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According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the state of Alabama’s test scores for fourth and eighth graders in math, reading, science and writing rank below the national average. Although many factors may contribute to why a school or school system struggles, faculty from Alabama and Auburn are working to prepare the next generation of administrative leaders to improve K-12 education in the state.

Ellen Reames, associate professor in the College of Education at Auburn University, and Brenda Mendiola, associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Alabama, recently took part in an SEC Faculty Travel Program visit that focused on preparing future elementary and secondary school administrators to take on the difficult task of improving a struggling K-12 school or school system, specifically, those in rural areas.

“Brenda and I were colleagues through the Alabama Association of Professors of Educational Leadership when she first told me she was applying for the SEC Faculty Travel Program and she wanted to make a research visit to Auburn,” Reames said. 

At the time of the visit, Mendiola and Reames, each of whom have more than 25 years of school administrative experience, were already working on a federal grant project managed by the Alabama State Department of Education intended to prepare academic administrators for rural turnaround leadership.

“Each university receiving a federal grant was responsible for training students to be K-12 administrators at rural school systems that were identified as needing improvement,” Mendiola said. “Each university designed its own program and we continue to meet frequently to discuss our experiences.”

Mendiola’s visit to Auburn included providing a lecture to a master’s and doctoral degree class, being the keynote speaker at an event on school leadership that had more than 150 attendees, preparing a grant proposal and planning a book that will explore each university’s program, which will be published next fall.

“I can’t think of another collaborative of its kind in the state where the major universities are working with the state department of education to provide training for school leaders,” Mendiola said. “Although some may view our universities as competitors, we see ourselves as partners trying to improve education across the state.”

Mendiola’s and Reames’ visit was supported by the SEC Faculty Travel Program that is administered by SECU, the academic initiative of the Southeastern Conference. The SEC supports and promotes the academic endeavors of the students and faculty at its 14 member institutions.

“The SEC Faculty Travel Program has been a tremendous resource for not only Brenda and I, but faculty at universities across the SEC,” said Reames. “It gives us the opportunity to work with colleagues in our field of study throughout the region. It is a very powerful tool for SEC universities.”