Lawrence school on failing list faces big challenge

Cooper

R.A. Hubbard School faces a monumental challenge after being placed on the state’s failing school list Friday, but it’s a challenge district officials and Principal Rosa Allen Cooper said they can meet.

Hubbard, a grades 7-12 school with about 150 students, was labeled failing because the academic performance of students was in the bottom 6% of schools statewide in three of the past five years.

The failing label came less than a month after its Alabama State Department of Education-issued report card grade improved from an F to B because of graduation numbers. 

“R.A. Hubbard is an amazing school,” Cooper said. “Appearing on the failing schools list doesn’t define who we are. We’ve had 100% graduation rate several years in a row, our athletic programs are successful and parental support is outstanding.”

The 2013 Alabama Accountability Act, which generates the failing schools list, and the law that requires the Alabama State Department of Education to issue schools and school districts letter grades, are different, said Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, who serves on the education policy committee.

She said the Accountability Act is a law that helps state officials identify “habitually low-performing schools” and is designed to give students other choices by providing them the opportunity to transfer to a non-failing school.

Collins said the report card uses several indicators and is an easy way for parents to understand how schools are performing overall.

“Both are working because school districts are forced to look at student achievement, identify and address needs,” she said. “Statewide, student performance is up.”

Superintendent Jon Bret Smith said he learned about two weeks ago that Hubbard would be the first Lawrence County school put on the state’s failing school list.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he said, adding that state law requires him to take certain actions, one of them being giving students an opportunity to transfer to other schools in Lawrence County.

Smith said he’s heard rumors about students leaving, but has not received any requests.

“My plan right now is to meet with the community and parents as soon as possible,” the superintendent said.

Smith said he has to notify R.A. Hubbard students of their choices for the 2020-21 school year, which include: stay in the school, transfer to a non-failing school within the same school district, transfer to a neighboring public school district if that district will accept the student, or enroll in a private or home school.

If a Hubbard student opts to attend another school in Lawrence County, the district has to provide transportation, something Smith said will create a “financial hardship” for the school system.

“But, we’re going to follow the law and do what is required,” he said. “We’re also going to make sure the students get what they need.”

The state already had Hubbard classified as a “comprehensive support school” because of an F it received on its 2018 report card.

Melissa Shields, a regional coordinator with the state’s Office of School Improvement and Turnaround, has been assigned to help teachers with professional development and to help the school develop a plan to raise academic performance because of the school’s 2018 letter grade.

Cooper said Shields will be at the school at least another year.

The scores that got Hubbard put on the failing list are proficiency numbers from tests students took in the spring, Smith said.

“These are raw, unweighted performance numbers,” Smith said.

According to the state, 18.9% of Hubbard students reached proficiency in reading; 12.1% in math; and 9.6% in science.

The proficiency numbers for Lawrence County districtwide were 41.5% in reading; 39.1% in math and 31% in science.

Hubbard’s academic achievement and academic growth numbers were up on its report card and the school had a 100% graduation rate.

“Hubbard’s faculty is dedicated and our students’ academic growth is increasing daily,” Cooper said. “These characteristics do not define a school that’s failing, but one that’s winning despite the challenges we encounter.”

Hubbard had a more than 60% turnover in its full-time teachers of core subjects this year. Cooper said the school has hired an ACT prep coach to help raise ACT scores and that retired educators have volunteered to tutor students.

The former Brookhaven Middle in Decatur City is the only other Decatur-area school that has ever been on the failing list. Before the school district closed Brookhaven in 2018, the school had been on the list three years and more than 150 of its students left for other schools.

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