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Turnaround initiative seeks ‘blueprint’ for helping struggling schools

The Alabama Department of Education’s Courtney Wilburn recently discussed the positive progress made by Gov. Kay Ivey’s Turnaround Schools Initiative, which aims to create a “blueprint” to improve struggling schools in Alabama.

“Many of our schools have come off either, it was formerly known as the Failing Schools List – several of our schools were on that list and have been cleared from that list already,” Wilburn said on Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal last week.

The initiative, funded with about $15 million in 2022, is focused on 15 schools, ranging from inner-city to very rural. All of them contain grades K-5, while some go up until the eighth grade.

Wilburn noted that despite the official designations the selected schools had when selected for the initiative, they were chosen for their potential, not their shortcomings.

“This list is not a list of failing schools,” Wilburn stressed, noting that each school already had some “incredible things” in place.

“This is a list of schools that we really see enough promise in that they can then be a blueprint for other schools,” she said.

The schools are:

  • Barbour County Intermediate, Barbour County Schools
  • Hayes K-8, Birmingham City Schools
  • Hemphill Elementary, Birmingham City Schools
  • Charles A. Brown Elementary, Birmingham City Schools
  • Washington Elementary, Birmingham City Schools
  • West End Academy, Birmingham City Schools
  • Faine Elementary, Dothan City Schools
  • MLK Elementary, Huntsville City Schools
  • Chastang-Fournier Middle School, Mobile City Schools
  • J.F. Shields High, Monroe County Schools
  • Chisholm Elementary, Montgomery Public Schools
  • Dozier Elementary, Montgomery Public Schools
  • Highland Gardens Elementary, Montgomery Public Schools
  • ABC Elementary, Wilcox County Schools
  • J.E. Hobbs Elementary School, Wilcox Elementary

In order to create that blueprint, Wilburn said, the initiative brought together specialists from across Alabama’s government agencies – specifically the state department of education, the Department of Early Childhood Education, the Department of Human Resources, the Department of Mental Health and
the Alabama Arts Alliance.

Wilburn said specialists worked with school administrators on each school’s personalized needs and instructional audits were done to determine
where improvements were needed. The audits, Wilburn said, involved classroom observation, interviews with parents and discussions with students. The results of those audits allowed the state to allocate resources to address each school’s specific needs.

While the funding, and the initiative itself, has a set end date, Wilburn said the goal is for the initiative to live on.

“What doesn’t have an end date though, is the relationship that we are building amongst agencies within the state department and agencies across the state – that doesn’t have an end time,” Wilburn said, adding that the many stakeholders in the initiative will continue to have a part to play after the initiative ends.

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