiting on someone else to do something. If it is something that will help my kids, keep them motivated to learn and make life more meaningful to them, I’m ready to go for it.”