There have been some big improvements in the Blount County School System according to Superintendent Rodney Green. Some of these changes have been in the works for several years, and there are some exciting, new programs that will start this school year.
Green said that the newest and the biggest change for this school year is the introduction of the new The Bridge Academy Virtual/Blended Learning Program and it will begin this fall. This is not a remedial course. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. “The curriculum is extremely rigorous and requires that students be highly motivated and self-disciplined,” explained Green. It will bridge the gap between traditional and non-traditional students. A non-traditional student is a child that is either home-schooled or goes to a church school or private school.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Stoney Beavers wrote a grant for the Bridge software, and the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) awarded Blount County Schools (BCS) $50,000 to cover all the necessary software for this program. Beavers and Mitchie Neel wrote another grant for The Bridge Academy, and they received a $125,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham for staffing and credentialing. The Bridge Academy will be located at the Blount County Career Technical Center.
To join The Bridge Academy, students must enroll in a county school and meet with the school’s guidance counselor. The student must be on grade level or above to attend the program. There will be orientation, some face to face meetings, and the students will be required to come in and take exams. Theoretically, a student could complete all four years of high school virtually and earn a diploma from the Blount County School System. Traditional students may also take courses through the Academy through a process called blended learning. Nontraditional students may take just a few courses so they get their actual diplomas from an accredited school.
The best part is that it’s cost-free for the families. Students, after meeting with their guidance counselors, will find out if they qualify. Qualifying students must complete an online application and an interview process. The deadline for the fall semester is Sept. 1, 2016. For more information, go to www.blountboe.net. Other news
Blount County Schools will follow the new Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) guidelines when it comes to non-traditional students. Provided that a non-traditional student enrolls in two electives such as athletic P.E., band, or virtual electives, that student will be able to play sports or march with the band.
Also, the ALSDE has asked that each school system come up with its own evaluation system. Blount County put together a 36-person team that included administrators, teachers, and counselors, and they have been working to develop their own system. Their hard work has paid off with the new Educator Effectiveness Model. It has nine elements which answer the questions of what an effective teacher does. This model should be a powerful evaluation system because it is designed exclusively for Blount County teachers. When teachers are effective, students’ grades are higher and they work at a much higher level.
For the past two years, the county has had a Math Design Collaborative (MDC). Last year, Megan Holt was hired as a math instruction coach for grades 6-9. Holt has worked with teachers in these grades and helped those teachers refocus on the math standards.
This year Mary Grace Hicks has been hired as a literacy coach to work with teachers in grades 6-9. Her focus work will be to help teachers in an effort to improve student reading scores on the Aspire test.
Mr. Green was also very excited to announce that Blount County Schools now have increased speed and broadband width for wireless Internet. This will help with student engagement and the teaching of 21st century job skills. Also new is the student advocacy goal which gives each student a mentor that they can interact with and seek advice from.
In the future, the board is looking at building a new lunchroom at J.B. Pennington High School and adding more classrooms to Southeastern School. Last year was also a year of great accomplishments because for the first time the graduation rate was over 90 percent (actual rate of 91 percent) and the hope is to improve that rate even more in coming years.