It was a history-making moment for the Jefferson County Board of Education.
The board on Wednesday unanimously selected Dr. Walter Gonsoulin Jr. as interim superintendent, making him the first African American to head the system in its 200 years of existence. Gonsoulin is temporarily replacing the departing Dr. Craig Pouncey.
“I feel humbled and honored to be chosen by the board,” Gonsoulin said after the meeting.
Gonsoulin joined JefCoEd as a deputy superintendent of school and community support in 2017. One of six deputies currently on the JefCoEd staff, he has had oversight over half of the system’s schools. Before that, Gonsoulin served as superintendent of Fairfield City Schools, a job he took in 2012 after moving from an assistant superintendent’s post in Starkville, Mississippi’s city school system. Read more.
The Birmingham Board of Education has approved a $313 million budget that will fund salary increases, security enhancements and maintenance projects.
The board voted 8-1 Tuesday in favor of the budget for the fiscal year that beings Oct. 1. Daagye Hendricks, who represents District 4, cast the lone vote against the spending plan. She said she felt there were too many unanswered questions and not enough information.
The budget includes several salary increases: a state-mandated 4 percent raise to all BCS staff, including teachers, that the Alabama Legislature approvedin May; step salary increases; a 5% raise for custodians, bus drivers, child-nutrition workers and managers; and a raise from $8.25 an hour to $9 an hour for substitute teachers.
Dr. Craig Pouncey, who has served as superintendent of the Jefferson County Schools since 2014, is leaving that job to become president of a community college headquartered in Bay Minette.
Coastal Alabama Community College, formerly known as Faulkner State Community College, announced the hiring of Pouncey on Wednesday morning.
Pouncey was hired to replace Stephen Nowlin, whose contract was bought out in May 2014 after a troubled tenure lasting 16 months.
The Jefferson County Memorial Project dedicated a historical marker in honor of lynching victims Tom Redmond and Jake McKenzie during a ceremony Monday night.
McKenzie was killed June 17, 1890, and Redmond was killed March 22, 1897, at the Brookside Mines, which were part of the Sloss-Sheffield Iron and Steel Co..
This is the first historical marker placed by JCMP, a grassroots coalition that has researched the stories behind 30 people who were lynched in Jefferson County between 1883 and 1940.
The goal of JCMP is to bring awareness of the victims of racial terror and their descendants, advocate for racial injustice reforms and place historical markers at lynching sites throughout Jefferson County. The group’s efforts are inspired by the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in Montgomery in April 2018. The memorial is made up of monuments that represent 800 U.S. counties and are dedicated to African American victims of lynchings. Read more.
Despite the pressure to provide for more security in schools, there are concerns about the long-term effects on students who are arrested by SROs and sucked into the criminal justice system. A recent report from the advocacy group Alabama Appleseed details one aspect. It found black students and children with disabilities were more likely than others to be arrested in connection with their conduct at school. Read more.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Wednesday discussed his plan to offer Birmingham City Schools graduates the chance to go to a public two-year or four-year school in Alabama tuition-free. He tweeted a reminder Tuesday of the program announced in May.
Even Presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders took notice. Read more.
The U.S. Department of Education announced a $25 million grant today to support charter schools in Alabama. The money will go to New Schools for Alabama, an organization that encourages the growth of charter schools. Tyler Barnett, executive director of New Schools for Alabama, told WBHM in an earlier interview the money will help fund 15 schools. He said the group will focus on serving educationally disadvantaged students. Read more.
The Jefferson County Memorial Project will be dedicating its first historical marker in honor of two men killed in the 1890s. Both Jake McKenzie and Tom Redmond worked at mines owned by the Sloss-Sheffield Iron and Steel Company. The memorial being held Monday at 6 p.m. at Sloss Furnaces, also will remember the system of convict leasing on which the JCMP has sponsored community discussions this summer. Before the dedication, the JCMP is holding a discussion on the film “Slavery by Another Name” Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center. Read more.
Read BW’s earlier package on lynchings in Jefferson County and JCMP’s plans:
Birmingham City Schools administrators who participated in Harvard University’s Public Leadership Project presented the school board with actions they’ve implemented as a result of attending the program.
In the Aug. 13 board meeting, the team cited the district’s troubled history of superintendent turnover, inconsistent instructional guidelines and poorly defined roles for principals as instructional leaders as the reason 72% of the schools currently score “D” and “F” on the state Educational Report Card. The team identified five strategies for improving schools to a “C” grade or higher by 2023. Read more.
When school started in Bessemer Aug. 12, a faith-based child care center, Trinity Love Center, had something many Alabama public schools don’t yet have — a First Class Pre-K.
Trinity Love Center is one of nearly 200 new classrooms to have the pre-kindergarten program, cited as best in the nation, after the Alabama Legislature this year passed a major funding increase — $26.8 million, bringing the total budget to $122.8 million.
“I researched Bessemer for child care centers and I knew we didn’t have that anywhere in Bessemer or even Brighton,” said Latonya Bender, director of Trinity. “This is going to be great for the downtown Bessemer area.”
Trinity was awarded a $120,000 grant, which will help Bender take her center to a different level.
“When we were there the other day, they were actually receiving all of the supplies, the beautiful toys and classroom equipment for a state-of-the-art First Class Pre-K classroom as part of that $120,000 grant that pays for the teacher, the assistant teacher, and in recruiting teachers with those credentials and the salaries that are required by the program, as well,” said Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.
The overall funding increase in Alabama will greatly expand the reach of the First Class Pre-K program, she said. That translates to serving 3,000 more 4-year-olds. “And that’s going to bring the percentage of children served statewide to close to 40 percent,” she said. The state still was adding classrooms just before the start of school, so final numbers will be reported in the fall, she said.
Alabama’s voluntary pre-K program is expected to reach 21,636 children in the 2019-2020 school year, with more than 1,202 classrooms statewide, representatives for Gov. Kay Ivey’s office said recently. Jeana Ross, secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, told BirminghamWatch earlier that reaching 70 percent of all the state’s 4 -year-olds with First Class Pre-K is a long-term goal. Read more.
More pre-K reporting from BirminghamWatch
First Class in More Than Name Only: Why Alabama’s Preschool Program Is Best in the Country on National Standards
The excitement in the room is hard to miss – and it’s coming from the kids as well as the teacher.
“Kiss your brain for knowing that!” Dr. Stephanie Parker exclaims to her students at Huffman Academy Pre-K.
There are two teachers in each of the First-Class Pre-K class at Huffman Academy, and that is just one of the reasons Alabama’s public pre-K program got high marks from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Read more.