Northwest Alabama school systems are helping keep students on track academically


NORTHWEST ALABAMA — The definition of what is normal changed drastically over the past year. That includes what is defined as a classroom. For a time, that was wherever a computer was available.

With systems now beginning the school year with traditional learning, education leaders have implemented a number of tools to aid in student success.

“We did put in place some interventionists which are teachers who had one goal which was to address the learning losses and learning gaps in students,” Florence City Schools Superintendent Jimmy Shaw said.

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund has allowed Florence City Schools to hire interventionists.

Shaw said the experience a student has with an intervention teacher can be compared to a one-on-one with a tutor, but with a more involved approach.

Laura Hillhouse is an instructional partner at Forest Hills Elementary and works with the interventionists. “With the implementation of the Alabama Literacy Act last year, we really identified a lot more kids who had gaps, and then with COVID, the gaps were even greater,” Hillhouse said. “By the interventionists, they’re getting that extra support—plus the classroom—but the extra support is really helpful to them.

Hillhouse added that the interventionists help identify the specific needs that students have.

Also in northwest Alabama, Russellville City Schools used the ESSER funding to hire bilingual aides to help its K-through 3rd-grade Spanish-speaking students.

“I’m hearing a lot of positive feedback from hiring the bilingual aides and what a difference it makes in the classroom,” Russellville City Schools Superintendent Heath Grimes said. “We hear that from teachers; we hear that from students.”

Grimes said with 26 percent of the RCS student population speaking Spanish as a primary language, the hiring of bilingual aides has proved to be a major confidence boost, aiding in student success.

Russellville City Schools also used that federal funding to start an after-school reading program where students could receive additional help.

The Franklin County School system is making use of homework hotlines for elementary students as well as high school students with English and Spanish options available. The system is also offering academic tutoring before and after school.

Muscle Shoals City Schools is taking a similar approach in using ESSER funding to recruit additional teachers and aides. “We have added interventionists and reading coaches to every campus, even the high school,” Superintendent Chad Holden said. “We invested our ESSER dollars into people instead of programs and are going back to the basics of direct instruction. A teacher and a student—one-on-one and in small groups.”

Interventionists have been hired to serve at all elementary and high schools in the Colbert County system as well. “We also have after-school tutoring available at the high school level and the 21st Century after-school program for our elementary students,” Superintendent Chris Hand said.

Hand added that new Chrome books have been purchased for elementary and high school students.

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