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State ELL group launches with first meeting

BIRMINGHAM—More than 240 educators gathered in Birmingham Thursday for the very first Alabama Leaders Advocating for English Learners ALA-EL conference.

Educators discussed ways to improve on and strengthen the way English language learning is taught, funded and prioritized in Alabama’s school systems.

Russellville City Schools Superintendent Heath Grimes was appointed president of the group at its formation this past fall, and he presided over the first meeting.

With RCS having 23 percent of its student population designated as ELL and other systems at 10 percent or more ELL, Grimes said he saw a need for a group like this where educators could come together to share ideas, resources and other information pertaining to this specific educational facet.

With more than 200 participants in the first conference and a waiting list being issued after there was no more room at the venue to add anyone else, Grimes said it’s obvious there is a true need for ELL support in this state.

“ELL students are no longer concentrated in just a handful of high-density districts,” Grimes said. “ELL students can be found all across the state.

“Whether you have 23 percent ELL in your district, like we do at RCS, or 1 percent, educators are going to need support on how best to serve this group of students and help them achieve the same success as other students in the district.”

Grimes said ALA-EL is working in conjunction with the Alabama State Department of Education to provide that support and the knowledge, resources and training teachers need to be successful in this area.

“The presenters we had at our inaugural conference offered some insightful and useful information that I truly believe will help those who were in attendance better serve their ELL students,” Grimes said. “It was an amazing event, and we’re already looking forward to the next conference and an even bigger turnout.”

ALA-EL is a Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools affiliate organization. CLAS Executive Director Dr. Vic Wilson said this is the first group of its kind in the state, that he is aware of, that is dedicated solely to ELL.

“The knowledge we have at CLAS and the knowledge these educators in the group have can help create a narrative and bring awareness,” Wilson said. “The formation of this group will help secure better resources, better opportunities and an overall better education for EL students.”