2 months ago

i-Ready could help reinvigorate Alabama’s public education system

BOAZ — Boaz City Schools produced Alabama’s current lieutenant governor. And now, thanks to the system’s participation in a cutting-edge program, Boaz could be paving the way for not just the next generation of students in Marshall County, but young Alabamians statewide.

While the Yellowhammer State boasts the nation’s best state-run pre-k program, surging workforce development programs through AIDT and public-private partnerships and world-class universities, it is no secret that Alabama has been desperately needing a renaissance in K-12 public education for years.

That awakening might just be on the horizon. Last week, Yellowhammer News attended the annual community appreciation breakfast at Boaz High School. In attendance were Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, state Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) and state Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab), who all got a firsthand look at i-Ready – a program new to the state that might just be one of the missing pieces in Alabama’s public school puzzle.

i-Ready

A program of Curriculum Associates, i-Ready is a virtual assistant of sorts for teachers, providing a toolkit of resources and delivering differentiated instruction. The online, data-driven program functions in two main ways: diagnostic and instructional.

The first aspect of this is assessment based. Through an initial evaluation to see where a student is academically (identifying both their strengths and weaknesses), i-Ready plots a unique learning pathway just for them. This is where the instructional component comes in, as the program provides online lessons and teaching resources designed to fit that individual student’s pathway.

And, just as importantly as the two aspects themselves, the diagnostics and instruction are intertwined. The online program is keeping track of a student’s progress daily, so teachers can adjust in real time to what is working and not working in the classroom.

In a tour of Corley Elementary School, i-Ready can already be seen making a difference firsthand in second- and third-grade classrooms.

One of the biggest takeaways, after speaking with school system and Curriculum Associates leaders, is that i-Ready is custom designed to help teachers, not supplant them.

A Powerpoint presentation delivered by the school system emphasized, “We know and believe that the classroom teacher is at the center of [success]. The teacher is making instructional decisions based on his/her knowledge of the students.”

i-Ready and the constant individualized data it puts in teachers’ hands only increases their ability to help students succeed.

Still, in schools where some students are at or above grade level while others are varying degrees of playing catch up, teachers cannot possibly reach each individual in the best way for their unique situation just by teaching to the group and going over lessons in front of the class as a whole. This is where differentiated instruction and custom pathways are so important.

“We know realistically that kids are at all different places when they start each grade level,” a school administrator explained. “You have some kids that are accelerated learners that have learned a lot of their grade level skills and standards. And you have some that are grades behind. Well, we can’t sacrifice one for the other. And we understand the importance of choice, we understand the importance of flexibility, and that’s something, in a public school, that typically has not always occurred in the past. We have to learn how to meet the needs of individual students in a setting where you teach multiple students.”

Boaz’s implementation

In practice, at least in the classrooms observed, the teachers would split the class into three groups after introducing the lesson of the day to all of them. The groups would rotate between three stations. The group on the i-Ready station would go online and work their pathway. A second group would work a more traditional assignment or project related to the lesson. And the final group would work with the teacher to add another layer or reinforcement level to the lesson; tactile or visual activities are good examples of this.

Another of the points of emphasis of the program is building skills, as opposed to teaching to a standardized test. Curriculum Associates, through i-Ready and Ready (traditional printed math and reading instruction the company also specializes in), stresses high standards. Yet, the curriculum is flexible and uniquely designed not just for the individual students, but for the differing needs and wants of states and localities, too.

Take Boaz City Schools, for example. The school system has major demographic challenges that Curriculum Associates has helped with. From 2014 to 2018, Boaz City Schools’ percentage of Hispanic students went from 1.57 percent to 32.70 percent. Instead of working around challenges and leaving various subsets of special needs students behind, i-Ready carves out roads to success. In this case, this meant not only English as Second Language (ESL) students, but students who are proficient in English conversationally but still struggle with it academically.

Boaz City Schools, which has approximately 70 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch, began implementation of i-Ready strictly at the Tier III level (at-risk students) in the 2017-2018 school year. Now, they are in the first full year of a two or three-year scale-up of the program to the core level.

The results have already been off the charts.

Last school year, Boaz City Schools achieved 148 percent in math and 162 percent in reading of its targeted growth on average across all students. These remarkable results spanned from kindergarten to eighth grade, which is especially impressive considering it is harder for students to make up lost ground after their first few years of school.

Take the teachers’ perspectives into account.

While on classroom tours, Ainsworth pulled multiple veteran educators aside, who each raved about i-Ready. His conversations left him to conclude, “[T]he proof’s in the pudding.”

One third grade teacher, who had taught various elementary and middle school grades over 14 years, confidently said the program should be implemented statewide.

“As a teacher, it’s the best thing that I’ve seen,” she told Ainsworth.

How can other school districts benefit?

While Boaz City Schools was able to implement i-Ready through an at-risk student grant from the state, Ainsworth said he would like all public school districts to have the funds to use the program if they see fit — and not just for Tier III.

It might take some work in Montgomery to make this possible, but Boaz City Schools Superintendent Dr. Shannon Stanley is such a believer in the program and what it has already done for her district that she is willing to personally travel to the state capital to share the success story with legislators and executive branch leaders.

Currently, Curriculum Associates is working with 15 districts in Alabama between Ready and i-Ready, with some districts running small-scale trials and others enjoying more widespread implementation. Until the time that all districts have the funding option to utilize the program, applying for at-risk grants and being able to show positive results of trial runs seems to be an advisable move for districts across Alabama.

However, this is still not ideal.

“One of the things that I think is kind of a shame is that y’all have to use [i-Ready] through at-risk funds,” Ainsworth told Stanley and other school district leaders. “Because to me, there’s tremendous value and for not just at-risk students… what I’d like to see y’all do is be able to have the money to do this and then use the at-risk money for just at-risk kids.”

Speaking to Curriculum Associates representatives in attendance, Ainsworth reiterated the thing that impressed him most was what the teachers thought of i-Ready.

“Y’all have a product that the people that use it every day [love it]. To me, the value’s not in what I think, it’s the value that the actual teachers think. They love it,” he said.

“You can’t argue with people that are using it, and the fact that it’s actually changing lives. That’s important,” Ainsworth added.

Scofield, speaking to Yellowhammer News after the school tour, emphasized that he is “proud” of the schools in his district, including the Boaz City Schools system.

“They’re doing the right things to make sure our students are achieving and coming out workforce-ready. Boaz is on the frontline of that, and I’m very proud of this system and very impressed by this product,” Scofield remarked.

He continued, “I would like to see us really focus on trying to move [i-Ready] beyond the city limits of Boaz. I’d like to see this not only all over my district but statewide. Listening to these teachers – when you have 14-, 15-, 20-year teachers tell you that this is the best thing that they’ve seen, it’s had the biggest impact on their students – that’s what we need to listen to.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Mobile Bay eastern shore ranked among best performing places in America

A recent report from Milken Institute found the cities of Daphne, Fairhope and Foley to be among the best performing small cities in America for job and wage growth, as well as other aspects.

Among the 18 cities ranked in the Milken Institute’s 2018 Best-Performing Cities Report, Daphne, Fairhope and Foley, Alabama, ranked as a top performer in the one-year job growth category.

Working in the area’s favor is the effort put in by small businesses adding high-skilled technical and engineering jobs.

Excerpt from the report, as follows:

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Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, located on the state’s Gulf Coast, is a top performer in the one-year job growth category. According to city officials, small businesses have been driving growth, adding high-skilled technical and engineering jobs.

The population of the metro has been growing steadily over a decade, but its population still sits at just a little under 200,000. The city has been praised recently for its eco-friendly strategies to keep its beaches clean.

Ranked first on the list is Bend-Richmond, Oregon, followed by St. George, Utah.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

11 hours ago

Mary Margaret Carroll is a 2019 Woman of Impact

The world of lobbying can be tough — cutthroat, even. This holds true on Goat Hill just as it does on Capitol Hill.

Yet, in Alabama’s highly scrutinized and uber-competitive world of governmental affairs, Mary Margaret Carroll has not just managed to shine while staying above the fray; she has broken into a field that has historically – and recently – essentially been monopolized by men, using her intellect, character, demeanor and work ethic to become a star at one of the state’s premier lobbying shops: Fine Geddie & Associates.

The 2005-2006 Student Government Association president at the University of Alabama, Carroll has been a leader in whatever room she walked into for a long time. That is apparent from the moment you meet her, as former state senator Joe Fine – the co-founder of Fine Geddie – told Yellowhammer News.

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Fine reminisced on the moment he and the firm’s other cofounder, Bob Geddie, met Carroll.

“We met Mary Margaret over lunch in December 2012 and before our hour-long meeting was over, we asked her to hold any other job offers she received,” he shared. “We did not have an opening at the firm at the time, but Bob and I both liked her immediately. She was polished and reserved but very inquisitive.”

And they sure are glad that she did hold other job offers, beginning her career at Fine Geddie shortly after that meeting in 2013, when she became the first and only female professional in Alabama’s oldest governmental affairs shop.

Fine said, “The first week Mary Margaret was with us we began work on a tort reform measure that proved to be one of the most controversial bills I have ever encountered in my career. Mary Margaret was immediately valuable to our strategy development, our coordination with the Governor’s office, and the lobbying effort. She handled herself well at every turn there and has continued to do so since no matter how big or small the task.”

“Notably, she played a critical role very early in her career on important measures that had failed despite decades of prior proposals,” he continued. “Her second-year lobbying, she handled the effort to institute the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program. During her third year she negotiated with over 10 stakeholder groups to develop the prison sentencing reform proposal and managed the successful advocacy effort to generate support for it. This was an extraordinary feat – and she did it her own way. Mary Margaret works hard, thinks outside of the box, and adds tremendous value to our clients’ pursuits.”

Geddie echoed these thoughts, emphasizing that Carroll is “an integral part” of the Fine Geddie juggernaut.

“She joined us without previous government relations experience but has a great future,” Geddie remarked. “She has developed a keen insight to the state government decision-making process, rightfully earning the respect of policy makers and her peers. Hardly a day goes by where we do not receive a compliment on her professionalism, class and work product from a lawmaker or a client.”

“At Fine Geddie, we have tried to maintain a balance among our team with backgrounds in law, public policy and execution. Mary Margaret can do it all and she gets better each year,” he concluded.

From promoting the interests of Fortune 500 companies to some of the Yellowhammer State’s preeminent businesses and trade associations, Carroll has become an unquestioned guru on complex public policy issues, gaining the reputation of a direct, honest broker.

“From handling acute issues to leading sweeping reform efforts, Mary Margaret consistently develops thoughtful and effective strategies to address her clients’ interests. She has proven herself capable of handling anything in our firm’s portfolio with optimal results. We are very proud of her,” Fine stated.

Her integrity has been recognized time and time again, exemplified by her becoming one of the first lobbyists in the history of the state to be named to the Alabama State Bar’s Leadership Forum.

Carroll explained to Yellowhammer News, “I try very hard to lead by example.”

“It is imperative to treat others with respect, and equally important to be honest,” she said. “Credibility is everything in government relations work. You cannot advocate effectively or inform the process if you are not trustworthy or do not have a thorough understanding of your position. It requires a great deal of listening to gain a full understanding of the politics surrounding any issue.”

“I love my job,” Carroll emphasized. “It constantly presents me with opportunities to grow intellectually and professionally. Each project presents its own challenges and I am constantly seeing the world through a new lens.”

Her list of accomplishments in just a five-year period is incredible. A mere snapshot of the projects on which Carroll has made a critical contribution would make most 40-year state house veterans jealous.

For example, Carroll was integral in the successful effort for passage of legislation to authorize transportation network companies (Uber, Lyft, etc.) to expand services statewide. She helped lead negotiations with the various stakeholder groups to overcome opposition and develop the best policy proposal, also coordinating the lobbying and public relations strategy for the effort.

“I love projects where our goal is to pave the way for innovation and the digital economy,” Carroll advised. “In many instances current law reflects public policy concerns that are completely irrelevant to today’s world and may in fact be hindering commerce.”

Whether it was playing a key role in the successful economic development policy effort to incentivize increased use of the state’s port facilities and related capital investment or coordinating the effort to pass criminal sentencing reform designed to reduce prisons overpopulation, she has made a tremendous impact in the lives of thousands and thousands of Alabamians from her role behind the scenes.

“As a lifelong Alabamian, I always appreciate an opportunity to work on economic development projects that yield tangible results. Most memorable for me have been the effort to establish the historic rehabilitation tax credit program and various projects connected to the Port of Mobile, including the recent effort to fund the expansion,” Carroll said.

This type of service-oriented leadership captures Carroll’s motivation, which can be seen in her free time, too. She is involved with the YMCA Youth in Government program and serves on distinguished advisory boards at the University of Alabama.

Carroll frequently speaks to student groups about her experiences and the various ways one can serve the public and the greater good, noting that her time in student government at UA helped her develop as a leader and get to where she is today.

“It made me realize how much I enjoy problem solving through policy and working with others. But most of all, it taught me the importance of productive discourse and the need to be objective when working with others to resolve an issue,” Carroll stated.

She also has a long history of mentoring young women who are interested in politics and public service.

In fact, she shared that mentoring has been the most rewarding part of her career journey. Carroll had mentors who helped her get to where she is today, and mentoring young people is her way of paying it forward.

“I have been so fortunate to learn from visionary people whose stories have inspired me in many ways,” she said. “I believe we all have certain skills and talents we are meant to pursue in life and I am grateful for those who helped me identify and seize mine.”

Carroll continued, “I enjoy sharing my story and working with young people with the hope that I can help them the way so many have supported me over the years.”

For all the young girls out there aspiring to be a leader, Carroll shared some sage advice.

“There is no substitute for listening to others to gain understanding and hard work,” she said. “Focus on maximizing the opportunities you have been given, not minimizing opportunities for others. Never resort to cutting others to get ahead.”

Carroll stressed, “It is possible to be kind, compassionate and a fierce competitor all at once. Find a way.”

She also outlined how leaders need to be honest with themselves.

“Know what you do not know,” Carroll advised. “My grandfather, an attorney, would often say, ‘There is nothing greener than a new lawyer.’ I am not sure what prompted that tidbit of wisdom, but my guess is that it was premised on the notion that the classroom and the real world are two very different places and present very different tests.”

She concluded, “Those words rang in my head the first time I met the Fine Geddie team. During my initial meeting, I told them I knew nothing about government relations work and asked for advice on the best way to enter the industry. I wanted to learn. My guess is, more often than not, people want to work with, for, and hire people who are constantly seeking to improve themselves and their organizations. This starts with knowing what you do not know and being open to seeing or trying things in a new way.”

It is easy to see why Yellowhammer Multimedia twice previously listed her as a rising star in state politics and has referred to her as “a force for years to come.”

Now, Yellowhammer News is proud to name Mary Margaret Carroll a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

12 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Let’s get over the lottery hump and move on to more lucrative gambling talk

If you want the lottery and expanded gambling in the state of Alabama you should support the lottery bill proposed by State Senator Greg Albritton (R-Atmore).

Is the bill perfect? Absolutely not. In fact, I would argue it creates some new problems. By not protecting the questionably electronic bingo in pockets of the state, like Greene and Macon counties, this bill gives the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a monopoly on games of chance in the state if Attorney General Steve Marshall continues to pursue shutting down these entities and the courts agree with him.

This is not ideal. However, the alternative is to grant those entities a legal status that they do not deserve. If they are operating illegally, they shouldn’t be handed this gift. If they are operating legally, why do they need the protection of the lottery bill proposed by Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville)?

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Does this lottery bill allow the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a monopoly on games of chance in Alabama? It does.

Would McClendon’s bill bring in more revenue in the short-term? The analysis says yes.

But what if the lottery bill passes, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians expanded their gambling options and revenue grows and the citizens of the state of Alabama see that there are more revenue options available to the state?

Would a push for wider gambling ensue? Definitely.

Will legislators face calls to license gambling facilities in Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville and Mobile? Hopefully.

The lottery bill is not the end of the gambling conversation in Alabama. It is the elusive first step.

Let’s get beyond this first part and continue the conversation.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

13 hours ago

Alabama postal workers to get back pay, benefits

A Florida-based contractor will pay $329,057 in back wages and benefits to 53 postal delivery workers in Montgomery.

AL.com reports the decision comes after an investigation into St. Augustine, Florida-based Postal Fleet Services Inc. by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

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The department says the company violated requirements of two federal acts.

Investigators say Postal Fleet Services failed to pay drivers the prevailing rates for contract work performed for the U.S. Postal Service to haul mail in Montgomery and Tupelo, Mississippi.

The company also failed to pay drivers for sorting mail before their scheduled shifts and for time spent driving from one city to another between local routes.

Postal Fleet Services also failed to pay fringe benefits to employees and did not maintain records of hours employees worked.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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Hangout Fest combines music & VIP amenities to create an unforgettable experience

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — Since the inaugural Hangout Festival in 2010, Orange Beach has emerged as an annual must-visit destination for music lovers around the world. Now in its tenth year, the festival — known worldwide as simply Hangout — is taking its VIP experiences to a new level, creating what the festival organizers are describing as a “music vacation” that concertgoers will never forget.

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The glittering white, sandy shores of Alabama’s Gulf Coast have long been a tourist attraction rivaling the best-known coastal communities in America and the Caribbean. But when the nation’s hottest bands, world-class dining experiences and unique amenities converge on the Yellowhammer State’s pristine shores, past attendees say something truly magical happens.

“It’s really unlike any other concert experience I’ve ever seen,” multi-time Hangout Fest attendee and Alabama resident Cliff Sims told Yellowhammer News. “It’s the one weekend a year when there’s no question where I’m going to be. It really is the perfect mix of my favorite people, great music, good food, and a well-run event.”

This year’s Hangout Fest, set to take place over the weekend of May 17th, will continue its now decade-long history of featuring some of the hottest names in music. Criss-crossing genres, the festival will be anchored by internationally known acts including Travis Scott, The Lumineers, Khalid, Cardi B, Kygo, The 1975, Diplo, Jimmy Eat World and dozens more.

On top of the musical performances, 2019 concertgoers will also be able to experience other attractions, including a ferris wheel, roller skating rink, beach bonfire, tropical spa and beach volleyball. The festival is also taking full advantage of technology to ensure a smooth experience for concertgoers. The Hangout Fest app allows attendees to create a personalized schedule, based on bands they select. They’ve also set up lockers inside the festival where concertgoers can charge their phones.

And for individuals looking to have an extra high-end experience, VIP and Super VIP options deliver unlimited access to additional perks like golf shuttles between stages, unlimited drinks, a daily buffet featuring food from world-class chefs, air-conditioned restrooms and a stage-side, VIP-only pool where they can enjoy the music while relaxing in the cool water. Super VIP’s will have all these perks and more, including hot tubs, catered gourmet meals in an air-conditioned dining room and exclusive access to the Super VIP-only Backstage Beach.

As an added bonus, the food exclusive to Super VIP’s will be crafted by some of the nation’s best culinary artists. Award-winning Chefs Annie Pettry, Cory Bar and Jason Goodenough will create memorable, fresh, mouth-watering meals for concertgoers to enjoy in between musical performances.

For the most incredible all-inclusive experience, the Hangout Fest is partnering with Aero Air Charter to offer attendees the Big Kahuna Air Package. This package includes everything Super VIP’s enjoy along with a round-trip private chartered flight straight to Gulf Shores, 24/7 concierge service, door to door transportation and more. Up to six friends can join in on the chartered flight with options for larger groups.

Tickets to what promises to be the music event of the year are now available at HangoutMusicFest.com.