Its days numbered, Anniston Middle readies for new year
by Paige Rentz
Aug 19, 2013 | 4517 views |  0 comments | 54 54 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston Middle School. (File photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Anniston Middle School. (File photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Anniston Middle School Principal Lynwood Hawkins, at right, in costume, leads a performance by staff at a system-wide faculty meeting Friday. (Photo by Paige Rentz/The Anniston Star)
Anniston Middle School Principal Lynwood Hawkins, at right, in costume, leads a performance by staff at a system-wide faculty meeting Friday. (Photo by Paige Rentz/The Anniston Star)
Students streamed into Anniston Middle School on Monday for the start of the new academic year, perhaps among the last times they’ll do so.

The Board of Education voted earlier this year to close Anniston Middle and replace it with a junior high school at the site of Cobb Elementary School, although no timeline for the school reorganization has been set.

Meanwhile, the school has also been targeted as a “failing school” under the state Legislature’s Alabama Accountability Act, which makes available tax credits to parents whose children are assigned to those schools, with the goal of helping them offset the cost of private schools instead.

Anniston Middle’s staff, however, think their school is anything but dead.

“We’re not going to concentrate on, center on, worries or labels that have been put on Anniston Middle School or Anniston City Schools as a whole,” Principal Lynwood Hawkins said Friday. “We are going to do everything possible regardless of the label or stigma that has been put on the middle school to be successful.”

Support from other schools

At a district-wide faculty meeting Friday to ready teachers for the start of school, it was clear middle school staff were ready to put the labels to rest, holding a mock funeral complete with a “Thriller” dance and song parody and tombstones reading “RIP AAA Failing School” to cheers from their fellow educators.

Faculty from across the district rallied around the middle school during the meeting, repeating often the mantra that “we stand on the shoulders of each other” — referring to the idea that a student’s education builds over 13 years and depends on the actions of teachers and administrators at every level.

Superintendent Joan Frazier echoed this during her “state of the system” address. She presented last year’s test scores, which showed improvement in some areas and dips in others.

“We are all going to be behind them, because their students are former students of you, you, you, you and you,” she said, pointing to the elementary faculty sitting grouped by school, “and their students-to-be are your future students,” she said to the high school staff.

“So everybody has a vested interest,” she continued. “It’s not just a middle school problem, and we can’t think of it that way. “

Community concern

Despite the rallying cry among the city’s educators Friday, the “failing” label has left some parents concerned.

Doris Cooley’s daughter Deja Martin began the sixth grade at Anniston Middle on Monday.

Cooley said Deja had a great experience at Tenth Street Elementary School, where she’s consistently been an ‘A’ student, but Cooley worries her daughter won’t be pushed at the middle school.

And she’s had a hard time finding alternatives, despite the new legislation.

“I called Calhoun County schools; I called Oxford City Schools,” she said. “None would take them.”

Cooley said that although she has enrolled her daughter at the middle school, she plans to check on the possibility of enrolling her in Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School.

While no timeline has been set for the closing of the middle school, there is a chance it won’t be open for its entire three-year stay on the state’s list of failing schools.

Malissa Valdes-Hubert, a spokeswoman with the state Education Department, said a new Cobb Junior High School would not be considered a failing school even if it opens before the middle school’s three years on the failing list are up. “The students that left Anniston Middle School that year, wherever they go, whether to Cobb or another middle school, would still be eligible for transferability,” she said.

Talking concerns

Anniston Middle parent specialist Sheila Ball said she hadn’t heard from many concerned parents as they geared up for school under the new label.

“Our parents are just ready for school to begin,” she said Friday. “I’m sure once school starts, I’m sure they’ll ask questions then.”

Ball said she and middle school administrators will be available to talk with parents who have concerns as the school year gets underway.

“We’re happy to address any concerns they may have one by one,” said Hawkins, the principal. “We take them on a tour of the school. We discuss the type of academics we do have.”

In fact, he said, the middle school needs parents on campus and involved in their children’s educations.

Hawkins said the school has a plan to improve student proficiency, beginning with a new 80-minute reading block first thing in the morning. He said the longer block will “give teachers more time to address any deficiencies or weaknesses our children may have,” something he expects to happen in every class, not just reading and math. For math, he said, teachers will be giving more pre- and post-tests and use the data to drive classroom instruction and address students’ needs.

“It’s going to tell us if any reteaching needs to be done,” or if after-school tutoring is necessary, he said.

“We are going to take what we have and we’re going to work with them because our teachers are just as prepared as any other teacher in any other district,” he said, “and we’re going to utilize every resource available.”

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
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