A plea to the school board

[Following is a presentation by A.C. Moore teacher Anna Tingle to the Escambia County Board of Education, April 27.]

First I want to thank the Superintendent for accepting our request for me to come and speak this afternoon. I am here to speak on behalf of the entire faculty and staff of A.C. Moore Elementary School. After the community meeting [April 6], our faculty and staff had opportunities to discuss the meeting and the online survey questions. We requested to meet with the board one last time as an effort to make the board aware of all our thoughts and concerns, those that were presented at the community meeting and those that were not mentioned at that time. We are asking all of you to consider these thoughts and concerns presented today before making a final decision about the consolidation of AC Moore.

The 1st question on the survey read: Are you in favor of closing AC Moore?

Our staff is not in favor of closing AC Moore, but if that decision is made we ask for 3rd and 4th grades be placed at Rachel Patterson so our fourth grade students can remain in an elementary school setting. The staff and students at AC Moore are happy and thriving very well. When money is not an issue, per our superintendent, we feel no need to fix what is not broken. The ACM student body shows tremendous academic growth each year on standardized tests and more importantly is showing great student strides in productive character, self-confidence, and self-worth through The Leader In Me Program. This Program is designed for elementary age students and helps every student find their genius. Many of our students’ genius is not academics. The Leader In Me Program allows our students opportunities that they otherwise may never have a chance to experience. These opportunities such as: art, music, sports, public speaking, gardening, recycling, communicating effectively, dance, Karate, jewelry making, greeting guests at special school events, hygiene, proper etiquette, and being assistants throughout our school – allow every student an opportunity to find something outside academics that they are good at.

These experiences also allow our students opportunities to learn skills that are needed for future jobs. We are only in the 1st year implementation of this program and we see that it is making a positive effect on our student body. We hate to see the momentum and the foundation of a sense of confidence, fitting in, and many other achievements that have been started by this program be taken from our fourth grade students if they are moved to the middle school. There is a continuum of this program called Lead, but it is geared toward middle school age students. So even if the Middle school were to implement this program, it would not be age appropriate for our 4th grade students.

On a different note, ACM houses a small staff and student body in comparison to other schools in our county, but that is what makes ACM unique and allows the staff to be so close and also allows us to manage our student body more effectively. The closeness of our staff is also a support system that allows us to meet the needs of our student body with very little parental support.

The second question from the survey read: Are you in favor of 4th grade moving to the middle school?

Our staff is not in favor of fourth grade moving to the middle school. This decision is not what is best for our students. Fourth grade is elementary and should be held in an elementary setting, not a middle school setting.

Fourth grade student maturity, interests, and behaviors are more aligned with those of third graders, not fifth and sixth graders. Fourth grade curriculum is similar and more aligned to K-3rd grades versus 5th-6th grades. Teacher collaboration is extremely important for showing academic growth. Therefore, housing grades with similar standards makes more sense so that academic gaps can be addressed more accurately. Our students will also miss out on one more year of the opportunities that The Leader in Me Program provides.

We understand that the county board of education is leaning more toward fourth grade moving to the middle school because there is available space. We agree that this space is a waste unoccupied, but the thousands upon thousands of dollars that have been poured into the remodeling and upgrades to the building of ACM over the last four years should also be of concern.

As educators, our main concern is what’s best for our students. The county has proposed the idea of a wing be built onto RP since the first discussion of closing ACM in 2004, this suggests that the county recognizes that 4th grade belongs in an the elementary school setting.

Knowing that in the near future AC Moore would close, the county built a brand new middle school that was not designed to house fourth grade in 2007, which also indicates the county felt fourth grade does not belong at the middle school. Much effort and discussion of the possible plan of housing 4th grade in the same building with 5th and 6th graders has taken place. This plan is going to keep 4th grade separated by shirt color, schedules, and students interactions, which also indicates that the county acknowledges that 4th graders should not be in a middle school setting. Is it fair for fourth grade to be secluded? If they were in a true elementary setting, they would be able to interact with their elementary peers and in doing so learn appropriate communication skills.

Each time concerns are raised about fourth graders in a middle school setting are presented, a justification is given to support this decision, but again we must think about what is best for the students and clearly this decision is not what is best for our students.

We would like the board to also consider that as unfortunate as it may seem, many of our students are left to take care of younger siblings. As teachers of younger students, we are able to model appropriate ways to interact with younger children through the Leader In Me Program. This opportunity gives older students a sense of pride and accomplishment while allowing them to model and build loving and caring relationships with younger students. This empathy and compassion for others is greatly needed in our student body. We are finally implementing a program that is helping our students and the possibility of it being taken from them is heartbreaking.

The last question on the survey was for any other concerns for the board to consider:

Our staff would like for the board to take into consideration before making the final decision in splitting the staff of ACM that we are a close family, a staff of educated individuals, and people with feelings. What we have works because we are a happy staff that supports and uplifts each other in all the extremely challenging tasks that we are dealt daily, whether these challenges are academic, student behavior, student needs, or personal. At ACM we have very little parental support, yet we have each other and that is how we make so many strides and student achievements. We feel that a happy staff will always produce great things. Our staff is so great that 6 of our teachers commute 40 minutes or more one way to get to work just to be a part of the staff of ACM. We fear that splitting our staff will cause many of our staff members to become unhappy and seek other jobs or careers altogether because it is disheartening to become an educator for the right reason, to help students, only to get a job and quickly realize that education is not about the best interest of students and the ones who work with them. Many times education is simply about politics and money. We believe this is the biggest reason that the shortage of teachers will continue to get worse over time.
Many times in education, as teachers, we are professional educated people who feel that our every move is planned and decided by those who never work with children or take time or an interest in what is really the best decisions for educating children. Any decisions concerning a student body should greatly be influenced by the people who work directly with the students. Instead, many times, decisions concerning student achievements are treated as business decisions. Anyone who has been an educator or a parent will agree that children are much more than a business, instead our children and students are family. We do not like to think of the decisions concerning our students as business decisions. Instead, we believe that students are our business and our ability to positively impact them relies on how well we figure their personal needs into the decisions concerning them.

We are also asking you to please consider how the merging of schools will affect our staff and our principal in our daily duties, routines, and expectations as educators.

Merging with any new staff will be tough, but would not be such a huge challenge if we were able to merge our whole staff to one location and with a principal that we know and love. Our principal knows us on a personal and professional level. We know what he expects of us and he knows our capabilities. Students’ academic growth would continue uninterrupted with the support and familiarity of our principal and our staff. Familiar expectations would make for a smoother transition for our principal, our staff, and our students.

On a different note, the following are also facts that should be of concern. The black population within our county is not evenly distributed. The Atmore public schools are currently challenged with minority group isolation. Previous attempts to encourage voluntary school enrollments to redistribute the student population have not been successful. For example, ECMS has a longstanding reputation for low-performance and discipline problems.

While the new administration has changed the school culture, a local stigma still exists. Middle- and upper-income white families have consistently chosen not to send their children to the county’s high-minority schools. The board of education will further contribute to the decline of student enrollment by closing a great school in the Atmore Area. The closing of ACM could very well push more parents of 3rd graders to find other options rather than public school. This is not an uncommon trend, since this seems to be what parents do when their children finish at Huxford Elementary. Innovative academic programs and opportunities to overcome generations of racial isolation, programs such as Leader In Me are needed. The implementation of this program is currently showing a positive effect on our student body. Many of our parents did not attend the community meeting on April 6 because most parents trust educators in the decision making process of their children. However, many parents of 3rd and 4th grades have voiced their concerns about the consolidation of ACM. The Leader In Me Program teaches
our students to be proactive instead of reactive. This habit has been taught more than any of the other habits this school year. Why? Many of our parents are reactive instead of proactive. We feel if a decision is made to close ACM we will see a reaction of our parents. We as educators would like for our parents to be proactive in helping solve problems before they occur. At this very crucial time, we need your support, not for you to split us apart.

In closing, we ask you to ponder these questions once more before making a final decision about the consolidation of ACM: Why fix what is not broken? Why
cause strife where there is peace? and when money is not an issue, Why not make the very best choice you can for the fourth grade students at ACM and keep our
elementary students in an elementary school setting?

We thank you again for this opportunity to voice our thoughts and concerns.