DCS state of education 2021

Decatur Superintendent Michael Douglas gives his annual State of Education address at Decatur First Baptist church on Tuesday. [WES TOMLINSON/DECATUR DAILY] 

Superintendent Michael Douglas said Tuesday that state leaders and community members need to give educators more respect, but he was blunt in his concern over low test scores in Decatur City Schools.

Douglas told the crowded audience at Decatur First Baptist Church during his State of Education speech that the lack of respect for teachers deters individuals from pursuing education careers, limiting the talent available for improving schools.

“We’ve got parents telling kids not to go into education,” Douglas said. “They're not getting paid enough, the workload is too hectic and they're not being respected."

The statewide teacher shortage is being felt in Decatur City Schools, according to Douglas.

“I can show you real-time data, where in the past I’d get 50 applications for an elementary teaching job, now I might get four,” Douglas said.

Douglas said the education workforce is diminishing, and if it continues, other industries could be potentially impacted as well.

“We’re about to not have a workforce, which means you’re not about to have a workforce,” Douglas said. “You better start loving your teachers.”

Douglas brought up past statements that state politicians have made regarding education.

“We can’t have a governor saying that the education system sucks,” Douglas said. “You can’t say stuff like that. You just can’t.”

Douglas appeared to be referring to former Gov. Robert Bentley and comments he made during an Alabama Association of Regional Councils Conference in 2016.

Douglas also discussed the retention piece in the 2019 Literacy Act and his support for delaying implementation of the third grade holdback provision in the law. 

“We can’t have state school board members saying, ‘Well we don’t need a delay, because we don’t want our teachers to let up,'” Douglas said.

The sponsor of the Literacy Act, Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, was in the crowd. She urged Gov. Kay Ivey to veto legislation in May that would have delayed the holdback provision until 2024. Ivey vetoed the bill, and retention of third graders not reading at grade level will take effect in the spring of 2022 when students take the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) for the second time.

In last spring's ACAP, 21% of Decatur City students tested proficient in math and Douglas stressed the need for more math coaches.

“We’re at an abysmal level in math right now,” Douglas said. “We’re going to hire more math coaches, and I’d like to also see state-funded math coaches.”

Douglas said the system's ACT scores dropped, but he said it was because they tested a larger percentage of students rather than mostly those who were college bound. He said 60% of DCS students do not go to college. He said college-bound students' ACT scores have actually improved.

Douglas praised his teachers and administrators for the work they have done and noted some of the challenges they currently face.

“We’ve got about 1,300 kids who are English language learners,” Douglas said. “That means they do not speak the English language at all so this is what our teachers are dealing with.”

The 1,300 students is about 15% of the 8,600-student system.

Douglas said in order to raise the English proficiency of EL students, schools have to start while they’re young.

“When they’re in kindergarten or first grade, that’s the perfect time to start them,” Douglas said. “Middle school or high school is too late because it takes five years to acquire the English language.”

Representatives from Calhoun Community College attended the State of Schools speech and praised Douglas for his honesty in presenting data.

“I really like Dr. Douglas’ attention to data, he’s very transparent about it,” said Houston Blackwood, director of workforce solutions at Calhoun Community College. “He’s definitely not shy in presenting data whether it is good or bad.”

Blackwood agrees with Douglas about the teacher crisis and suggested a method of recruiting teachers.

“You’ve got people who may not have a teaching degree, but they can definitely still teach,” Blackwood said. “For one block a day, we can bring in somebody just to teach calculus, and then they can go back to their regular job.”

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—wesley.tomlinson@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438. 

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