Dr. Todd Freeman

SYLACAUGA – Residents and business leaders got to hear firsthand about the state of city schools during the a Lunch & Learn initiative Thursday.

Lunch & Learn is a program the Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce started last year and hopes to continue on a quarterly basis in 2018. The program will feature an in-depth look at different areas of the city business leaders and residents may be interested in, said Laura Strickland, Chamber executive director.

On Thursday, Sylacauga City Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Freeman and Dr. Jon Segars, the system’s director of career and technical education, reported on the progress being made toward the district achieving its strategic plan mission and goals

Freeman said the Alabama State Department of Education released letter grade ratings for schools and systems in the state last week, as required by the state Legislature.

The grades were determined by academic achievement and academic growth of students during the 2016-17 school year, the percentage of students absent 15 or more days, and graduation and college/career readiness rates for the 2016 class.

“Sylacauga schools got an overall letter grade of B, with a total score of 82. We’re pleased with the score, but not satisfied. We are going to have to work on this,” the school superintendent said.

The system’s achievement and growth in reading and math, graduation rate and college/career readiness has increased 10 percent over the past two years. The Sylacauga High School college and career readiness rate of 75 percent was the highest since the measure has been used. The state average for college and career readiness is 66 percent, Freeman said.

Nichols-Lawson Middle School earned a letter grade of C, with a total score of 78. Academic achievement in math at Nichols-Lawson has increased 9 percent over the past three years.

Pinecrest Elementary School earned a C, with a total score of 75. “Academic achievement in math is 53 percent, our highest mark in the system,” Freeman said.

The school superintendent told the audience, “The mission of Sylacauga City Schools is to prepare our students for college, career and community success. We want to prioritize our goals to provide the best learning experiences we can for every student who attends our schools.”

Freeman pointed out that according to state statistics, Sylacauga is the 27th best school district in the state, and SHS is the 39th best high school, while the 17th best in college preparation in the state.

“We have a 92 percent graduation rate compared to the state average of 86. Two-thirds of our students will go to college, while many others will go to schools like Central Alabama Community College,” he said.

Segars, in addition to being director of career and technical education, is assistant principal at SHS.

He said more than half of the students in grades 3-12 go through career technical programs. “Career tech is the pride of our programs,” he said.

Segars said college is not for every child, and that is why career tech is so important.

Another area of pride for Segars is the fact the school now has 3 percent of students enlisting in the military, where three years ago it had none. He said by sticking with the military, students can learn a trade or go to college.

Freeman spoke about various other programs the district has started, including performing and visual arts, health care, mechanical, welding and more.

When it comes to facilities, the district has spent $32.2 million making improvements.

“To do all of this, it does take a village to raise a child. Without this community’s help and partnerships created with other agencies, this could not have happened,” Freeman said. “We are blessed because of the support of this city and its citizens.”