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State superintendent praises school system

Alabama State Department of Education Superintendent Tommy Bice toured Greenville’s Bright Beginnings campus, where he observed AmeriCorps volunteers, and the Butler County School System Career Academy on Friday as part of the Alabama State Department of Education’s Innovation Celebration tour. (Advocate Staff/Andy Brown)

Alabama State Department of Education Superintendent Tommy Bice toured Greenville’s Bright Beginnings campus, where he observed AmeriCorps volunteers, and the Butler County School System Career Academy on Friday as part of the Alabama State Department of Education’s Innovation Celebration tour. (Advocate Staff/Andy Brown)

Alabama State Department of Education Superintendent Tommy Bice called the Butler County School System’s Career Academy “a real gem” during a visit the Greenville High School campus on Friday.

The Career Academy, which offers courses from welding to nursing, serves students throughout the school system.

Bice described the career academies as “real-world learning.”

“Over the last two years things have really snowballed, and we owe it all to sort of reinventing ourselves,” said Jennifer Burt, Butler County Schools career tech director. “Due to the grant we were able to get we were able to put in the industrial maintenance and healthcare academies as a result.”

In 2014, the school system received a $500,000 grant that was used to create its Industrial Maintenance Academy and Health Science Academy. The funds were made available due to a bill passed in 2013 aimed at preparing students to be productive members of the state’s workforce.

The 21st Century Workforce Act provides funds for local school systems to update their career and technical education programs.

“It’s just stellar what you all have been able to put together,” Bice said. “There are a lot of great things going on here. It’s amazing.”

Bice’s visit was part of the Alabama State Department of Education’s Innovation Celebration tour.

In an effort to recognize innovation in education, ALSDE staff are visiting school systems that are thinking outside the box and coming up with new and creative ways to deliver quality education.

Students in the academy were a big part of the visit, demonstrating how they are preparing for careers upon graduation from high school.

“I had an experience with a student (at Greenville High School) that I don’t know that I’ve ever had before in a school system,” Bice said. “He’s come back to school, and doesn’t have to. I was asking him about what he was doing. He’s already a graduate. I asked him why he came back and he said because it’s a great place and I want to learn more. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a high school where a student that has graduated and has come back. That’s a pretty unique experience to have a kid share that. That speaks volumes to the culture about what you guys do here.”

Bice also had the chance to visit several Bright Beginnings classes on the Greenville campus, while learning about the school system’s partnership with AmeriCorps, which provides instructional support on every campus in the school system, including Bright Beginnings.

Each year since 1997, the AmeriCorps Instructional Support Team (AIST) has partnered with the Butler County Board of Education to provide reading and math support to students ranging from preschool to 12th grade.

“This is phenomenal,” Bice said. “You’ve added another adult layer. You can never have enough hands.”

There are currently 25 AmeriCorp volunteers working in the school system, many of which, according to AmeriCorp Program Director Carol McArthur, go on to become certified teachers.

McArthur believes its this commitment to community that sets the program, which is administered by the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service and funded by a matching grant with the Butler County Board of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service, apart from similar programs.

“The program is not just labor intensive, it is love intensive,” she said. “It requires a large number of people who are willing to invest a year or more of their lives and care passionately about helping students succeed. Teachers, administrators and parents tell us that if not for AmeriCorps, their students would not be ready for the world of learning. Our community tells us that if not for AmeriCorps their projects would not be a success.”

On Friday, Bice also visited Montgomery County School System’s MPACT program.