Area superintendents give updates about school districts

PELHAM – The superintendents at the helm of the school districts located within Shelby County came together on Wednesday, July 25, for the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Schools luncheon held at the Pelham Civic Complex.

Alabaster City Schools Superintendent Wayne Vickers, Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy, Pelham City Schools Superintendent Scott Coefield and Shelby County Schools Superintendent Randy Fuller each gave three minute updates about their school systems before answering a series of questions compiled by the chamber’s Education Work Group.

Below are the responses from each superintendent. Responses are listed in alphabetical order by school district.

Alabaster City Schools – Wayne Vickers
Vickers said the theme for the 2018-19 school year is “Promises kept.”

“The new high school is one promise that the school board delivered on and I commend them for that,” he said.

The district’s graduation rate has increased from 89 percent to 96 percent, and Vickers added that ACS has 35 new air-conditioned school buses, which accounts for half of their fleet.

“For the first time in school history, Thompson High School was ranked in the Top 25 for U.S. News and World Report’s Best High Schools,” he added.

The district has also seen increases in the number of students taking advanced placement and dual enrollment courses.

When asked if career tech plays a role in preparing for workforce demands, Vickers stressed the importance of educators and parents talking to students about career tech and skilled trades as a viable career route to take.

“So many years went by where the only way to be successful was to go to college and get a four-year degree, and now we’re going back and re-evaluating that,” he said. “Career tech is a key component in meeting workforce demands.”

Vickers said it is also the responsibility of parents to talk to their children about all of the different ways they can obtain a successful career.

Other than funding, Vickers said the greatest need in education right now is ensuring the emotional and physical health and wellbeing of students.

“The main thing is mental health,” he said. “It needs to be discussed at the state level. Another thing is career tech education – what it means, how it looks and providing assistance to schools.”

Hoover City Schools – Kathy Murphy
Murphy said Hoover City School’s skilled trade center, the Riverchase Career Connection Center, is set to open in August 2019. Murphy said the center will focus on serving students who are interested in skilled labor careers. It will have culinary arts, health sciences, building construction, information technology, HVAC and electrical engineering course offerings.

When asked what skills the ideal graduating high school senior should have, Murphy said the district’s main goal is to help grow good human beings. Murphy said she wants students to be ready for the future they choose, whether it’s college or not. Statewide, statistics show that schools are graduating students who are ill-prepared to go to college and they end up taking remedial courses, Murphy said. Essential skills, such as interviewing, knowing how to dress professionally and how to respond appropriately to interview questions, are also important.

When it comes to school safety for teachers and students, Murphy said HCS has enhanced its camera systems and has someone monitoring them. The district has hired six interventionists and has developed threat assessment protocol. Two additional school resource officers were also hired to monitor the lobbies of Spain Park and Hoover high schools.

Aside from funding, Murphy said the greatest need in education is better mental health resources. She said HCS is employing a psychologist and a mental health specialist to address those concerns within the district. She said the school is also seeking to acquire unitary status, which means that a school system has eliminated the effects of past segregation to the extent practicable. When courts declare a school system unitary, the court system no longer supervises the school system’s student assignment and other decisions.

Pelham City Schools – Scott Coefield
New in Pelham City Schools will be rezoned elementary schools and raises for all teachers, Coefield said. This school year the system is also piloting a program centered on individual accountability. Coefield said more details about the pilot program will be released at a later time.

When asked about the skills and knowledge students should leave middle school with, Coefield said middle school is a time for exploration and exposure to different things. He said the goal is get students plugged into extracurricular activities while maintaining academic success. This is the time for students to begin to build academic interests that will carry over to high school. They should also learn to be accountable for their behavior and grades.

Coefield said Shelby County’s school systems play a big role in attracting business to the county. He said being professional, managing finances, keeping safe and clean facilities and offering great curriculums and extracurricular activities is expected of all the school systems.

“High expectations have been set by the community over a long period of time and I don’t ever want to be embarrassed,” he said. “People won’t always agree with what we do, but we cannot be average.”

Coefield said keeping quality special needs and secondary math and science teachers is a challenge for his school system. He said figuring out a common-sense way to approach the issue of metal health is also a struggle as schools are being overloaded with paperwork concerning the issue.

Shelby County Schools – Randy Fuller
Fuller said Shelby County Schools has implemented a new interim assessment process at the end of each nine weeks to allow teachers to make adjustments as the school year moves along. SCS has hired mental health professionals and two social works to help address mental health concerns with students. Fuller said the system is focusing on the social and emotional wellbeing of students in addition to offering strong academic opportunities.

Fuller said success in elementary school means that a student leaves the fifth grade reading at or above grade level, has a sound understanding of numbers and processes and is an independent learner who takes ownership of their education.

In order to develop the soft skills needed for success, Fuller said students should be actively involved in leadership roles, planning for their careers beginning in the ninth grade and have an understanding of work ethic.

“All of these things come together to prepare kids for the next phase of their lives,” he said. “Kids are graduating with different perspectives on the future than previous generations.”

Fuller said there’s a continuous need for special needs terachers and support for parents and students when it comes to mental health. He added that poverty is also something that SCS is battling with 11 schools in the district having 50 percent of its population living in poverty.

“We’re a mirror of society,” he said. “What can we do to improve those conditions, which will then carry over into our schools.”

He encouraged businesses to reach out the schools to offer paid internship and job shadowing opportunities to students.