Alabama ASCD


I have participated in a very courageous conversation on our efforts to work with students of color over the past three months.   As an African American woman and native of the state of Alabama, this conversation generated so many questions.  Although I have always worked with students of color, I have rarely reflected on the impact of my teaching career.  I have always provided educational opportunities through my teaching of the state designed curriculum for students of color in numerous communities.   

My career began in North Alabama in a very small school.   This was certainly an eye-opening realization for me that launched my compassion for other peoples’ children; they became my children.  I felt called to the community since it mirrored my home community in many ways. Having grown up in a somewhat upper middle-class family, in a very segregated area of South Alabama, I did not realize the struggles of so many African American families.  Our community was so close knitted everyone helped to take care of each other.  If someone fell on hard times or lost their job, my father would always hire them to work with his crew until they were on their feet again.  Unemployment was not a long-term element of our community.

So, I was utterly shocked by the living conditions of my students.  I realized that I was working in a community of racial inequality; poverty was real.  There were families that did not have running water, and dwellings that did not have sleeping accommodations for all family members.  For me, this was an uncomfortable heartbreaking setting as a young educated black teacher.   Immediately, I set out to make this situation better for my students and to give them hope for a brighter future.   The realization of the role education would play became clear to me when I discovered that the students’ future plans were to seek employment at the local “chicken house”.   After I realized exactly what that was, my eyes were opened to exactly what this minimum wage job would lead to for them.  I taught seventh through twelfth grades, and the classes included both boys and girls.    Starting that day, every skill I knew and every objective I taught became a real-life activity in my former home economics classroom.  I was determined to expose them to all the world could offer outside that community.  

The courses were skill-based and allowed students to work at an individualized pace.  None of the students were hardly ever working on the same level; technically, I rarely knew who the special education students were because the assignments were hands-on and engaged the students to perform at their level with support from me.  I introduced research, with a strong writing component, which required students to discover information as evidence of the topic.  The most relevant aspect of those classes were captured outside the classroom with frequent field trips, labs, creative products and by increasingly high expectations.  Failure was not an option.  

Although this school community was 99% African American, it did not matter to me or cause me to distort the curriculum; it only made it more rigorous. This further created a deeper desire in me to offer options for a future they had not previously thought they deserved. Personal development was a part of every lecture and presentation in the classroom.

Now, over 30 years later, our schools and communities are more segregated than ever.  Students of these same demographics are still struggling.  The rate of change for families of poverty has not decreased for communities of color.   It is still taboo to discuss how different the expectations, resources, improvements, and supports are within these communities.  A state report card is published each year for the schools in these communities, so we are very much aware that there are problems because these schools consistently fail to achieve at the level of white communities.  The conversation and rationale for the failure of these schools are frequently linked to poverty.  Although poverty is a factor, it is not the reason for the lack of performance in schools with large populations of students of color.  The elements impacting these students lie deeper than simply poverty.  The root cause lies within the systemic elements of our society and beneath the surface of the conversations we refuse to have within our organizations.  The truth to improving all of the facets that ail our communities, our schools, and our society is the critical conversation which hinders transformation—equality.  Equality which levels the playing field for all through a wholesome quality of life.  

The truth of the matter is students can achieve their dreams of success if they are loved, supported, and exposed to resources such as scholarships, college admissions, military recruiters, apprenticeship programs and community college offerings.  All students want success, but without support and guidance from individuals outside of their own community it is not possible. Fear of the unknown elements is a barrier to moving beyond their current circumstance.  The fact is those students did go outside of the community to attend college, the military, and jobs with opportunities for advancement.   Their successes were nothing less than the basic expectations all parents want for their children.  They are doctors, teachers, administrators, computer scientists, auto mechanics, factory workers for automakers, military officers, realtors, entrepreneurs, investors, business owners, contractors, and the list goes on and on.   They are not struggling on minimum wage earnings or living in poverty.  They are productive citizens of our society, just as we should desire of all children.   

-Dr. Evelyn Nettles-Hines, Birmingham City Schools

Morgan County Students Celebrate their Super Citizen Journey and Honor Local Heroes!

More than 600 elementary students from Morgan County Schools participate in the Super Citizen Program. The Super Citizen Program is a 10-week week civic, character, financial literacy and social studies program. Students learn the most important title in the world: “CITIZEN.”

On Super Citizen graduation day, students waved flags, wore Statue of Liberty crowns and counted down for Libby Liberty™ to take the stage virtually.

Students in multiple grades (2nd-5th) participated in the Super Citizen Program. The younger grades were taught an innovative civic education program starring Mr. Palmer (the hand-puppet host of the “Hands on Liberty” DVD series). Upper elementary grades learned from the original Super Citizen Program kit that featured DVD-based lessons, class activities and the emotional, unforgettable “Torch Teams” project-based learning experiences. In Torch Teams, students teamed up after learning their lessons, nominated, voted for and, ultimately, honored local heroes at this graduation. They learn that “When you honor a hero, you become a hero.” Their heroes were presented a Liberty trophy and students share how their hero makes a difference in their community.

The program makes it fun and compelling for students to learn about liberty, freedom, and civic responsibility. 

This event and the injection of civic learning is free to schools because of generous community sponsors who understand that these crucial lessons must be taught despite school time and budget constraints.


Florence City Schools “Stuffs the Bus”

FLORENCE, Ala. – There are some people you meet, and you immediately know their heart is in the right place. Hunter Jackson is one of those people. In late November of 2020, Jackson prepared himself both mentally and physically to camp on a school bus to make sure children in northwest Alabama had gifts to open on Christmas Day. “This is the one thing that I have been looking forward to since last year,” said Jackson, a radio personality for My 101.5 in the Shoals.

Hunter Jackson and Florence City Schools have partnered together for eight years in a project they call “Stuff the Bus”. On November 28, Jackson boarded a school bus parked in front of Walmart on Hough Road in Florence. Jackson’s mission, to collect 3,000 donated Christmas gifts for ages infant to 18-years old. A goal that was set by Jackson following a very successful 2019 campaign.

“We had enough faith and what we hoped for to get over 2,500 toys, setting it to 3,000, helping more families when more families need it, it’s special,” explained Jackson.

As part of the partnership, Jackson continually broadcasts across the Singing River Media Group of radio stations that include: My 101.5,  94.9 “The Bull”, 100.1 WLAY,  and Rock 105.5 “The Big Dog”. The live broadcasts include interviews with school districts in northwest Alabama that distribute the donated gifts to their students in need and community leaders. 

“The fact that we have set ourselves up for helping more people than ever before, I think the community is drawn to something like this,” said Jackson.

In 2020, Hunter Jackson spent 14-days on the bus, sleeping in the aisle under numerous blankets. He surpassed his goal and collected a record 3,500 gifts for children in Lauderdale and Colbert counties. During the current pandemic, the need has been even greater among our neighbors and friends in the Shoals area.

“It replays now, how so many people that had all the bit of certainty that they weren’t going to be that family, are that family this year,” said Jackson. “We didn’t plan the pandemic we’re in. And I just think having something so accessible and convenient and so easy to contribute to available, with a good process in place and a good team like Florence City Schools and like Walmart and all the helpers from the school districts around us, this was more successful than ever before.”

After the 2019 Stuff the Bus collection was counted and divided up, Jackson made a request. He asked to ride along with the school system social workers who were distributing the gifts to families. The experience opened his eyes to the needs around us.

“That did put a whole new meaning behind this,” stated Jackson. “Because I did see how bad off people had it, and to know the pandemic has been even more crippling to those people, we just have to get up and do our best this year. If I can do anything based on my experience to contribute to that push to get people to do their best, I feel like I am in the right spot.”

Stuff the Bus encourages community members to donate new, unwrapped gifts during the drive to the school bus. Once the bus is full, the gifts are unloaded by Florence City Schools employees and divided among school districts that include: Florence City Schools, Lauderdale County Schools, Sheffield City Schools, Tuscumbia City Schools, Muscle Shoals City Schools, and Colbert County Schools. 

The program works with school system Social Workers identifying families who need help and then place them on the distribution list. In previous years, the gifts were delivered to the homes of the families. But because of the current pandemic, gifts were picked up by the families at a distribution center. For the first time, 2020 families also received a live Christmas tree donated for free by a northwest Alabama tree farmer. 
For additional information on the Stuff the Bus project, contact Ms. Sonja Croone, a Social Worker with Florence City Schools (

Advocacy: Be a Champion for Students

Teachers like doors.

When noisy neighboring classrooms, inconsistent principals, and the world at large get to be too much, teachers just shut their doors & focus on that which offers some sense of control– their classroom community. Teachers are accustomed to reducing barriers and eliminating distractions – and in the physical world of schools, that sometimes means shutting their doors.

Unfortunately, that shut door also traps in the innovation, leadership, & dynamic energy of day-to-day learning in their collective classrooms. And when the decision making groups like the Alabama legislature consider bills affecting teaching and learning, the most practical and knowledgeable voices are not in the room.

AASCD and CLAS are trying to do something about this. And the answer is advocacy.

An advocate can be thought of as one who champions a cause. Educators are champions for their students, but often feel intimidated by legislators and the details of the legislative process. AASCD & CLAS need YOU to expand the way in which you see yourselves being a champion for your students. Consider just a few specific steps you could take to help champion the cause of public education:

  1. Know your legislators & build a relationship with them. And make sure they know you. Call them. Email them. Invite them into your classrooms and schools. Let them see what excellence looks like. Show them how much you do (often with so little). Share with them what you need. Do not assume that just because they have been to school that they understand teaching and learning in 2018. Names, faces, and specific stories mean a great deal to legislators.
  2. Keep up with pending legislation. This website can help you know what laws are being considered by the Alabama legislature. Ensure that you are informed. Read up on issues affecting schools, teachers, and students. Each Friday, CLAS shares a weekly update with its members, and included in that are legislative updates. Share your views with your legislative representatives. Make your voices heard!
  3. Join the CLAS Leadership Network. The CLN helps busy educators organize for advocacy in the most effective ways. Susie Ellison with CLAS is your contact person ( /800-239-3616), and she does a wonderful job of communicating with us and on our behalf. Join me in the CLN!
  4. Participate in one of the CLAS Advocacy Days. As a function of the CLN, CLAS is piloting two “CLAS Advocacy Days” this session on January 30th and February 27th. Participants will gain an up-close view of the legislative process, meet with legislators, and advocate for public education. Look for a report on these two days in the future, as CLAS hopes to expand this project in next year’s legislative session.

This January, AASCD will send representatives to Washington, DC for LILA , ASCD’s annual Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy. AASCD will meet with each member of the Alabama congressional delegation and their staffs and participate in leadership sessions which will empower AASCD to be a more effective champion for teaching and learning.

Expect to hear a report on the CLAS Advocacy Days and LILA at our AASCD meeting this summer. In the meantime remember: legislators will hear from AASCD and CLAS as organizations. But what our representatives tell us is that nothing is more powerful to them than hearing directly from individual teachers, principals, & district school leaders. So share your stories. Tell them what you need. And be an advocate and champion for Alabama’s students.


Follow up post to “Digital Portfolios: Guiding Students Toward Accomplishment”

In February of 2016, we brought you a blog post entitled “Digital Portfolios: Guiding Students Toward Accomplishment”. Now, after a period of iterating, reflecting, shooting video, and editing, Madison City Schools’ instructional team has released a new 38-minute documentary entitled  “Digital Portfolios: The Whole Child, The Whole Story”. The video was produced by Daniel Whitt, Mollie Bounds, and Natalia Dooley, and it was edited by James Clemens High School junior, Christian Arnsparger. There is also a link in the description of the video to a free and public Google Drive folder full of resources for teachers and students. We do not believe there is one way to do digital portfolios correctly, but we do believe this video and accompanying resources can catalyze the understanding and adoption of digital portfolios worldwide. As we seek to move toward an accomplishment culture in education, we believe digital portfolios are not just the vehicle, but also the fuel, for the move. We encourage educators to use this video with entire faculties, with students in class, or however they see fit to make the biggest impact in their systems.

Link to YouTube video:

STEM Lab at Susan Moore Elementary

My name is Jennifer Priest and I have been a teacher at Susan Moore Elementary School for 12 years.  I taught science for 10 years before having the honor of becoming our district’s first STEM teacher.  I get to teach almost 600 students how science, technology, engineering, and math relate to their lives.  It has been the most rewarding experience of my career!  

A couple of years ago, our school was approached with the idea of starting a STEM lab.  We all loved the idea, but we were not sure how we could fund it.  After doing a lot of research, I found an abundance of data that reiterated the importance of getting our students college and career ready beginning as early as kindergarten.  Studies show that if we don’t get students interested in science and engineering before they leave elementary school, they do not pursue jobs in those fields.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, all STEM jobs in the U.S. will increase 14 percent from 2010-2020. Yet, data shows that 3 million of those jobs will go unfilled by 2018.  That is a staggering number!  While reading and math are definitely at the forefront of education, we cannot forget to teach science.  If we don’t expose our students to science and engineering, we are doing them a disservice in regards to their future. Richard Riley, the former Secretary of Education stated, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist … using technologies that haven’t been invented … in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”  Equipped with this knowledge, my principal and I approached the county with our idea.  They were extremely supportive and the first STEM lab in Blount County began.  

We decided that every student in our school (kindergarten through 6th grade) should be given the opportunity to participate in STEM.  Because we are a Title I school, our funds are very limited.  We have relied on donations from parents and the community.  I have written several grants to help fund our STEM lab.  With my grant money, I have purchased LEGO robotics kits and programmable robots.  However, we mostly build with K’nex, LEGOs, and various materials.  My students love building things from scratch.  I present each class with a real-world challenge at the beginning of the class.  I don’t tell the students how to “get” there.  I let them figure that out.  They all have the same goal, just different ways of getting there.  Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we fail.  But, we always learn!

Thus far, our classroom teachers have been very supportive of STEM lab.  They see the benefits that it presents to our students.  Our students have more confidence in themselves.  Students that are usually not successful in reading and math, have flourished in STEM lab.  It has been amazing to see them become leaders for their peers.  Without a doubt, that has been the most rewarding part of my job!  I try to encourage those students to think about the different occupations they can have that best highlights their abilities.  I want them to realize that even though they may not always be successful in reading and math, they can be successful in other areas of school.  I also work with the classroom teachers to make sure that we are supporting them with their science, math, technology, and ELA standards.  Every lesson is based on a science concept, that integrates writing, literature, math, technology, and, of course, engineering.  My students are learning to create things, with  constraints and criteria, all while using a budget for their creations.  I have seen some amazing things from these students.  I just hope we can continue making progress and helping our students achieve their dreams.

Jennifer Priest

Susan Moore Elementary School

Blount County Schools

Alabama ASCD Attends #LILA17 in D.C.

Educators from 30 states convened in Washington, D.C. on January 22nd to attend the Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA), one of the annual conferences and training opportunities of ASCD.  Representing Alabama ASCD were:  Ashley Catrett, President; Brenda Rickett, President-elect; Jane Cobia, Executive Director; and Mitchie Neel, Secretary.  The three day conference was a whirl wind of sessions, meetings, networking, and opportunities to be advocates for education.  Understanding education policy, use of social media to share positive stories about educators and students, the new ASCD legislative agenda, ESSA updates and information, changes ahead in federal education policy, and networking opportunities to discuss important issues facing educators were are all included in the conference agenda.

Alabama ASCD meets with Representative Michael Rogers during #LILA17

Alabama ASCD meets with Representative Michael Rogers during #LILA17

The 2017 ASCD legislative agenda focuses on three key points.  The first is “Ensuring Equity”, which features that “all children deserve to develop to their fullest potential… to ensure that they are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.”  Meeting the needs of each student in the five areas identified ensure the whole child is the focus of educator efforts.  The second tenet in the agenda is “Promoting Excellence” which maintains that “no matter where they attend school, all students must be provided a safe, healthy, and accepting learning environment and a rigorous, high-quality, and personalized academic program.”  The last component of the 2017 agenda is “Promoting Educators.” “As the most significant in-school factors for student achievement, teachers and school leaders deserve the support and resources to maximize student learning outcomes and prepare our young people for the future.”  Educators must be equipped to deliver the best educational experience possible for our students.   They must be acknowledged and appreciated for the work they do.  They need the appropriate support to provide outstanding teaching and learning experiences.

Alabama ASCD meets with aid to Representative Bradley Byrne during #LILA17

Alabama ASCD meets with aid to Representative Bradley Byrne during #LILA17

The highlight of the conference was the last day when members of Congress were visited.  Your Alabama ASCD delegation worked to schedule appointments with all of the offices of our Alabama Representatives and Senators.  Ashley, Brenda, Jane, and Mitchie visited the offices and shared with our Congressional members key issues relating to Alabama educators, focusing on the importance of curriculum and instruction to positively impact our students.  Congressional offices visited included Robert Aderholt, Bradley Byrne, Morris Brooks, Gary Palmer,  Martha Roby, Mike Rogers, and Terri Sewell.  A special thank you goes to Congressman Mike Rogers, who met personally with the delegation!  Legislative assistants conducted the rest of the meetings and all were very interested to hear from us.  The group also met with the legislative assistant for Senator Richard Shelby.  The meeting scheduled with Senator Sessions was cancelled due to the impending confirmation of him as the nation’s Attorney General.  The group was thrilled and pleased to have met with all of our active Congressional representatives during the day so we could share with them important issues facing Alabama educators.

Alabama ASCD meet with with Ronn Nozoe and Ben Shuldiner of ASCD during #LILA17

Alabama ASCD meet with with Ronn Nozoe and Ben Shuldiner of ASCD during #LILA17

There are many ways to advocate for education and impact our students!  Your Alabama ASCD is working to be a part of the conversation of the future of education in Alabama and our nation to ensure we remain focused on our students.  As educators we have no mission to deliver without our students.  Share your success stories, challenges, and concerns.  We plan to in the coming months and hope you will be a part of this effort!  Keep informed by following Alabama ASCD through our social medial platforms!  Like us on Facebook:  Alabama ASCD.  Follow us on Twitter:  @AlabamaASCD.  Join us on Instagram:  alabamaascd.  Our website address is  We are currently exploring various aspects of leadership using #leadandadvocate.  Join this conversation and be a part of advocating for our students!

Mitchie Neel, Alabama ASCD Secretary

Alabama ASCD meets with Deb Delise and David Griffith of ASCD during #LILA17

Alabama ASCD meets with Deb Delise and David Griffith of ASCD during #LILA17

STIC Program Launches in Sheffield City Schools

Sheffield City Schools launched its S.T.I.C. (Students Tutoring In Church) program in January 2017.  The STIC program is a partnership with the local churches in Sheffield, AL. The program provides fun, fellowship, and reading time for elementary students who need additional support with their reading skills after school. The program targets second through fourth graders. Volunteers from First Methodist, First Baptist, York Terrace, Clift Haven, and Gaston Chapel churches all worked together to get trained on how to teach reading through a reading intervention program by Heather Collum, the District Reading Specialist. Through this partnership, the churches all worked together to set a schedule so that students could practice reading with adults two days a week for nine weeks. The program currently has 41 students and more than 20 volunteers.
Students selected to participate in the program were identified through their mid-year Scantron scores.  The focus is on students who are not already receiving other services and showing growth in their reading scores but not at their full potential.  After the training, the volunteers work with these students to improve their reading skills.  The programs are housed at the Michael Recreation Center and various churches in each community.  The students are transported to STIC each day using church buses after school.  Keith Lankford, Superintendent said this program can have huge impacts for the district.  “Research tells us that a student not reading at his or her grade level by the end of the third grade is four times less likely to graduate high school on time.”
Not only are the churches participating in this partnership, but the community has embraced it by supporting the program through monetary gifts and supplying snacks for the children each day. It is a blessing to see our communities and schools partnering to change the culture in our communities by implementing this great program. “It’s just a community coming together, which is a great thing,” Lankford said.
Carlos Nelson

Crenshaw County Students Celebrate Becoming Super Citizens

On January 17, 2017, more than 420 second and third grade students filled the Luverne High School Auditorium. After finishing 10 weeks in the Super Citizen Program, they are gathered to celebrate their accomplishments and honor local heroes from the stage.

These students have learned their important roles in America’s future thanks to an immersive experience in civic, character, financial literacy and social studies. And in the closing piece of the program, Torch Teams (or “Helping Hands” for the younger students), students are applying those crucial lessons in the real world.  They chose heroes who embodied the traits of amazing citizens and read essays from stage before presenting them with Authentic Liberty Replicas & Liberty Pins. They learned that “when you honor a hero, you become a hero!”


For pictures, please visit