Principal Rosa Allen Cooper doesn’t dispute claims that R.A. Hubbard has academic challenges.
“All schools do,” she said.
The Lawrence County grades 7-12 school will begin the academic year Aug. 7 as a comprehensive support school because it received an F on its 2018 state report card. It also will have had a 62.5% turnover in its full-time teachers of core subjects.
However, Cooper and a representative with the Alabama State Department of Education said the school is not on the state’s list of “failing” schools as it heads into the 2019-20 school year with additional state assistance.
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 from the state.
“We’re going to take all of the help we can get, but the state has never identified R.A. Hubbard as one of its failing schools,” said Cooper, who is starting her third year as the school’s principal.
The state’s failing school list includes 76 schools, none in Lawrence County, that scored in the bottom 6% of proficiency on standardized tests in reading and math.
“R.A. Hubbard is not listed as a failing school on the State Department of Education’s 2017 nor 2018 failing school list,” Shields said in a written statement.
The Alabama State Report Card grade is a separate measurement that each school receives and one of the indicators the state uses to identify schools needing comprehensive support.
In addition to assistance the state is providing, Superintendent Jon Bret Smith said he is trying to get the “very best” teachers for Hubbard, but some things are beyond his control.
This past school year, for example, five of the school’s eight full-time teachers that taught core subjects such as math, English and reading either retired, transferred or took jobs in other school districts, the superintendent said.
During a July 11 school board meeting, Smith told Hubbard parents: “If I’ve worked 40 hours already this week, I’ve worked 25 of those 40 hours ensuring that the openings at R.A. Hubbard are (filled by) the best qualified people that we can put in those seats.”
In a more recent interview, Smith said some of the measurements of Hubbard’s performance are flawed. Although Hubbard was one of 108 schools statewide to receive an F on its 2018 report card, Smith called the grade a “true fluke.” He said the only reason Hubbard got the grade was because the 2017 graduating class had only 19 members. To get credit, a school must have 20 graduates.
The graduation rate is 30% of the letter grade.
Hubbard got no credit for 19 students that graduated, which sent its letter grade from a 75 or C during the 2015-16 school year to a 56 or F for the 2016-17 school year.
Smith said he petitioned the Alabama State Department of Education and the state superintendent to change the formula to insufficient data since Hubbard had below the state minimum.
If Hubbard had received credit for the 19 graduates, the school’s overall score would have been a 71, which is still lower than the districtwide grade of 79 and the system’s three other high schools.
Hubbard — just like ever every other school in Lawrence County — has seen enrollment decline, which means fewer state-paid teacher units. Local education dollars are also down, which forced school officials to eliminate aides that provide academic intervention programs.
The turnover in staffing after last school year led to rumors that the school was closing and brought a group of parents, elected and community leaders to the school system’s headquarters during the July 11 board meeting.
Smith dismissed rumors about the school closing because Lawrence County is still governed by a desegregation order that requires court intervention to close any school.
Jan Turnbore, who is president of the Lawrence County Chapter of the NAACP, attended the board meeting and he still has questions about the kind of support the central office is providing for R.A. Hubbard.
He said students at other schools seem to have everything they need and want, and Hubbard seems to be getting leftovers.
“I have a lot of unanswered questions, but if the students at R.A. Hubbard are suffering the most it seems like they need the most help,” Turnbore said.
Smith said Hubbard and every other school in the county has about 2.5 local teacher units, which are teachers or positions paid out of local money.
“We have to be fair to every school,” he said.
North Courtland Mayor Riely Evans also attended the meeting, out of concerns that Hubbard was closing and rumors that it was a failing school. He said his son graduated from Hubbard last year as an honor student and is preparing to attend the University of North Alabama on a football scholarship.
“Several of those kids received athletic and academic scholarships,” said Evans, who attended the school when it was at a different location and called Courtland High. “If there are issues at the school, the school board needs to tell the community about them. We all think Mrs. Cooper is doing a good job, but her hands are tied.”
Smith said there are some academic issues relating to the ACT test juniors took last school year, but he is not authorized by the state to release specific numbers. He did say at the July 11 meeting that he is “concerned” about the school based on the data.
“We’re going to do everything to make sure all our students succeed,” the superintendent said.