One North Alabama superintendent has been recognized for his continued commitment to the success of English Language Learners (ELL).
Russellville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Heath Grimes received the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education’s Outstanding Service Award earlier this month for his work advocating for ELL students.
Grimes says the award came as a pleasant surprise. He says the honor is part of a collective effort across the district.
“It’s really just because of the efforts that myself and a lot of other people working with me have made to improve the awareness of what it means to have a significant population of English Language Learners in our state and in our district and how we can better accommodate them,” Grimes said.
Overall, 26% of students in Russellville City Schools are classified as ELL, rising to 48% at the elementary level. Grimes says solid progress is made as students advance and pass out of the program, with 48% being former ELL.
“It’s very interesting to me that the number of former ELs aligns with the same number that is currently in our primary school, because we’re able to see that that’s the reduction that we’re able to make as they’re going through our district, about half,” Grimes said.
Grimes has been successful in advocating for more funding to work with ELL students. In 2017-2018, the district received only around $100 in state funding per ELL student, which has increased to around $400 per student in 2019-2020. However, he says more help is needed.
“Understanding the need of what it costs to educate an English Language Learner and how there are more resources that are needed, especially in personnel. We need more EL teachers and more EL aides and translators. All those things are extremely important in a district that has this percentage of English Language Learners,” Grimes said.
One program aimed at bringing in more EL teachers is through the district’s partnership with the Oxford Teachers Academy. The program allows community members to work in schools while taking courses online to become certified teachers.
Grimes, who graduated Saturday with his doctorate, looks forward to making more strides for ELL students and for all students districtwide.