Alexander

Dr. Matthew Alexander Jr. during his interview Monday evening. Anniston's board of education is interviewing six candidates for superintendent in a series of meetings. (Photo by Trent Penny)

Welcome to Anniston, Matthew Alexander.

Since the Board of Education selected you this week as the new superintendent of Anniston City Schools, you might as well get the lowdown on what’s in store. Anniston’s schools need a change agent -- not someone who enjoys kicking cans or enabling mediocrity -- and you’re the choice.

The task here is either daunting or ripe with opportunity. Both are accurate. It’s your call. But the widespread improvement of Anniston’s schools is arguably the most important task in this city. Yes, our violent crime rate is too high in certain neighborhoods. Yes, our economic development too often hits snags and withers. And, yes, two of our city councilmen epitomize small-town demagoguery and demonstrate the perils of ward politics.

Public education, though, fuels everything. You know that. We know that. Annistonians know that. It empowers the workforce. It boosts the economy. It creates a smarter populace. It raises wages and lowers unemployment and lessens residents’ need to seek work elsewhere. And Anniston needs all of that, and more.

Your recent predecessors failed to become the transformational leader our schools require for myriad reasons. They are good people. They did well in specific areas. But our schools, even with this spring’s modest academic gains, remain mired in financial woes and suffer from, let’s say this kindly, less-than-modest support from the city’s middle- and upper-class wage-earners, most of whom are white and do not consider Anniston City Schools an option for their children.

This editorial board has long advocated for widespread changes within Anniston’s schools -- mainly, additional facilities consolidation and the hiring of an “innovation manager” who would specialize at directing education-foundation dollars toward the district and rally residents to support programs and policies that foster improvement. We also crave the success seen in south Alabama by the Mobile Area Education Foundation, which has proven that public systems in mostly minority and low-income Alabama communities can thrive when fueled by progressive and honest leadership.

Speaking of honesty, nothing short of sweeping alterations can float Anniston’s schools to the top third of public education in our state. History proves it. That’s why we’re such big fans of the Mobile foundation, whose leaders, led by Carolyn Akers, didn’t allow excuses or political fiefdoms or previous norms to serve as impediments. By and large, they didn’t care what people thought. They revamped an entire paradigm of Mobile schools -- changing procedures, personnel, expenditures -- and results followed.

Anniston’s school board is right to focus on the righting of the system’s finances. Those concerns are real. But our long-term concern centers not on money but instead on academics. Not the racial makeup of Anniston’s schools, not community support, but academics.

Annistonians should be eager for major changes that dramatically raise expectations and performances within our public schools. If you accomplish that, you’ll become the transformational leader Anniston City Schools can no longer do without.

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