Tears and Laughter: The tie between a failing school system and Wilcox’s high unemployment

I almost skipped this month’s Impact Wilcox meeting because December is such a busy month. Plus I knew the meeting would pertain heavily to the upcoming school board election and I do not have a child in the Wilcox County school system.

Even once I decided to go I had no intentions really of writing about the meeting because, again, it’s almost Christmas and once we reach mid-December even well written pieces tend to get lost in the hustle of the holidays. But after I started hearing the ACT Aspire test results, I changed my mind.

Results from the 2013/2014 tests showed that less than one-percent of tenth grade students are proficient in math. Results from the eighth grade 2014/2015 tests again showed that less than one-percent of students in Wilcox County public schools are at or above grade level. Just over 9% are close to grade level, leaving over 90% needing support.

Those aren’t good results. Students will not go through a school system like that unscathed, and we can clearly see the results of a poor education system as it evolves into an unskilled workforce.

I don’t know that anyone particularly noticed this until Golden Dragon Copper arrived – supposedly as a savior. They were supposed to help bring down the high unemployment rate with all of these low-skilled jobs that required only a high school education. But it soon became evident that students in Wilcox County were graduating high school without the ability to read a tape measure.

Joy Norsworthy with Wilcox Artworks, a non-profit organization committed to helping area citizens prepare for employment, met with representatives from Golden Dragon. She asked them which specific skills they were looking for in entry level new hires. They told her they need people with basic math skills who know how to read a tape and are sober. Applicants must be able to pass a drug test even if they can add and read a scale.

Since Golden Dragon’s arrival, we have found that even with jobs available within the county the unemployment rate has remained high. We are still the highest in the state and this reflects back entirely to a failing school system that is not educating students. And it is not a matter of funding. The Wilcox County school system is the sixth most well-funded school system out of 135 districts in the state. It has just over 11,500 students and an annual budget of over $20 million. The problem isn’t overcrowded classrooms or inexperienced teachers either. Class sizes average 15 students per teacher, and the majority of teachers have over 10 years of experience. Impact Wilcox doesn’t think the problem is that students in Wilcox County can’t learn. I don’t think that either. The problem, once again, is a lack of leadership.

Everybody – except maybe three people statewide – hates politics. But elections are how we change things. School board members serve six year terms. Before the ads and accusations even start, maybe just be open to listening. This coming year’s election matters. We need to use our votes in a way that will help start steering the workforce, the unemployment rate, and most importantly the school system that is failing our county’s children.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.