Eufaula City Schools

Dr. Ed Ellis has a Ph.D, but he might as well have had a scalpel and forceps as he addressed the Eufaula City Schools Board of Education Tuesday evening.

According to Davis, it’s going to be a long surgery to correct what’s ailing ECS.

“You are between 70 and 85% low-achieving in reading,” Davis said. “That’s a severe skill deficit problem. We are learning to read rather than reading to learn. I think it’s a teaching problem. It’s poorly executed leadership problems. The decision was made years ago to eliminate textbooks in favor of technology facilitated learning experiences. I think that was a mistake. The problems are compounded each year.

“Now, you’re in an emergency room situation. You’re in triage. When 70% of your students have poor reading skills, it’s an emergency.”

Davis also noted that constant change in curriculum “over the last seven or eight years” had been a problem.

“You have a history of poor sustainability in new initiatives,” Davis said. “You’re trying to take on too many things at once and that’s not gonna work.”

Davis, Professor Emeritus at the University of Alabama, Associate Research Scientist at the University of Kansas Center for Research and Learning, and president of MakeSenseStrategies.com, addressed the council with statistics both about ECS students and market research.

He praised ECS’ new leadership and teachers, and had particular high praise for Holly Mitchell, director of curriculum and instruction. “Holly is seriously one of the best I’ve ever worked with,” Davis said. “She is a jewel.”

Eufaula went to the electronic notebooks in favor of textbooks in the fall of 2016.

Davis did say extreme reading can improve a student two grade levels, but said the first year implementing new strategies will be rough.

“You have to have perfect practice,” he said. “If you practice it wrong, you’re learning it wrong.

“I don’t know what you’ll be doing a year or two because we don’t know how year one is going to go. You don’t live and die with math; you do live and die with how well you read. Tweaks are not going to help you. You can’t tweak yourself out of this problem. It’s going to take fundamental changes.”

Davis said the prognosis is really good for the district, again praising new hires all around.

“You can’t have an ego in this game,” he said. “I think the leadership here is good. You have a lot of highly dedicated teachers who want to do things different, and this is well-established research-based stuff that has a long history of great success.”

Davis said it would take four to five years before ECS can have the look of “a normal school” if the strategies are implemented.

“When you get out of the emergency room mode you should have 15% of the students that are low achieving rather than 70%,” Davis said.

In other business:

Board President Richard Wingate gave the board’s condolences to Elain Thomas’ family. Thomas had been a teacher in the school system for almost 25 years and was currently at Eufaula Elementary School. “She was a great teacher and a better Christian,” Wingate said.

Superintendent Joey Brannon commended all principals and teachers for making the start of school as smooth as he has seen.

Louise Connor, a long-term former member of the school board, was nominated to the state’s All-Star School Board from Eufaula.

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