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It was a morning of new beginnings and bittersweet endings at the eighth annual State of the Schools Thursday.

For Madison County Superintendent Allen Perkins, who took on the role in November 2019, it was his first State of the Schools. And for longtime Madison City Schools educator Robby Parker, it would be his last, with his retirement from superintendent at the end of the month. Sponsored by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, Chamber Foundation and The Schools Foundation, the annual breakfast brings together local business and community leaders, Redstone leadership and educators to dialogue on public education across the big three school systems that serve 55,000 students – 90% of all local school-aged children.

“Education for us, for myself … it is not just ‘let’s get the grades’ and things of that nature, it is a life and death situation that we look at,” Perkins said. “When we start planning for our students, we plan with the mindset that we have got to develop our kids at every aspect and every level so that they have the skills to be successful – because our community and our world are built upon what we do in our schools. To the extent that we call it ‘life and death’ because statistically, students who are well-educated live 20 years longer than students who are not. Students who have the tools and the skills that are necessary to function within society live longer than students – or individuals – who do not.”

While Madison’s school district is ranked in the top 50 in the nation, Parker said measurements of school success cannot depend solely on rankings.

“How do you measure the immeasurable?” Parker asked the crowd, adding that standardized tests by themselves do not reflect the success of a school or its students.

Christie Finley, Huntsville City Schools Superintendent, touched on the relationship between educators and the community, noting that teachers cannot work in isolation, but need the community to work together with schools in partnerships. She said this enables students to connect what they learn in class to what they want to do post-graduation.

“Outstanding teachers, that’s the most critical factor in ensuring we do have a productive workforce,” Finley said. “We want to grow our workforce … and in order to do that, we have to have a collective commitment, collaboration and conversation.”

In addition to a superintendent panel, local educators were invited to give presentations to the audience. Bev Massa, Sparkman High School; Malcolm Parker, Huntsville High School; Jane Haithcock, Liberty Middle School; and Amy Mason, Madison County Elementary, gave firsthand accounts of the programs that benefit their students and themselves professionally.

It was a poignant moment at the end of the morning when Finley asked the audience for a round of applause for her friend and former Bob Jones High School colleague Parker, whose retirement caps 30-plus years in the Madison City Schools system. Parker, with his trademark positive personality, noted that it had been his time to pivot into the superintendent role and he did not regret it, but that his passion had always been teaching. He said even though Madison City and its schools are undergoing growing pains, that is not necessarily a bad thing. And neither is a change in leadership.

“Madison City is going to be OK – Madison City is going to be better!” Parker told the crowd. “I am excited about what I am going to do and I am excited about what you are going to do. I am your biggest fan.”

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