Photo: Etowah County Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby addresses press conference attendees in the Etowah Department of Education’s new building on September 14. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
At a September 14 press conference held in its new building on Broad Street, the Etowah County Board of Education announced it will begin a pilot program of multi-tiered student support.
According to an ECBOE press release, the Alabama Department of Education Multi-Tiered System of Support aims to “ensure equitable access to opportunities” through professional development for teachers and academic and behavioral intervention for students.
The Etowah County school system is one of 33 systems in the state to be accepted into the program’s “first cohort.”
Local schools enrolled in the program are Gaston Elementary School, Gaston High School, Highland Elementary School, Hokes Bluff Elementary School, Hokes Bluff Middle School, Hokes Bluff High School, West End Elementary and West End High School.
Etowah County Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby explained that MTSS is not a program, but rather a concentrated effort amongst local and state administrators to more efficiently connect students and teachers with existing resources.
“So many times in the school business, we operate in silos,” Cosby said. “We have this department and that department and nobody talks to each other. We’re doing great work, but that work is very disjointed at times. But [MTSS] sort of ties that under one umbrella, whether it’s supports related to mental health, whether it’s supports related to academics, whether it’s supports related to school safety, whether it’s any type of thing you can think of that we do in the school business.”
One of the Etowah County Board’s goals is to take care of “the whole child,” rather than responding only to performance-related struggles.
“If it’s an academic issue, most likely that’s connected to [another] issue, possibly related to mental health (or) related to something at home,” Cosby said. “So if we’re dealing with these issues in a singular fashion, we will never totally address the issue. But this is an overarching concept.”
Numerous local educators attended the press conference, including principals and other administrators.
“I can just say from a school level, it’s going to be nice to have it all housed under one umbrella, because like you said, we do all of those things,” said West End Elementary School Principal Paige Cash. “We’re doing the academic, we’re doing the mental health, we’re doing the behavioral, all those things. So just to have it under one umbrella makes it feel more doable, and you can put all your energy in one direction.”
The Alabama Department of Education is providing 12 regional coaches across the state whose full attention will be devoted to the several systems under their jurisdiction.
MTSS Coach Andrea Walker said regional coaches were intentionally only given a few schools in order to “give that individualized attention.”
“We’ll be here because it’s a long-term commitment,” said Alabama Department of Education AL-MTSS Educational Specialist Kristina Shankles. “It’s not a program. It’s not a class. It’s not a quick fix. Instead, it is a five- to eight-year commitment that we are partnering, saying we will walk beside you the next five to eight years and make sure that we are at your beck and call to ensure the success for everyone within the county.”
The goal of MTSS coaches and administrators is to assist their communities in a holistic sense in addition to serving students, teachers and parents.
“We’re really excited because we know that by being intentional about bringing in our community leaders and our parents and working together that we can make impacts overall, not just for our students but also for our community,” Shankles said.
Cosby applauded local educators and elected officials for their willingness to form and maintain partnerships. Etowah County stakeholders have a history of collaborating for the good of their students and their community, he said, which is not the case in many school systems.
According to Cosby, MTSS will only build on that existing network of support.
Cosby thanked many officials by name, including State Representative Gil Isbel and Etowah County District 2 Commissioner Johnny Grant, both of whom were in attendance.
As commission president, Grant assisted in providing the Etowah County Department of Education with its new building. Etowah County Chief Administrative Officer Shane Ellison, also present at the press conference, was instrumental in the process as well.
Cosby said just that morning, he had been on the phone with Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton.
“People answer the phone here, and we work with each other,” Cosby said. “That’s a testament to Etowah County, Alabama, and I’m glad that I’m a part of it.”
Cosby also mentioned the county’s Climate and Culture Initiative, a focus for the current academic year.
“A lot of people look at climate and culture and they think, ‘That’s just a fancy buzzword, another thing that we’ve got to do,’ and all that,” he said. “But any good football coach worth their salt will tell you that if they don’t have good climate in the locker room, the team’s not successful. If schools don’t have good climate, they’re not successful.”
Climate and Culture, also dubbed “C2,” much like MTSS will require multiple facets of the school system to work together.
“If we have a good climate, a good culture, a good thing around Etowah County, we’re going to tie everything together, and we’re going to make our school system the very best that it can be,” Cosby said.