Category: Education

What to Watch in 2018

2018 promises to be an interesting time, as the Chinese blessing (or curse) goes. Alabama and Birmingham, specifically, will be tackling many issues involving education and school management, jobs and the economy, the environment, crime and, of course, party politics and political leadership, to name a few.

BirminghamWatch asked community leaders and contributors for insight on important issues that are likely to be demanding attention this year. Read what they had to say. Read more.

What news are you watching for in 2018? Visit our Facebook post and tell us in a comment, or send us an email at editor@birminghamwatch.org, and and we might watch it, too. We always want to know what’s important to people in the community.

Birmingham Schools Brings in Young Voices With the First Student Advisory Council

Introduction of the first Birmingham city school superintendent’s Student Advisory Council and approval of an ACT preparation course for 11th-graders highlighted Tuesday night’s meeting of the Birmingham Board of Education.

Superintendent Lisa Herring introduced eighth- through 12th-grade students whose video applications earned them a place on the council to advise her.

“The voices of students are one of the most important voices we need to hear as we lead the school system,” Herring said.

Search Info From New School Progress Reports

A new online tool allows you to look at federal data on Alabama’s schools by system or individual school, including student proficiency in reading, math and science for the past three years, demographics and teacher credentials.

The searchable Alabama Federal Report Card dashboard, released in late December, also allows you to compare data on up to four schools at a time. You also can look up student progress by ethnicity, gender or several groupings, such as students with disabilities. The dashboard can be accessed here.
Read more.

From Gardendale to Syria: BirminghamWatch Reprises Its Most Interesting Stories of 2017

BirminghamWatch stepped out of the mainstream in 2017 to give you stories that didn’t just recap the news, but also explained how the news was affecting our culture and the people in it.

BW has followed, and continues to follow, arguments for and against Gardendale’s attempts to break away from the county and form its own school system. It has brought you stories of immigrants who have made Alabama their home, of the state’s attempts to improve student performance regardless of high poverty rates in schools, and of the effect the state’s budget decisions are having on the environment.

2017 also was a year of elections, from the culmination of the presidential election with the inauguration of President Donald Trump, to the Birmingham city elections, to the U.S. Senate special election that attracted national attention. BirminghamWatch worked to give voters the information they needed before going to the polls, in addition to delivering that something extra that helped explain the issues, the politics and the ramifications of the elections.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading BirminghamWatch in 2017, and please continue reading to see what we have in store for 2018! Read more.

Hoover BOE Settles Discrimination Lawsuit That Described Turmoil at Trace Crossings

The Hoover Board of Education this week settled a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by a former Trace Crossings Elementary School principal, the Hoover Sun reported.

The lawsuit filed by Robin Litaker not only alleged gender discrimination, court documents and testimony given in the case also gave the public a glimpse into the school’s dysfunctional culture at a time when parents were withdrawing their children, leaving the school with a poorer and blacker student body than it otherwise would have had.

Teachers bickered among themselves, refused to follow administrative direction and were not following the state-mandated curriculum, according to statements made in the case. Children were assigned to classes based on whether they lived in houses or apartments and whether they lived in single- or two-parent families.
At times, the students were assigned to classes by race, BirminghamWatch reported in a story last year.

Litaker, a former Alabama Teacher of the Year, was removed from her post as principal after she had been in the job for two years because the school did not meet annual yearly progress standards. Litaker contended in her suit that male school administrators in similar situations were given time to remedy the problems at their schools.

The board this week agreed to pay Litaker $97,000, equal to a year’s salary, plus legal fees in the settlement of the federal lawsuit, the Hoover Sun reported. She is no longer working for the system.

Read the full BirminghamWatch story about the situation at the school.

IB School and More Money Are Good News for Birmingham School Board

Dec. 14, 2017 —The good news kept coming at Wednesday night’s Birmingham City Schools Board of Education meeting.

In addition to a city elementary school earning International Baccalaureate status and the system receiving more money in the city’s just-approved budget, Superintendent Lisa Herring and board members also enthused about new partnerships among Birmingham schools and businesses and nonprofits, and an “importance of education” tour by a high-achieving Woodlawn High School graduate. Read more.

Federal Court of Appeals Judges Grill Attorneys for Gardendale, NAACP in Hearing

ATLANTA — Both sides in the Gardendale school separation court case faced a panel of three federal judges at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, and those judges weren’t always buying what the attorneys were selling.

The oral arguments were part of the latest step in the legal process of Gardendale’s proposed separation from the Jefferson County School System, which would result in a municipally operated system with four schools. The plan is opposed by JefCoEd and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Both fear the separation would harm the county system’s efforts to achieve full and final legal racial desegregation and end federal court supervision that began in the 1970s.

Last April, U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala ruled that Gardendale could go on with the formation of its system but could take control of only two elementary schools at first and would gain complete control when she was satisfied that desegregation issues had made sufficient progress. She also found that the reason the city wanted to separate was racially motivated.

That partial decision didn’t satisfy either party. Gardendale appealed to the 11th Circuit, asking that they rule in favor of a full takeover right away. The NAACP wasn’t happy, either, arguing in their cross-appeal that the racial-motivation finding should have disqualified the city from breaking away.

The three-judge panel peppered attorney Aaron Gavin McLeod, representing Gardendale, with numerous questions about how the split would affect not only JefCoEd’s efforts to achieve complete desegregation, but also its finances. Justice William Pryor, in particular, seemed visibly dismayed at why Haikala’s “split decision” came to be.
“What law empowers a district judge to impose a partial separation that no party asked for?” he asked McLeod. Read more.

Gardendale School-Separation Arguments Going Before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday

The latest step in the long-running effort by the city of Gardendale to form its own school system is a stop at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

On Thursday morning, a panel of three judges will hear oral arguments in an appeal from attorneys for the Gardendale Board of Education, as well as a cross-appeal from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Both are appealing a ruling U.S. Circuit Judge Madeline Haikala issued in April, in which she determined that the city’s efforts to break away from the Jefferson County Schools was racially motivated. However, the ruling still allowed Gardendale to take control of the two elementary schools, with the provision that the city could take over Gardendale High and Bragg Middle schools some time later, after Haikala could determine that no racial discrimination of any kind was present.

Gardendale’s appeal says that Haikala should have given the city full control of all four schools from the start. The NAACP counters that her determination that racial motives were involved in the formation of the system precludes the courts from allowing the breakaway to take place at all. Read more.

‘Resegregation of Jefferson County’ Forum on School Breakaway Case Calls for Legal Changes

Calling for changes to state law governing a city’s ability to create its own school system, opponents of Gardendale’s breakaway effort say the issue isn’t simply about black and white, but a dilution of education resources and limitations on choices and chances for students.

“We’re not picking on Gardendale. We’re just trying to stop this train,” said Margaret Z. Beard, president of the Jefferson County Retired Teachers’ Association, one of the panelists at a Tuesday night Call to Action Forum at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church.

The north Jefferson County town of Gardendale’s effort to break away and form a new municipal system, which began five years ago and is now pending in the federal courts, was at the center of the discussion at the forum, titled “The Resegregation of Jefferson County.”

A petition circulated at the forum calls for an amendment to the Code of Alabama “to change from 5,000 to 25,000 the population a municipality must have before control of schools … shall be vested in a city board of education.” Read more.

Spelling Their Name Right Isn’t Enough for Gardendale School Supporters Tired of the Limelight

When organizers of an effort to separate Gardendale from the Jefferson County School System began their work, they had no idea it would attract so much attention from national news media — or that much of that attention would be unfavorable to their cause.

The effort to break away and form a new municipal system, which began five years ago and has since landed in the federal courts, has been covered by well-known media such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. The latter aroused the ire of parents of Gardendale High School students when a photographer was allowed to work inside the school. Additionally, reporters from online outlets that specialize in educational issues, racial issues or both have also focused on the city and the separation effort.

Last month alone, two stories were published nationally about the Gardendale breakaway, both casting the effort as part of a larger issue of resegregation in urban public schools. Read more.