Posts

Data Suggest Local COVID-19 Curve Flattening

After a period of spiking coronavirus positive tests within Madison County, some good news surfaced last week.

County Commission Chair Dale Strong said recent numbers suggest the COVID-19 curve is flattening. The national Center for Disease Control and Prevention reduced its suggested quarantine time and the Alabama High School Athletic Association announced fall sports would begin on time.

Also, schools will reopen in August after they were shuttered in March when the virus entered Alabama. However, Huntsville City, Madison and Madison County all agreed to do virtual learning for at least the first nine weeks.

“For the first 12 weeks (of the virus), Madison County experienced a minimal increase in cases while positive cases (in recent) weeks skyrocketed, and our hospitals continued to meet health care needs,’’ Strong said at Friday’s COVID-19 briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers.

In the wake of mandates from the Madison County Health Department and Gov. Kay Ivey, the demand for testing and the need for hospital stays due to the virus have decreased.

“We’ve begun to see a reduction in the number of new cases compared to prior weeks and that indicates mitigating measures are working,’’ Strong said. “The demand for testing has been reduced by almost 10 percent and hospitalizations for coronavirus appear to be flattening across Madison County.’’

But the statistics remain bleak.

There were 145 positive tests Thursday and 154 more Friday within Madison County. There are more than 250 health care workers who have tested positive. As of Saturday morning, 4,142 of the 48,298 people tested in Madison County were positive and there have been 21 confirmed deaths.

Meanwhile, there have been 76,314 confirmed cases of the 639,795 people tested statewide with 1,413 confirmed deaths.

Heading into the weekend, Huntsville Hospital had 106 inpatients who tested positive in its three countywide facilities and Crestwood Medical Center had 15.

Also at the briefing, Dr. Karen Landers of the  Alabama Department of Public Health said, per CDC guidelines, people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive should isolate for 10 days instead of the previously recommended 14.

In Montgomery, the AHSAA’s Central Board voted to implement the Return to Play Best Practices guidelines as a return to playing fields was greenlighted. Spring sports were canceled along with classroom learning in March.

Fall sports teams can begin workouts Monday. Football squads can work in helmets and shorts only for the first week, Volleyball, cross country and swimming and diving squads can use the first week for acclimation and tryouts.

Another option is beginning fall practice Aug. 3 and the first games and meets can start Aug. 20.

Business Community Raises $180,000 For Local Teachers

Nothing inspires a business community like a clear-cut mission and a high return on investment.

In a celebration at Burritt on the Mountain, the Huntsville Committee of 100 and more than 200 area business owners, elected officials, local school boards and superintendents, and state representatives, celebrated raising more than $180,000 to fund new National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT) within the Huntsville, Madison, and Madison County school systems.

Believing there is a direct link between quality education and a skilled workforce, the Huntsville Committee of 100 revealed statistics six months ago showing that for every $1 invested in National Board Certified Teachers there is a $31 return on that investment.

From left: Linda Akenhead, Leah Gradl, John Allen, Elizabeth Fleming, Stephanie Lowe. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“Research shows that National Board Certification for teachers is the key to driving academic achievement in our local schools,” said Committee of 100 CEO John Allen. “The Committee’s philanthropic arm, the Creative Cities Fund, teamed up the Schools Foundation to fund certification for 100 teachers from the three local school systems, and tonight we applaud that achievement.”

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards said this initiative is the first and largest effort nationwide by the business community to fund board-certified teachers in public schools.

On average, students taught by National Board Certified teachers show gains of one to two months of learning over students in other classrooms.

Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey honored the efforts by video while the Huntsville Youth Orchestra entertained guests and culinary students prepared the cuisine.

Burritt on the Mountain hosted a celebration of investing in education. (Photo/Steve Babin)

“This is just the beginning,” said Stephanie Lowe, director of engagement with the Huntsville Committee of 100. “While driving to hit the $200,000 goal, both organizations will continue conversations to make this a focus across our state, as achievement in education continues to be a priority in all parts of Alabama.”

The Creative Cities Fund focuses on creative ideas that stimulate economic growth. Over the last five years, the fund has helped initiatives including Launch 2035 regional visioning; land-use planning such as the Singing River Trail; Downtown Huntsville BlueBikes; and peer-to-peer counseling in local high schools.

The NBCT Campaign is the fund’s largest campaign to date.

Tying Education to Business, Huntsville Committee of 100 Funds National Board-Certified Teachers

A leading Huntsville business advocacy organization is seeing its investments paying off.

Though, the group did not invest in financial markets, it invested in education.

Last May, the Huntsville Committee of 100 launched an exclusive initiative in May to fund 100 nationally board-certified teachers throughout the Huntsville City Schools, Madison City Schools and Madison County School systems.

It is the first time an Alabama business community has made an impactful investment in education in order to make Madison County more attractive to employees and employers.

According to John Allen, CEO of the Committee of 100, there are three tenets to its mission: promoting cooperative local government to ensure local business leaders are elected to positions that help make the community better; to advocate for long-term economic development; and to push for higher quality public education.

“We have 55,000 students in our schools every day and about 90 percent of them are in public education, so we know the value of a public education,” said Allen. “We were looking for a way to impact, support and encourage high quality public education.

“I asked former superintendent of Huntsville City Schools Matt Akin what a business organization like ours could do to change the conversation around achievement in our schools. His response was to nationally board-certify 100 teachers.”

In 2014, the Committee of 100 established the Creative Cities Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. It focused on conversations around creating high achievement in the local school system and setting a culture of high expectations.

The project was intended to drive innovation, education and economic development by raising funds year after year for that purpose and putting those funds back into community ideas quickly.

“We reached out to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and learned the national board certification process was a very vigorous, performance-based, peer-reviewed and critiqued, one to three year process a teacher has to go through,” said Allen. “One teacher compared it to writing a master’s thesis for each of the four modules of the process.”

“The certification process costs $475 per component with a registration fee, so teachers are looking at $2,000 per teacher to go through the process, money many teachers do not have,” said Michelle Accardi, director of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “Board certification is one of the levers we use to elevate student outcomes and research shows that all other factors being equal, a kindergarten student with a board-certified teacher is 31 percent more likely to be on grade level at the end of the year. Those are spectacular outcomes.”

When they are certified, teachers receive a $5,000 stipend from the state and, in some schools, they get an additional $5,000.

“Students learn more from board certified teachers,” said Accardi. “Early childhood literacy has ties to efforts and outcomes at high school graduation and beyond.”

The Committee of 100 began collaborating heavily with the schools foundation, a convenient partner because they work with all three school systems and are engaged in the national board certification process.

Allen said, on average, there is a one- to two-month achievement gain in board-certified classroom students and classrooms of board-certified teachers.

Furthermore, a recent study shows that for every $1 invested in national board certified teachers, there is a $31 return on investment.

When the Committee of 100 started the program, Alabama had 2,700 board certified teachers, which is about 6.3 percent of all teachers in Alabama.

To put it into perspective, about 90 percent of physicians are board-certified nationwide but only about 3 percent of teachers nationwide are board certified.

“Our organization, community business leaders, and elected leaders have bought into this process and all the dollars go straight to funding a teacher,” said Allen. “Prior to May, Madison had 58 teachers who are board certified; Huntsville City had about 30; and the county had about 35. In Huntsville, there are currently 70 additional teachers going through process, and in Madison there is another 35 with 25 now participating from Madison County Schools.

“We are now working on conversations surrounding how do we grow the conversation to a statewide level and how do we make it sustainable. We found that having a board-certified teacher in the school, they become a magnet, a mentor and a leader in the school.”

Accardi said student outcomes improve with certification.

“We currently have 25 different certificates a teacher can elect to certify in,” said Accardi. “Across all the certificate areas, every time someone does research on it, you see an increase in student outcomes.”

She also said the Committee of 100 initiative is unique because, as a business community, they understand not just the increase in outcomes, but they see a significant return on investment on board certification when talking purely dollars and cents.

“You see huge savings in teacher retention with a national board-certified teacher almost four times as likely to stay in a school setting than those teachers who are not certified,” said Accardi. “It helps elevate your game as a teacher, and if you have a group of NBCTs working together in a school, it gives you someone to consult with on issues.”

Going through the certification process enables teachers to see improvement in their own practice, as well.

“The National Board Certification process has improved my teaching practice by helping to change the way I interpret and use student data,” said Aimee Thomas Scrivner, a second-grade teacher at Huntsville’s Academy for Academics and Arts. “It has not only helped me gauge (and thus improve) my effectiveness as a teacher through measuring student impact of specific lessons and strategies, but helped me to develop meaningful relationships with students, parents, and colleagues that ultimately benefit student development and learning.”

‘Career Signing Day’ Helps Aim Students Toward Building Sciences

National Signing Day is a big event in the lives of high school student-athletes and their families.

The kids announce where they plan to continue their education and take their athletic talents to the next level.

Well, in Huntsville, there is another kind of “signing day.”

For the second time, Huntsville City Schools is hosting a “Career Signing Day,” when students are recognized for continuing their career paths within the fields of building science.

Just look around and you’ll see the demand for builders and tradesmen.

Construction zones and caution tape continue to speckle the city, as developers race to keep up with the demands required to complete projects.

Developments designed to enhance the growing infrastructure of Madison County seem to be popping up everywhere, and with no signs of a slow-down, the need for skilled workers and tradesmen is greater than ever.

“We are partnering with people to create more opportunity for internships and practical experience,” said Todd Watkins, director of Career Tech Education for Huntsville City Schools. “We are going to have interviews prior to the event. We are really excited because it gives our students a chance to do interview sessions.

“Then they can actually graduate high school and go straight to work.”

Turner Construction’s Director of Business Development Tyce Hudson said his company is working closely with area schools to ensure that upcoming graduates are aware of their options, whether they choose to pursue a four-year degree or opt for going directly into the workforce from high school.

“We are trying to get the message out that there are very bright careers in the trade industry right now,” he said. “We see shortages in mechanical, electrical, and plumbing so the demand for those is probably the highest.”

Through the efforts of companies such as Turner Construction, Huntsville City Schools students enrolled in the Career Tech Education Department are able to get practical work experience outside of the classroom by working on actual workplace projects.

Watkins also lauds the district’s newest career tech center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

The initial program will allow students to work in the hospitality and culinary industries shadowing staff, giving them the opportunity to leave the school campus and report directly to Space & Rocket Center CEO Dr. Deborah Barnhart.

Watkins said the increased employment opportunities coupled with the area’s demand for progress equals many more options in the building science arena, whether individuals choose to seek a 4 year degree or not.

“What kids are seeing,” he said, “is that they can be employable right out of school or they can also go to (a four-year college) or a junior college.

“Kids are starting to realize that career tech is not a one-way path.”