MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. – As the summer break comes to an end, teachers and school administrators are returning to campuses across the valley. A surprise guest greeted teachers in Muscle Shoals as they filed into the Muscle Shoals High School auditorium Monday morning.
It was his first chance to get boots on the ground; hired in May, Alabama Department of Education Superintendent Eric Mackey jumped at the chance to speak to Muscle Shoals teachers and administrators when asked.
“What we want is for the teachers to feel like hey, there is somebody there who has got your back," Mackey said. "You just keep going forward and doing the good work for children, and we are going to be building the kinds of resources and tools that teachers need to do their jobs."
The new state superintendent took the opportunity Monday to cast a vision for the challenges the state faces in education this year. His top priorities are to develop a student assessment test, improve math scores and develop a new school informational system for tracking student progress. Mackey says he wants to work with those on the front lines to accomplish these.
“People see the department as there to find out what is wrong, or to 'get you,' if you will," he said. "The department shouldn’t be that; the department should simply be a support mechanism for the local school systems."
Another challenge Mackey faces is stability in his position. After long tenures by previous superintendents, the tumultuous exit of former superintendent Michael Sentance has left some doubts.
“I think people are hungry for that again,” Mackey said. “They want to make sure we have some long stability, and I’m here for the long tenure and that’s my commitment.”
Mackey ended his visit by having a meet-and-greet with the people he says will make the biggest difference in education: teachers.
The U.S. Department of Education is waiting for the Alabama Department of Education to develop a state student assessment test and have it place by the spring of 2020.