Douthitt is a Calhoun County native who spent a few years as Anniston High School’s principal, though there hasn’t been overwhelming change at AHS since he sat in that chair in the early 2000s. AHS remains the lowest-performing school in the county, graduation-rate wise. Debate over the fate of Anniston Middle School and its troubling location on Alabama 21 hasn’t been settled. Concerns remain in the city’s business community that Anniston’s retail and industry climate will never spike upward until its public schools are seen as magnets that lure in middle-class families. And the system’s overall student population is still inching downward, year after year.
Welcome home, Darrin Douthitt.
That said, Douthitt, who is to replace the retiring Joan Frazier, is inheriting a job that can be seen as either a huge opportunity — ushering in a new era of improvement for a school system — or a tough, arduous task. In some ways, both are correct.
On Day One, here is what we’d like to see Douthitt concentrate on:
• Make education the top priority. Isn’t that obvious? Of course, it is. But so many matters swirl around Anniston’s schools — the middle school issue, finances, consolidation, which elementary schools to close, school discipline — that education can get shuffled down the priority list.
Nothing else is more important about Anniston’s schools than improving public education in the city. We suggest Douthitt consider out-of-the-box measures and eschew that which doesn’t produce significant results. That’s especially the case for Anniston High, where the dropout rate for 2013 was 58 percent.
• Reverse the dropout factory. Here’s part two of that dilemma. We mean no ill thoughts toward Frazier and the AHS staff, but a system in which 4 out of every 10 students do not graduate is a system with a chronic failing. Somehow, some way, it must be stopped.
This is as much a city of Anniston issue as an Anniston schools issue. A bevy of scientific data shows what dropouts face — higher rates of unintendended pregnancies and single-parent households, stunted wages and fewer job opportunities. In the worst cases involving crime and drug use, those statistics increase, as well.
Douthitt will do Anniston an unrepayable favor if he and his staff can markedly improve the high school’s graduation rate.
• Assist in the reorganization of the system. We’ve written about this until we’re blue in the face, but it’s worth the repetition. Anniston has two many campuses for too few students. The Board of Education must close the middle school and a few of its elementary schools. The logic is sound and the opportunities are great to save money and increase efficiency through consolidation.
• Get the community involved. We assume Douthitt needs no reminder of how divided the city is over its public schools and its majority-minority student population. Anniston’s schools can’t excel unless they are supported by the entire city — all races, all income levels. If Douthitt can help the greater Anniston community see the schools as an integral part of the city, he will have succeeded where others have either struggled or failed.