What the new Every Student Succeeds Act means for Alabama

What the new Every Student Succeeds Act means for Alabama

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Dr. Quesha Starks, principal of Montgomery's Booker T. Washington Magnet High School, is excited about the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

She is so excited about the new education legislation that she sits on Gov. Robert Bentley's Every Student Succeeds Act Implementation Committee. She is also a member of the Educator Effectiveness subcommittee under the task force.

The ESSA was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December and will go into effect in Alabama in Fall 2017. For Starks, the changes being made by introducing ESSA in place of the No Child Left Behind Act, are very similar to the values she has tried to put in place at her school.

Booker T. Washington was named one of the top 500 high schools in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Starks attributes much of the school's success to an emphasis on hearing from and working with the community.

"I am so excited that, now, the entire state of Alabama is going to start taking input from stakeholders and then implementing strategies based on that feedback," Starks said.

According to Starks, under ESSA, community input will be able to make more of a difference because the legislation shifts the decision-making power to the state from the federal government.

Dr. Michael Sibley, communications director for the Alabama Department of Education, said ESSA will specifically allow the state to dictate how it determines whether or not teachers are well-qualified, how it will handle standardized testing and how the department will delegate the $500 million in federal education funds the state receives each year.

"ESSA provides additional support," Sibley said. "It doesn't replace anything that's already in place. It adds to resources and opportunities for students who may have special needs, students who are learning English, the fine arts education, for physical education, for gifted kids…in each of these areas, it allows us the opportunity to pull back, see what we can do better and have the federal resources to make those changes happen."

Sibley said these decisions will be made by the people the state believes know the systems and communities better than lawmakers at the federal level.

The legislation that makes up ESSA is long and complicated, which is why Sibley said the state is making a point to visit sites around the state to explain the changes to the communities and give stakeholders the opportunity to respond.

"It is extremely important that people understand that this is their time to come out and tell us what we can do to improve public education," Sibley said.

The state has already held meetings in Montgomery and Auburn.

Starks said there has been high participation from teachers and parents who are excited about the increase in community input.

For a full list of meetings and tour stops, you can visit the governor's website.

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