Jemison High School labeled as failing; students and teachers disagree, citing big accomplishments and success

Jemison High School labeled as failing; students and teachers disagree

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - What is a failing school? According to lawmakers in Alabama, Jemison High School is failing because of low ACT scores. But the school is also celebrating after students have earned more than $600,000 in scholarships.

Three schools in Huntsville are on the failing list and they’re all within walking distance from either other. We talked with a lawmaker who passed the legislation that created the failing list and several students who say the grade is garbage.

The students we talked with say their school Jemison High is one of the best in the state because their teachers care and they're celebrating big achievements. So here's the question, how do you define success and failure?

The band members here at Jemison High School work hard and take pride in their performances. They also take pride knowing every senior currently in the band received at least one scholarship to go to college. So far, the scholarships total $633,000.

“I’m now able to go to Tuskegee University for free,” said Hector Cardozo.

Jemison High School also has a College Academy where students can take college courses thanks to a partnership with UAH.

“The goal is to get two years of college done in high school so that whenever you leave high school you’re two years ahead and you start out as a junior wherever you choose to go,” said Georgia Harville.

Georgia Harville is just one of the students who heard about the program, signed up and succeeding. She says doors are open for her that at one point seemed shut.

“I knew that my family wasn’t going to be able to afford for me to go to college if I had not signed up for this,” said Harville.

With so many achievements being made from students of all walks of life here at Jemison High, the students and principal are shocked and upset their school appeared on the Failing School List.

“We are an amazing school. We are not who they think we are,” said Dana Burt.

“The staff here is just amazing, all the teachers, the coaches, the band director, they’re heard working here,” said Cardozo.

“I think it’s ludicrous. I think the legislature should undo it,” said principal Rachael McDaniel.

This is McDaniel’s first year at the principal of Jemison High. The school opened three years ago and every year there’s been a different person in charge. When she took over, she went door to door talking to parents. She’s not a fan of the failing list which simply lists the bottom 6 percent of schools based on a standardized test, but she admits there are challenges at her school.

"I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The average ACT score last year at Jemison was low. So we know we need to work on it. Students are coming in a little behind and so we’re playing catch-up. We have 93 percent free and reduced lunch here, so many of them are in poverty. They have a lot of other things they’re worried about,” said McDaniel.

The other two schools in Huntsville on the failing list are McNair Junior High School which is connected to Jemison High School and Lakewood Elementary School just a couple blocks away.

House Rep. Terri Collins supported the legislation that created the failing list. She says the goal of the list is to raise awareness not only for students and teachers, but for the whole community.

“We believe when those communities see and understand where their schools really are, that that then lets others come in as partners and provide resources, provide help in ways that lift those schools up and we’ve seen that work,” said Collins.

If you have a child whose school is on the failing list Collins says you have some options.

“If you’re in that bottom 6 percent of achievement then the state department should be coming in and providing some help, some resources, some professional development, those parents tho would have choices of maybe moving to another public school, maybe moving to a private school with a scholarship,” said Collins.

McDaniel says they’re already taking action to help students and hopefully raise the test scores.

“We had Saturday school up here last Saturday. We’ll have it every Saturday leading up to the ACT where we have teachers doing ACT prep with students. We have them teaching it in class right now,” said McDaniel.

We’ll have to wait until next year to see if the scores go up, but the current failing school list isn’t changing some of the students opinions about the education they’re received.

“We’re winning at everything else but one test score and I feel like that doesn’t make us failing. Like we’re winning at everything,” said Harville.

It’s important to know Alabama’s Accountability Act’s Failing School List is not the same at Alabama’s Department of Education state report card that also comes out every year. Different criteria determine where schools rank on the lists. The state report card was implemented in 2012 and the bill was sponsored by Representative Terri Collins, who we interviewed for this story.

The state report card is based on a variety of factors including student grades. Jemison High School has a D. If you want to see the grade of your child’s school here’s a link.

Here’s the link to see all of the schools listed as failing based on the Accountability Act’s lowest 6 percent.

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