During her first stop in Mobile, United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said she was inspired by the stories she heard about students at Alabama’s first charter school — the ACCEL Day and Evening Academy on Cottage Hill Road.

DeVos and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) were also scheduled to tour the AIDT Maritime Training Center and Council Traditional School on Thursday before heading back to Washington, D.C.

“It’s a pleasure to come to ACCEL and hear from students,” DeVos told a gaggle of reporters in the hallway of the brand new charter school. “This school is meeting the needs of students where school hadn’t worked out.”

DeVos and Byrne held a private meeting with school administrators before touring a few of the classrooms and meeting with teachers and students on the school’s third day of class.

DeVos and Byrne were first taken into a literature classroom, where students were discussing poet Gwendolyn Brooks. The group then visited a geometry classroom where students were learning to solve equations using bingo cards.

The ACCEL academy was founded by the Mobile Area Education Foundation, and one it’s primary focuses was flexibility for students and parents — offering evening class options, individualized educational plans and a curriculum that lets students drive their own progress.

According to MAEF’s CEO, Carolyn Akers, ACCEL was designed to serve a range of students, from those who are behind in credits to those looking to accelerate through high school faster.
After the tour, Byrne said the state’s first charter school was reaching students who would’ve been lost without it.

“You can tell they’re going to be successful,” he said.

DeVos, a school choice advocate, has faced some backlash not visiting what some would call “traditional” public schools in a recent tour of school systems around the country.

Earlier this week, after visiting three schools in the city of Tallahassee — none of which were in the Leon County public system, DeVos drew sharp public criticism from Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Superintendent Rocky Hanna, who called the omission “insulting.”

With stops at today ACCEL and one of Mobile County’s magnet programs, her trend appeared to continue in Mobile. When asked about some of the recent criticism, though, DeVos said visiting to non-traditional public schools helps to recognize every student, as opposed to just “playing to the masses.”