April 17, 2017, by Huntsville United
Just five weeks into his new position, Dr. Matt Akin delivered his first State of the Schools address Monday evening. A wireless mic and notes displayed on large monitors in the orchestra pit allowed him to move across the Huntsville High School stage and with his genteel southern manner connect with the friendly audience.
Akin started the address by joking about his goal of not falling in the orchestra pit, then for 40 plus minutes he deftly maneuvered around the pachyderm on stage with him. It would’ve been impressive if his performance had inspired instead of leaving some in the audience feeling like they don’t belong in the Huntsville City School circus and never will.
Beginning with a slide quoting the Huntsville City Schools Vision:
Huntsville City Schools will become a ‘Model Public Education System in the United States.’
Using slides, videos and his notes, Akin expanded on each of the following goals to outline what he felt would make a model school system.
- Academic Excellence For All
- Outstanding Teachers
- Educational Opportunities For All
- Modern Facilities
- Personalized Learning
- Community Support
Akin highlighted the good things going on in the district – Huntsville City Schools’ new buildings, the hard earned awards to standout students and teachers, along with the unique marquee programs offered by the district.
Polished video segments drove home the bulleted message points.
Akin outlined plans for the future with the goal of becoming a model school system:
- Recruiting teachers through scholarship incentives and partnerships with local colleges
- Increasing the percentage of Nationally Board Certified teachers
- Expanding curriculum with personalized learning
- Continuing the “power hour” in high school students
- Continuing and expanding support for fine arts and athletics
- Innovative opportunities beyond the typical school day
- Community commitment to student success.
Akin said he believes a blend of technology and creativity will provide opportunities to reach students beyond the traditional 8-to-3 school day.
Akin ended the address with a challenge for stakeholders to think and share what it will take for Huntsville City Schools to become a model school system and take the district to the next level.
About that elephant
Dr. Akin’s State of the School address sounded so …. familiar.
It also sounded tone deaf, ignoring the elephant in the room – the demonstrated failure of Huntsville City Schools to properly serve large segments of students and families.
The address was disheartening to those looking to Dr. Akin to address the problems they experience day in and day out.
The well publicized and promoted marquee programs excel in serving a sliver of the students – they can be models for other school districts to follow.
But what about the students who are not “high flyers?”
- How can the district serve the students struggling to read, write effectively, understand math and think?
- How can the district support the challenging futures facing Special Education students?
- What can the district do to meet the classroom challenges created by students with behavioral issues?
- What about the transportation issues?
- What about the nutritional programs?
- Why did Dr. Akin fail to address any of the challenges facing the district?
The failure to publically recognize, acknowledge and address problems is the core failure preventing Huntsville City Schools from reaching its vision of becoming a model system.
Does Dr. Akin understand how many people have been eagerly, desperately waiting for our knight in shining armor to help us?
Does he realize that all the shiny new things he showcased have been in place the past few years as our school system has slipped away into something we don’t even recognize anymore?
The accolades are not new – we’ve heard all this before, so forgive us if we were unmotivated and discouraged listening to the same old spiel we heard from the last deeply unpopular superintendent and district leadership who drove us into this mess.
While watching a recycled promotional video for Huntsville City Schools in the new Huntsville High auditorium, it was easy to feel that one of the few good things about one of those shiny new buildings, was it was big enough to hold the proverbial enormous elephant in the room.
Making programs perfect for already privileged people is pretty easy. The cream will always rise. Students gifted with natural abilities will always soar. Students gifted with remarkable perseverance and resolve will always prevail.
Dr. Akin, perfecting the near perfect is not what you’re here for. You’re a nice man, your connection to the students and respect for teachers is obvious, but nice isn’t going to fix our problems.
To begin fixing the systemic ills within the district will require leadership acknowledging to the community that you hear us and you recognize the problems. All those parents you spoke of in your comment about bringing it to the parents? We’ve been here. To imply the district leadership thinks “parents don’t come out” is a slap in the face to the parents who have been coming out. Parents have been screaming for help from a school system that refuses to listen to anyone who doesn’t tow their ineffective line.
It’s unfortunate Akin wasn’t here last year to see all the parents who attended the DoJ meeting held in a north Huntsville church bursting at the seams with parents and stakeholders that did “come out.” But these are not the parents district administration wants to hear from. These are the parents who feel disenfranchised and defeated. These are the parents who get a bad rap for not caring. These are the parents whose kids have been most affected by the district’s ineffectual, tone deaf procedures.
In an interview with WHNT after the address Akin said, “All the issues, whether it’s teacher retention or discipline, those things have been ongoing conversations. One of my top priorities has been to connect with teachers and principals and hear it straight from them, how we can improve. And I’ve been really impressed with some of their ideas. We will start implementing some of them over the summer.”
To his credit Akin has attended numerous community meetings – with more groups still waiting to share their experiences with him. Hopefully, he’s listening and learning. The State of the Schools address was a missed opportunity to “bring it to the parents,” and bring it with honesty. Akin’s willingness to look to those outside the Merts big top will likely determine the success of Huntsville City Schools and the goal of making the district a model school system.