AL State School Board discusses MPS intervention, graduation rate error

AL State School Board discusses MPS intervention, graduation rate error
The Montgomery Public School summer feeding program begins Monday for anyone 18-years-old and younger. 

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama State Board of Education held a special-called work session Wednesday. Among the items discussed: the intervention into the Montgomery Public Schools system, the plan for it and how it will be paid for.

According to State Superintendent of Education Michael Sentance, there are two concerns with MPS: core functions within the school system and academics in the 27 schools.

Sentance says, phase one of the intervention action plan will begin with school teams creating a specific improvement plan that emphasizes performance measures and data analysis with progress monitoring. Phase one is also expected to include development training for teachers and students, including parent and community engagement.

ALSDE says a combination of system and school level audits are being conducted to determine the current status and immediate needs in MPS. Those include instructional program review, central office personnel audits, finance audits and several other audits that relate to system infrastructure.

During the meeting, school board members expressed concern with the source of the budget for the MPS intervention. Sentance said the new chief school financial officer is currently conducting a financial audit of the school system.

State Board Member Stephanie Bell said she was told that MPS does not have the resources to succeed with students but Sentance says that remains to be seen. The state is working to get all the details on the financial audits to the respective schools, Sentance said.

Later on, school board members brought up the cleanliness of some of the schools in the MPS system.

Sentance says the condition of the schools reflects the lack of leadership and expectation from the administration of MPS.

"We have concerns about whether or not the schools are as clean as they should be. When you go into school it should be something that's attractive to people but also something where the children feel that the institution is respected," Sentance said. "Those are managements issues, both within the district and within the schools that we need to address."

When the discussion turned to the mistakes released with the graduation rate data, Sentance said he completely understood the anger and frustration from superintendents.

"Valedictorians were not counted as graduates because of the way certain classes were coded. The number of credits they earned were discounted," Sentance said.  "That was all wrong. That was just flat out wrong and that goes to the issue that this was not one thing but several things that we should have been done, that I thought were being done in the process, so we needed to address that."

Board member Stephanie Bell laid the blame for the error on Sentance.

"This is not the first time that he has put the board in a very difficult position that could have been avoided," Bell said. "There's still a big communication problem. And until that is resolved, we will continue to face problems across the state."

Sentance also said while he claims responsibility for the error, he holds the same expectations from those who provided the bad data.

"This was my responsibility. I did not think I had to ask the questions I had to ask. I thought that people were attentive to this given the importance of this, given the focus on this, that they would have gone through this," Sentance said.

That importance comes from allegations from federal officials that the state's graduation rates have been inflated for years.

Bell says Sentance should have been more hands-on with that kind of pressure.

"That should have been a red flag for him to question and know that they needed to go through a process of validation. They were not," Bell said.

Sentance has launched an investigation into the incorrect graduation rates. However, he's unsure when those numbers will be updated and released again.

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