Alabama Chess in Schools
FAQs about ACIS
Question: What is ACIS?
Alabama Chess in Schools is an innovative ground-breaking initiative to promote child development through chess in schools throughout Alabama. In elementary grades it involves teaching chess at least once a week during the regular class day plus an after-school program. For middle school and high schools, chess would typically be an after school elective though some schools have chosen to also integrate chess training into their regular classroom schedule.
Question: Who is sponsoring it?
- Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE)
- Alabama Chess Federation (ACF).
Question: Who Manages ACIS?
Answer: At the urging of ALSDE, ACF created Chess in Schools LLC in August 2016 to manage the ACIS program. Potentially the company could become involved with other chess in schools initiatives. Chess in Schools LLC reports to the ACF Executive Board.
Question: How is ACIS funded?
Answer: ACIS is funded through a grant from ALSDE. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama and the Alabama Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils, Inc. have also made donations in support of chess in schools.
Question: Why do we need a state-run program when there are plenty of successful programs developed within a local school or school district?
Answer: If only we could easily replicate those programs! Experience tells us that there are many schools that would like to have a chess in schools program but don't have the financial resources or qualified chess teachers to be successful. ACIS is designed for those schools who are not in a position to implement Chess in Schools on their own.
Question: Why is ACIS exceptional? What makes it different from other chess in schools programs?
Answer: ACIS is:
- Aligned with state educational standards (College & Career Ready Standards)
- Statewide in scope
- Research program embedded
- Using the latest internet-based chess training tools adapted specifically to classroom use
- Broad-based in terms of its support from educators, government, chess community
- Sustainable & scalable in its methodology and infrastructure
- Led by a team with the vision and operational skills to execute
Question: Is the purpose of ACIS to improve test scores?
Answer: No, or at least not directly. The ACIS mission is to increase the use of higher order thinking through regular exposure to chess concepts or chess play. The technical terms are "executive functions" and "21st century skills". These include:
- Attention to detail
- Problem solving
- Time management and others
Talladega and Tuscaloosa Schools to Join ACIS
February 24, 2017 - Talladega City Schools, Tuscaloosa City Schools, and Tuscaloosa County Schools have been selected to join the Alabama Chess in Schools Initiative this Fall.
In Talladega, Graham Elementary, Houston Elementary, Salter Elementary, and R.L. Young Elementary, Zora Ellis Jr. High, and Talladega High will take part. Tuscaloosa County participants will include Lake View Elementary, Brookwood Middle School, and Brookwood High.
Tuscaloosa City Schools, which already has programs active in some of its schools through the University of Alabama's Every Move Counts program, will expand chess in schools through the ACIS program. Initial participants will include Martin Luther King Jr Elementary, Verner Elementary, and Woodlawn Elementary.
New ALSDE Heads Briefed on ACIS
January 6, 2017 - The ACIS leadership team met with new State Superintendent of Schools Michael Sentence and Chief of Staff Dee Fowler to introduce them to the ACIS program. ACF President Neil Dietsch, ACF Education VP Nancy Johnson, and National Scholastic Chess Consultant Jerry Nash reviewed the program and discussed is progress. Nash also spoke of the program's visibility nationally and internationally based upon his presentations at the London Chess in Schools Conference where both Nash and Dietsch delivered presentations.
The ALSDE presentation was well received. Several of the questions centered around performance, performance metrics, and return on investment. All of these are area are areas of strength for the ACIS program.
We are awaiting release of applications to the ACIS program for the 2017-2018 school year. Release of the applications was expected in November. We believe the delay is part of a general backlog result of the new administration's review of its programs, and not particular to the ACIS program.
To minimize the impact of delays in the application process, Chess in Schools LLC has announced the following schedule for orientation and training in 2017.
- One-day ACIS Orientation Sessions: March 8, March 15
- Training Sessions for New Teachers: June 12-16, June 19-23, June 26-30
- Training Sessions for Returning Teachers: June 14-16, June 21-23, June 28-30
Funding for Year 3 Expansion Approved
November 7, 2016 - As 28 schools launch their Alabama Chess in Schools programs, the Alabama State Department of Education has approved a grant of $242,000 in ACIS funding. ACF's Chess in Schools LLC unit is expected to administer funding to add approximately three new school districts, 12 new schools and 1,350 new students.
Alabama Chess in Schools (ACIS)
Sponsorships & Donations
September 16, 2016 - The Alabama Chess Federation (ACF) has recently received a total of $4,500 in sponsorships and donations in support of the ACIS Initiative.
The Alabama Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils, Inc. has provided a sponsorship of $2,500 for the Alabama Chess in Schools Initiative. Chess Kids Nation has donated $1,000. We have also received on two $1,000 donations from individuals. These follow a donation last year from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama for $2,500. These donations have made it possible for ACF to launch a new chess in schools service organization to serve the expanding ACIS program. [See story below.]
Chess in Schools LLC
September 16, 2016 - At the September 4 annual ACF Membership meeting, ACF announced the formation of Chess in Schools LLC (CIS LLC) to provide chess in schools services. CIS LLC is currently in operation providing services such as teacher training, consulting (from persons with a blend of chess and education credentials), curriculum licenses, and support to schools participating in ACIS. This involves approximately 9 school districts, 27 schools, and over 2,700 students, up from 1,500 last year.
In addition to the ACIS growth, there have been changes to the ACIS business model. Operational control of most ACIS services has passed from the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) to ACF. ACIS funding for 2016 controlled by ALSDE was allocated via grants to the ACIS school districts.
CIS LLC in turn offers each district a reasonably priced ACIS service & support package. The start-up company is managed largely on a volunteer basis by ACF President Neil Dietsch and Chess in Schools Liaison and Operations Manager, Nancy Johnson. ACF Treasurer Bradley Denton fills the role of chief financial officer. Services are provided by paid independent contractors trained in the ACIS principles and methods for blending chess and education. CIS LLC reports to the ACF Executive Board.
Alabama Chess in Schools Prepares for 2nd Year Expansion
July 15, 2016 - Montgomery, AL - In late June 45 teachers took part in training offered by the Alabama Chess in Schools (ACIS) Initiative. Teachers preparing for their first year of teaching chess received four days of training. Returning chess teachers took two days of classes.
The teaching is intended to prepare teacher to teach chess in the classroom in the coming school year. ACIS teacher training is a mix of chess training and teaching methods for integrating chess into the teaching of core educational material. Teachers also learn about the latest internet-base chess training curricula and are introduced to the ACIS support network provided by the Alabama Chess Federation and the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE).
National Chess Education Consultant Jerry Nash led the training with a team that included an array of volunteers from the chess and education communities: Neil Dietsch (chess coach, ACF president), Nancy Johnson (former ALSDE lead and current ACF Chess in Schools Liaison), Caesar Lawrence (chess coach & tournament organizer), Pat & Steve Schneider (principals of Championship Chess out of Atlanta), and Charles A. Smith (National Chess Coach and ACF VP). Andy Meadows and Michele Matin participated as ALSDE representatives.
Returning ACIS veteran teachers Telura Hamilton (Montevallo Intermediate School), Christina Purdy (pictured right, Huguley Elementary), and Brenda Scott (W.O Parmer K-2) were on hand to provide tips to teachers about teaching chess in the classroom for the first time. More
June 23, 2016 - Mark Coty (pictured right) of E.D Nixon Elementary in Montgomery practices a lesson in front of other teachers during ACIS teacher training.
Alabama Chess in Schools (ACIS) Leads Meet to Plan Fall Programs
April 7, 2016 - Fifteen new schools have joined the ACIS program. Representatives from the ACIS schools met March 24 in Montgomery for an orientation meeting. Veteran Chess Leads from twelve of the initial set of schools reported on their progress and offered advice to the new school representatives who will be starting their programs in the fall. Most encouraging was the enthusiasm and continued support for the program by the educators at the schools who have actually taken part in the first year program.
ACIS is an initiative to promote child development through chess in schools throughout Alabama. It is a cooperative effort of the Alabama State Department of Education and the Alabama Chess Federation.
New Schools Join ACIS Initiative Pilot
March 12, 2016 - Fifteen new schools from four new school districts have been accepted into the ACIS pilot program. The newly accepted schools are:
- Chambers County: Eastside Elementary, John P Powell Middle, LaFayette High
- Eufaula City School System (new): Eufaula Primary, Eufaula Elementary, Admiral Moorer Middle, Eufaula High
- Jasper City Schools (new): Memorial Park Elementary, Maddox Middle, Walker High
- Montgomery City Schools (new): Davis Elementary, E D Nixon Elementary, Bellingrath Middle, Sidney Lanier High
The new schools join 12 of the 14 of the original ACIS pilot schools that are continuing or expanding their current ACIS programs. The 14 original schools include:
- Mobile County: Clark-Shaw Magnet Middle, Collier Elementary, Taylor-White Elementary; O'Rourke Elementary is dropping out.
- Shelby County: Montevallo Elementary (3-4), Montevallo Middle
- Butler County: W.O. Parmer K-2, Greenville Elementary, Greenville Middle
- Chambers County: Huguley Elementary, W F Burns Middle
- Ballwin County: W.J. Carroll Intermediate, Daphne Elementary
- Pelham City Schools: Pelham Oaks Elementary
|# of Participating:||2015-2016||2016-2017|
Representatives from each current and new school will meet for an Orientation program in Montgomery on March 24. Training of the teachers who will be teaching chess will be offered during the weeks of June 20 and June 27. New teachers will register for four days of training (Monday-Thursday). Returning teachers who have already taken the introductory course will receive two days of training on Thursday and Friday on one of those two weeks.
In addition to training, ACIS schools receive chess supplies and internet-based training licenses for each student.
The program is administered by the Alabama State Department of Education in partnership with the Alabama Chess Federation.
January 16, 2016 - The ACIS Initiative is drawing national and international interest. Jerry Nash (pictured right), the program's architect and consultant, gave two presentations at a London Chess in Schools conference discussing some of the unique aspects of ACIS.
ACIS Chess Teachers Check In
January 16, 2016 - Participants from each of the year 1 pilot checked in via teleconference in December to report the status of their programs. 12 of the 14 schools had positive reports. Most of the setbacks reported were related to loss of trained personnel or delays due to unanticipated administrative obstacles. Teacher and student enthusiasm remains high. 12 of 14 new schools is a great win percentage for the first year of the program. For more on the nation's first state-side, teacher-driven CIS initiative read ACIS Teaches Educators Chess is More Than a Game on page 6 of Alabama Education News, Sept. 2015.
Nancy Johnson Joins ACF as Chess in Schools Liaison
January 16, 2016 - The ACF Executive Board unanimously invited Nancy Johnson to serve as ACF Chess in Schools Liaison. Nancy recently retired from the Alabama State Department of Education where she was the ACIS lead. We are delighted that she has accepted and now joins ACF to build upon the great work so far. Nancy's replacement at ALSDE is expected to be named soon.
Sharing CIS Best Practices
January 16, 2016 - While ACIS is primarily focused on chess in Alabama schools, we also monitor other CIS initiatives in the US and abroad. We believe the ACIS is innovative and may be a model for other states or communities.
ACF President Neil Dietsch released a 4-part series of papers titled Scaling up Chess in Schools. This in-depth series targets leaders in the education, chess, or public sectors considering a chess in schools program that spans multiple schools.
- Part 1 - Opportunities & Challenges of Multi-site CIS*
- Part 2 - Multi-site CIS in practice [Globally, nationally, and in Alabama]
- Part 3 - Lessons from the ACIS Trenches
- Part 4 - Designing and Managing Your CIS Project
*Part 1 draws on ACIS Consultant Jerry Nash's 2008 paper: Coordinating the Five Communities.
Pilot Chess in School Programs Successfully Launched
January 4, 2016 - I'm pleased to report that the Alabama State Department of Education has received a $200,000 grant for this school year. This will allow an approximate doubling of the number of schools and students (1,500 to 3,000) in the 2016-2017 school year. Applications will be going out to school superintendents around the state this week.
In December all of the current ACIS pilot schools checked in with reports on their local CIS implementations. 12 of 14 pilot schools are in good shape with enthusiasm on the part of both students and teachers. Expansion of the program is expected within these schools. Two others are active but face issues. This is a great win percentage for our first year. So far the biggest problem have been associated with loss or turnover of chess-trained teachers due to transfers or injury.
ACIS architect and trainer Jerry Nash gave two presentations in at the London Chess in Schools conference in December, discussing the ACIS initiative. A week later, Mr. Nash, ACF President Neil Dietsch, and ALSDE's ACIS facilitator Nancy Johnson met with executive sponsor, Dr. Tommy Bice, to report progress and discuss strategy for next year. One change that came out of that discussion is that we will open up consideration of applications from schools who already have some sort of school chess programs in place. Also the percentage of title 1 students at a school will not be considered for new applicants.
November 2, 2015 - All 14 schools participating in the first year of the ACIS pilot have active chess in schools programs in operation. A review of each school shows 13 are in a "green" state (the top rating) with one school rated "yellow" (that is: in operation but with minor issues to be addressed. None of the pilots is rated "red". This is excellent news for our first-time launch. Nancy Johnson (ALSDE) and ACF Vice President Charles A. Smith are providing support to the pilot schools.
The one notable delay for the ACIS initiative has to do with a decision on continued funding for ACIS. An announcement had been expected in October about the ACIS budgets for the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) and ACF. Word from ALSDE is that a decision on a grant is imminent. ACF is awaiting word on a separate, smaller grant application that will determine the scope of its assistance to the ACIS program. Once funding is known, planning work will begin to expand the ACIS program to more schools and to additional grades within the current set of schools.
Teachers Complete ACIS Training for Fall Rollout
July 26, 2015 - Forty-two elementary and middle school teachers representing 14 schools attended Alabama Chess in Schools (ACIS) training classes. For many the 4-day training course was their first exposure to chess, and so they experienced firsthand the mix of excitement and trepidation of beginning chess students.
The training sessions were held in Montgomery and Mobile. Participating teachers received both basic chess instruction and learned techniques for teaching chess. Most importantly, the learned how to extend integrate chess training with their core classroom teaching.
The training sessions were led by Jerry Nash (photo:right), a national chess education consultant. Nancy Johnson of the Alabama State Department of Education was the organizer. National Chess Coach Charles Smith and ACF President and Advanced Chess Coach Neil Dietsch assisted in the chess training, providing chess training tips and discussing teaching challenges particular to chess.
Other topics included an introduction to the Chess Kid curriculum, use of online repositories for sharing lesson plans and each school's schedule of activities to be done prior to the first day of chess class.
Those of us involved in the training were delighted at the enthusiasm and motivation of the participants. While all of the teachers seemed to enjoy learning chess, the high point seemed to be their realization of how easily chess examples can be blended into their core class lessons, and the impact this could have. For students: math, language, and critical thinking skills come to seem like natural extensions of a game they like playing.
Most of the pilot schools expect to begin chess training in August or September.
Pilot Schools Complete Orientation
April 28, 2015 - Pilot schools are now planning their individual rollouts. Key tasks to be completed before the end of the school year include assigning personnel, registering teachers (typically 2 from each school) for a 4-day training course in July, ordering chess supplies, and setting the schedule for the fall rollout. The Alabama State Department of Education is employing a bid process to select the chess curriculum that will be used. The curriculum will be supplemented by educator-developed lesson plans linked to Alabama's College & Career Readiness Standards; these lesson plans are currently under development.
March 5, 2015 - Attendees from all schools participating scheduled to participate in the 2015-2016 start of the Alabama Chess in Schools pilot attended a one-day orientation program. The professional development covered the goals of the program, an overview of the chess instruction training that teachers will get this summer, an introduction to the online chess curriculum and tools, and finally the start of an ACIS project schedule for planning the tasks they will need to complete to prepare for the September start of chess instruction.
School Districts Recommended for Year 1 Pilot Named
February 16, 2015 (school list revised 4/28/2015) - The evaluation team for the Alabama Chess in Schools Initiative has submitted its recommendation to the State Department of Education (ALSDE). ALSDE limited its year 1 of the pilot program to three school districts. The recommended Tier 1 (ALSDE-funded) school districts are:
- Butler County (Georgiana, WO Parmer, Greenville Elementary, Greenville Intermediate (later))
- Mobile County (Collier, Taylor-White, O'Rourke, Clark-Shaw Magnet Middle, Baker High(later))
- Shelby County (Montevallo Elementary, Middle, High)
The evaluation team consisted of Cheri Hayes (a chess coach and ALSDE employee), Charles Smith (a USCF Level 4 National Chess Coach and consultant to the Birmingham School district), Neil Dietsch (ACF President), and Jerry Nash ( National Chess Education Consultant). Nancy Johnson was the facilitator; she is managing the CIS initiative for ALSDE.
The evaluation team also recognized four additional school districts as highly deserving of participation. The Alabama Chess Federation has invited selected schools in these districts to participate in a Tier 2 CIS plan. This plan would allow participation in a subset of the state CIS initiative without first year financial assistance from ALSDE. The initial Tier 2 school districts and their particapating schools are:
- Baldwin County (W.J. Carroll Intermediate, Daphne Elementary)
- Chambers County (Huguley Elementary)
- Dothan City (Hidden Lake Elementary)
- Pelham City (Valley Elementary, Valley Intermediate, and Riverchase Middle)
The Tier 2 plan leverages ALSDE's work for the Tier 1 schools and make much of it available to Tier 2 schools. Funding to cover incremental costs for a Tier 2 supplemental program would be born by the participating school districts, the Alabama Chess Federation, and alternative funding sources.
Representatives from each of the Tier 1 & 2 schools will meet in Montgomery for an orientation session on March 5, 2015 to provide the training each will need to establish in pilot CIS program starting in the Fall of 2015.
The chess education architect behind the initiative, Jerry Nash, commented, "The initiative has made significant progress in a relatively short time. The school systems which applied for the first year of the pilot were enthusiastic and even passionate about the value of chess for their students. This bodes well not only for chess in Alabama, but more importantly for chess as a valuable classroom activity. The educators involved already understand the game's impact on literacy, math, and critical thinking skills."
June 14, 2014 - Alabama Department of Education Establishes Steering Committee
- After taking a first dive into detailed planning, the target for implementation of initial pilot site programs will be the start of the 2015-2016 school year.
- A first meeting of the steering committee is scheduled for June 23. Copies of the USCF/ACF's Alabama Chess in Schools Initiative proposal has been sent to steering committee members as background.
- Some school districts are taking the lead. In this two minute video Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Craig Witherspoon promotes chess in schools: Birmingham Chess Initiative. It features students from W.J. Christian K-8 School. Charles Smith of Magic City Chess U is their chess coach and a steering committee member.
- USCF Members: show your appreciation for USCF co-author Jerry Nash and his work on Alabama's Chess in Schools Initiative by writing his name and USCF number (12406202) in on your USCF ballot for its Board of Directors!
May 22, 2014 - ALSDE Moves Ahead With Plans for a Chess in Schools Pilot
In a May 22 meeting with USCF and ACF representatives, Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama Superintendent of Education, announced the Alabama State Department of Education is forming a steering committee of educators, students, parents, and chess community representatives to implement pilot chess in schools programs in several school districts across the state. This move comes in response to a proposal prepared by representatives of the US Chess Federation and Alabama Chess Federation in 2013.
The program will be led by Nancy Johnson, Gifted Education Specialist for the Alabama State Department of Education. She has already started work to form the steering committee and schedule meetings. An initial meeting between Ms. Johnson and the proposal's authors (Jerry Nash, Michael Ciarmarra, and Neil Dietsch) is scheduled for May 29. Dr. Bice hopes to see district planning and professional development for teachers taking place in the fall. If everything falls into place, the pilot implementations could take place as early as January, 2015.
Read more about the ideas behind the state Chess in Schools Initiative in the story at the bottom of this page.
January 28, 2014 - USCF and ACF Meet with AL Superintendent of Schools
The Alabama Chess in Schools Initiative proposal was prepared and submitted to the Department of Education on October 1, 2013. The Alabama Superintendent of Schools has indicated that he wishes to personally lead this initiative when his schedule allows. Given the nature of the Chess in Schools Initiative, ACF views this is a positive development. Dr, Bice's involvement as well as his judgment regarding the appropriate timing for a Chess in Schools pilot is critical to its success.
September 14, 2013 - Preparing the Alabama Chess in Schools Proposal
The state Board of Education hopes to prepare a chess in schools pilot program for the 2014-2015 school year. In August USCF and ACF representatives met with Alabama Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Tommy Bice. Dr. Bice reported that he found the evidence for the benefits of chess compelling and wished to take the next step forward: a chess in schools pilot program. To do this Michael Ciamarra (al.com Chess columnist and ACF member), Jerry Nash (USCF Director of Scholastic Research), and Neil Dietsch (ACF President) will lay out a recommended approach, suggest pilot locations, and provide educators with an inventory of chess community resources available in the pilot areas. Balagee Govindan and Frank Chamaratta, Jr. also took part in the meeting.
The pilot approach will include professional development for teachers to learn how chess contributes to children's learning, how it supports specific educational performance goals, and how it can be worked into daily lesson plans. They will receive basic instruction in chess from someone with teaching credentials. This approach is critical to gain the trust, support, and enthusiasm of teachers. The reason a teacher-driven approach is considered best-practice for a broad-based program is that the highest priority goal is to develop learning skills in many children, not necessarily to fill trophy cases, though some schools in the pilot may choose to pursue that as a secondary goal by bringing in outside chess coaches.
While the pilot is intended to be educator-driven, the Alabama chess community will provide optional support and services that most schools are not equipped to provide themselves, including leading after-school programs, organizing school chess tournaments, assisting teachers who may be less than confident in their chess understanding initially, and perhaps offering follow-up technical training to teachers. A few organizations may bring various scalable, technology-based chess teaching options involving DVD and Internet-based instruction; The Knight School and ChessKidsNation are two examples.
The ACF is reaching out to Alabama Chess coaches to compile a chess resource inventory of coaches and chess organizations (for-profit and not-for-profit) that it will include in its report to Dr. Bice in late October. If you are a chess coach (or considering becoming one) and would like to be a part of this exciting initiative, get on the ACF's chess coach mail distribution. If you have not already received an email from the ACF president, contact email@example.com and request to be added. Dr. Bice has specifically asked the ACF to recommend locations for pilots where there are available chess community resources to help make the pilot successful. This shows that the he is serious about seeking chess community involvement. The response the ACF gets from you will have a bearing on where we recommend pilots be held.