Photo by Jon Anderson
Supt Advisory Council Travis Bryant 12-13-16
Travis Bryant, a member of the Hoover School Superintendent's Advisory Council, shares findings and recommendations concerning strategic planning for technology during a meeting at Metropolitan Church of God in Hoover, Alabama, on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.
The Hoover school system needs to find new revenue sources, beef up recruitment and retention of minority faculty and staff and prepare for aging school campuses, according to the Superintendent’s Advisory Council.
Seven of the 100 or so people who took part in the council’s strategic planning committees the past six months shared the group’s findings and recommendations on Dec. 13 at Metropolitan Church of God.
About 80 people were there to hear the council’s summary of ideas about how to move the school system forward in the next three to five years and prepare for the future.
The council was divided into seven subcommittees studying topics such as budget and finance, personnel, parent and community engagement, strategic planning, technology, federal oversight of desegregation efforts and student growth, development and achievement.
Tim Aho, a parent representing the finance and budget committee, said the school system has gotten lean the last several years with budget cuts, but “unequivocally, additional revenue is needed for this school system.”
Cuts that already have taken place have been painful, and further cuts would jeopardize the educational values the Hoover community holds dear, such as smaller student-teacher ratios and the ability to attract and retain high-quality teachers, Aho said.
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Supt Advisory Council Tim Aho 12-13-16
Tim Aho, a Hoover parent on the Hoover School Superintendent's Advisory Council, discusses strategic planning for the budget and finances during a meeting at Metropolitan Church of God in Hoover, Alabama, on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.
Aho said it’s extremely important that Hoover and Jefferson County voters on March 7 renew three property taxes for education that are set to expire in 2021. “That’s vital to being able to manage the debt of this school system and being able to provide for our children,” he said.
But beyond that, additional revenue is needed, in part to help manage debt payments that are set to increase in 2018, Aho said.
Also, the Hoover school system went through a building boom 15 to 20 years ago, with a new school being built every couple of years, he said. The life of a lot of equipment that helps keep school campuses functioning, such as heating and air conditioning equipment, is 15 to 20 years, he said. That means significant costs are ahead to properly maintain and protect the school system’s resources, he said.
It’s kind of like an oil change for your car, he said. You can put it off for a while, but eventually if you don’t do it, you’ll have to buy a new engine, he said.
The school system does have some money in reserves, but that money is spoken for and tied to debt, he said.
The finance and budget committee is recommending that the school system collaborate with city leaders and share resources as partners, Aho said. The district also needs to simplify and clarify its salary supplement schedule for athletic and academic coaches and sponsors, he said.
Patsy Gwynn, a Hoover High teacher and Hoover resident who served on the personnel committee, said Hoover schools need to enhance the diversity among staff, particularly in recruiting and retaining minority staff.
There also needs to be a focus on maintaining competitive salaries and benefit packages to attract stronger applicants and improved mentoring programs for new teachers and administrators, Gwynn said.
The school system needs to provide adequate staffing in all areas to improve the quality of education and maintain small class sizes, she said.
Parent Teacher Council President Shelley Shaw, the representative for the committee analyzing ways Hoover can be released from federal court supervision regarding desegregation efforts, also noted the need to increase recruitment and retention of minority faculty and staff. Her committee recommended diversity coaching as part of a mentoring program, as well.
Shaw also said the school district needs to further consider how new communities being built will impact student attendance zones.
Samantha Elliott Briggs, a women and gender studies professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who has a child at Bumpus Middle School and another who already graduated from Hoover High, represented the parent and community engagement committee.
Briggs said the school district needs to do a better job of reaching out and involving all stakeholder groups, including retired educators and parents whose children already have graduated. Even though their children are out of the system, they still are taxpayers and should have a voice, she said.
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Supt Advisory Council Samantha Briggs 12-13-16
Samantha Elliott Briggs, a Hoover parent on the Hoover School Superintendent's Advisory Council, talks about parent and community engagement during a meeting at Metropolitan Church of God in Hoover, Alabama, on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.
Hoover schools also can do more to foster a welcoming environment, particularly among its parent groups, Briggs said. “We don’t want anyone to feel as if there is not space where they can participate,” she said.
The school district also needs to re-evaluate the effectiveness of tools it is using to communicate with parents and make sure parent contact information is up-to-date, she said.
Stephen Chew, a psychology professor at Samford University and Spain Park High School parent, spoke on behalf of the student growth, development and achievement committee.
He said his committee had concerns about the resources available to students. Budget cuts have affected library resources and cut down on the number of field trips students can take, Chew said. More training also is needed for students interested in skilled trades instead of college, he said.
Chew's committee also thinks schools should be more proactive in providing student support and safety nets due to changes in society. There is a lot more family dysfunction, and teachers and administrators have to deal with those issues, he said. Students and families also are more transient, sometimes staying in a community only two to three years before moving, so schools need to be able to respond to that dynamic, he said.
Chew also said the committee wants to raise the aspirations of Hoover students and get them to look beyond community and state colleges. The school district should consider expanding its International Baccalaureate program to all middle and high schools, he said.
Superintendent Kathy Murphy said she greatly appreciates all the people who took time to participate in the strategic planning process thus far. Not only were there 100 or so people on committees; more than 3,100 responded to a community survey, Murphy said.
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Supt Advisory Council Kathy Murphy 12-13-16
Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy discusses strategic planning during a meeting with the Superintendent's Advisory Council at Metropolitan Church of God in Hoover, Alabama, on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.
The planning process is not over; there is still more work to be done, the superintendent said. The school district will take a brief hiatus as they work on filings for federal court related to desegregation efforts and see if U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala has anything to add to the planning process, Murphy said.
After federal filings are completed, school officials will continue to work on fleshing out more specific goals and deadlines for meeting desired objectives, she said. Figuring out the costs associated with meeting objectives is certainly a factor, she said.
“All of it comes with an investment of time and an investment of money,” Murphy said.
Her goal is to have a finished strategic plan ready for the school board to adopt by May, she said.
She personally has learned a lot by listening to the school system’s stakeholders, and she believes the stakeholders also have learned how complicated the business of education can sometimes be, she said. “It’s not as easy as it might seem.”
See the complete Powerpoint presentation regarding the Superintendent Advisory's Council's findings and recommendations for strategic planning on the school system's website, as well as complete results of the community survey that was conducted Sept. 29-Oct. 28.