By Bethany Adams, For The Tribune
In a recent report by Wallethub.com, Alabama’s school systems were ranked among the lowest in the country based on factors including test scores, dropout rates and school safety. While these results may not come as a surprise, not every school district in the state conforms to the numbers.
According to test scores and statistics from the 2014-2015 academic year, Trussville City Schools are standing out in the state. Scoring 2.5 points above the state’s ACT average of 19.1, the district stands out academically, as well as in other areas. With consistently higher test scores, lower dropout rates and award-winning school safety measures, Trussville schools are offering opportunities for students to equip themselves for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Pattie Neill, the Superintendent of Trussville City Schools, credits the district’s success with various factors. From administration to the students themselves, she believes that success is the result of a willingness to work from all parties involved.
“I believe that what sets our students apart from the state is the fact that they’re ready to learn when they come to school,” Neill said. “There are several things, but number one is the parents in Trussville really do care that their students are ready to learn. And when they start out ready to learn in kindergarten, then we can accelerate their learning quickly.”
She also recognizes an “outstanding work ethic” in the students.
“Our students work hard, they do their homework, they are ready to move on to the next level… And if they’re bored in class, they will ask questions that show that they’re bored, and then we can move them forward when they’re ready,” Neill said.
The willingness of the parents and students to work hard is, she claimed, “just the Trussville culture”, stating that the city is “a wonderful place where many barriers to learning are removed before [students] even come to school.”
While student willingness to learn provides opportunities for earlier academic advancement, Neill believes that the faculty within the district takes things to the next level.
“The teachers are very much in tune to which students need help in understanding information,” Neill said, explaining that the schools have a Response to Intervention program in place. The program allows time for remediation for students who need it or enrichment for those who don’t.
Students are also subjected to multiple evaluations each year, which, according to Neill, help teachers be aware of kids who may need help before it becomes a serious problem. This, combined with teachers’ expertise and passion, according to Neill, “keeps the students in line for acceleration, remediation or enrichment, depending on what they need.”
Neill also cited the administration’s support in the success of the school district.
“All of these things happen because the school administrators are working with the teachers to support them for all the things that we have in place,” Neill said.
In addition to higher test scores and a 97 percent graduation rate (compared to the state’s rate of 86.3 percent), Trussville City Schools are also standing out in the area of school safety.
“We have several safe school initiatives in place, and last April we won the Luther Strange Attorney General Safe School Initiative Award,” Neill said. The award was in recognition of a number of factors, including the addition of tornado shelters to schools in the fall and the district’s anti-bullying initiative. “The anti-bullying initiative is about teaching students what bullying is and what it is not,” explained Neill.
As a part of that initiative, the students partake in a character education program that they dubbed PACE, which stands for “Positive Attitudes Change Everything.” The program enforces good character traits like respect and forgiveness, while teaching students how to be good citizens.
“It’s a proactive approach where you teach them how to behave before they misbehave,” Neill said. The goal is to stop bullying before it becomes an issue, and, according to Neill, the effect is evident. “We have very few infractions on our student incident report that we have to turn into the state every year,” she said.
It’s all a part of the process that goes toward equipping children for the future.
“If I go along with what the state wants me to do, they want all of our students to be college or career ready,” Neill said. “But in addition to that, we educate the whole child. We want them to be good citizens, we want them to be productive citizens, and we want them to have a clear pathway of what they want to do immediately after high school.”
While other parts of the state may be struggling to educate students, local schools are going beyond academic preparation and teaching students skills that will take them far beyond the classroom. From educating their minds to shaping their characters, the teachers and administrators at Trussville City Schools are working not only to see students graduate, but to help them find success in the rest of their lives.