FLORENCE — Even before Florence City Schools Superintendent Jimmy Shaw took to the podium for Monday's inaugural State of the Schools address, a video projected several favorable statistics regarding the city school system's condition.

Among them: The system is graded in the Top 3% in Alabama, Florence High School has a 96% graduation rate and more than 4,700 students are enrolled in the nine-school system.

Students talked about programs designed to give them a head start, such as the Launch program that matches students with businesses in the field that interests them.

Shaw said that connection between the school system and city is a key to success.

"We are your system," he said. "This is our community and we are one Florence."

Throughout his address, Shaw stressed the notion of preparing students to be ready while they still are students.

"We want to put these students in their futures today," he said.

Shaw pointed to the Alabama State Department of Education's report card released in October that issued an A to the city schools system.

"We know we can grow," he said. "But we are happy for the influence and impact we have on our students."

He said Weeden Elementary School was graded the No. 2 niche standout school. The grade is determined by the level of achievement in schools with at least 50% poverty rate.

"Your Zip Code should not dictate your future," Shaw said.

He also is pleased by Harlan Elementary School's jump from a report card grade of 75 to 86 this year.

In February, Florence Middle School opened its 180,000 square-foot, $35 million facility at the former Coffee High School location. Shaw recalled a comment at that time that stood out to him.

"I heard a parent say this: 'Nothing speaks to the commitment or our community than the Florence Middle School building,'" he said.

Shaw said there also is room for improvement. He pointed to an October survey of parents, faculty, staff and students from fourth grade up. The lowest rating in that survey was when they graded the system's ability to develop students' social and emotional skills. He said the system already is focusing on measures to improve that.

Shaw said his system has additional goals in several areas for 2022. They include having an average ACT score of 21 or higher for high school students; developing 20 pre-K units; having 10% of high school graduates leave with dual diplomas or a certification; and having 100% of third-graders reading on a third-grade or higher level.

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski

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