With the possibility of a new $40 million high school and renovation projects at Jim Pearson Elementary school, Alexander City Schools superintendent Dr. Keith Lankford said it’s an exciting time for the system.
“I’ve been in school districts in Jefferson County when we built several schools there and you generally see an increase in enrollment at those new schools,” Lankford said. “You see a lot of pride and a lot of energy. Right now I think it’s a great time to be a part of Alexander City Schools. I know I’m excited as a superintendent to lead this venture.”
Lankford spoke about his capital outlay plan, including construction of a new Benjamin Russell and collaborating with the Tallapoosa County School System, in an interview with The Outlook.
Q. What is the plan to replace Benjamin Russell?
A. It’s going to be a large task for us but I think it would bring a lot of excitement and energy to this community. We’re looking at it being a $40 million school. Those are the rough estimates. We don’t have true architectural plans yet. We don’t have a site location pinpointed yet. There’s a lot of rumors and speculation but we’re going to work with the city. We’re going to work with the county commission and work with the board of education to outline this. I’m hoping to have some proposals within the next three to six months of, ‘These are the ideas; this is the location,’ and within the next two years have it come to fruition.
Q. Why do you think there should be a new high school?
A. Because it’s needed. I think the original building of that school was built in 1950. It’s been added on several times. It’s still in good shape but there are a lot of things that are coming with new technology demands.
We’re preparing students for careers that have not been discovered yet. We look back 10 years ago, the top two or three jobs (included) cyber security. I don’t think we’d thought about that 10 or 15 years ago. So it’s being able to create (the atmosphere) for future learning.
Q. While there isn’t a site picked out, where would you want the new high school to be located?
A. Ideally, I would love to see it in the vicinity of the (Charles E. Bailey) Sportplex because our city is so gracious to allow us to use those facilities over there for baseball, softball, the football stadium and soccer. It makes sense that we’re in proximity to those athletic venues.
Q. In addition to the new technology for the high school, what other upgrades would you want?
A. I would love to see us be able to host some additional career tech facilities there. I really want to push the computer science technologies. We want to expand and have a culinary arts department. Auburn University is getting ready to start the construction of a brand new culinary events center down there. We would love to have that same thing because we’ve got this beautiful lake. We’ve got so many opportunities here to be able to put the chefs, put the event planners, put these people into work pretty quickly.
The other thing I would love to do is to grow and expand our health science field and we’re looking at workforce development. One of the top jobs in our area is medical. Whether it be nursing or physical therapy, physicians, certified nursing assistants, whatever we can do to expand that program I think would benefit our immediate area.
The engineering and design would be another one I would like to continue to expand upon.
A lot of those things will interrelate with STEM. We know that engineering crosses over. Building sciences, we think about just building a house but being able to do some CAD drawings and some other things would be a great benefit for a lot of our students and that incorporates a lot of our STEM technology.
We actually want all of our career tech facilities on campus where our kids can be right there. It’s an integral part of the day-to-day instruction. It’s not an afterthought. It’s part of what we do every day preparing students for the future.
Q. When this new high school opens, what will you do with the current Benjamin Russell facility?
A. Right now, I really don’t know. It just depends on our needs at the time but that is something we’re working on right now, trying to do some long-range plans and what that needs to look like.
Q. Tallapoosa County schools let some of their elementary students participate in gifted programs at Edward Bell Career Technical Center. Would you want to do something similar?
A. I haven’t thought about that yet but that’s the thing — we want to explore how could we repurpose any of our facilities to continue to educate our kids. We’ve looked online where we’ve seen magnet schools and we’ve seen career tech offerings. We haven’t gotten to that planning stage yet.
Q. Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Joe Windle has mentioned both school systems working together, like Alexander City allowing county students to participate in Benjamin Russell’s JROTC and Alexander City students going to Edward Bell for programs not offered at the career technical program here. How is the school system collaboration going and do you have any more plans with that?
A. My plan when I got here was if there’s something we don’t offer, I want our kids to be able to have access to something that may interest them. Mr. Windle and I were talking. We’re both former military and our JROTC Lt. Commander Ben Smith approached me and asked if I would be open to allowing additional students to come to Alexander City. I said, ‘Absolutely.’ Because I’ve worked on that same partnership in my last school system where we invited people to come to our JROTC program. That’s something that can’t be offered at every single campus so we created the opportunity for any student from Tallapoosa County to come over.
If Alexander City succeeds, Tallapoosa County succeeds and vice versa so we’re all in this together to educate our kids. Whatever we can do and work out partnerships and collaborations I want to continue to foster that. Mr. Windle and I, I’m sure, will sit down over the course of the summer and see where both of us are. Speaking to some of the (Tallapoosa County) commissioners, I was very thankful for some of the opportunities that they’ve provided in the past and regarding the 1-cent sales tax. Speaking to our city council, I love where our city is going and how our city works with us. I think the more we can do to benefit all the students in Tallapoosa County should be our goal.