With an eye toward bridging the digital divide, The Loyalty Foundation joined forces with Jefferson County and other partners to provide computers to students in underserved communities in the region.
Fifty boxes with new computers were on display today in the County Commission chambers as the joint effort was announced. Commissioner Sheila Tyson is part of the effort, along with DC BLOX, an Atlanta-based data center provider in Birmingham’s Titusville Community. Read more.
Though she insisted that she was “absolutely not here in my professional capacity,” Birmingham School Board President Daagye Hendricks addressed the Birmingham City Council on Tuesday, calling Mayor Randall Woodfin’s proposed FY 2021 budget “egregious” for cutting funding to city schools.
This year’s city budget is nearly $50 million smaller than last year’s budget, thanks to a sharp decline in the city’s business tax revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the $412 million budget’s many proposed austerity measures — which include funding cuts for external organizations and furloughs for hundreds of city employees — is a reduction of $1 million in city funding to Birmingham City Schools.
In-person learning at Hoover City and Shelby County schools will go to 5-day-a-week formats later this month.
In each case, the move is a continuation of plans that had been in place for the year. Shelby County told parents Monday that the change to five days a week would go into effect Sept. 14, and Hoover schools make the change Sept. 21, provided the COVID-19 numbers remain favorable.
Any students going to school virtually will continue to do so. Read more.
The Birmingham Board of Education on Monday night named Dr. Mark Sullivan school superintendent, replacing Dr. Lisa Herring, who left Birmingham in April to become superintendent of Atlanta schools. Read more.
Classes start in some of the area’s largest school systems this week and next, but the experience of the students is going to be very different from last fall.
Jefferson County schools start Tuesday, Bessemer schools follow on Thursday and Birmingham schools start up Sept. 8. All three are offering virtual only learning for the first nine weeks in an attempt to block the spread of the coronavirus, as are many other schools.
As Jefferson County school officials describe it, the school day will begin with students logging into class, which lets teachers take roll call by seeing who is logged on.
A teacher can go online with his or her entire class in a Zoom-type setting called Webex, which allows video conferencing, online meetings and screen sharing. This synchronous learning allows students to interact with teachers and each other.
At other times classes are divided, giving the teachers time to work interactively with five to eight students while other students work on assignments such as reading or testing.
So, while students might not have to show up at class, it still is a full day’s work. Read more.
In any normal year — which is to say, pretty much any year before 2020 — faculty, administrators and staff in more than a dozen metro Birmingham school districts would have worked at a frantic pace to get their facilities ready for another academic year.
That’s all still happening, but in a much different way than in the past, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that looms large over everyday life. Because state officials this year have given districts a lot of latitude, in addition to the usual issues, school systems this year have had to determine when they will open and how children will be educated during the outbreak.
They also are facing decisions about how to provide internet access to children who don’t have it in their homes but are taking classes by computer for at least some of the year. There are issues of how to provide meals to children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches if the schools are not having in-person classes.
A shortage of substitute teachers already has made itself known in systems that have opened, and some teachers still are on the fence about whether they will stay with the school system, retire or ask to teach virtual classes, rather than be in a classroom.
In addition, the schools had to determine whether to go forward with football seasons and when to start, as well as monitoring young athletes and their coaches and responding quickly if anyone tests positive for the coronavirus. Read more.
Mayor Randall Woodfin defended some controversial cuts in his proposed FY 2021 budget Tuesday, arguing that, despite a significant drop in city funding, both Birmingham City Schools and the Birmingham-Jefferson Transit Authority would continue to operate as usual. Much of the money they lost will be made up by funds from elsewhere.
Many other groups, including the library system, zoo and Railroad Park, are facing much bigger consequences. Read more.
Several Alabama colleges and universities welcomed students back to campus last week. Since the pandemic began, many schools have shifted toward more virtual instruction. For some students, that has introduced a lot of technical headaches.
Like thousands of students, Andrew Yarborough, a sophomore at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, finished out the spring and summer semesters with online classes. The transition wasn’t an easy one.
“I had a lot of trouble with my online classes just because, for starters, they weren’t formatted very well,” he said. “They were rushed online.”
“Also because, you really have to find what works for you and that’s a big shift to have to do immediately,” he said. Read more.
Students in the Birmingham area are starting to get back to their studies this week as schools slowly begin to reopen.
This week through Sept. 8, schools will be kicking off what is bound to be an unusual school year. While all schools will be offering virtual learning programs, some are allowing students to go to class in person and others are offering blended programs of virtual and in-person learning.
Fairfield City Schools was one of the earliest systems in the area to reconvene, on Monday. The system is having orientation this week, laying the groundwork for instruction to commence.
Parents and students are going to schools to receive schedules, syllabi and, in some cases, devices for online learning. Read more.
Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin announced last week that his system would begin the new school year with virtual online learning for the first nine weeks because of concerns over COVID-19, after parents in a survey voted 56% to 44% in favor of that method.
Since then, many in the 44% have been letting Gonsoulin know about their displeasure with the decision, and the superintendent responded to those complaints at the beginning of a called special board of education meeting Tuesday morning.
“My stance on that is that we serve everyone, those who agree and those who disagree,” Gonsoulin said. “The safety and well-being of our more than 35,000 students and more than 4,500 staff members is paramount.” Read more.