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State superintendent speaks to Rotary Club

Dr. Ed Richardson, superintendent of the State Board of Education, made a trip to Greenville this past Thursday and spoke to the Greenville Rotary Club.

He was introduced by Dr. Mike Reed, who has been the superintendent of the Butler County School System for three years.

Richardson began his speech with remarks concerning Butler County schools, and commented on the achievements of the students, faculty, staff and principals. "Dr. Mike Reed has done an excellent job here in Butler County. We monitor our school systems on a regular basis, and sometimes we have to. Butler County is not one of them, but we do checks on some systems and as I looked at the reports of Butler County, I found many very positive attributes. One of those is that the school system is academically clear and that is an excellent sign," said Richardson.

"I also would say that the test scores are in very good shape. One of the indicators that was pointed out to me was in the area of ability and achievement. The test scores are higher than they were predicted to be and that is because there are a lot of good teachers and principals working hard here in Butler County," he said.

Richardson then recognized and congratulated

Dr. Kathy Murphy, principal of Greenville Middle School, for being the first woman on the board of the National Beta Club, and also the first woman chairman of the board.

He also informed Rotarians that the graduation requirements of Alabama are the highest of any state in the United States. "The graduation results here were in the low 90s which was excellent, and the questions on the exam were a little more difficult than most of us remember," he commented.

Richardson then spoke on what he called "the way it was, the way it is, and the way I think it will be."

"In the last century, 80 percent of the workforce was directly involved in agriculture and today it is under three percent, and that is not likely to change. In the 1950s, 75 percent of all the automobiles made in the world were made in the United States; today, it is 25 percent, and that is not likely to change. If you looked at steel and coal production in Alabama, that has been a big operation for years, but now it makes up five percent of the work force, and that is not likely to change.

"In the 1990s, Alabama lost over 20,000 of those jobs, and those jobs are not likely to come back. Now, we have to try to make decisions today that will carry us into the future," said Richardson.

He then explained that while driving to Greenville, he thought of Dwight D. Eisenhower's plan for the interstate system, which was to move military trucks and equipment in case of an attack. "Now, the major developments in Alabama are occuring along the interstate, which is good for Greenville. That decision for the interstate system was made over 50 years ago, and that, somewhat, is what needs to be done with education," he explained.

Another area Richardson talked about was numbers and education. He said many of the decisions we make today will not have an impact for 20 or more years, and it should be taken into consideration that whatever happens in the next 10 years in Greenville, Montgomery and the rest of the state, the decisions affecting education already will have been made, such as education and training. He added that what we need to do is invest in the future of our communities both for ourselves and for others.

"Eighty-nine percent of all school-age children in Alabama are in public schools, and that has only changed one percent in the last 20 years. Therefore, we have got to make education work in public schools," Richardson said.

Richardson said the way to make public schools work is to be more accountable,

and that the highest standards need to be implemented. "Since 1995, we have had some aggressive programs. During the 20th century in Alabama, the drop-out rate was 50 percent, and that means today in Alabama, 34 percent of Alabamians do not have a high school diploma or GED. Today, the drop-out rate is 16.2 percent, which is the lowest drop-out rate in our history and the lowest drop-out rate in the southeastern United States, which is a tremendous accomplishment."

Richardson said that as part of accountability, test scores also are important and reported that Alabama students are doing well. "We test about 462,000 public school students of 731,000 in our state. Every grades' test scores are at or above the national average, and it has never been that high. This is the third year in a row that our public school students have reached that stellar achievement," he said, and added that the scores also are above the southeastern average.

Richardson also thanked Rep. Charles Newton, a member of the Greenville Rotary Club, for his support in the recent passing of the bill, requiring background checks for teachers in Alabama.

Richardson, who was appointed to the position on the Alabama State Board of Education in October 1995, has served as a local superintendent of education, assistant college professor, a high school and junior high school principal, assistant principal and classroom teacher.