HARTSELLE — In a hall at Hartselle High School, teachers Taylor Christopher of Decatur Middle, Julie Leonardi of Falkville and John Johnson of Sulligent discussed a method for teaching students how to include quotes in writings.

“We’re playing different roles and learning from each other,” Leonardi said.

They are also among more than 700 teachers from across the state who are receiving training through A+ College Ready’s new “E3” training sessions, which are designed to “equip, empower and expect more” for education.

The training is significant because A+ College Ready is expanding its footprint this year in the six public school districts in Lawrence, Limestone and Morgan counties.

“We’re raising the rigor and the process begins with training,” Morgan County Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said.

Falkville and Priceville are joining A+ College Ready this year, and Hopkins said West Morgan and Danville will be in the program the following year.

Hartselle High was the first Decatur-area school system to join the program almost a decade ago, and Austin and Decatur became part of A+ last year.

The program, which started with a $13.2 million grant in 2008, gives students an opportunity to take classes that will count toward college credit if they achieve a qualifying score. AP exams are scored on a 1-5 scale, with 3 considered a qualifying score.

Participating schools receive comprehensive teacher training and support for Advanced Placement students and teachers, as well as training for teachers in grades 6-11 in math and grades 6-10 in science, English, social studies and computer science.

School systems do not pay to be part of the program, but are required to send teachers for training. Hartselle City Superintendent Dee Dee Jones said the number of college credit hours a student can earn depend on the number of AP classes offered.

Hartselle and Decatur City offer almost all the AP classes from AP music to AP statistics and AP chemistry.

"A few years ago, we had a student to graduate with an associate's degree and enrolled as a junior at Mississippi State," Jones said.

Hartselle has remained a partner school with A+ College Ready, which is why the training is at Hartselle High this week and why some of its teachers are presenters.

Erica Griffin, an AP language teacher for Hartselle, went through the training about a decade ago, but the requirements to teach AP has changed, and she is sharing her classroom experience.

She said teachers have to be equipped with the skills to not only teach AP students, but reach English as a Second Language students who may be in the same classrooms.

“We’re bringing what we have learned in the classroom and providing teachers with the foundations they will need to teach AP classes,” said Griffin, who is also a consultant with A+ College Ready.

Learning from peers is a critical component of the training, and that is what Christopher, Leonardi and Johnson were doing in the hall. They were playing various roles and using what they called the “TIE” approach to teaching students to use quotes in writing. TIE means to tag, introduce and embed.

“Very informative,” is how Leonardi described the training.

Earon Sheats, who is coming from Hartselle after 12 years as a teacher to become assistant principal at Austin Junior High, said the best component of A+ professional development is teachers learning from each other.

“It’s hands-on, and teachers are sharing their experiences,” she said.

Administrators such as Sheats attend the training because A+ has expanded into the middle-school grades to help students prepare for the rigorous coursework in high school, said Tammy Dunn, A+ vice president for academic affairs.

“Even students who choose not to take AP courses — or who have future plans other than attending a four-year college — will have access to instruction that supports the development of the foundational skills and knowledge needed to be prepared for success on any post-high school path they choose,” she said.

Hartselle historically has posted some of the highest scores in the state, and its high school students have been a leader in AP passing scores and ACT scores. Assistant Principal Jerome Ward said one of the reasons is training because it equips teachers with the skills to reach every student.

“Here at Hartselle we try to take down barriers and challenge students to do more,” he said.

But to do this, teachers need to know everything that is expected and be able to identify students with AP potential who may not be in AP classes, Ward said.

He said Hartselle’s alignment with A+ College Ready years ago helped change the academic culture at the school.

“We all expect more,” Ward said.

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

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