“It’s phenomenal,” Bice said following a tour led by the students in the school’s Lighthouse program. “I visit schools all the time, and I would rate T.R. Simmons at the very top of any I’ve ever been in.
“Every class I went in, the kids were engaged in learning,” he added. “They can tell you what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. The kids were sharing things with me that you don’t typically see in elementary schools.”
Bice said each week he visits a different school across the state to gauge the progress being made in teaching the students.
At T.R. Simmons, he said, the progress is evident right away.
“It’s a great school,” he said. “You can walk in the school and in five minutes you can feel the positiveness in this school. It’s a model school. I’m going to be sending people here to see this.”
Education in general, he said, is making great strides across the state.
“I think we’re on the right track,” he said. “We’ve kind of recalibrated where we want public education to be, set some new higher expectations for all the kids, and given them some flexibility in how the schools can get there. Because of that, we’re beginning to see lots of innovation. We’re just trying to increase all opportunities for the kids.”
After leaving T.S. Simmons, Bice planned a quick stop at Maddox Middle School.
“I love to drop in on middle schools because middle schools, probably statewide, are our biggest challenge,” Bice said, “because as we’ve lost funding and lost teacher units, that’s where we’ve seen the biggest impact. I always like to drop by the middle schools just to see what’s going on and get their feedback on what they need me to be doing in Montgomery.
“As a whole, this is a great school system in Jasper,” Bice said. “The community should be very proud and realize what they have here. Sometimes, when you live in a place and this is what you’re used to, you think ‘this is how it is.’ This isn’t how it is everywhere in the state.”
The biggest problem facing the education system is funding, he said.
“Funding is a big challenge at the moment,” he said. “A lot of our school systems are dependent solely on state funding. When you see state funding decrease like it has in the five years, it really puts some of our schools systems that have no local funding in place in a real hardship to provide the things they want to for the kids. They want to, they just realistically can’t.”
That, he said, is why building partnerships with local businesses and two-year colleges is critical to local school systems.
In the Jasper City School System, he said it’s evident that is happening.
“You can tell that the schools have great local support,” he said.
T.R. Simmons Principal Suzanne Snow said she, along with the staff at T.R. Simmons, was proud to be able to show off their facilities to Bice.
“I’m like a mother with a bunch of children. I’m just so proud right now,” Snow said following Bice’s visit. “I know it makes the teachers proud. Dr. Bice was able to see what they do every day.
“It’s an accolade to the teachers, and it’s a testimony to what our teachers do every day,” she added. “The students were able to showcase what a great education they’re getting in the Jasper City School System. I have the opportunity to be a part of this great school.”