Aug. 31—Mike Howard, the new superintendent of the Jacksonville School System, said failure is the reason he has learned to move forward toward success. He characterizes his scholastic years as those of a struggling student.
But, he told the audience at a recent Jacksonville Exchange Club meeting, "I learned to pick myself up after I failed."
In so doing he has earned five degrees, the last being a doctorate from the University of West Alabama, and now he has risen to the top of an educators' field. Before coming to Jacksonville, he was the superintendent of the St. Clair County School System.
"I didn't get to spend a lot of time with my mother when I was growing up," he said. "Mother worked to put food on the table, and she was focused on survival. However, she never missed one of my football games."
Howard, who was also raised by his grandparents, believes educators and parents should help children stretch beyond what they think they can achieve academically, and even expect them to fail from time to time — because overcoming obstacles is an important lesson.
"We give our students opportunities to fail," he said, meaning it in a positive context.
Howard assumed the role of Jacksonville's superintendent this year, leading a system that has 1,723 students, or 103 more than last year. Eight classrooms are under construction for the new Kitty Stone Elementary School, but Howard that will not be enough. The school was built for 600 students, and now there are 1,000 enrolled.
"We are building as fast as we can," he said, "but we are limited by money and inflation."
January 1 is the date the new classrooms should be finished.
Howard said Jacksonville High School had 94 percent of its students graduate, a figure that's actually higher as a practical matter because students who entered school from other places and students who failed a previous grade are not counted in that percentage. Still, he is proud of 94 percent.
"Few schools in Alabama have above 90 percent," he said.
Howard said five JHS students scored above 30 on the American College Test, and the school now has special training for all students to teach them how to improve their skills when taking the ACT. The school offers students 10 advanced placement courses and 18 dual enrollment classes from Jacksonville State University, Gadsden State University and the University of Alabama. The school is now a Capstone School, which means determined students can take extra courses and produce a research paper to earn the Capstone designation, which increases their chances of getting scholarships.
Howard is a proponent of the "triple A" theory of education: academics, athletics and the arts.
"Not all students need to go to college," he said, "but some students can excel as an athlete or in the arts and achieve more than they could barely dream of."
Also, his own philosophy of educating students is to help them achieve one of the three E's, enroll in college, gain employment or enlist in the military.
"We, as educators, fail them when they graduate without doing one of those three things," he said. "We are preparing tomorrow's leaders."
According to Howard, Jacksonville schools has a new motto: "Prepare all students for a successful life."