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Public input key in school improvement plan
By Steve Campbell | The Huntsville Times

March 02, 2010, 7:00AM

To view the original article on al.com, please click here.

Scott McLain.jpg

Scott McLain speaks before business and education leaders March 1 at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce

HUNTSVILLE, AL -- When schools need money, politicians usually make their case to taxpayers, telling them what's wrong and proposing a solution.

"That process does not generate buy-in," said Scott McLain, president of The Schools Foundation. "It does not generate trust."

That's why McLain is helping preside over a community engagement campaign modeled over the Yes We Can Community Agreement credited with helping improve Mobile County schools several years ago.

The strategy involves asking citizens what they expect from their school systems. The goal is to make citizens more aware of local school needs. In Mobile County, the effort has prompted many citizens to volunteer in schools and businesses to donate money.

McLain and Stephanie Malone, who will co-chair the effort, announced the plan before business and education leaders Monday at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

The program comes at a critical time for Huntsville, Madison and Madison County schools. The school systems are growing as military families move here from the Washington, D.C., area.

Last week, Army Maj. Gen. James Myles said classrooms are filling faster than expected since the 2005 decision by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to relocate thousands of military jobs to Redstone Arsenal.

Myles, commander of the arsenal, said school systems in Madison, Morgan and Limestone counties have grown by 5,600 students since the BRAC decision. He cited a study that predicted 4,000 additional students by 2011.

The growth has also come amid financial trouble. Because of lower-than-expected tax collections caused by a poor economy, the state has cut millions in funding to local schools since December 2008.

County leaders have questioned whether the schools can accommodate the new students and prepare them for in-demand jobs.

Those leaders now want to emulate the process of engaging its citizens in education issues such as Mobile County leaders did with their citizens.

"People want to be respected. They want to be included. They do care about education, but the process has not been set up to make them comfortable, make them feel a part (of the process) and make them feel inspired," said McLain, a Huntsville developer.

The plan calls for up to 350 community meetings, often among small crowds.

First comes fundraising. The Schools Foundation, which supports the county's three school systems, must raise $285,000 to do the work required in the Yes We Can program. The result: strategic plans customized for each school system developed by leaders and the public.

 
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