Decatur City Schools Superintendent Ed Nichols said he failed teachers and students because he didn’t realize how big a challenge ACT Aspire would be, nor did he provide them with what they needed to master the state’s new standardized test.

Nichols, who is retiring in May, also Tuesday challenged the four mayoral candidates to spend a day in the footsteps of a teacher or principal before they try to tell him what’s wrong with education in Decatur.

“These people,” he said pointing to a group of school administrators in the crowd at the Decatur County Club, “are working day and night, and we owe them a lot more support than they are getting.”

Nichols’ comments came after a group of educators, community leaders and elected officials sat silently as a representative of a research firm painted a gloomy picture of the impact poverty has had on test scores in Decatur.

Joe Adams, of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, said Decatur City Schools has one of the most diverse student populations in the state, but that diversity comes with challenges because the district is dealing with a significant number of students who are not connected to the community.

He was speaking about the district’s rising Hispanic population, which has grown from less than 1 percent in 1996 to 24 percent this year; and student poverty, which has more than doubled to 61 percent in fewer than two decades.

“Your challenges are quite significant,” Adams said.

Nichols, who followed Adams to the podium, said he could speak his mind because he is retiring. He twice mentioned the board could fire him, which drew a laugh from the audience.

Nichols’ speech was passionate in defense of teachers and administrators, and about addressing poverty and issues associated with the district’s changing demographics.

As for people who have not “gotten their hands dirty” working with children in the school district, he said he didn’t care what they thought about education.

Nichols called out the four announced mayoral candidates, saying they shouldn’t run for the office if they are not committed to education. He challenged incumbent Don Kyle and candidates Reggie Jackson, Tab Bowling and Jeremy Goforth to spend a day in a school if they want to see what teachers deal with daily.

Kyle, whose wife was a school teacher for 35 years, said he is well aware of the challenges teachers face. “I’ve been committed to education my entire life,” he said.

Jackson, Goforth and Bowling said they are also committed to education and will accept Nichols’ challenge.

PARCA’s report in the past has focused just on how Decatur City Schools was doing compared to other districts, but this year Adams carried it a step further and told the crowd that issues with test scores are a community problem.

“Teachers are not the entire answer,” Adams said.

Adams said students spend about 33 percent of their time in school and the other time away from school in areas of the city that largely are disconnected from the educational system.

Decatur City Schools elementary education supervisor Rachel Poovey said the district will try to close some of the gaps with families in poverty this summer when it offers spots to 60 students at the summer extended day program.

She said they are focusing on non-English-speaking students who are largely Hispanic and whose parents have little contact with the school district.

“We’re going to have bilingual teachers coming in two days a week working with the parents,” Poovey said. “We have to do a better job closing gaps with this demographic. The need level is tremendous.”

Nichols said he plans to try to make amends for his failures after he retires by working with families in poverty.

“The greatest challenge we have is to help mom and dad get jobs that pay them above the poverty level,” he said.

Decatur City students — like most statewide — are struggling with the new ACT Aspire standards, which have been in place for two years. The second round of results the state released in November showed the majority of Decatur’s students continued to read below state averages and are not on track to be college- or career-ready when they graduate.

Adams said poverty continues to be the overriding issue with Decatur’s test scores. He said included in the students living in poverty are a significant number of students who are not English proficient, which means they may not understand the questions they read on the test.

Decatur City Schools testing coordinator Wanda Davis said 670 students who took ACT Aspire last month were not proficient in English. Students in grades three through eight take the test.

Nichols said the district is a lot more educated about the challenge Decatur faces with ACT Aspire. He and Davis said Decatur City Schools, as well as other school systems in the state, did not receive any material to help them prepare students for the new test.

One local education official said it’s like sending high school kids to the National Football League and expecting them immediately to perform like All-Pro players.

ACT Aspire is the elementary and middle school test equivalent of the ACT for high school students, and is designed to link elementary and secondary progression in the framework of having students ready for college or a career.

Blake McAnally, who represents the Decatur City Schools Foundation, which sponsored the event, said the school district can’t fix its issues overnight. He said the community has to take a more active role in helping the school district.

McAnally said people can complain or they can “get busy” and help solve the problem.

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deangelo@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2469. Twitter @DD_Deangelo.

(11) comments

Jett the Angry Dwarf

WOW!!!!!!! That is a Decatur Daily story all to itself. Charles Kirby just compared illegal immigration where people voluntarily choose to come to America to slavery where millions of black people were kidnapped, sold, separated from their families, beaten and killed. WOW!!! You win Charlie Tuna. You are the dumbest one of all.

Jett the Angry Dwarf

Kirby, nobody said anything about a "written pledge." And you know it. You're just misrepresenting the facts trying to confuse people like a TYPICAL POLITICIAN. That Dr. Nichols challenged the candidates, 3 accepted the challenge, Kyle didn't, and you are trying to protect your man crush Kyle. Two financial failures in the private sector trying to hide in city government collecting government checks because they can't hack it in the real world. Go file another bankruptcy Kirby.

JERRY MITCHELL

"He was speaking about the district’s rising Hispanic population, which has grown from less than 1 percent in 1996 to 24 percent this year; and student poverty, which has more than doubled to 61 percent in fewer than two decades"

Thank you Obama liberals & the chicken plant ! Quit asking why Decatur isn't an attractive place to live.[whistling]

Jett the Angry Dwarf

What has Charles Kirby done to get rid of the third world element in his district? NOTHING.

charles kirby

You have no idea about anything. You, I or anyone else has no authority to remove any "third world" people. If it wasn't for unscrupulous Americans who attract those people here to drive wages down, there would be no immigration problem. America has a long history of using various ethnic groups for cheap labor. Remember slavery? Get a clue.......

Jett the Angry Dwarf

Kyle has an ex teacher in his house so he supports education? But he won't take the pledge to support education. Politician through and through. Who else did you have in your house? Do you support that too? Vote out LOW ENERGY DON KYLE THE POLITICIAN. He's been running for office longer than he ever had a real job. He sat on his duff while his wife worked while he spent 4 years running for mayor with nothing else to do. We need leaders not politicians like Don Kyle.

charles kirby

What pledge? Do we need those on a government paycheck, yes teachers are government pay, committing those who work "for the people" to promise unconditional support for that small sector (government) whose jobs and benefits have not been shipped to the third world. Exactly what pledge exists and what does it say!? More importantly, who wrote the pledge and what do they commit to do for "the people"?

Jett the Angry Dwarf

Do you not read the articles? Do you just immediately go to the comments section and start typing? No wonder you can't get a real job and filed bankruptcy leaving those of us that actually work for a living to carry the burden of your bankruptcy. Why do I even bother with you Chucklehead? The least important councilman from the least important district where all the Hispanics live. District 4 is the third world. Is that where all the jobs are? Here is what the article said. Three candidates accepted the challenge, but not Kyle. He's too busy pretending he knows everything like the rest of the council stooges. Who is the bigger know it all? Mensa boy, bankruptcy boy, or low energy boy. Here's the article since Kirby can't be bothered to read it.

Nichols called out the four announced mayoral candidates, saying they shouldn’t run for the office if they are not committed to education. He challenged incumbent Don Kyle and candidates Reggie Jackson, Tab Bowling and Jeremy Goforth to spend a day in a school if they want to see what teachers deal with daily.


Kyle, whose wife was a school teacher for 35 years, said he is well aware of the challenges teachers face. “I’ve been committed to education my entire life,” he said.


Jackson, Goforth and Bowling said they are also committed to education and will accept Nichols’ challenge

charles kirby

So, will you admit there is no actual written pledge? That this is posturing about general support for education. My votes have spoken on my support. You are so anxious to misrepresent anything due to your blind hatred.

Pamela Blakely

Don't be surprised to see a pre-election gimmick where the Mayor and the Council fund a new Burningtree school with the necessary roads and infrastructure. Everybody gets to talk about the importance of education and then the Mayor and Council can cut school funding in a non-election year.

Ben Dover

And how many students in that Burningtree district are Latino? Very, very few. it's about the only district in the city that is not 1/4 (or more) Latino.

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