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September 26, 2008   Email to Friend 

Christy Rhodes Kirk
(334) 240-7103
September 26, 2008

Commissioner Ron Sparks today announced an innovative study of rural Alabama schools through a partnership between the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries, through its Center for Rural Alabama and the ALFA Foundation. The organizations are joining forces to take an in-depth look at 10 outstanding rural elementary schools across the state.

"This study of high-performing Alabama schools in high-poverty areas is such an important task and the results will be incredibly useful to educators and parents," said Sparks. "There are teachers who are making a tremendous difference in these communities in spite of the obstacles the children may face. We are looking for ways to help other children throughout the state by learning from the examples set by these top schools."

Ten years ago, 53 percent of all students in rural public schools received free-reduced lunches. Today, it is 60-plus percent. Data from the Alabama Department of Education shows that students who qualify for free-reduced lunches score significantly lower on reading and math than non-poverty students. For example, only 19 percent of sixth-graders on free-reduced lunches score at Level 4 on math, while 46 percent of non-poverty students score at Level 4.

"At a time when employers are practically begging for a better educated workforce, the implications of this situation are huge," adds Sparks. "Rural Alabama is headed down a long desolate road when it comes to turning out a well-trained workforce. We knew that there were some schools doing a tremendous job under difficult circumstances, so we wanted to find them--and learn from them."

The Center for Rural Alabama looked at rural schools in 56 counties where at least 65 percent of all students receive free-reduced lunches. The center looked at math and reading scores for every grade in more than 200 schools, searching for schools where test scores far exceeded the state average.

"The Department of Agriculture and Industries has identified 10 Alabama schools that have succeeded in providing excellent educational opportunities for students, despite being in disadvantaged areas," said Jerry Newby, president of the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance. "In keeping with the Alabama Farmers Federation's commitment to quality education, we are pleased to support the Center for Rural Alabama as it conducts a comprehensive study of these schools to determine the keys to their success. We look forward to reading the results and working the Department of Agriculture and Industries and Department of Education to implement these ideas in other Alabama schools."

Schools selected are: Calcedeaver Elementary, Mobile County; Dutton Elementary, Jackson County; Ervin Elementary, Wilcox County; Fruithurst Elementary, Cleburne County; Harlan Elementary, Covington County; Huxford Elementary, Escambia County; Meek Elementary, Winston County; Phil Campbell Elementary, Franklin County; Southern Choctaw Elementary, Choctaw County; and Turner Elementary, Perry County.

Study team members are: Gerald Carter, principal with Carter & Associates, an expert in how personality impacts behavior; Dr. Owen Sweatt, an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama and a former principal at Fayette Elementary; and Larry Lee, director of the Center for Rural Alabama.

Study team members will visit each school and community, looking at such factors as community involvement and support, academic expectations, school leadership, instruction methods and much more. A unique feature of the study will be using data based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator system of characteristics to determine if there are common traits among successful teachers and administrators.

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