Click Selection

Search News Releases:

News ReSheriff's Officeurces
on the Web

11 November 2007
Town & Gown:
We are Striving for Success in our Schools

By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - Town and Gown

Improving instructors and amending educational teaching methods are more important today than ever in an age in which students are surrounded by a fast-paced, high-tech society. “Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic” remain constant and imperative skills taught in schools, but our children no longer live in the “dear old golden rule days.” Twenty-first century students read Wikis, write blogs and do math problems on cell phones.

Jacksonville State University held its first Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) Summer Institute July 9-20 to train teachers on new techniques in order to provide students with the best possible learning opportunities. AMSTI is the brainchild of a committee of K-12 educators, higher education representatives and business leaders developed by the Alabama Department of Education.

By summer 2008, there will be 11 AMSTI sites in operation spread throughout Alabama. Instructors from the JSU site, housed at JSU McClellan, trained approximately 500 math and science teachers and administrators last summer and are already at capacity for the upcoming summer, projected to train nearly 750.

AMSTI Project Administrator Tanya Barnes explains an AMSTI school is one in which 80 percent of the math and science faculty at a given school attend two-week training sessions for two consecutive summers. Offered at a rate a teacher can’t refuse, there is no cost to the educator or the school; a stipend and classroom materials for the entire school year are even provided.

“Not only do we provide professional development and materials,” says Barnes, “we provide the follow-up support.” Specialists from AMSTI go into the classrooms of AMSTI trained teachers four out of five days a week to help them incorporate the materials and implement the new teaching strategies.

During the current 2007-08 school year, about 470 math kits and 280 science kits are serving nearly 550 teachers in 31 schools. Science Specialist Polly Crow says teenagers are typically hard to get excited about learning, but when she walks into an AMSTI classroom, the students are eager and teachers are energized. “(AMSTI) creates more communication in the classroom between students,” says Crow.

“Everything has got to be quick with today’s kids,” says Science Specialist Carol McGinnis, who enjoys seeing the excitement on the faces of students learning by building a volcano or observing live animals in their habitats. “AMSTI gives (the students) a chance to experience a good kind of activity and learning in the classroom.”

An AMSTI classroom may sound noisy upon entering, but this “noise” is the sound of students participating in hands-on activities leading them to making personal discoveries by asking questions and communicating with fellow students in order to gain answers.

Barnes says part of the AMSTI teacher training includes retraining teachers to guide the students down a path lined with multiple ways to find a solution to a given problem. “As long as the training is implemented, it will be successful,” says McGinnis.

The results from the implementation of AMSTI are already being seen. “In mathematics, our test scores were double the national average at both fourth and eighth grade — the only two grades tested,” said AMSTI State Coordinator Steve Ricks. “Such improvement is phenomenal when one considers that AMSTI is only in 13 percent of the fourth grade and 23 percent of the eighth grade schools that were tested.”

AMSTI is based on math, science and technology; however, the kits to the teachers also include books, notebooks and other writing and reading material coordinating with lesson topics. Teachers are also trained in reading strategies as a part of the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) managed by the Department of Education. This initiative was created from President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and has already greatly impacted students across the state.

Dr. Cynthia Harper, dean of the Department of Education and Professional Studies at JSU says the goal of the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) is to promote excellence in reading for children enrolled in Alabama’s public schools. “Attention is given to help teachers learn to meet the challenges that struggling readers present in the classroom.”

In a State of Alabama Department of Education September press release, State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton said, “We’re number one on the list of fourth grade reading improvement in the nation, and it is not because the states are listed alphabetically.”

“We are proud to report that reading instruction at Jacksonville State University is fully aligned with the Alabama Reading Initiative instructional modules,” says Dr. Harper. “The college offers teacher education candidates a balanced approach to teaching reading that is scientifically research-based. Candidates graduate with the baccalaureate degree, fully equipped and prepared to teach reading in Alabama’s public schools.”

According to the AMSTI Web page, the Alabama Department of Education hopes to receive more state financial support in the next fiscal year in order to up the number of schools accepted into the summer training sessions and open up another site and distribution center.

Now that we have seen the results of higher scores on tests and brighter smiles on students’ faces, it is essential to support our community and develop the Math, Science and Technology Initiative in Alabama. By continuing to develop and seek out the best teaching methods, we strive for the success of our students.

Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed to this article.

About William A. Meehan

Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.

See story at The Jacksonville News's website: .

Note: JSU faculty, staff and students may access The Jacksonville News online through their affiliation with the University. Those not affiliated with JSU may have to subscribe to receive The Jacksonville News online. If you already subscribe to The Jacksonville News, you receive a complimentary online membership. This provides complete access to all the content and services of the site at no additional charge. Otherwise there is an online monthly charge for their online service. Contact The Jacksonville News for information.

Submit items for news releases by using the request form at