One Half Second of HFT: Watch Big Data Dance

Up until the last few minutes of trading, it looked like the Google Trends indicator was back in the saddle, headed for a fourth correct call out of five, but the market gave up all of the Friday's gains, and then some in late trading, closing down nearly 209 points on the DJIA.

How Secure Is Social Security?

Social Security was created through the Social Security Act of 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, when poverty rates among seniors exceeded 50%. It's benefits include old age pensions, income for survivors and disability income, hence the acronym OASDI (old age-survivors-disability income). There has been a lot of discussion about the solvency of this 78 year old program. In this article, I will attempt to set the record straight, based on information provided in SSA's annual press release.

Lights fell on Alabama (Traffic Mike)

Reader wonders if fallen light along Red Mountain Expressway portends a future for the highway lighting issue.

MikeSmith_column3.jpg 
William Sparkman's real estate development job takes him across Alabama and the region. He estimates he logs about 65,000 miles a year roaming the roadways.

Going back and forth to Montgomery through the years, he started noticing something.

A light out here. Another there. And another, until whole areas were snuffed out.

Gradual -- yet preventable -- darkness, and not unlike the problem in many areas in metro Birmingham.

Lighting seems to be the bane of the Alabama driving experience. Throw in some heavy fog or a good hard rain at night through interchanges like Interstate 20/Interstate 459 in Irondale and you have about as much visibility as driving through an automatic car wash with the rotary brushes at full throttle.

"For two decades I would get upset at the highway lights not working properly or not at all, especially on the Birmingham interstates," Sparkman said.

All the state and local government plans that came and went through the years. Reports of fixes that never materialized.

There's a good collection in our arhcives of things said and written about lighting. We know the general basics: The Alabama Department of Transportation installs them on state roads, officials say. Cities maintain them, change bulbs and pay to power them, and ALDOT periodically reminds cities in the form of letters that they are to do this. ALDOT handles rural state road lighting.

Decades of watching darkness cloak the roads Sparkman so often travels have actually made him less angry.

He wonders if the problem is taking care of itself.

Driving the Red Mountain Expressway, he has noticed a light pole that has fallen to the ground near Red Mountain. In other places he has seen lights dangling from poles.

"In just a few short years, at the present rate, we won't have to think about this issue any longer," he said. "There simply won't be any lights standing!"

He's joking, of course.

To be fair, I'm sure no one in state or local government is trying to make sure all our roadways go dark. I don't have exact figures, but I would think bulbs that big and that high and the wires serving them probably take good cash for upkeep. And, like most things, the longer they go uncorrected, the more expensive they become to fix.

It's not all a lost cause. There's progress in bits and pieces. This spring, ALDOT agreed to pay Fultondale's 20 percent match for a $1.5 million project to re-light a stretch of Interstate 65 between Corridor X and Walker Chapel Road. Mayor Jim Lowery first asked the department for help in 2011.

A low bid was submitted for the project in April, but most recent word from ALDOT this past week is the project has not been finalized.

So, yeah, fits and starts. Not quick enough for those who must feel their way around in the dark at 60 mph to find an exit.

Taxpayer Sparkman's assessment: "If they're not going to fix them, not going to maintain them, then there's no problem with it -- just don't spend the money to put them up," Sparkman said.

Road rubbish: More household goodies this week.
  • I-65 northbound: Laundry basket and spilled clothing across the highway near Valleydale Road
  • I-65 southbound: Large piece of metal near Finley Boulevard, which caused several flat tires
  • Lorna Road: U-Haul dropped a load of lumber near I-65
  • I-59 southbound: Chair in the left lane near the First Avenue North exit.
Traffic Mike writes about traffic and roads in the Birmingham area. Contact Mike D. Smith at msmith@al.com, @TrafficMike_BHM on Twitter or (205) 209-2878.

Lights fell on Alabama (Traffic Mike)

Reader wonders if fallen light along Red Mountain Expressway portends a future for the highway lighting issue.

MikeSmith_column3.jpg 
William Sparkman's real estate development job takes him across Alabama and the region. He estimates he logs about 65,000 miles a year roaming the roadways.

Going back and forth to Montgomery through the years, he started noticing something.

A light out here. Another there. And another, until whole areas were snuffed out.

Gradual -- yet preventable -- darkness, and not unlike the problem in many areas in metro Birmingham.

Lighting seems to be the bane of the Alabama driving experience. Throw in some heavy fog or a good hard rain at night through interchanges like Interstate 20/Interstate 459 in Irondale and you have about as much visibility as driving through an automatic car wash with the rotary brushes at full throttle.

"For two decades I would get upset at the highway lights not working properly or not at all, especially on the Birmingham interstates," Sparkman said.

All the state and local government plans that came and went through the years. Reports of fixes that never materialized.

There's a good collection in our arhcives of things said and written about lighting. We know the general basics: The Alabama Department of Transportation installs them on state roads, officials say. Cities maintain them, change bulbs and pay to power them, and ALDOT periodically reminds cities in the form of letters that they are to do this. ALDOT handles rural state road lighting.

Decades of watching darkness cloak the roads Sparkman so often travels have actually made him less angry.

He wonders if the problem is taking care of itself.

Driving the Red Mountain Expressway, he has noticed a light pole that has fallen to the ground near Red Mountain. In other places he has seen lights dangling from poles.

"In just a few short years, at the present rate, we won't have to think about this issue any longer," he said. "There simply won't be any lights standing!"

He's joking, of course.

To be fair, I'm sure no one in state or local government is trying to make sure all our roadways go dark. I don't have exact figures, but I would think bulbs that big and that high and the wires serving them probably take good cash for upkeep. And, like most things, the longer they go uncorrected, the more expensive they become to fix.

It's not all a lost cause. There's progress in bits and pieces. This spring, ALDOT agreed to pay Fultondale's 20 percent match for a $1.5 million project to re-light a stretch of Interstate 65 between Corridor X and Walker Chapel Road. Mayor Jim Lowery first asked the department for help in 2011.

A low bid was submitted for the project in April, but most recent word from ALDOT this past week is the project has not been finalized.

So, yeah, fits and starts. Not quick enough for those who must feel their way around in the dark at 60 mph to find an exit.

Taxpayer Sparkman's assessment: "If they're not going to fix them, not going to maintain them, then there's no problem with it -- just don't spend the money to put them up," Sparkman said.

Road rubbish: More household goodies this week.
  • I-65 northbound: Laundry basket and spilled clothing across the highway near Valleydale Road
  • I-65 southbound: Large piece of metal near Finley Boulevard, which caused several flat tires
  • Lorna Road: U-Haul dropped a load of lumber near I-65
  • I-59 southbound: Chair in the left lane near the First Avenue North exit.
Traffic Mike writes about traffic and roads in the Birmingham area. Contact Mike D. Smith at msmith@al.com, @TrafficMike_BHM on Twitter or (205) 209-2878.

Trace Crossings Elementary parents in Hoover concerned about falling test scores, property values

School officials moved an assistant superintendent in as principal, but parents want to see some improvements soon.

Trace Crossings Elementary School May 2013.jpeg.jpgTrace Crossings Elementary School in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Alabama - Parents at Trace Crossings Elementary School in Hoover say they are concerned about falling test scores at the school and are turning to the Hoover school board for answers.

A recent Hoover school board meeting was filled with parents and teachers from Trace Crossings, with parents saying they need assurance from the school board that change will come and come soon.

"If it's going to look like it's going to happen soon, then we're going to hang in there," one woman told the school board. "But honestly, if I feel like it's going to be three years from now, I'll do what three other parents did in my neighborhood and send them to a private school."

When the state released test score data last August, Trace Crossings was one of three Hoover schools that did not make "adequate yearly progress" in regard to standards required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The school received an 80 percent in math proficiency, leading the central office to provide additional math training and support personnel in math and reading.

Central office staff said they were most concerned about lower math proficiency among black and lower-income students at Trace Crossings, which was more indicative of a general decline.

Robin Litaker, the principal at Trace Crossings at the time, tried to hold faculty accountable but ruffled feathers in the process, leading to a negative climate at the school and Litaker's reassignment to central office administrative duties, then-Assistant Superintendent Carol Barber said in an email to other elementary school principals in November.

Barber moved in to become principal at Trace Crossings, but parents are still concerned about whether change at the school will come fast enough. They're concerned about both falling test scores and declining property values, they said.

Earl Cooper March 2010.jpeg.JPGHoover school board member Earl Cooper

School board member Earl Cooper said school officials know there are challenges at Trace Crossings, but they've put their second best leader in the school system in as principal to handle it.

"Yeah, there are a lot of things that maybe need to be improved, but there are only a limited number of tools that can make things change on a dime," Cooper said. "It just takes time to use whatever tools you've got to make a difference."

School board member Paulette Pearson, a former longtime college and career counselor for Hoover City Schools, said Barber is the most-skilled educator she has ever known.

"When they told me that she was going to step out as assistant superintendent and go over to that school, I was thrilled," Pearson said. "If you want something to be analyzed and perceive what the problem is and from there, to implement a plan, that's the person you put over there. She is fabulous at her education knowledge - incredible. She can truly take a situation and find the problems and, from that, try to solve the problems."

However, when you're dealing with that many people and personalities, the situation must be handled with care, Pearson said. "You've got to be very careful how you implement your plans or it could all blow up on you," she said.

Trisha Crain October 2011.jpeg.JPGTrisha Crain

Trisha Crain, a Hoover parent who led a group called the Hoover School Community Information Network for several years, told the board at the same meeting that she was concerned about falling test scores at a number of Hoover schools, particularly some of the elementary schools.

"I don't know when it was acceptable for Hoover schools to score 10 points below the state average," Crain said.

She also didn't like the fact that neither Hoover nor Spain Park high schools were on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best high schools in the nation this year, when 90 other schools in Alabama made the list.

"I'm used to seeing Hoover at the top of every list," Crain told the school board. "We're kind of the low-bar now, and I don't like that, and I know ya'll don't like that either."

Crain said some people like to point out how the school system's demographics have changed, with more poor kids and black kids, but "those really are not reasons," she said. "We need to improve our student achievement because we can."

Crain said she knows people are working hard to educate children and how badly they want to do a good job, but "something's not working, and you as a board can refocus your efforts on that as you plan for the next year."

She encouraged the school board to work with the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA), which has helped Dothan schools improve student achievement over the last few years.

Cooper said the school board's decision to hire two new chief academic officers is a "major-league commitment" to improve student achievement and he has faith in Superintendent Andy Craig and his staff to do what needs to be done.

The PARCA data doesn't indicate when children enter the Hoover school system and when they leave, Cooper said.

Paulette Pearson.jpgHoover school board President Paulette Pearson

Pearson said that is indeed an issue. Hoover is the only over-the-mountain school system that provides bus transportation for students, which is a huge draw for families from other areas, Pearson said.

"I think a lot of people see this as a bit of a haven, so they come straight to us. They try very hard to get to us," Pearson said. "We make it easy because we have some housing in our area that's pretty affordable, and they can take advantage of that."

So many children are moving into Hoover without having the benefit of being taught in Hoover in kindergarten, first or second grade, Pearson said. "We just haven't had the opportunity to teach them," she said.

Crain noted that Hoover at one point had a special enrichment summer school for elementary children but no longer offers it. She encouraged the board to reassess the school system's efforts.

One Trace Crossings parent asked whether the school board has any duty to equally distribute children from apartment complexes among different schools. Some children from apartment complexes pass three other elementary schools before they get to Trace Crossings, yet they come to Trace Crossings because it has capacity, he said.

One parent asked whether school officials have considered rezoning children again.

Hoover schools Superintendent Andy Craig Nov 2011.jpeg.JPGHoover schools Superintendent Andy Craig

Craig said that in a district that is growing like Hoover, rezoning is inevitable, but there are a lot of variables that must be balanced, such as building capacity, geography and transiency. There are people moving within Hoover and a lot of people moving into Hoover from outside the city limits as well, Craig said.

"There have been plenty of scenarios that have been looked at that would serve the district as a whole, hopefully improve the district as a whole and put us in the best position to be successful, but there is no (rezoning) application on file with the Justice Department at this point," Craig said.

Craig said the school district has started looking more closely at the PARCA test score data.

"It's those lower grades that we don't rank well," he said. "That was a topic of a lot of conversation with our principals back in the winter, and that will be a focal point."

Craig said school officials will be analyzing what level students are at when they enter the Hoover system. "They come in at all different levels and they come at all different times," he said. "I think you're going to see us have a fairly standard process to assess the learning that goes on."

Donna Frazier November 2011.jpeg.JPGHoover school board member Donna Frazier

School board member Donna Frazier told the parents that the school board is well aware of the situation at Trace Crossings and understands the need to address it urgently. That's why the board and Craig took the unusual step of changing principals in the middle of the school year, she said.

"I've lived in this community for a very, very long time, and I am very passionate about this," Frazier said. "That's the reason I serve on this board. It's about the kids."

Plus, she understands the concern about property values, she said. "I totally agree - so goes the school system, so goes our property values.

"Take our word that we are going to move that school in the right direction under Mrs. Barber's leadership," Frazier said. "Please just give Mrs. Barber an opportunity to make this thing happen for you."

Carol Barber 2006.jpeg.JPGCarol Barber

Barber said she's not the force that is going to change things at Trace Crossings. She'll do what she can to help teachers, but it's teachers who care and are committed to the children who are the key, she said.

"It doesn't make any difference if the children come from apartment complexes or if they come from Scout Creek or if they come from Trace Crossings or wherever they come from," Barber said. "Our obligation is to teach and teach well all the children that enter into that front door at Trace Crossings.

"We know we have challenges, and we know what those challenges are, and we're addressing those challenges," Barber said. "We know where some of the obstacles have been. We're attempting to remove those obstacles."

When asked recently to elaborate on those challenges and obstacles and what school officials are doing to overcome them, Barber said she was too busy interviewing potential new employees to discuss them.

She said she would try to find time in the near future to discuss them but would rather wait until new test score data arrives in a couple of months so she can have the most up-to-date information.

Joey Mure, who served as a spokesman for the Trace Crossings parents at the May school board meeting, said parents are grateful to have Barber as principal. He said he has been encouraged that the school board is concerned about the same issues as parents and committed to finding solutions.

"That's really all that we can ask for at this point," he said.

To see more news from Hoover, go to www.al.com/hoover

Get your Hoover news on Twitter:


Trace Crossings Elementary parents in Hoover concerned about falling test scores, property values

School officials moved an assistant superintendent in as principal, but parents want to see some improvements soon.

Trace Crossings Elementary School May 2013.jpeg.jpgTrace Crossings Elementary School in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Alabama - Parents at Trace Crossings Elementary School in Hoover say they are concerned about falling test scores at the school and are turning to the Hoover school board for answers.

A recent Hoover school board meeting was filled with parents and teachers from Trace Crossings, with parents saying they need assurance from the school board that change will come and come soon.

"If it's going to look like it's going to happen soon, then we're going to hang in there," one woman told the school board. "But honestly, if I feel like it's going to be three years from now, I'll do what three other parents did in my neighborhood and send them to a private school."

When the state released test score data last August, Trace Crossings was one of three Hoover schools that did not make "adequate yearly progress" in regard to standards required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The school received an 80 percent in math proficiency, leading the central office to provide additional math training and support personnel in math and reading.

Central office staff said they were most concerned about lower math proficiency among black and lower-income students at Trace Crossings, which was more indicative of a general decline.

Robin Litaker, the principal at Trace Crossings at the time, tried to hold faculty accountable but ruffled feathers in the process, leading to a negative climate at the school and Litaker's reassignment to central office administrative duties, then-Assistant Superintendent Carol Barber said in an email to other elementary school principals in November.

Barber moved in to become principal at Trace Crossings, but parents are still concerned about whether change at the school will come fast enough. They're concerned about both falling test scores and declining property values, they said.

Earl Cooper March 2010.jpeg.JPGHoover school board member Earl Cooper

School board member Earl Cooper said school officials know there are challenges at Trace Crossings, but they've put their second best leader in the school system in as principal to handle it.

"Yeah, there are a lot of things that maybe need to be improved, but there are only a limited number of tools that can make things change on a dime," Cooper said. "It just takes time to use whatever tools you've got to make a difference."

School board member Paulette Pearson, a former longtime college and career counselor for Hoover City Schools, said Barber is the most-skilled educator she has ever known.

"When they told me that she was going to step out as assistant superintendent and go over to that school, I was thrilled," Pearson said. "If you want something to be analyzed and perceive what the problem is and from there, to implement a plan, that's the person you put over there. She is fabulous at her education knowledge - incredible. She can truly take a situation and find the problems and, from that, try to solve the problems."

However, when you're dealing with that many people and personalities, the situation must be handled with care, Pearson said. "You've got to be very careful how you implement your plans or it could all blow up on you," she said.

Trisha Crain October 2011.jpeg.JPGTrisha Crain

Trisha Crain, a Hoover parent who led a group called the Hoover School Community Information Network for several years before starting a website called the Alabama School Connection, told the board at the same meeting that she was concerned about falling test scores at a number of Hoover schools, particularly some of the elementary schools.

"I don't know when it was acceptable for Hoover schools to score 10 points below the state average," Crain said.

She also didn't like the fact that neither Hoover nor Spain Park high schools were on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best high schools in the nation this year, when 90 other schools in Alabama made the list.

"I'm used to seeing Hoover at the top of every list," Crain told the school board. "We're kind of the low bar now, and I don't like that, and I know ya'll don't like that either."

Crain said some people like to point out how the school system's demographics have changed, with more poor kids and black kids, but "those really are not reasons," she said. "We need to improve our student achievement because we can."

Crain said she knows people are working hard to educate children and how badly they want to do a good job, but "something's not working, and you as a board can refocus your efforts on that as you plan for the next year."

She encouraged the school board to work with the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA), which has helped Dothan schools improve student achievement over the last few years.

Cooper said the school board's decision to hire two new chief academic officers is a "major-league commitment" to improve student achievement and he has faith in Superintendent Andy Craig and his staff to do what needs to be done.

The PARCA data doesn't indicate when children enter the Hoover school system and when they leave, Cooper said.

Paulette Pearson.jpgHoover school board President Paulette Pearson

Pearson said that is indeed an issue. Hoover is the only over-the-mountain school system that provides bus transportation for students, which is a huge draw for families from other areas, Pearson said.

"I think a lot of people see this as a bit of a haven, so they come straight to us. They try very hard to get to us," Pearson said. "We make it easy because we have some housing in our area that's pretty affordable, and they can take advantage of that."

So many children are moving into Hoover without having the benefit of being taught in Hoover in kindergarten, first or second grade, Pearson said. "We just haven't had the opportunity to teach them," she said.

Crain noted that Hoover at one point had a special enrichment summer school for elementary children but no longer offers it. She encouraged the board to reassess the school system's efforts.

One Trace Crossings parent asked whether the school board has any duty to equally distribute children from apartment complexes among different schools. Some children from apartment complexes pass three other elementary schools before they get to Trace Crossings, yet they come to Trace Crossings because it has capacity, he said.

One parent asked whether school officials have considered rezoning children again.

Hoover schools Superintendent Andy Craig Nov 2011.jpeg.JPGHoover schools Superintendent Andy Craig

Craig said that in a district that is growing like Hoover, rezoning is inevitable, but there are a lot of variables that must be balanced, such as building capacity, geography and transiency. There are people moving within Hoover and a lot of people moving into Hoover from outside the city limits as well, Craig said.

"There have been plenty of scenarios that have been looked at that would serve the district as a whole, hopefully improve the district as a whole and put us in the best position to be successful, but there is no (rezoning) application on file with the Justice Department at this point," Craig said.

Craig said the school district has started looking more closely at the PARCA test score data.

"It's those lower grades that we don't rank well," he said. "That was a topic of a lot of conversation with our principals back in the winter, and that will be a focal point."

Craig said school officials will be analyzing what level students are at when they enter the Hoover system. "They come in at all different levels and they come at all different times," he said. "I think you're going to see us have a fairly standard process to assess the learning that goes on."

Donna Frazier November 2011.jpeg.JPGHoover school board member Donna Frazier

School board member Donna Frazier told the parents that the school board is well aware of the situation at Trace Crossings and understands the need to address it urgently. That's why the board and Craig took the unusual step of changing principals in the middle of the school year, she said.

"I've lived in this community for a very, very long time, and I am very passionate about this," Frazier said. "That's the reason I serve on this board. It's about the kids."

Plus, she understands the concern about property values, she said. "I totally agree - so goes the school system, so goes our property values.

"Take our word that we are going to move that school in the right direction under Mrs. Barber's leadership," Frazier said. "Please just give Mrs. Barber an opportunity to make this thing happen for you."

Carol Barber 2006.jpeg.JPGCarol Barber

Barber said she's not the force that is going to change things at Trace Crossings. She'll do what she can to help teachers, but it's teachers who care and are committed to the children who are the key, she said.

"It doesn't make any difference if the children come from apartment complexes or if they come from Scout Creek or if they come from Trace Crossings or wherever they come from," Barber said. "Our obligation is to teach and teach well all the children that enter into that front door at Trace Crossings.

"We know we have challenges, and we know what those challenges are, and we're addressing those challenges," Barber said. "We know where some of the obstacles have been. We're attempting to remove those obstacles."

When asked recently to elaborate on those challenges and obstacles and what school officials are doing to overcome them, Barber said she was too busy interviewing potential new employees to discuss them.

She said she would try to find time in the near future to discuss them but would rather wait until new test score data arrives in a couple of months so she can have the most up-to-date information.

Joey Mure, who served as a spokesman for the Trace Crossings parents at the May school board meeting, said parents are grateful to have Barber as principal. He said he has been encouraged that the school board is concerned about the same issues as parents and committed to finding solutions.

"That's really all that we can ask for at this point," he said.

To see more news from Hoover, go to www.al.com/hoover

Get your Hoover news on Twitter: