FOLEY – After one year, a program to provide city financial support for Foley school programs has increased test scores and performance reading, mathematics and other areas.
The Foley City Council voted to increase that support from $200,000 to $250,000 for the upcoming year. The Baldwin County Public School System has agreed to match the funding, which will provide a total of $500,000 for Foley area schools.
JaNay Dawson, chairwoman of the Foley Education Advisory Committee, said that in the first year of the program, many schools were able to use the money to make improvements in many areas.
“I think the first year was extremely successful,” she told council members. “Each school set out a specific area that they were going to focus on and they were going to be able to show improvement, small, large, whatever it happened to be, just to be sure they can guarantee and show improvements prior to the end of the year.”
One area affecting many Foley schools is teaching English to students who arrive not yet able to speak the language. Dawson said the number of Foley students in the English as a Second Language program, or ESL, is increasing.
She said that in the 2021-22 school year, the Foley feeder pattern had 5,168 students. In that enrollment, 914, or 17.7%, were in the ESL program. In the school year that ended in May 2023, the total enrollment was 5,178 with 944 ESL students, or 18.2% of the total.
:”So we are gaining students and they are remaining our students,” Dawson said. “They are not leaving us. And so that’s a demographic that we’re going to continue to have to work with. And I’m sure it’s going to impact larger areas in the city other than just the schools. But the schools do have a plan in place for doing that.”
She said some of the Foley area schools used the city funding to work on improving test scores for ESL students and others.
“Foley Middle concentrated on general areas,” Dawson said. “They concentrated on reading as a whole for the whole school. They concentrated on math for the whole school. And they specifically also concentrated on ESL. There was a 14% increase in test scores of ESL. There was a 49% increase from the previous year in reading and 33% in math.”
Other programs included improving reading and math scores and ACT college entrance testing.
Foley High School set a goal of improving ACT scores by 2%.
”I know that seems small, but when you’re talking about a huge group of children, some of whom have never ever taken that test, any improvement that you can get is certainly a good one,” Dawson said.
She said the school’s ACT scores improved by 8.78% across the board.
Dawson said the committee allowed each school to determine how the money could best be spent.
“We met with the principals and the decision was not what do we want or what does the city want,” she said. “It is what do the principals need. What do our schools need? What needs help and support from another area that they can’t tap into? From that conversation, we sat down and talked to the principals. They made a request for anything from personnel, which are part-time teacher instructors, to programs, to ESL programs, other language arts programs, arts programs, anything that would enhance and improve the education in our city. “
Foley Mayor Ralph Hellmich praised the work done by the committee and area schools.
“We want to show the citizens the value of some extra infusion into the school system and what it can mean because the perceptions of our school affects our city, and the better our schools are used, which they’re incredible resources, the better our city is,” Hellmich said.
He also thanked the county school system for its support and for matching the city funding.
“This is not to denigrate what Baldwin County Board of Education does for us,” Hellmich said. “That’s incredible. What this does is an add on. It’s things that we can’t do at schools all over the county, but special needs may arise and each school has its own identity.”
Foley schools in the program include Foley High, Foley Middle, Foley Elementary, Florence Mathis, Magnolia and Swift.