State superintendent discusses MPS intervention, improving educa - Montgomery Alabama news.

State superintendent discusses MPS intervention, improving education

(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)

State Superintendent Michael Sentance describes the intervention into Montgomery’s public schools as the broadest, most ambitious state intervention in department history, an approach to fundamentally improve the district’s performance.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to get it right for Montgomery,” Sentance explained.

Sentance describes the intervention status now as district-centered, rather than state-centered, as the programs and planning are happening on the ground level.

“We have been trying to work very, very closely with staff in Montgomery County,” Sentance said. “Some of the people are terrific, they are hard-working and really thoughtful about what they are doing. Other people are, frankly, a little resistant. That goes to the nature of these turnaround situations.”

Sentance is seeking financial stability for Montgomery, and long-term plans to bring more STEM projects to the schools.

“We’ve got to make sure the class sizes are right, the quality of teaching is better, and there’s a clear focus and mission for each school on how they can improve,” said Sentance.

Going forward, Sentance will be in a position to advise and counsel the district. Principals are charged with implementing the changes.

“We are going to be holding a variety of meetings with staff,” Sentance said. “The principals are going to be engaged. They are going to develop the plan from the ground up, and help define how schools are going to go forward.”

As for red flags, Sentance noted chronic absences for students and teachers are flagrant early warning signs. He cited that data will be closely watched by the state, and will be a weekly conversation.

“Parents and the public will know as well,” he said.

Sentance readily admits the controversy surrounding the MPS intervention was expected and hopes the buy-in will build over time.

“We are very sincere and approachable about a variety of issues,” Sentance stated. “I was expecting some controversy.”

Sentance acknowledged professional development has been underway at many of the schools to better handle Montgomery’s students living in extreme poverty.

“We need to make sure the teachers are ready and fully prepared to teach the students who come to school with all the challenges they bring,” he said.

Sentance explained he had a conversation with Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange regarding the future of Montgomery’s public schools, and transitioning to a city school system, but didn’t elaborate on the details of their conversation.

“I've told him that’s his agenda,” Sentance said of Strange. “It’s my agenda to get the schools right.”

As for the state, Sentance isn’t sure how long it will take to see substantial change on the district level in Alabama from his initiatives. He cited months of planning will soon result in moving into the implementation phase.

“What we are doing here is designed to do one thing – that’s improve the State of Alabama,” Sentance stated. “This is a state that desperately needs a great public education system. If it starts to have a great public education system, it has the underpinnings of a dynamic economy. You’ve got great universities, great hospitals, and great industries. That’s the underpinning of a great, robust economy that can grow."

Sentance is still working to change the mental perception of Alabama’s school system, and building many systems and plans for the state.

“We don’t have certain plans and programs that are fairly commonplace in some parts of the country,” Sentance said. “The fact is that we have to build those things from the ground up. Whenever I start to talk about what they do in another state – that’s a conversation people haven’t had before. There’s certain comparisons people make here, the important ones are what other states are doing because they are frankly competitors to a lot of the jobs in this country.”

Sentance came into the State Department of Education under a cloud of controversy surrounding key board member’s involvement in running an alleged smear campaign on a well-known superintendent candidate. The State Board of Education recently gave Sentance low marks on an evaluation, in additional to the polarizing MPS intervention.

Despite the odds, Sentance says he makes an effort to keep students and their education the focus.

“I have some good people here in the department, they are a source of inspiration,” Sentance said. “I also have my faith that I draw upon.”
A State School Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

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