Category: Education

Civil Rights Institute Apologizes as Questions Remain

By Sherrel Wheeler Stewart, WBHM

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute apologized Monday for the way it handled the decision around issuing the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. Officials canceled the award presentation to human rights activist Angela Davis after it had initially decided to give it to her.

“We acknowledge that the culmination of our decisions and actions has caused division in the community and compromised the good name of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on the world stage,” the board said in a prepared statement. “Regardless of the outcome of our vote, many have rightfully questioned our selection process, which we vow to improve.” Read more.

First Class in More Than Name Only: Why Alabama’s Preschool Program Is Best in the Country on National Standards

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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 this cool December morning in Birmingham. The class is part of Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program.

Surrounded by colorful charts, educational photos and pictures of kids and their art, Parker takes her eager students through a recitation of the previous day’s Gingerbread Man story, as part of their “morning meeting.” She’s sitting in her wooden rocker at eye level with the kids, who talk and shout excitedly in answering her questions.

When they get something right, she applauds them with either a “kiss your brain,” or after a particularly significant achievement, encouragement to do a “standing Saturday Night Fever,” – with more than a dozen kids mimicking John Travolta’s hand-across- the-body dance move.

In the classroom next door, Denise Dennis’s preschoolers, after their morning meeting, are putting together gingerbread houses, some sitting at a small round table with their teacher, others at another table with her auxiliary teacher Wyesha Pullum.

There are two teachers in each pre-K class at Huffman Academy, and that is just one of the reasons Alabama’s public pre-K program got high marks in July from the Rutgers University-based National Institute for Early Education Research. NIEER ranked the efforts of 43 states and the District of Columbia to provide quality instruction for kids before kindergarten age.

For those who expect Alabama to be at the bottom of the list in educational achievement, the NIEER report may come as a surprise.

“I think if you look at this report, the conclusion would be Alabama’s the national leader here,” says Steve Barnett, the founding director of NIEER and a member of the team that put together the report, “Implementing 15 Essential Elements for High-Quality Pre-K: An Updated Scan of State Policies.”

Breaking down the rationale behind the 15 essentials, Barnett says: “They’re the result of a project which was developed to reverse engineer successful preschool. … Rather than saying ‘On average how much do any of these things matter?’ the question was ‘Well, if we focus on the programs that seem to have succeeded in doing great things for young children, what do they look like? What do they have in common?’ … What is it that seems to have to be in place to really have a high-quality preschool program that delivers excellence?” Read more.

This article was published in collaboration with 100 Days in Appalachia, a digital news publication incubated at West Virginia University in collaboration with West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Daily Yonder.

Group Sets Celebration of Angela Davis, Protests BCRI Revoking Its Award

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s controversial cancelation of its plan to honor civil rights icon Angela Davis continues to generate aftershocks.

A grassroots collection of civic, religious, legal, educational and business leaders announced Wednesday that it will honor Davis in a day that will conclude with an evening event – A Conversation with Angela Davis.

Earlier in the day, three members of the BCRI board of directors announced their resignation from that body. Chairman Mike Oatridge, first vice chairman Walter Body and secretary Janice Kelsey stepped away, effective immediately.

The BCRI had chosen Davis to receive the Shuttlesworth award during its annual gala next month. But several days ago, the institute rescinded that offer and canceled the gala, saying in a statement that Davis “does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based.” Read more.

Alabama School Report Card Shows Mostly Improvements, and Some Big Leaps, by Birmingham-Area Schools.

Several schools in the Birmingham metro area show significant improvements in achievement in this year’s Alabama State Report Card, which grades the performance of public schools.

In the report, issued by the Alabama State Department of Education on Dec. 28, far fewer area schools received failing grades, compared to last year.

The Bessemer, Midfield, Fairfield and Jefferson County school systems had no failing schools this year — an improvement over three failing schools each in Bessemer and Fairfield and one failing school in Jefferson County last year.

While the Birmingham City Schools maintained a grade of D, the system saw the number of failing schools drop from 22 last year to only five in the new report.

Read more.

Jefferson County Sheriff Wants to Put Trained Officers in Every County School This Year

Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale today announced plans to put a school resource officer, mostly retired law enforcement offices, in every school in the Jefferson County School System.

That plan includes forming a Threat Assessment Team to identify patterns of troubling behavior and supplying resources for managing students who display them. Read more.

Teachers, School Funding Among New Schools Chief’s Priorities

Eric Mackey is Alabama’s new superintendent of education. Before this, he was a lobbyist for state school superintendents. Mackey replaces former superintendent Michael Sentance, who was forced out after only a year on the job. Recently, Mackey supported Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to arm school administrators at schools that don’t have a school resource officer. His conversation with WBHM’s Sherrel Wheeler Stewart begins with some of the larger issues around school safety. Read more.

Embattled JefCoEd Board Member Donna Pike Says She Won’t Resign

Donna Pike isn’t going anywhere, no matter what three of her fellow members on the Jefferson County Board of Education would like.

Pike made a brief statement to BirminghamWatch on Wednesday in which she said she has no intention of resigning, despite accusations of racism stemming from items she shared on her Facebook page.

“This has certainly been a learning experience for me and my family,” Pike said. “I vow to continue with vigor serving the children of Jefferson County and the people who elected me.”

Her statement comes after three JefCoEd members — President Oscar Mann, Vice President Martha Bouyer and Ronnie Dixon — held a called meeting Tuesday morning in which their only item of business was to pass a resolution calling for Pike to step down.
Read more.

Birmingham City Council approves funding for metal detectors, enrichment programs for city schools

Security in Birmingham City Schools will be getting a boost this fall, after the Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to allocate $3,665,000 in funding to the city Board of Education.

According to the agreement, which was passed unanimously, that funding will be divided among school security, academic and athletic support, and after-school care and summer enrichment programs.

Of that $3,665,000 — which comes from the city’s general fund — $1,362,000 will go toward the purchase of 14 walk-through metal detectors, 20 handheld scanners, door alarms, security officers, and crossing guards and substitutes.
Read more.