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North Alabama School System Celebrates 15 Years

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MADISON, Ala. (WHNT)-- Madison City Schools officially celebrated 15 years as a school system Friday.

The program was being sponsored by the Madison City PTA Council and included a recognition of those who were involved in the movement, a brief video presentation, art displays by students, academic and athletic achievements, and music from area schools.


It is often said that one can’t appreciate what is without knowing what was. Madison was under the governance of the Madison County Board of Education when a movement began in the late 1980s and early 1990s that paved the way for Madison to form its own school system.

The community’s desire to build and improve Madison schools exceeded what the County Board of Education could deliver given its financial constraints and demands from other sectors of the county.

A grassroots education committee that initiated a slew of school improvement feasibility studies in the early 1990s got new life when the city formally sanctioned it as the Madison Education Committee (MCE).

With the help of the MCE, Madison and its education partner, Triana, approved local property tax increases in 1993 to help the county fund capital improvements in Madison schools. Two new schools were built and others were renovated but the county board still couldn’t meet Madison’s expectations for its schools.

The Madison City Council voted Oct. 13, 1997 to form an independent city school system with an opening targeted for August 1998. Madison Council members then were Cynthia McCollum, Christopher Watson, Ray Stubblefield, Marc Jacobson, Jim Reagan, Sally Warden and Greg Curtis. The mayor was Chuck Yancura.

During a trip to Montgomery in fall of 1997, then-State Superintendent of Education Ed Richardson gave the city a March deadline to have all the details worked out for a legal separation from the county school system. It was, by all accounts, a monumental undertaking to pull off in such a short period of time.

In very short order, the City Council interviewed 46 candidates and appointed the first Madison City School Board on Nov. 10, 1997. The inaugural board consisted of Don Spencer (who became chairman), Sheila Nash Stevenson, Sue Helms, Stephen Bryan Brooks and Ed Zompa. Brooks vacated the board only weeks later and was replaced by Dr. John Walters.

In the few short months the city had to formally establish an independent school district, Madison schools attorney Woody Sanderson, Madison City School Board Chairman Don Spencer and others worked at lightning speed to make the legal break from the county.

The separation entailed complex financial, legal and logistical actions including dividing assets, establishing policy and personnel matters and avoiding Justice Department hurdles by including Triana in the Madison school district.

The first superintendent hired by the new school board was Dr. Henry Clark. Clark quickly began establishing his first cabinet of district-wide leaders. Dr. Dee Fowler, then principal at Liberty Middle School, was named director of Administration and Operations and later became the district’s first and only assistant superintendent. Fowler became superintendent in 2003 when Clark retired.

Since the Madison City School System was formed, enrollment has swelled from 5,652 students in 1997-98 to more than 9,300 today. The number of schools has grown from five (West Madison, Madison, Liberty, Discovery and Bob Jones) to 11 today.

The 11 campuses of MCS also now includes Rainbow, Heritage, Horizon, Mill Creek and Columbia elementary schools, and the new James Clemens High School which opened last fall.

School enrollment in Madison continues to grow at a pace of about 350 new students a year in the past several years alone. The district consistently gets recognized for excellence in education, its students get tens of millions of dollars in scholarship offers each year, and its teachers are second to none.

For all these accolades to spring forth in just 15 short years makes the Madison City Schools story even more amazing.

(Information provided by the Madison City School District