Coalition exploring effort for separate city school system in Atmore

Published 5:08 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A recently formed coalition announced its exploration efforts for a separate city school system option in Atmore on Feb. 8.

According to a release from the Atmore Citizens for Change, the coalition’s selected committee members — President Loumeek White, Vice President Pastor Michael Arnold, Secretary Vasaroy Johnson and Assistant Secretary Sandra Gray — served notice of their intent to Mayor Jim Staff and Escambia County Schools Superintendent John Knott.

“In light of recently published school scores and the news of Escambia County High School being deemed ‘failing’ — for the third year in a row — with no change and no apparent intervention efforts by the Escambia County board of education, several local civic groups joined together to form the Atmore Citizens for Change coalition,” the release said. “The group feels it is time for citizens to explore a separate school option to form its own Atmore City School System.”

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A public meeting will be held this Fri., Feb. 15, at 6 p.m. at Deliverance Ministry Church of Jesus Christ in Atmore. A consultant will be there to share insight on the process of separating from the county school system and establishing a city school system, according to a release.

According to news reports, ECHS was placed on the failing schools list by the Alabama Accountability Act of 2015. To be classified as a failing school, students’ standardized test scores on reading and math falls in the bottom 6 percentile of standardized test scores. The test, the ACT Aspire, is used to measure achievement in the 10th grade.

“We are making improvements every year,” ECHS Principal Dennis Fuqua said. “The graduation rate for the Class of 2018 was 93 percent, which is an increase from the previous year and above the state average.”

Fuqua added that scholarship money has increased every year over the past six years, and last year’s graduating class earned $5.7 million in scholarships.

“Also, 100 percent of the graduating class applied and was accepted to a post-secondary institution, and 66 students were awarded scholarship money,” he said. “The legislature’s failing schools list is not a comprehensive look at school performance; it is simply based on one group of students’ performance on one day on one test. The federal and state departments of education use a comprehensive system to evaluate school performance through the school report card, which considers factors like student growth, graduation rate and college and/or career readiness.”

Fuqua said ECHS improved by four points and a letter grade on its school report card as a “C” school.

Knott said he was informed via email late Friday night of the coalition’s intent.

The superintendent said a few years ago, several different entities came to the table, and provided needed feedback to the board to address the area of concern.

“Then, we started formulating a long term plan to how to move to get growth and make the changes we needed to,” he said. “Since then, we’re constantly revisiting that, reviewing data and making changes based on what the data tells us.”

Additionally, a few weeks ago, the board reached out to the community and brought together leaders and pastors to help the schools’ youth, he said.

Knott noted the recent improvements to ECHS, including the new lobby and auditorium renovation project, the addition of the culinary program, the career tech partnership the school has with Reid State and Coastal Alabama Community College, the dual enrollment program, and others, to name a few. He added that the high school has healthy cosmetology and nursing programs as well, and shows well on the state report card.

Knott said a fulltime attendance administrator has been hired to address the attendance problems at schools.

According to the coalition’s website, the plan to establish a city school system includes a petition of community members, businesses and parents to join in an effort to establish a city school district; to present the petition to the Atmore City Council (in March 2019) and ask for a resolution to explore the feasibility of a city school system; analyze and report results of the feasibility study to the public; create an Atmore City Schools Board of Education, if feasible and warranted; hire a superintendent; develop a separation plan from the ECSS; secure buildings and begin renovations; hire staff; and start school in 2020.

For more information on the coalition, visit