Pointed the old car south early this Wednesday morning headed for Brewton.  It is a road I know very well.  Takes 30 minutes to Ft. Deposit, 45 minutes to Greenville, 60 minutes to Georgiana and 75 minutes to Evergreen.  Leave I-65 at Evergreen, pick up old U.S. 31 and head for Castleberry, once the strawberry capital of Alabama.

Am joined in Brewton by state representative Alan Baker, Escambia County superintendent John Knott and my New Jersey buddy, Mike Robinson.  Mike is there to talk about the brand new STAR Academy at Escambia County High School in Atmore.  He came up with this concept and has worked with similar schools across the country.

Alan visited the STAR Academy in Mobile some time ago and was so impressed he begin working to see that Escambia County got one.  A retired teacher, Alan is one of the good guys.  And it doesn’t hurt that, like me, he is an Auburn grad.

After a lunch at Busters in Atmore, Mike and I meet principal Dennis Fuqua and Secondary Curriculum Supervisor Amy Cabaniss.  I mostly listen as for the next two hours Mike, Amy and Dennis talk about the approach STAR Academy takes to helping eighth-graders who have fallen behind catch up with their peers.  While much of the conversation is “shop talk” about techniques teachers can use to engage students, there is also a lot of discussion about individual students, their strengths and weaknesses, the challenges they face at home, etc.

Amy mentions one student who just made a 99 on a math test.  She could not have been prouder had it been her own child.

The thought runs through my mind again and again, these are real flesh and blood humans they are talking about.  They are not numbers or just data points on some one’s spread sheet somewhere.  It’s so apparent to an outsider that these educators are dedicated, passionate and willing to do whatever it may take to help their young charges.

Unfortunately, there is a huge disconnect between what I watched today and what policymakers in the Statehouse apparently believe when they come up with something like the ill-fated Alabama Accountability Act.

And therein lies our greatest challenge in public education, bridging that divide.