‘A dynamic framework’
Elliott, a long-time local school board member in the Decatur area, has seen first-hand the effects a detached, cookie-cutter plan can have on schools at the ground level. Because of that, he believes Plan 2020 could be the escape hatch educators have been waiting a decade to find.
“It’s a beautiful piece of work, and it’s really a strategic plan about where we are as a state right now, but also where we can be in seven years,” he said. “More than that, it also introduces a mindset the state department can use to propel Alabama to make good decisions down the road. It’s a dynamic framework to build upon and work in.”
Ideally, Elliott said the new standards in Plan 2020 should turn the state department into a true partner for local school systems, as opposed to the disciplinary body it has evolved into over the past several years.
“One very useful part is that we’re working to make sure the state department of education is a resource and an ally for local school boards,” he said. “For too long, the state has been seen almost with a sheriff’s badge on, looking for systems that haven’t measured up. When I got on the board, with a background in local education, we wanted to make sure local superintendents are involved in policy development upfront, rather that catching it on the end.”
One aspect of Plan 2020 that is close to Elliott’s heart is the enhanced focus on student support systems, which will work to address everything from truancy to drop-out rates by working with everyone from welfare agents to the parents at home.
“Be it poverty, neglect, or parents with substance abuse — students face some remarkable challenges now, and that’s something we want to address,” he said. “An overriding component is that, when a child enters school, those teachers and administrators look at what might be the underlying problem and work to find a way to fix it. For example, while at Decatur I spearheaded an effort to get social services in Title schools, so there is someone there to help just down the hall when a situation arises, so the teacher can focus on teaching and doing the things they need to do.”