By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Escambia County Middle School Principal Forrest Jones, who took over the reins of the struggling school in April 2022, said there’s no real secret behind the impressive score ECMS received on its latest state report card.
“There’s no magic to it,” Jones said. “It’s just the teachers in the classroom, teaching. That’s the biggest thing.”
ECMS posted one of the lowest scores in the state (56) last year in the first post-COVID report cards issued. This year’s 14-point jump to a 70, one of the largest gains by any Alabama school, brought ECMS from a letter grade of F to a C.
Students across the state in second through eighth grade take the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) test, and only results from third through eighth grade in math, reading and science are used to calculate grades. Escambia Middle is for grades 6-8, and ACAP is a computer-based assessment that measures how well students have mastered the Alabama Course of Study.
Again, Jones said, there’s no secret.
“We are very proud of our score, but I can’t say it enough that the credit goes to our staff, especially our eighth-grade staff. I would put them up against anybody. Teachers like Anna Wheeler and John Durant have been here forever. We have Wanda Jones and Tiffany Hobbs, and Marcia Adams has been here for 33 years.
“That’s just a few off the top of my head, but it’s all of them. These people are amazing; they bring it every day. They work together to try and make sure our kids have what they need to move forward, and you can’t ask for more than that.”
He also cited the effort put forth by Special Education teachers Kelly McNeil and Amanda Brown.
“They get after it every day, and that filters down to our younger teachers,” Jones said. “We’re trying to create a culture of caring about academics, trying to promote conversations about their iRead scores, conversations about how our students did on those periodic assessments we give about three times a year.”
He said the teachers and other staff members also work well with the community leaders who donate their time and money to the school, including Bishop Catadro North of Empowerment Tabernacle and local attorney Karean Reynolds, who is a member of the county commission and judge of Atmore’s municipal court. ECMS staff members also work with organizations like Gulf Coast RC&D Council and Poarch Band of Creek Indians, both of which has provided supplemental funding.
Jones also cited the effort of the school’s “amazing counselors,” Jawaun Osborn and Nicole Jones, as well as longtime Media Specialist Sara Chavers.
“They really work hard to support our staff and our students in more ways than I can name,” he said. “We’ve also been able to add some really amazing teachers to come in and fill some spots that needed to be filled.”
Escambia Middle was one of the few schools whose test performance was recognized by Alabama Education Lab in a recap of this year’s statewide report cards.
“I just can’t say enough; we’ve got an amazing staff that supports each other,” Jones said. “We also get support from county, in the materials and supplies we need. [Assistant Superintendent] George Brown is in and out all the time. The Central Office staff has been amazing to provide professional development on the things they’re asking teachers to do.”