Last month, after decades of debate, the Anniston Board of Education voted to close the school on Alabama 21 and move its students to other campuses as part of a system-wide reorganization and cost-cutting measure.
Last week, Superintendent Joan Frazier announced her retirement for June 2014, meaning someone else — possibly from outside the system hierarchy — will shepherd the system through the middle school’s closure.
And Tuesday, the state Board of Education included Anniston Middle on its list of “failing” schools that, as part of the Alabama Accountability Act, will allow parents zoned for AMS to receive tax credits if they transfer elsewhere.
For the Anniston Board of Education, the state board’s list of 78 “failing” schools represents two different headlines — both significant. No other Anniston schools made the list. (For that matter, Anniston Middle was the only school in Calhoun County to be deemed “failing” by the state board.)
Anniston High School, whose dropout and graduation rates have long been serious civic concerns, and the system’s five elementary schools are free of both the stigma and the practicality of being considered “failing” institutions. We are glad that’s the case.
But the other headline didn’t bring a sigh of relief to a city desperate to use public education in its efforts to reinvent the city’s outlook on vital matters such as job creation, economic growth and crime reduction. A city without vibrant and well-supported public schools is a city that struggles to educate its children and sustain its future. A city without successful public schools is a city that faces stagnation and decline, not prosperity.
That is Anniston’s struggle today.
Our advice is to consider Anniston Middle School’s label as a “failing” school as part old news and part opportunity. Don’t overreact.
Instead, see Anniston Middle as what it is — a school already destined for closure. That’s not a rationalization; it’s a fact. What’s important now is the system’s still-developing reorganization that, once completed, is expected to lessen the system’s fiscal concerns.
More important, still, is this community’s understanding that the education of the children within Anniston’s public schools must be a grade-A priority. It is not the priority solely of the city’s educators or its black community, whose children are overwhelmingly the majority of the city’s schools. It must be a priority for all who want Anniston to prosper.
Make no mistake: We are disappointed that the state considers Anniston Middle School a “failing” school. But we cannot lose focus on the larger, vital picture — the reinvention of Anniston’s school system and the improvement of its public education. The ailments are well known. Repairing them with hard work and rational decisions is the key.