Morgan County’s three public school systems improved their numerical scores on the 2019 state report cards, resulting in letter grades of A for Hartselle City and B's for Decatur City and Morgan County.
Every school site, except for one in Hartselle and two each in Decatur and Morgan County, also showed academic gains. No school earned a D or F.
The Alabama State Department of Education — as required by a 2012 law Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, sponsored — is making the letter grades public today for the state, districts and all schools. The state's scores and scores for districts outside Morgan County weren't available in advance.
The letter grades for the three systems in Morgan for the 2018-19 school year were the same as their final grades the previous year. However, Hartselle's score jumped two points, Morgan County Schools' rose five points, and Decatur's improved three points.
“I’ve preached progress since I came to Decatur, and this continues to be our focus,” Decatur Superintendent Michael Douglas said.
Every elementary school in Decatur, except for Julian Harris Elementary, improved its numerical score. Julian Harris' numerical score went from 90 the previous year to 85, dropping its letter grade from A to B.
Douglas said one of the most remarkable stories in Decatur continues to be Frances Nungester Elementary, a school with a poverty rate of more than 98%. The school’s score increased to 88, and for the third straight year it earned a B.
“They are well on their way to being an A school despite the challenges with poverty,” Douglas said.
Frances Nungester had an 83 score the first year the state gave letter grades and the numerical score rose to 86 last year.
Principal Shannon McCaskey said they don’t have a magic formula.
“We build relationships with our students,” she said. “They know we care about them, and in turn, they want to perform for us.”
Austinville Elementary, with 400 students, another Title 1 school because of its high poverty rate, had the greatest gain among schools in Decatur. The school went from D to C, and its numerical grade increased 13 points to 76.
“It’s our teachers and parents,” said Tony Willis, who is in his second year as principal at Austinville.
The state weighs academic achievement, academic growth, and chronic absenteeism as indicators to issue grades for elementary and middle schools.
For overall district grades, however, the state uses five indicators: academic achievement, academic growth, graduation rate, college and career readiness, and chronic absenteeism.
Hartselle City received 100% of its growth points for reading, math and English testing numbers.
Overall, the system grade increased from a 92 to 94, with Barkley Bridge Elementary posting a near-perfect score at 98.
“Because of where we are, we have to continually monitor what we are doing and stay on top of things,” Superintendent Dee Dee Jones said.
Decatur also received all of its growth points, primarily because of how elementary and middle school students performed, Douglas said.
“We’ve had a focus on reading and literacy for elementary and middle school students,” the superintendent said. “Long term, we’ll see the benefit of this at the high schools.”
Overall, Austin High had a 78 and earned a C as did Decatur High with a 76. Douglas said number grades for the high schools would have been the same, but Decatur lost two points because it didn't have at least 95% of its junior students take the ACT test in the spring.
“I can assure you this will not happen again,” he said.
Other than Julian Harris, the only Decatur school site that didn't show an academic gain had a different alignment than in the previous year. Austin Middle/Cedar Ridge Middle included grades 6 and 7 with former Brookhaven Middle students in the 2018-19 academic year when it scored 82. The previous year when it had grades 6-8 and Brookhaven was a separate school, Cedar Ridge scored 87.
In Morgan County, Priceville High earned an A, while West Morgan High and Danville High got B’s, and Brewer and Falkville missed getting a B by one point.
“We’re pleased with the progress, but we’re not where we want to be,” Morgan County Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said. “We’ve been focusing on the standards and that’s what we will continue to do.”
Priceville Elementary, one of the first schools in the state to earn Blue Ribbon status, made a 93 on its report card and received an A for the first time.