Students and staff stand up for Huntsville’s “failing” schools

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Three Huntsville City Schools are on the state's 2019 list of failing schools, listed from state data as the lowest 6% of schools identified for the Alabama Accountability Act of 2015.

Jemison High School, Ronald McNair Junior High, and Lakewood Elementary School are on the list. They're all in the same feeder pattern in Huntsville's District One.

On Thursday at the scheduled board of education meeting, District One board representative, Michelle Watkins, stood up for the schools.

"Test scores don't define District One. District One is solid," she said. "It took some time for us to get the right people in place, but we have the right people in place. Do we still have things that need to be addressed? Yes, we do. But we are constantly reviewing data. We are constantly looking at attendance. But it takes a village. Which means we need all parents, not some parents. We need all parents involved."

Superintendent Christie Finley asked various teachers, students, and staff to appear before the board to share the good things going on in the schools.

"I want to extend a personal thank you," she said. "You are the change makers."

One by one, the guests came before the board to share their thoughts on the failing schools list.

"Our culture right now is learning," said McNair principal Carlita Collins.

"These test scores don't define what my students and my teachers are doing," said Lakewood Elementary Fredrick Barnes. He added, "We are going to look at this data to see exactly what we need to do to make our goal for this year."

Even students chimed in.

One said, "So many good things are coming out of Jemison High School. Really, I just want to thank our teachers for supporting us and challenging us."

Teachers praised the students in these failing schools for what they do every day, saying they crave learning and try harder every single day to be better.

"I am proud of all of the students in District One," Watkins said, becoming emotional as the crowd applauded. "I am."

Going forward, the district will continue to improve. Leaders said a plan is in place and already in action to analyze the data and make sure students are getting what they need to succeed.

Finley said, "By limiting the focus on a single data point, the Accountability Act does not capture what is really happening in our schools." She said the district's Indicators of Success have been developed to ensure growth and improvement in the coming year.

But the message Thursday night was that it is not just something that can happen inside the schools. Everyone is needed to help raise the scores.

Rachel McDaniel, Principal of Jemison High, said, "The Whole Huntsville has to work together."