Cheerleading issue leads to open forum walkout

Angry parents, upset that school Superintendent Dr. Al Griffin could not resolve their concerns, walked out of a community forum Saturday.

Griffin in response has set up a meeting Monday with the high school athletic leadership and several board members to get to the bottom of their concerns.

The forum was held to serve as an open discussion to answer questions and address concerns. While some education issues came up, much of the hour-long meeting focused on what the parents saw as unfair cheerleader tryouts.

Some 30 parents, students and board members attended the meeting.

Parents said tryouts were held separately for football and basketball cheerleaders, and that girls interested in cheering chose which group to try out for. Most opted for football and only a handful for basketball.

After the football squad was selected, the girls who didn’t make the cut were given the option to try out for the basketball squad. Those attending the forum said it was unfair that those girls could be chosen over the ones who declared for basketball.

“Who made the rule changes,” asked one mother.

Griffin, who said he was unaware of the depth of concern from parents until the forum, told the group that the athletic leadership at the school had been assigned the task of choosing cheerleaders, and he would not overturn any decision.

“We have athletic leaders in each school, and I have to let them handle that,” he said.

However, he also told them that the matter would be investigated to set a possible course of action for the next year.

Judges for the tryouts are three cheerleaders from Huntingdon College, said Griffin. They do not know the students, who are evaluated according to a rubric set up for the competition.

Griffin started off the forum by reviewing some of the issues facing the school system because of lack of funding and actions by the state legislature.

“We’ve worked the last two years with Common Core,” he said. Instruction under the curriculum already has been implemented and will expand next school term.

“Common Core is nothing new. Our legislature…is trying to tie the Common Core to the federal government. I do not know where that is coming from. You can trace Common Core back to Ronald Reagan,” who started it with his Secretary of Education.

“We’re not trying to teach Communism here,” he continued. “When people who do not know what is happening day-to-day in education are calling the shots, you’re in big trouble.”

One parent asked about the end-of-course assessment, which will be given for the first time this year.

Griffin said the test will have no impact on grades or promotion this year. It is being given to determine the base line for future comparison. Next year the end-of-course assessment probably will be used as the final exam for Algebra I and English 10.

Shifting topics, Griffin said the state Board of Education voted to move toward one diploma option, with the basic four-by-four curriculum remaining in place. Electives can be in the arts, technical career courses and foreign languages.

There also will be a career preparedness course, probably offered in the eighth grade, taught in two parts: academic and career planning and in financial literacy.

As part of that, the school system is going to have endorsements and is looking to convert the honors courses into advanced placement and dual enrollment. Ideally a student who passed all the AP exams could leave high school with 50 hours of college credit. Griffin is looking for corporate sponsors to help fund scholarships for the program.

Griffin said he is also hoping to have dual enrollment programs for the career tech programs being offered by Shelton State.

“There’s a $50 million bond issue that hopefully will be passed by the legislature. Out of that, $30 million will be divided based on the career tech enrollment,” he said. The rest will be for equipment for new, innovative programs.

Shelton State initially will be offering precision machining, such as metal lathes, welding and milling. “What we have here is state-of-the-art,” he said. “No one else can touch it.”

The school system received a $150,000 grant last year for a business marketing program in insurance services, he added.

In response to a request by Olen Kerby that the school system reinstate the choral program, Griffin talked about the financial “triple whammy” that hit at the end of 2011. The system lost $1.3 million in stimulus, which eliminated three teachers; a decline in enrollment, which cost another seven teachers, and a reduction in state funding, which cut another 11 teachers.

However, the Demopolis system managed to let only 12 teachers go. “We lost some good people and some good programs.” The system is dipping into local funds to pay for the four-by-four curriculum.

Board member Jim Stanford said the board will look at funding the choral program, but local funds already are earmarked for capital projects.