Phenix City Schools Enrollment surging, scores up
Superintendent, board plan ahead for expected growth in classrooms
Sept. 28, 2017
By Denise DuBois
Graduation rates are a tricky business. For years, Alabama schools have been able to include all high school students in their graduation rate percentage. Now, the federal government has ruled that graduation rates can no longer include special education students in school reporting. That’s why there is discrepancy in the reporting numbers, said Phenix City Schools Superintendent Randy Wilkes.
“The graduation rate has improved this year,” Wilkes said (using Alabama’s method). “We’ve shown more improvement than any other school systems in the state that have met the state average.”
He also noted that Phenix City schools are in the Top 25 schools in the state of schools with enrollment more than 200.
“We need to celebrate the fact that we’ve shown improvement,” Wilkes said. “I attribute that to increased student expectation and rigor. We also do well at identifying at-risk students and intervene early and often.” He noted that Central High School has a zero period before school and an eighth period after school that allows for instruction time for students who need extra help. He also credits the summer school program and the Success Academy.
“They make sure students receive the instruction they need to be successful. Between the high school and the Success Academy, it’s a team approach and they make sure students get multiple opportunities to be successful. We’ve focused on that the last few years.”
For the previous three years, all students, including special education students, in Alabama schools have been required to take the ACT test, a standardized test for high school achievement and college admissions first administered in November 1959 as a competitor to the College Board’s Scholastic Aptitude Test, now the SAT. Before that, it was an option for students who wanted to go to college.
Three years ago, about half of the class would take the ACT. Now, Wilkes said, more than 400 students are in the reporting results.
“We’ve shown improvement in every category,” Wilkes said of the previous three years’ scores. But he understands that students are more than test scores and graduation rates.
More than 100 new students have enrolled in the Phenix City School System this year and if enrollment increases at this rate, Wilkes said the school system will have to decide where to add classrooms.
Last year’s average daily enrollment was 6,877. This year, it’s 7,001.
“This biggest difference is at Phenix City Intermediate School,” Wilkes said. The school has approximately 100 more students than last year. The elementary schools average 600-660 students.
“There is a climate change in all our schools, especially PCIS. Teachers, administrators and parents are working in tandem to emphasize academics.” Wilkes said he and teachers are seeing more self-discipline in the students. “I think the STEM center and STEM education has a lot to do with it.”
Every day, the sixth and seventh graders enjoy STEM education.
“They’re enjoying learning and taking more interest in learning,” the superintendent said.
To accommodate growth, Wilkes and the board of education have been discussing options.
“If we grow at the current rate, we’ll have to add 15 classrooms every five years. We’ve talked about where we’re growing and where we’re not, and we’ve talked about re-zoning.”
If re-zoning came to fruition, it would only affect the neighborhood elementary schools. While there is no space to add classrooms at Central High and the Freshman Academy, Sherwood is also landlocked, but Lakewood Primary School could be a possibility, Wilkes said.
“We either have to get ahead of it or bring in portables when the time comes,” he said.
Overall, Wilkes said he is happy to see growth in the school system.