School visits yielded a lot of good things

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 9, 2016

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

There is something really fun and exciting about visiting with students in our local schools. From the elementary student who just wants you to read a book with them to the high school student looking for college advice; the visits are always special.

With the House out of session for the month of October, I had the pleasure to spend quality time in a number of our local schools. I visited Clarke County High School in Grove Hill to talk with students and learn more about their new workforce training center.

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At Saraland High School, I attended the induction ceremony for students joining career and technical education student organizations. I also visited the Chickasaw School System in Mobile County, where the students welcomed me with impressive handmade signs.

I spent time at Magnolia School in Foley and Robertsdale Elementary School in Baldwin County to share some stories with some of the students. I believe it is important we all find time to volunteer and support our local school systems, and reading to students is a great way to make a difference.

At each of my school visits, I have been blown away by the work our teachers and administrators are doing. Their job is certainly not easy. Due to budget issues at the state level, many teachers are facing unique challenges. For example, I talked with teachers who spent personal money in their classrooms in order to support students’ needs.

Teachers wear many different hats. Teachers are more than just instructors. They often serve as mentors and friends to the students they teach. For some students, they provide much needed stability for what may be a very complicated home life.

Education in Alabama is making important progress, and that is a testament to our teachers and administrators. For example, the high school graduation rate in Alabama is now at 89 percent, a new record high.

However, more challenges remain. As a parent, former member of the Alabama State School Board and education advocate, I am committed to doing everything I can to support our students, teachers and local schools.

In the House of Representatives, I serve as a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. This is the committee responsible for both K-12 and higher education policy.

There are obvious ways elected officials in Washington can help our local schools. First, we need to cut down on the red tape and paperwork that tie up teachers and keep them from doing their job.

We need to also stop trying to push national academic standards. What works for students in Alabama may be different than what works for students in California or Michigan. We should allow states to set their own academic standards that best fit their students.

Most importantly, we need to ensure that any federal education funding is actually making its way to the classrooms instead of getting stuck in the bureaucracy. The money that Washington sends to our local schools should be spent in the classrooms helping students and teachers.

Ultimately, we need to empower our local teachers and stop getting in their way. Visiting with our teachers, I see firsthand their passion for helping students succeed. Education is not a field you can work in unless you have an unyielding passion for helping students.

Of course, I want to see our local schools continue to improve and grow, but we should never take for granted the job our teachers and administrators do on a daily basis. They are real difference makers in our society, and they deserve our praise.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.