Editorial: Priorities and divisions — Star poll unearths strong opinions about Anniston’s public schools
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Sep 23, 2013 | 2085 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A poll of Anniston residents about city schools reveals a pair of top priorities and also a crying need for unity and trust.

The question receiving the most positive response was on whether Anniston City Schools should “partner with outside educational institutions (i.e. Jacksonville State University, Gadsden State Community College) for the purpose of improving operations.”

A whopping 77 percent of respondents agreed.

Sixty-four percent agreed with “the creation of an independent advocate for” city schools “that would serve as a critical friend, fundraiser supreme and champion.”

Along with these findings were deeply divided responses:

• 35 percent think the system should be shut down; 48 percent say no and the rest either don’t know or didn’t respond.

• Are district graduates prepared for success? 44 percent say yes and 36 percent say no.

• 42 percent say the district offers a quality education while 39 percent say it does not.

• Does the district have enough funding? 28 percent said yes, 52 percent said no and 20 percent didn’t know or didn’t respond.

Taken together, these responses and others point to a lack of trust among the city’s residents. Some see a district that, if not soaring, is at least doing a better-than-average job. Others see a school system in crisis; more than one-third would prefer to see it shut down.

We’ve witnessed a similar division among school board members on matters of policy, so these poll results aren’t surprising. It’s a matter of trust. The poll, which was conducted on behalf of The Star this summer by JSU’s Center for Economic Development, shows a majority of the city’s residents are looking for help from outside the district and its bureaucracy.

Closer relationships between the Anniston district’s students and JSU and Gadsden State seem like natural partnerships. All parties could benefit from closer ties.

Even more important would be an independent advocate who could, as the poll noted, “serve as a critical friend, fundraiser supreme and champion.” All functions are vital for trust-building. The district has several foundations that generously provide it with supplemental funding. However, what’s missing is a “critical friend” that can assess the district’s shortcomings — a 65 percent graduation rate, a “failing” middle school and weak performance on standardized testing. The point wouldn’t be to browbeat the district, but to suggest and promote solutions. We won’t improve until we all recognize where we are.
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