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In the Weeds with Dr. Eric Mackey

It has been a while since our last podcast, two months in fact. I sincerely apologize for that and I appreciate so many folks saying they missed the program. As always, the point of this podcast is to talk about politics at an in-depth level, including from interviews with various politicians and officials.

This week we are talking education, and I was pleased to sit down with State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey. Now, the coronavirus outbreak has impacted just about every aspect of life, including on public policy. But I would argue that education has been one area most profoundly impacted, both in terms of its effect on student achievement and the long term policy implications it will bring. Most schools in Alabama took spring break either the first or second week of March and then never returned to school. The Governor’s order to close schools statewide came on March 26 with a full two months of school left. Systems scrambled to come up with learning from home options and suddenly parents became part time teachers.

Specifically in Alabama, the outbreak came at a time when the state was attempting to move forward with some policy initiatives that are aimed to improve student performance. A lot of that has been put on hold, which Dr. Mackey talks about in detail. One policy Alabama is trying to move forward with is implementation of the new Alabama Literacy Act. A lot of people are familiar with Alabama’s top rated First Class Pre-K program and the incredible difference it is making as it expands to more students throughout the state.  The same studies that show quality pre-K can improve education outcomes also show that those gains can be quickly lost if students don’t continue to grow in their learning. There’s no question that the biggest obstacle for that in Alabama is children falling behind on their ability to read and comprehend. Children who do not read at grade level by fourth grade are unlikely to graduate, which is why Alabama passed a literacy law last year with a renewed focus on early reading, identification of reading problems in students, and stronger preparation for teachers. And, yes, students are required to read on grade level before being promoted to fourth grade, an approach other states have taken with success to show for it. However, this program will not work without proper funding, and the Legislature delivered with a full $27 million appropriation that will fund summer reading camps, regional literary specialists and special support to the lowest performing schools. We have the law, we have the money, and now it’s time to implement it, and that’s no small feat. I asked Dr. Mackey about how that’s going so far and what to expect over the next year.

Perhaps the newsiest item we discussed is the department of education’s plan to build a statewide online learning portal. This would be for K-12 students whose parents may not want them to return to traditional classrooms this fall. The online platform will also be an option should school systems have to close their physical doors again. This is a big deal for a few reasons. Obviously, if done right it could be a game changer for giving parents a needed option and making sure students don’t fall further behind. But more broadly, it represents maybe the biggest single step toward school choice the state has ever seen. My understanding is that it is meant to me temporary, and in fact if could be paid for with federal coronavirus relief  money. But, if parents like this option and it works quality wise, you could see a larger proliferation of online learning in the future. We already have virtual academies like the once run by K-12, but this is much broader in scope. Anyway, that was breaking news this week and you’ll get to hear Dr. Mackey’s full discussion of that.

So here it is, my interview In the Weeds with state superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey.

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Todd C. Stacy: Hey, Dr. Mackey, thanks for coming on In the Weeds podcast. 

Dr. Eric Mackey: I’m glad to be “in the weeds” with you. It’s been certainly in the weeds the last several weeks. And so this is an appropriate time to sit down and talk about some big issues. 

TS: Absolutely. If I’m not mistaken. You’ve recently marked two years on the job. Is that right? 

EM: Right. Yeah. In middle of May was two years. And so May 13th, 14th, the board meeting was May 14th. And the board wrote my contract out for another year. So three more years and lots of projects to take down in three years. 

TS: Time flies when you’re having fun? 

Yeah, you better bet. 

TS: Well, here we are in the last week of May If I’m not mistaken, the second week of March was the last time that schools were kids were in classrooms. 


TS: So that’s been more than more than two months out of school, which is just the craziest calendar school year anybody can remember. And I know every school system is different, but I wanted to ask you, generally speaking, how do you think the state has handled the challenge? 

EM: Yeah, I would give the state a grade of A what’s happened in the last two, three months because we faced what you could say truly would have been insurmountable circumstances. But we have surmounted them for the most part. You know, we can’t find another time even going back to the pandemic of 1918 when the whole state shut down its schools at one time for this period of time. Now, we’ve had short closures like when Hurricane Opal came through and we closed the whole state for a couple of days. We’ve also had extended closures. Unfortunately, most of the time, Todd, in this state that is because of tornadoes that would shut schools down for weeks or months, but they’d only based schools in a certain area of the state. So we’ve had experience both with duration [locally] and we’ve had an experience with statewide, but we’ve never had the two together. And so it’s been unbelievable experience, but our our teachers and school administrators, they really have been heroic, I think, and they’ve risen to the challenge. It’s really tough. I got an email from a teacher today who said, you know, this is the toughest teaching I’ve ever done. So it’s hard, but we’re getting there. 

TS: It’s my observation that at some school systems, when it came to transitioning to online learning, it was like flipping a switch, it was really easy. And for others, it was a lot more challenging, if not impossible, for those that don’t have either the resources or even access to broadband. I saw a couple of reports of superintendents buying a bunch of hot spots and rolling around of school busses, which is really innovative and resourceful. How did the State Department, how did your team help address these challenges with the online learning in these last two months? 

EM: Well, like you say, it’s been different in every place. So, school systems that already had a lot of devices, computers and iPads and such, they were already doing at least some distance learning. Those folks did a better job of being able to make that easy, smooth transition. School systems that that had less connectivity for their students at home, didn’t have as many devices that they could hand out and send home, they’ve had a harder time with distance learning. And so they’ve had to do more paper and pencil kind of stuff. Everybody’s found a way to make it work. What we at the Department of figured out is, you know, we were able to do some support up to this point, but going forward in the future, we’ve got to be ready to go online for distance learning. And so to that end, we’ve got an RFP out right now. 

TS: I was going to ask about that. It’s recent, isn’t it? 

EM: Yeah, right. It just went out last week for a statewide remote learning distance learning platform. 

We’ve already committed to by a statewide learning management system. We announced that superintendents on Friday, something we’d been working on, but we’ve we’ve picked it up a year ahead of where we were going to be. It’s called Schoology. So that’ll be rolling out next fall, actually this summer so teachers can go ahead and load stuff into it. If we have some periodic episodic closures in the fall or spring of next year, we’ll be better prepared the next time. Now, we certainly help hope we don’t have a statewide closure for months on end because that really would be catastrophic if we had to do that two years in a row. 

TS: A statewide online learning portal. Does that mean everybody gets the same? Or is that on the systems? Is it system system or does it if you want to do online learning, you’ve coming to one place?

EM: Yeah, it could be a system by system, because systems could do different things. But, what we put the RFP out for is one kind of product statewide so that if you were a third grader in Vestavia  or you were a third grader in Mobile, it would look the same. Now, they may also do other things, too. So, Vestavia may add some things to that, Mobile may add some things, too. That may look different, but the platform would be the same wherever you were in the state. 

TS: Is that partly to give parents an option there? If if if I’m not comfortable sort of my kid back to school. 

EM: Absolutely. It’s a school choice measure. And again, some of the details are going to have to be worked out as to local school districts. We don’t want to compete on their territory. So they’re going to have to think about how they want to set it up. Students will still be enrolled in a local school system, this will just be a virtual option. We hear from parents every day whose students are immune deficient or immunocompromised, or in some cases, you know, the parent may be immunocompromised and they’re worried about seeing their children going to school and bringing it back. Now, there’s there’s research that shows that children don’t necessarily give the disease to adults. But, you know, we’re dealing with a disease we’ve really only known about for about five months. So none of the research is what you’d call conclusive right now. We have to give as many options as possible to parents, and this is one more option we’re working on. 

TS: Every year, schools deal with learning loss, right? Kids go home for summer,  some kids tend to not retain everything they’ve learned, and you’ve got to reconstruct them a little bit, right? I guess that’s pretty normal. But here we’ve got a five month summer. So what does that look like if you’re a local school? What does that look like for the state? How do we get back that learning? 

EM: So a five months summer, but it’s not nearly as relaxing as a regular summer would be. And I’m saying that tongue-in-cheek, but really seriously because it’s been real stressful on our families and stressful on teachers. Even when they wind down, they very quickly are gonna have to do more work than maybe they would typically do in a summer – talking about teachers – to get ready for what’s coming in the fall. So, it’s not going to be a stress-free time. It’s going to be more stressful than normal I think this summer. All that is to say that these students are going home. We really don’t know what it’s going look like when they come back in the fall. We think they are going to be be major gaps. Some students may come back to us five months behind, whereas they normally would come back two or three months behind. Some students are really taken to online learning and do well with it and they might not get behind at all, but the problem is going to be that huge gap. Whereas, normally we expect some students to come back a couple of months ahead of other students, like you say, we could have some students to come back almost half a year ahead of other students or half a year behind. And so then teachers have to individualize instruction because they can’t leave either one of those kids behind. They’ve got to catch up to one that’s six months behind, but then they also have to do something for the student that’s not behind at all and get him or her moving in a hurry and, you know, try to close these gaps. It’s gonna be harder next year than than it’s ever been before. 

TS: Well, that brings me to literacy. Last year, the legislature passed the Alabama Literacy Literacy Act, which I guess I would say showed that the state was really getting serious about addressing – what would you say, early reading skills? Retention? Yeah. This year that came through, the Legislature, and basically fully funded all that. I wrote the other day that literacy now is a lot like pre-K was maybe 10, 15 years ago.  In terms of expanding (pre-K), it was kind of a big step maybe kind of scary, maybe hard to do, and now look at it. And this might be the same thing in terms of it’s a big step and it’s going to be tough, but everybody seems to think it’s the right thing to do. What are the next steps for the department? Where does implementation stand right now and how do we do that? 

EM: Yeah. So it is a scary step forward, but the difference right now is it’s going to plateau faster than the pre-K expansion did. Whereas with pre-K expansion, what we’ve been doing is try to get pre-K offered to every child in the state. We really think saturation is about 70 percent, I think we’re now about 45 percent. So we’re making those steps forward, but you’ve got to get to 70 percent before it begins to plateau.  With literacy, we’ve got some some bones that are there from the Alabama Reading Initiative. Those modules were developed back in the late 90s, early 2000s. They were developed on the best research at the time. They’re not bad, but we’ve got to update, and not only do we have to update, we have this group of teachers in between who were never trained in the ARI modules and they need some real skills in teaching reading, the most advanced and current science of reading. So, what the legislature did this year, they said, to use that phrase, you put your money where your mouth is. The last year they passed an act, and a lot of people were scared because they said the Legislature will never come back and fund this. But, you know, I’d never had that concern. Talking with the Rep. Pool and Sen. Orr and Rep.Collins and Senator Malleson, it was very obvious that they were committed to the long term success of our children and the literacy program. We didn’t need the funding unitl the 2021 budget, and so they came through in a big way this year. The big things the budget all pays for – one is training of teachers. We have really connected with the very successful LETRS, professional development programing. When I first became superintendent, we had no money. You remember before I came in and the department had some financial issues Dr. Richardson worked on, but there really was no extra cash anywhere. We wanted to do LETRS first thing when I came in, but we didn’t have it. I partnered with Secretary Ross and she had $400,000 she could invest into LETRS and that would get us jump started. They did the initial 400 and since then we’ve done about $3 million more, and now with the investment from the Legislature this year, I think we’re doing another, I don’t know. It’s it’s it’s in the $10 million range or more. And so we’re going to continue to train more and more teachers in this highly effective science of reading. There’s other stuff in there, too, trying to get teachers into what’s called the CALT pathway, Certified Academic Language Therapist. We have about 40, 45ish in the state now, and we’ve got the money to train 36 more, so almost double the number in the state in next year’s budget. Again, the Legislature, they came through and they did a lot. Now, the reason I said this will platau a little faster, once we get all these K-3 teachers trained, we don’t have to train all of them again. It’ll level off. Every year we’ll have new people coming in, but we won’t have this big, huge expense year after year after year. It’s really a one time, let’s get everybody on the same page, using the same vocabulary with the same training, and then when that plateaus, there will be sustainable money. 

TS: How do you balance the need for results on literacy with educators’ need to basically have time to implement it. 

EM: It’s tough. You know, everybody wants to talk about NAEP scores, andI like to talk about the NAEP scores, too. NAEP is very complex test that’s only given, you know, in fourth and eighth grade. And so, as I’ve told the legislature many times, it will take years to move the NAEP scores like we want to move them. Now, hopefully we’ll get some early bumps, but to talk about really moving them like we want to get Alabama out of the 40s and, you know, consistently, at least in the mid range of other states, is going to take a long time. And the reason it takes long time is – so the work that we’re doing right now is with pre-K, kindergarten, first and second graders, especially. Those kids won’t even take the test, they won’t count until they’re fourth graders. So even if we’re really successful in moving them, you got a delay of two or three years before those students even get to fourth grade to take the NAEP. The test is given every other year, it’ll be given in 2021. 

TS: I was trying to add that up. 

EM: Yeah, so it’ll be given in 2021. There was talk about not giving it this year because the whole country is dealing with COVID. But right now the National Assessment Governing Board says we think we’re gonna to go ahead because they think that scores are gonna probably drop and all the states and they want to see how much effect COVID had. Then there’s 2023 and 2025, and that’s when we really should be able to start seeing some real gains in our investments is 2023, 2025, 2027 and on out. You know, you got to be able to see the long arc of change and and make the right policy decisions up front hat’ll be change agents ten years down the road. 

TS: It’s tough for appropriators to be patient. 

EM: You better bet. It’s tough. It’s tough to see into the next quadrennium and the quadrennium after that. But, you know, I’ve compared it to what we’ve done with infrastructure and other things. You make investments now that sometimes take years to come to fruition, but that’s what you do. When you’ve got a long vision, you can see how improvements are going to make things better. 

TS: What do we do in the meantime? Are there are there milestones set up to where you say, well, this school system has achieved what it needs to achieve? What’s the plan there? Do we acknowledge that? Is it kind of like the report card where we say, well,this county or this system is doing what it needs to do, this one has not. Or I mean, how public do you be about that? How do we mark milestones along the way? 

EM: Fortunately, we have a really good assessment coming. It’s actually already here, should have been given this year, but as you know, President Trump did away with end of the year assessments this year, which is a very smart thing to do. But we were going to roll out a brand new assessment this year. And it is the first time in Alabama’s history – this is really quite shocking to think about – it’s the first time in Alabama’s history that we’ve had an assessment that is fully aligned to our course of study. So we’ll have really good benchmarks, then, and we’ll have a good way to test along the way and see how we’re doing. It’s also fully aligned to the NAEP. So we’ll have a test that’s aligned to our standards and it’s aligned to the NAEP and it’ll give us some year to year data rather than having wait on those NAEP data to come back. Unfortunately, we don’t get a baseline this year because of COVID, so it’ll be next year before we get a baseline. But we will and we’ll get we’ll be back on track next year. 

TS: And that’s all public? 

EM: That’s all public, yeah. That’s what goes into building the the A-F report card as that’s on our website. 

TS: Alright. Moving on to this report, you call the PCG report. So you’ve gotten back this big report from the consultants that were hired to basically do a soup-to-nuts review of the State Department and recommend changes.  Then Coronavirus happened. I mean, I think the report was out there for a while. We finally got around and reporting on it, but just the basics. And I was talking to Michael, we just barely scratched the surface because it’s 168 pages, just really lengthy. The first recommendation, at least that I saw, was for the department to take full ownership of student progress. And the presenter also mentioned “owning” education reform. You’ve been through this report, yall have been working on it. On those things – full ownership of student progress and ownership of education reform – does that does that require a mindset change in this building? 

EM: It largely does require a mindset change, yes. So the department is, of course, the agency that’s charged with oversight, but largely the department’s role in the past has been not as much strategic and forward thinking – it has been in cases – but overall it’s not been quite as much as it has been regulatory. These are the things we have to get done, and we’ve done a very good job of that regulatory piece and keeping people out of trouble and keeping school systems out of trouble. I mean, every so often trouble pops up, but when you look at the very few audit problems we have, we don’t have problems with federal guidelines and all because we do a good job of let’s maintain the roads will keep everybody out of trouble. I think what the consultants found was that we needed to take that next step where we step out on the edge of the ledge just a little bit and begin to push our schools and push our school districts to the next level. And I think we’re ready for that. You know, I’ve spent a lot of time with the consultants. There are some really innovative key people that they have on their team and they’ve been real complimentary. They’ve said, ‘hey, you’ve got good team members here.’ But rather than reacting, use this old term, rather than reacting all the time, we’ve got to be proactive. We have to push the agenda. We need to set the agenda and push the agenda for the state. You know, we just released our strategic plan. It’s really bad timing how this happened. So March 12th, we released our new strategic plan to the board and we were moving forward with that. 

And then March 15th we get the PCG report. So what we’re doing now is, the intensive work is PCG is working with us to crosswalk our strategic plan with their study. 

TS: So it’s not wasted. You may have selected areas where it lines up. 

EM: Yeah, most of the areas lined up really well. Some of them don’t line up as well. And that’s really kind of the step we’re in right now. For the areas that don’t line up well, how do we make sure that we, you know, our strategic plan leads the way, but we don’t leave out some really good recommendations that they had. You know, they had a 168 page report. Our strategic plan, we didn’t want to do a white paper. It’s more like twelve or thirteen pages. So obviously, you have to look at and crosswalk those things. But I’m real excited about the strategic plan. I’m excited about working with PCG this next year. I think we’ll be a stronger and better department because it. 

TS: The report says that the education funding model for the state doesn’t differentiate based on need or poverty level, which is a challenge for addressing problems from a statewide perspective. It’s got to be if you’ve got different levels of resources Is that a discussion that goes beyond this building to the State House or is that something you can address? 

EM: Now, that’s something we can not address at all. So that would have to be a State House issue. It’s something we we can work on, we can talk with our legislators towards, you know, adjusting the formula for house moneys distributed is always touchy, because if you’re going to adjust the formula and not add more money, that means you have to pick winners and losers. 

TS:There was a slight change this year, if I’m not mistaken, in the foundation program. It was the Elliott bill. 

Yeah. Didn’t pass. 

TS: Oh, it did not pass. Okay.  

EM: Yeah. So Senator Elliott, this good good example though, just one area for high growth districts. High growth districts get way behind. The foundation formula as it was written in 1995 really did not anticipate areas like Madison and Allburn and Baldwin County that are that are growing like leaps and bounds. Pike Road, Hoover, I mean, I could name there’s about a dozen of them, and they actually get further and further behind because they’re growing faster than their foundation program allocation. Senator Elliott saw that and he worked with me and Andy Craig to develop a resolution. It reeally is a great bill. It died in the end, and I think it would have passed. You know, it’s hard to predict the Legislature, but I think it would have if we’d had a regular session because I didn’t see any opposition to it. 

TS: That’s right. It was not considered a budget bill. 

EM: Yeah. In the last days, they decided, you know, they’re only the budgets were gonna move and and so it didn’t. It got out of committee in the Senate, may have gotten out of the Senate, but never got taken up in the House. 

TS: There were some bills that were considered budget bills like supplementals. And that one that one wasn’t. 

EM: But it’s a good bill and we think it’ll be back next year and we appreciate Senator Elliot working with us on it. 

TS: One recommendation was to overhaul the State Department internally, and there was a ton written after that recommendation. But that just sounds like a pretty significant challenge. I mean, it might involve a lot of things. One, I’m sure you’re are aware of the approach Mississippi took a couple of years ago, basically suspending some of the state personnel practices in order to shake up its department. And I think that was at least two years ago. I know that’s been talked about here for in recent years. Is that something you would pursue, something similar to that, what Mississippi did? 

EM: It’s a little early to say exactly how we’re going to do it. That’s definitely one of the things we’re talking about, is how could we make some significant changes in the structure of the department within the personnel system. You know, in Mississippi, what they decided to do is kind of shortcut the personnel system. They said, ‘OK, what we’re going to do for two years, we’ll take education out.’ And so essentially, they rewrote the way they paid positions, the way they did promotions, evaluations and all of that, and they had after two years, they took what they had built and pulled that back into the personnel system. So they took them out, redesigned it, and then put them back under personnel. That’s an option. Another option is obviously to simply work with the personnel board and try to make changes from inside the system. And I can say right now we’ve not made any decisions about any of that with. That’s kind of a second step with the PCG consultants trying to figure that piece out. But we definitely know we’re going to try to to work around the spirit of what they wanted to do, and that is, how do you create that innovation within the department.

TS: Has there been any talk about regionalizing the department in terms of other offices where maybe people would rather work in Huntsville or Birmingham and don’t want to come down to Montgomery? Has that been a part of these restructuring talks? 

EM: It’s a part of it, absolutely. So there are other states that do have regional offices, especially the big states where they’re geographically big. They’ll have regional offices. We’ve talked about that. Again, that’s one of the things we haven’t decided. That would not take legislative action necessarily, but it would take some restructuring of things like, for instance, you got to lease an office building somewhere and those kind of things, and then you’d have to decide exactly how you going to regionalize. So which which jobs would you move to another branch office and how many branches would there be and those kind of things. Most states that have regional offices have two or three, not ten or something like that. 

TS: You mentioned bills that didn’t pass. One thing that didn’t pass was another pay raise for teachers and education employees, which everybody seemed disappointed about because starting the session, everybody thought it was going to be a pretty nice bump. That went away because of the coronavirus outbreak. So did the bill that would have done the fix to the Tier one, Tier two retirement system, which, I know we’ve talked about both those – pay and retirement system – being a bugaboo for recruiting teachers. So I wondered, how does it look right now? Those two efforts, raising pay and modifying the retirement benefits? I know you have to have legislative approval to do those kind of things, but where do those efforts stand and how do you feel about teacher recruitment right now? 

EM: Yeah, I think both of those will be back next year. We’re hoping for a V shaped recession and that we’ll be right back. As soon as things open up, the economy bounce right back. There was a lot of support between fixing some of the tier two, tier one stuff in retirement. I think that’ll that that will have a good chance next year to come back and be really fully vetted by the legislature. Pay raise, you can never tell because you get that from year to year. Recruitment for teachers right now is about where it was. Unfortunately, I mean, we really wanted to move forward. We did get a bump in the Legislature to do a campaign to recruit teachers. So we’re going to try to get out there in the world of advertising and start advertising for teaching. I think it’s a great career. People in times like these people realize how good teaching is. It’s stable, teachers didn’t lose. I mean, we didn’t we’d really we didn’t cut back on state teacher units, they’ve got great insurance. You know, it’s times like these when you realize that, hey, yeah, there are some downsides, it may not pay as well as some other careers, but that stability does mean something. 

TS: I wanted to ask you about charter schools, because I was thinking about this. Back when I worked in the Speaker’s Office, we were pushing a charter schools plan. That was when you were leading the state superintendents. And I think yall were opposed, or at least partly. Now I’m in the news business and your the state superintendent, we’ve both got to be a little more objective. But I wondered about that becausem, years later, we’ve got this law and we’ve got a commission and we’ve got this effort to try to, you know, proliferate charter schools around the state. How do you fit into that? How does the State Department fit into that? And what’s the future of that tool in Alabama, from your perspective? 

EM: Yeah, course, we’re still working through all that we did. You know, we went through multiple iterations of charter school bills before we got a charter law. And if you remember at the time, it was one of the highly touted laws in the country because it really had a lot of accountability buily in, and it had a lot of failsafes built in, which is good. The point where we are now is that communities, local school boards have not embraced it and said, ‘how do we use this to bring about change?’ In my opinion, it’s another tool to box, and not many communities have picked up that tool for whatever reason. So we’ve got to continue to deal with that. We see some really successful charter schools around the country. I’d point to Charles Drew charter school in Atlanta. I mean, it really is one of the private examples of how a school went into a high poverty community with a lot of community investment and turned it around. And it’s got there are some children there from really highly impoverished backgrounds, but they also were able to bring in some other families, some middle class families that had, you know, abandoned public schools and say, hey, we want to come back to this. We’ve got some good models in infancy here in Alabama, but we don’t have anything on that level of what we see with a Drew school in Atlanta. I think a lot of people want that, we just had to figure out how to get that. And I would say that one of the key pieces, when you look at the Atlanta model and the purpose-built communities there, it’s a lot of corporate and community investment. I mean it’s both labor hours and intensive fundraising to do something marvelous. So, you know, it may take time to do that, but that might come about, too. We’ve got two or three more schools right now that are in development. There’ve been some missteps also. 

TS: That’s the accountability part. I think there were a couple that got shut down. 

EM: Well, there’s one right now that’s under review in a hearing process of being shut down. There was one that didn’t make it. As you know, we have LEAD Academy here in Montgomery that opened, but after it was tied up in court for months, maybe years before it got open. So that’s why I mean, there’ve been some missteps along the way. But we also have some really good examples of positive moving forward. That next piece is got to be for community buy-in and some corporate support. 

TS: Well, last question. I have a political site and a political podcast, so I’ve got to ask you about politics. There seem to be some battles recently between the Legislature, the Board, the Governor, who’s both proposing legislation and the president of the board. So there’s a lot of battles going on.  From your perspective as state superintendent, and you’ve got to work with everybody, how does that out of these political battles affect your ability to do your job? And how do you go about that? 

EM: Well, I mean I’ll have to admit the last the last year was pretty tough. You know, this was a this was not an easy job to walk into because, when I took over, there’d been lots of turnover, controversy, no reason to go through all that again. A year with an interim in Dr. Richardson. Then we had the amendment out there. I tried to stay out of that, you know. Like you say, you had legislators, the governor, the board, all this. I feel I did a pretty good job continuing to work with everybody. But I will say this – I think that’s the point you’re trying to make – things couldn’t settle down.  I couldn’t get everything focused on the mission at hand because there was always other stuff going on, too. So that’s behind us. As I said, we released a strategic plan, we were kind of moving forward and then, bang, COVID hit us immediately, so now we have another distraction on the plate. 

But, the underpinnings are good. I think we see this the legislative session, even though I hate it, ended with short session like it was, we worked really well with the legislature, legislative leadership, the governor, the board to get a really good budget to get things moving forward. I think we’ve got the establishment of better times ahead. And I think now everybody’s, you know, people are peaceably getting along with each other and I think we’re gonna move move forward. 

I’m focused on – absolutely focused on – the academic piece and what we can do for our students to move the state forward. I’m a, you know, traditional lifelong nerdy educator who just is moved into the political world. But I have a great a great sense of optimism about where we’re going with educational outcomes in this state. And that’s reading, with math, with science, with civics and social studies and civic education. I mean, I think that we are beginning to make some real dynamic changes. The struggle is that, again, nothing changes overnight in education. You got to see that long ball and you got to think about how to to keep things moving long term. 

TS: Thank you so much for your time today.

Yeah. Glad to be here. Thank you.

TS: Alright.

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