State of the School held in Orange Beach

By Melanie LeCroy
Posted 4/7/21

Orange Beach Middle/High School updated parents and residents at a State of the School meeting held at the Orange Beach Event Center on March 31. Orange Beach Middle School Principal and interim High …

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State of the School held in Orange Beach

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Orange Beach Middle/High School updated parents and residents at a State of the School meeting held at the Orange Beach Event Center on March 31. Orange Beach Middle School Principal and interim High School Principal Robbie Smith opened the meeting. Smith welcomed the crowd and thanked the Baldwin County Schools leadership, mayor and Orange Beach City Council members for being in attendance.

“The motto of Baldwin County Schools is “Baldwin proud, community strong.” I think Orange Beach Middle/High is a shining example of that and what you can do when you pair a strong county school system with a fantastic city with so much support. We are Baldwin Proud and Community Strong,” Smith said.

The Conservatory of Fine Arts Director Darren Butler was next to speak giving an update on the programs within the fine arts department. The department produced two productions this year; “We the People” a musical and “The Gravedigger.” The productions were funded by several grants including Alabama State Council of the Arts, Alabama license plate grant and the MAAAC foundation.

The department also received a $20,000 grant from the Alabama Arts Initiative for a project called Project Dragonfly. The funds are to be used to teach diversity, empathy and kindness through the arts. Butler said students have written letters to celebrities, leaders and people they admire in recent months. Many students wrote about their experience with Hurricane Sally, the aftermath, the strangers that came to help, the kindness and empathy of neighbors and how everyone pitched in to help one another.

“Today, I received a phone call from Coach Saban’s office. Roll Tide. He was the recipient of many of those letters, and he expressed how touched he was for the letters he received. He said we would be hearing from him soon. We are a little excited about that,” Butler said.

The dance department began in August 2020 and is led by Susan Kirkes. Of the students in the program, 95% had never had any dance experience or performed in front of a group. According to Butler, the students have made great progress.

There is a dance pathway open to students seeking a concentration in dance upon graduation. A segment of this pathway will consist of a student-choreographed concert each year. The dance company will have auditions in the spring of 2022 and organizers hope to attend the Alabama Dance Festival in Birmingham, perform at local festivals, travel and attend auditions and dance concerts at universities and professional companies that will give them further education and professional experience.

Under the direction of Lee Stacks, the band is in a state of growth. This year the band has 60 members but Stacks anticipates an influx of band member next school year. High school students are performing at age level and middle school students above their age level. The program is in the planning stages for a jazz band, competitive auxiliary, competitive drum line and competitive marching band.

The program hosted the Baldwin County Music Festival this year and have been asked to host again next year at the new Performing Arts Center.

The visual arts program led by Buster Cannova is growing and honing their skills. The young artists are working on collaborations with the city and local businesses.

Mayor Tony Kennon was next to take the microphone to give an update on both the Performing Arts Center and the Athletic Training Complex.

Kennon started with some background on the Performing arts Center explaining that when the county agreed to build the school in Orange Beach, they committed $30 million, and Orange Beach donated the land. The budget did not include an auditorium. The basic auditorium was a $7.5 million expense that the city agreed to take on with a goal of completing when they school was complete. The city decided to upgrade the facility to a 700-seat performing arts center.

The partnership between Baldwin County Schools and the City of Orange Beach gives the city use of the facility every day after school during the school year, on weekends and all summer long. This access will allow the city to bring in concerts, performers and theater productions.

“The investment of $10.5 to $11 million is for the school but it’s also a community investment. Folks of every age will get to enjoy this,” said Kennon.

The original plan for the Athletic Training Complex called for a budget of $12.5 million but due to COVID-19, Hurricane Sally and uncertainties with the economy going forward, the plan was scrapped. Kennon said he was glad because he feels the new plan is better.

The new plan is to fill in the 7 acres of wetlands behind the school at a cost of $2.5 million. Kennon said, “it will add huge dimension to the campus.” The athletic facility plans call for a 20,000 square foot heated and cooled facility. According to Kennon, the facility will be the largest in the state. It will house facilities for girls, boys, nutrition and sports medicine and include a covered 50-yards long and regulation width AstroTurf practice field.

The complex will be located right next to the school for ease of access for students. Plans include building an on-campus football stadium with a track. The soccer team will have its own facility with the SEC level soccer stadium at the sports plex. The baseball and softball fields are under construction now with plans to be complete this summer.

Kennon said he hopes construction for the athletic facilities will begin in six months, but the length of the project is undetermined at this time due to many factors including weather and current construction costs. He hopes that in two years, the facility will be ready to go. In the interim, the old Public Works facility is being prepared to house the weight room and training program. The building is double the size of the weight room at the recreation center with room to hang nets for baseball and softball batting practice. The building is located on the edge of the school campus giving students better access.

The city council is on board with spending between $3 to $4 million on the K-12 school, according to Kennon. That includes Expect Excellence, MAAAC and what they subsidize and pay for the teaching units. They are also hoping to move to an integrated K-12 program for athletics, arts and academics. Now that the programs have been equipped, the city is looking to the future and being able to invest in people instead of stuff Kennon said.

“Hopefully, we may be at the million-dollar mark that we are investing in nothing but additional personal. We may not get there this year but that’s our goal,” Kennon said.

Athletic director Chase Smith followed Kennon and he took the time to highlight the athletics programs’ success in their first year as varsity level teams. The softball and baseball team made the playoffs, and the softball team was ranked as high as seventh in the state this season. The girls’ and boys’ soccer teams also performed well this season with the girls ranked as high as eighth in the state. Golf, track and tennis also competed at a varsity level this season.

To end the evening, Robbie Smith and Vice Principal Wes Pouncey spoke regarding testing, grants and dual enrollment.

Both Orange Beach Middle and High were part of a rigorous grant selection process. The middle school has implemented the E3 (Engage, Empower, Expect More) curriculum for core subjects in seventh and eighth grade. The high school will start the A+ Grant next school year that will include pre-AP and AP curriculum and courses. Teachers receive extensive and aligned training and support, gain access to participate in mock readings and scoring of exams and receive equipment and supplies, including consumables for the duration of the grant which is three years. Students receive subsidies for AP Exam fees, study sessions and mock exams, student incentives ($100 gift card for every AP qualifying score) and rigorous curriculum for grades six through 10 for AP curriculum. Teachers also receive incentives for growth in scores.

Dual Enrollment will be available to students next school year. Courses from University of Alabama Early College, Coastal Alabama Community College and University of South Alabama. Classes will be online with a virtual teacher, but a facilitator will be in computer lab with them. Dual enrollment classes will also be available at any Coastal Alabama Community College campus for students wanting in person classes. The cost is free for up to 18 hours in core academic subjects for seniors and half tuition charged for all other students. Career Tech DE courses will continue to be offered at no cost to students.

For more information regarding the presentation, the slide show is available on the school website www.bcbe.org/Domain/6354. A video of the State of the School is available on the City of Orange Beach Facebook page.