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State board votes to intervene in Montgomery County schools

Posted January 12

— The state school board voted unanimously Thursday to intervene in the Montgomery County school system because of concerns about academic and financial performance.

Superintendent Michael Sentance said in a press conference after the vote that too many of the system's schools were "at a low level and staying at a low level."

"It's my personal belief that a capital city school system should be a shining example of what public education should be in the state. It should be a model," Sentance said.

State law allows the Alabama Department of Education to take over school systems because of problems with academics or fiscal management. Sentance said Thursday said there were concerns with both aspects of the Montgomery system.

The state has intervened in several school systems in the past, including Selma and Birmingham. What state intervention might look like depends on the school system and reason for the intervention. In Selma, the state placed the school superintendent on leave and assigned someone to assume his duties.

Sentance, said he didn't know what all would happen in Montgomery, but said he envisions a collaborative process. One issue he said they will address is making sure classroom teachers have adequate knowledge in their subjects.

"We have to raise the understanding of content with a lot of teachers in schools, starting with elementary on up. We would be coming in with some ideas how to do that," Sentance said.

Intervention does not automatically bring more money. The state could help the system with grants and will provide additional personnel.

Montgomery County is a large school system that included a mixture of high-performing magnet schools — which skim off the best students and boast some of the highest test scores in the country — and high-poverty schools with low test scores.

Sentance said the state will only get involved in schools that are struggling. The system had 10 schools labeled as "failing" for being in the bottom 6 percent of standardized test scores. Sentance said many more are chronically struggling, enough to trigger the state intervention option.

The state board vote is the first step in the intervention process and sends a notice to the local system about the board's intent to intervene. The local system has 21 days to respond to the intervention notice and could propose its own plan to address the problem. The state board will vote in February on whether to proceed.

Some Montgomery school officials said Thursday that they welcome the move.

Montgomery County Board of Education President Robert Porterfield said the state can bring needed resources to help do what is "best for children."

"There is a great heart here to improve schools," Sentance said.

State Board member Ella Bell, who represents much of Montgomery, said she thought the county schools had been suffered from "historic neglect" and a chronic underfunding because of the county's low tax support for schools.

"This is the first time the state has ever, ever reached out to bring children of color, our poor white children, up to a level of prominence with all the other school children in this state," she said.

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