Dear MCS Parents,

    It has been a banner week in Madison City Schools. As you know, earlier this week I announced that we led the state with 37 National Merit Semifinalists! Congratulations to these students on this outstanding accomplishment! Thank you to all of the parents and current and former teachers, staff, administrators, and Boards of Education who helped support these students throughout their educational journey.

    On Tuesday of this week, I had the privilege of meeting with my student advisory committee which is made up of 40 juniors and seniors from Bob Jones and James Clemens high schools. Bob Jones participants are: Noah Beddingfield, Samantha Bignault, Aparna Bhooshanan, Josh Boyd, Jenna Kay Chesser, Cameron Cummings, Olyvia English, Kailyn Grant, Audrey Groger, Shaniya Jacobs-Lanier, Leah Lessmann, Elizabeth Lockwood, Saige Keck, Rhett Krome, Ashwin Prabhakar, Steven Rogers, Mateo Santiago, Bethany Stoots, Samanvi Vootukuri, and Treyanna Williams. James Clemens participants are: Sohail Baig, Quincy Bowie, Grace Cardinale, Andrew Carlson, Victoria D’Herde, Yuti Das, Justin Diehl, Alivia Eggleston, Daniel Hallman, Bryson Hewell, Ainsley Husley, Rosalee Mahdi, Bryan Preer II, Vishal Rameshbabu, Callie Scroggins, Hunter Scruggs, Kaija Sorensen, Elizabeth Swaine, Maura Woosley, and Ethan Xu. During this meeting, we discussed the students’ view of the strengths of the district and areas where the district could become stronger. I enjoyed meeting with these students, and I appreciate them sharing honest feedback. I look forward to our discussions in the future.

    I am excited to announce that we have kicked off the Homework Hotline this week for students in grades 6th-12th. The hotline is available in the evenings for students who are struggling with homework or test preparation in math and English. Students are able to meet with a teacher via WebEx in the evenings to get help with their questions. More information about the Homework Hotline can be found on the district website. The Homework Hotline is being made available through the ESSER funds that support COVID learning loss. An elementary after school tutoring program will begin shortly after fall break.

    As we approach the end of the first grading period for the 2021-2022 school year, most parents have accessed the PowerSchool Parent Portal and downloaded the PowerSchool App on their phone. This is an excellent way to stay in touch with your child’s daily progress and attendance in classes. On Monday, September 20, students in grades 3-5 will bring home a paper copy of their current averages in core subject areas. Students in grades 6-12 will have updated grades available for viewing in the PowerSchool Parent Portal. All parents are encouraged to view the Parent Portal as it provides much more detailed information than a printed progress report, and the app has the ability for parents to set up notifications for failing grades, etc. If you have not yet accessed the portal or downloaded the app, please click here for more information.

    This week our EL (English Learner) teachers assembled at City Hall in a teambuilding session focused on building community connections. It was an appropriate forum as they toured the Madison Police Department, heard from Mayor Finley, and met in collaborative sessions to develop ways to better serve MCS students and families from different cultures. Approximately 12 percent of our student population speaks a language other than English as their native tongue. That's more than 1,500 students spread across 80-plus different languages. We value our EL program. We are a stronger school district and community when we help ALL of our students and families thrive. 

    Finally, over a month ago when we started this school year, I required masks to be worn in our school buildings. At that time, I committed to review our data and when I felt that we could relax this requirement, I would make that change.

    Since the beginning of the school year, we have seen a reduction of positive cases from around 1% of our school family to less than .4%. Today, I am announcing that beginning Monday, September 20, we will begin a “Mask Preferred” status for our schools. This “Mask Preferred” status encourages masks in our buildings but does not make it a requirement. Masking will still be required on all bus transportation.

    Currently, with all students wearing a face covering, we are only identifying people who are within 3 feet of the positive person for more than 15 minutes as a close contact. If a person is not wearing a face covering, then we will be expanding the close contact distance to 6 feet around the positive person for those not wearing a mask. We ask that you continue to monitor your children for any COVID symptoms and please keep your child at home and contact your healthcare provider for further evaluation. If your child tests positive, please contact the school and school nurse as soon as possible. 

    As I stated at the beginning of the school year, I will continue to review the data for our district. If I see that the district or a school develops an increase around the 1% positivity mark, I will possibly return them to a mask required status until the rate decreases. Although we review this data daily, we will evaluate the need to change after fall break. 

    While I regret that we are still dealing with COVID, I am committed to being flexible to make the best decisions for our school district. Please note that all feedback is appreciated; however, I cannot answer every email that I receive on this topic. I do read your emails, and our team reviews this information in our decision making process. 

    Have a great weekend!

    Ed Nichols



    Dear MCS Parents,

    Attending the Bob Jones-James Clemens game last week was very challenging for me having to restrain from cheering on one side to the detriment of the other. Of course, one team must always win and it was JC that prevailed in a down-to-the-wire thriller. I am free now the rest of the season to pull - loudly and proudly - for both teams.

    I thought about my BJ-JC game dilemma in last night's board meeting honoring students from both schools for outstanding achievements. They are all winners in so many ways. Their success is not only from great teachers and mentors at their respective high school but from quality middle and elementary schools that prepped them as well. I am grateful to be part of a school district that values education. That strong community support has enabled us to build/renovate schools and equip them with the resources needed to prepare all students for global success.

    The 2022 budget approved by the Board last night helps us meet the challenges we are facing from growth. MCS added 451 students since last school year, with our current total at 12,254 students. Now, consider our financial rankings compared to other Alabama school systems: MCS ranks 81st out of 140 in per-pupil revenues at $12,092, yet still below the state average of $12,326 per student. A large portion of this separation in revenues is that our district, unlike many in Alabama, does not receive a large portion of federal funds which are tied to the poverty percentages of the district. 

    In per pupil expenditures, MCS ranks 102nd of 140 at $9,798 per student, yet still below the state average of $10,155. Unlike most school districts in the state, our enrollment growth has caused us to have a higher debt service to meet the facility demands of the past years of growth. Approximately 30 percent of total budgeted expenses is in capital outlay and debt service. Also, compared to other districts, we do not have the federal funds for additional teaching units that increase our expenditure per student. However, even with the large debt for facilities, our Board along with talented teachers, principals, support staff, and parental support have kept us on a winning streak. That should give us all plenty to cheer about.

    Congratulations to Joshua Wortham, a junior at James Clemens, for winning the Hero Award from PeaceJam International and the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The award is for his work promoting peace through his family’s bakery. As part of this honor, Joshua was flown to Mexico to meet Nobel Peace Prize Winners, and he represented JCHS and the state of Alabama at last year’s World Youth Peace Summit. Congratulations, Joshua!!!

    As we continue to review the area COVID numbers, we are beginning to see some improvement both in our district and other school systems in the decline of positive cases. From reviewing last year's numbers, this usually equates to a decline in our community in both positivity rates and hospitalizations. I know that we are seeing a rise in vaccinations in our community. Let's hope to continue in this positive direction as we evaluate our procedures for the school system. To find the updated COVID numbers for this week, click here OR go to the district website, click on Departments and Health Services. The website provides the number of “close contacts” and positive cases.   

    I would like to remind everyone of the Mental Health Matters Family Mental Health Fair this Tuesday, September 14, at James Clemens High School. Our hope is that it will help remove stigmas and assure strugglers that there is help and that they are not alone. The event is from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the JCHS auditorium. Attendees will gain greater awareness and get valuable information to help navigate the way to wellness. Mental health has gotten a lot of attention lately, especially with COVID. I thank the Board for approving the hiring of a district mental health assistant coordinator and for more resources at the school level to help students and families through these difficulties. The keynote speaker is Chris Newlin, executive director of the National Children's Advocacy Center. Community Resource partners (SROs, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Caring House, and more) will also be there to help inform parents and arm them with a "toolbox" to help promote mental wellness. 

    This morning I had the pleasure of attending the MCS Transportation Appreciation breakfast hosted by First Baptist Church. This is the 11th year the church has done this. Mr. Eric Terrell and others of our admin staff enjoyed greeting bus drivers, mechanics and other transportation employees in the drive-thru line as church volunteers handed out boxed freshly prepared breakfasts. It is always heartwarming to see the community showing gratitude to our MCS employees.  

    On October 13 and 20, we will run virtual days for both high schools due to standardized testing. October 13 is the PSAT for all 10th grade students and a significant number of 11th grade students. That means an asynchronous virtual day for 9th and 12th graders (and any 11th grade students not taking the PSAT). On October 20, 10th grade students will take the Pre-ACT and 9th grade students will take a practice ACT. Therefore, October 20 will be an asynchronous virtual day for 11th and 12th grade students. Principals will share more information in the near future about these two testing and asynchronous virtual days. Please note that those October 13th and 20th test days for high schools will be regular in-person school days for Pre-K through 8th grade students.

    Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Let it be a day of remembrance for the fallen and a reminder of gratefulness for all of our military and first responders.  

    I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

    Ed Nichols