“Education has never been better in America than it is today.”

That was the message Madison County Schools Superintendent Mike Caudill told the audience Friday during his State of Education address at the Richmond Chamber of Commerce’s Business at Noon luncheon.

“It has a lot to do with communities like this that come together and simply say, ‘We want more from our public schools’ and having a school board that says, ‘We will give you more and more,’” he said. “We are constantly pushing and trying to find better things that we can do to help our students.”

In 1985, only 70 percent of students graduated high school — a statistic that increased 14 percent in 2004, Caudill said.

Nineteen percent of high school graduates about 20 years ago earned bachelor’s degree compared with 27 percent in 2004.

Likewise, in 1982, 26 and 35 percent of high school graduates completed advance math and science courses, respectively, Caudill said, while the numbers in 2000 jumped up to 45 and 63 percent.

However, there still need to be improvements locally and nationally made in education, he said.

“We exceed the graduation rate both in the state and the nation here,” Caudill said. “But, we won’t be happy until everyone graduates.”

Dropout rates, especially for poor and minority students, also need to be reduced, said Caudill, who praised the Adult Education in Madison County program for helping dropouts receive their GEDs.

“We have opened the doors for lots of folks for lots of different reasons, not just for folks who just want to drop out of school, but those who have hardships that you cannot imagine,” he said. “This allows them to further their education and have hope of having a degree.”

“GED graduation is the most spiritual and enlightening event that you can ever go to,” Caudill said. “If you watch a 65-year-old woman coming across the stage singing a spiritual because she has earned her GED, there is absolutely nothing that matches it.”

With more and more diverse student populations, education officials have to become more diverse in their thinking, he said.

More encouragement for progress also needs to be given to boys, Caudill said.

“Girls statistically and data driven excel in a lot of areas that boys simply do not find an interest,” he said. “It’s because we as educators have not diversified enough to find out what they are interested in. We are working very hard on that.”

With a 15th school opening in August, more than 10,000 students, 850 certified teachers and up to 1,200 classified employees, Madison County Schools is thriving, Caudill said.

The district received $2 million in reading grants last year and recently applied for another $2 million in math grants.

“We know that only 25 percent of taxpayers have students in school,” Caudill said. “We need to work hard to connect with the other 75 percent whose children are grown. You may wonder why do I have to pay that property tax or do this or that. It’s because education is the foundation of what we’re about in America.”

Caudill, who encouraged people to call him with problems and questions, said he is trying to form Mike’s Gang, an e-mail list where messages will be sent to let people know about what is going on in the school district.

“I have the greatest job in the world,” he said. “If the board would give me a 10-year, we’ll-pry-you-out-of-your-chair contract, I would take it. This is where I want to be. There’s lots of work to be done.”

Bryan Marshall can be reached at bmarshall@richmondregister.com or 624-6691.

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