SYLACAUGA, Ala. – Monte Abner, Principal of Indian Valley Elementary School, has earned a Doctorate of Education (ED.D.) degree from the University of Alabama. He is the first Indian Valley principal to earn this highest level of educational achievement. The degree was awarded to Abner at the university’s Dec. 16 commencement ceremony.

Abner earned his undergraduate degree from Talladega College in 2001, and his Master’s and Education Specialist degrees from the University of Alabama. He began his career in public education as a high school English teacher. Prior to coming to Sylacauga, he was a high school assistant principal in Calhoun County. He has been principal at Indian Valley since 2013.

Abner began the doctoral process five years ago; however, he changed the topic of his dissertation about 18 months ago and quickly moved forward. His dissertation, “Teacher Practices that Contribute to the Success of African-American Males” is a subject dear to his heart.

My emphasis changed after hearing a presentation from former state superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice,” Abner said. “He said that public education is not doing a good job of closing the learning gap between African-American males and other student groups. This resonated with me. I kept asking myself, ‘why are we not closing the gap?’”

Abner then realized that not much research had been done from the perspective of listening to successful African-American male students to learn the secrets to their success. This perspective shaped the change in his dissertation and began an energizing process. He interviewed successful students and compared their insight with what he learned from teachers.

First, he defined success as students who had graduated from high school and were leading productive lives either as college students, or in the military or chosen careers. The main thing that stood out to him was that these students thrived when their teachers taught in a way that related to the different needs of the students.

Teachers have been utilizing differentiated instruction for years, Abner pointed out, but good teaching practices go a step further with genuine interest in relating to the individual student. For instance, a math teacher could use sports analogies to help a struggling student-athlete connect with math concepts.

Success is not all As and Bs. Success is about being college, career, and community ready,” said Abner.

He added that students thrive when teachers use cultural-relative concepts in classroom instruction. The three tenants to achieve this are a focus on academic success, developing and maintaining culturally relevant pedagogy, and social consciousness.

Students in his research group revealed that the teachers who helped them succeed were involved not only at school, but were interested in what they did outside of school.

Abner has plans to put the best practices in place at Indian Valley. When students return to school in January, they will be greeted with an adult advocacy program designed to help mentor them through their Indian Valley years. It is his dream for this type of advocacy to be with the students all the way to high school graduation.

In congratulating Abner on this accomplishment, Sylacauga superintendent Dr. Todd Freeman remarked, “Dr. Abner has completed the highest degree for an educator while serving in his role as a school administrator. This accomplishment is a testament to his commitment to being a life-long learner. I appreciate his strong leadership and look forward to seeing him reach many more milestones during his career.”

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