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Grimes pushes for equitable funding

While Russellville City Schools Superintendent Heath Grimes has always been a strong proponent for English Language Learners, he now spends his time researching funding for ELL students and advocating for additional funding for disadvantaged students as president of the Alabama Leaders Advocating for English Learners organization.

Russellville City Schools is among nine districts in the state with a high population of ELL students, but it faces a rare challenge with 70 percent of students in poverty and 40 percent of students who are not native English speakers.

“It is a challenge we love because we are able to see the difference that we are making in these students’ lives, but at the same time it is tough to not be understood at the state level,” Grimes said.

In Grimes’ presidential role, he has had the chance to speak on funding for ELL students with law-makers for the next two years.

Wednesday Grimes spoke to the Alabama House of Representatives’ Education Ways and Means Committee to discuss the benefits of funding disadvantaged students, including those in poverty, special education and ELL.

“There are some students who are relatively easy to teach because they are going to learn and progress no matter what,” Grimes said. “On the other side, there are a lot of students who are at a disadvantage in the classroom. Those students need extra help.”

Grimes said the push is for equitable – not equal – when state funding is concerned. He said he believes this will also help close the achievement gap by allowing disadvantaged students more help overcoming their learning disadvantages.

Grimes said he does not agree with the way the state assesses a school’s academic achievement.

“If our scores say we are testing in the 70th percentile, that isn’t good,” Grimes said, “but then you look at how many ELL students we have and the progress we have been able to make there, and it’s remarkable. We have students come to Russellville City Schools without being able to speak any English, and some will graduate as valedictorian.”

Russellville City Schools has EL coaches, teachers, translators and classes for students to help them learn English while progressing in their primary courses.

“We have seen the difference it can make here,” Grimes said. “I don’t want to be just an advocate for ELL students but an advocate for all students.”