Fourth Consent Order Reports

Filed November 15th, 2018

Introduction

Defendant, Huntsville City Board of Education (the “Board” or the “District”), files this day its fourth, annual Consent Order Report with the Court (hereinafter, collectively the “Court Report”). As it has done in the past, the District files this Notice to help the Court, and the citizens of Huntsville, better understand the Consent Order Reports. This Notice provides context and explains notable features of the Consent Order Report.

As the Court is well aware, the Consent Order (Doc. 450) requires many reports. Nearly all reports require data from the preceding school year. As such, the date range for the data in this year’s reports is July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018, and the data in most of these reports are from year three of the District’s implementation of the Consent Order.


Changes From Year Three

The third year of implementation was considerably more stable than the previous two years, but there were many noteworthy changes that occurred during the 2017-18 school year and the start of the 2018-19 school year. The major changes are included below:

  • Dr. Akin realigned his central office instructional staff under two Deputy Superintendents: Dr. Tammy Summerville as the Deputy Superintendent of Instruction and Christie Finley as the Deputy Superintendent of Strategy and Innovation. Both Summerville and Finley previously served as Director-level administrators prior to their promotion;
  • Dr. Akin ensured that building up teacher morale was a focus of his tenure;
  • Building on that, Dr. Akin proposed a teacher pay raise to the Board, which was approved in the spring of 2018;
  • Shortly after approval of the teacher pay raise, Dr. Akin accepted a position as the Superintendent of the Gulf Shores City Schools;
  • Following his departure, the Board selected Christie Finley to serve as the Interim Superintendent during the summer of 2018;
  • After a successful interim period, the Board named Mrs. Finley as the permanent Superintendent during the fall of 2018;
  • Approximately the start of school, the Board of Education learned from its auditor that District personnel had made some accounting and bookkeeping errors. After investigating and accounting for these errors, the Superintendent and Board learned that the District’s general fund balance was significantly lower than expected;
  • To correct the general fund balance shortfall and to successfully implement the teacher pay raise, the District is working to cut costs where possible. The Superintendent has shared with the community a desire to cut costs in ways that minimally impact the classroom. Similarly, the Superintendent has no plans to make cuts that would impair the successful implementation of the Consent Order; and
  • The members of the Board of Education for Districts 2, 3, and 4 were successfully reelected during the fall of 2018.

Year Three Challenges

Every year of implementation has presented its own unique challenges, and last year was no different for the District. There are three challenges that merit further discussion: improving teacher morale; addressing student discipline; and working on stability following Dr. Akin’s departure.

In last year’s report, the District described the state of teacher morale in the District. Although there were likely many reasons for the decline in teacher morale, the District, led by Dr. Akin, began to take steps to empower teachers and to improve culture in all schools. Dr. Akin’s District-level team was focused on supporting schools and giving principals the leeway to lead their schools. Dr. Akinalso began more frequent and candid communications with principals, faculty, and staff.

The culmination of his efforts to build teacher morale and to encourage teacher retention was a proposed teacher pay raise, which the Board approved in the spring of 2018. Although Dr. Akin accepted a job as the Superintendent of Gulf Shores City Schools, his successor, Christie Finley, has continued his efforts to improve teacher morale, as described below.

Since the implementation of the Consent Order, the District has consistently taken the position that the student discipline provisions of the Consent Order present the biggest challenge. The Cover Notice to last year’s report detailed many of those challenges, but the issue that continues to be one of the most difficult for the District is correcting the misconceptions about student discipline. The misconception is often stated as “the Consent Order does not allow schools to discipline students for misbehavior” or “teachers’ hands are tied when it comes to disciplining students.”

As was stated in last year’s Court Report, this view is not supported by the District’s discipline data. To help the Court and community understand, the District has included a lengthy discussion of its student discipline data in the section for the report response to VII.I.4, below. Nevertheless, the District is committed to correcting this misconception through the use of improved communications with family, clear training for teachers, and consistent implementation by school principals.

Dr. Akin’s tenure as Huntsville City Schools’ Superintendent was productive but short. As stated above, following the end of the Spring 2018 semester, Dr. Akin took a different job. While the Board and community wished him well on his new endeavor, the District was mindful of the recent issues of instability facing the District. The Board moved quickly to select an Interim Superintendent and, ultimately, a permanent Superintendent in Christie Finley. The District is hopeful that Ms. Finley – who served as one of Dr. Akin’s Deputies – will pick up where he left off, especially as it pertains to improving climate and retaining teachers.


Recent Successes

Despite her brief time on the job, Ms. Finley has already taken steps to directly address the climate issues identified above. First, she has improved communications with both faculty and families. The Superintendent sends letters to teachers approximately once per week to inform teachers of major news items, upcoming activities, and opportunities for engagement. Additionally, the Superintendent has begun sending periodic update letters to families as well. Given the major news items pertaining to the District (e.g., new strategic plan,school safety, and budget concerns), the Superintendent has actively sought opportunities for communications with the community, families, and faculty.

One such opportunity has been the creation of a School Safety Task Force. Following the accidental discharge of a firearm by an elementary student on school campus this fall, the Superintendent set up five different “School Safety Forums” to hear feedback on how to keep schools safe. Using that feedback, the District has started working on a plan to improve safety in schools. One aspect of that plan is the creation of a School Safety Task Force. For more information about the Task Force, please visit the School Safety Task Force page.

In addition to the five School Safety Forums, the Superintendent also recently held five different community conversations regarding the development of a new Huntsville City Schools strategic plan. One community conversation was held for each feeder pattern, and the Superintendent and her team are going to use that feedback to revise the proposed strategic plan. For more information about the strategic plan, please visit the Strategic Plan page. The Superintendent believes that the strategic plan – which will be tied to the Consent Order – will ensure that everyone in the District will be working towards a consistent goal.


More Information About Each Consent Order Report

As part of its Consent Order Report Filing, Huntsville City Schools also files a cover document that provides more details about the reports.  This document is called a "Filing Notice," and it includes clarifications, pertinent background information, and any other information that HCS thinks will help the Court and the public better understand the work that it is doing to implement the Consent Order.  Before viewing the individual reports, it is recommended that you read the cover document.  That document is therefore provided below:

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