Opelika City Schools Superintendent presents ‘State of the Schools’ address at Chamber’s Business over Breakfast event

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By Kendyl
Hollingsworth
For the Opelika
Observer

Finances, accreditation and Opelika City Schools’ career and technical education programs were the focus of this year’s ‘Business Over Breakfast: Education Edition’ event held at the Saugahatchee Country Club last Thursday.
This year’s presenting sponsor of the event, recognized by Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Shey Knight, was Glynn Smith Chevrolet Buick GMC of Opelika. Gold sponsors included Baxter International, Opelika Power Services, Opelika-Auburn News, S & S Termite Pest Control LLC, Max Credit Union and Huntingdon College.
Pam Powers-Smith, president of the Opelika Chamber of Commerce, welcomed attendees before OCS board member Antione Harvis gave the invocation and led the room in the Pledge of Allegiance. Knight introduced guest speaker Dr. Mark Neighbors, superintendent of OCS, who began his presentation by touching on the school system’s finances. He explained that approximately 80 percent of their funds go directly into the classroom, and he emphasized the importance of continued local support.
“One of the things that’s important for us, that allows us to be successful on things that we do, is that local support,” Neighbors said. “So, while we’re appreciative that the state funds are starting to pick up, our local support is critically important to be able to provide [necessary materials].”
According to Neighbors, OCS’ general fund budget is comprised of approximately 50 percent state funds, 40 percent local funds and 10 percent federal funds.
OCS now has about 3,500 Google Chromebooks for students to use while at school, and Neighbors said every school has a Google Expedition virtual reality kit that is used often. These virtual reality viewers allow teachers to give students a more immersive learning experience.
“Children in some of our locations have very limited experiences, so we felt like this isn’t just cool and fun, but we’ve got kids who may have never left Lee County in Paris now [or] at the Grand Canyon (in virtual reality),” Neighbors said.
OCS’ career and technical education programs are another major focus in OCS’ curriculum for high school students. These programs include concentrations in culinary arts, pre-engineering, agriscience, information technology, business education, health sciences, teaching and video production.
Neighbors explained that OCS is looking to increase the rigor and expectations in each program, and they are working to update and acquire new equipment where possible. He also mentioned the importance of partnerships such as the agriscience program’s partnership with the water board.
“One of the things that is very important for us is to partner with apprenticeships and co-ops and different things, and we’re trying to grow that,” Neighbors said.
Neighbors mentioned that OCS has also started a dual enrollment program. He also said that OCS has seen an increase in students in AP courses, the number of AP exams taken and their respective scores.
Neighbors explained OCS’ accreditation and how schools are scored. The ACT Aspire, which is a two-day assessment designed to measure student readiness in grades three through 10, is used in all but one state. Schools are given an overall score, as well as three additional scores in teaching and learning, leadership and resource utilization. OCS scored above average across the board.
“We do have high standards on expectations, but it’s very simple to me…your kids are first every day…but your teachers are a close second,” Neighbors said. “They’re the ones that, when rubber hits the road, then you’ve got to take care of those folks, and then the rest of us are support.”
Following Neighbors’ remarks, Powers-Smith encouraged any business owners to reach out if interested in helping or partnering with the career and technical education programs.
“We do want these kids to learn what it’s like to be in the workforce,” Powers-Smith said. “Development is a big issue in this community…they’re training these kids to be able to hold down a great job when they’re 16 years old, 17 years old—that’s amazing, and we need to keep supporting that.”
Derek Lee, director of Opelika Power Services, ended the meeting by recognizing the ‘Small Business of the Quarter Award’ winner James Bros. Bikes which has locations in Opelika and Auburn.

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