2017 Birmingham Elections

Challenges Loom for New Board of Education Members

When seats are filled in the upcoming election, what challenges will the new board face?

Charter schools may represent a challenge. In March 2017, the Birmingham School Board turned down the application for STAR Academy to become a charter school option for Birmingham students. Two months later, the Alabama Public Charter School Commission overturned the city’s ruling, opening the way for STAR Academy to begin operating.

Having charter schools operating can potentially take away resources from local school systems, according to Dr. Peter Jones, an assistant professor at UAB, specializing in the financial ramifications of education policy. Jones, who contends that charter schools can provide benefits to students and parents, told Weld: Birmingham’s Newspaper in February that, “You’re creating a new school that requires additional resources, and Birmingham City Schools would lose revenues to that charter school. This has been a drawback for a lot of school systems in the U.S.”

According to one departing board member, Lyord Watson, communication issues are a challenge for the system as a whole. “I believe that the biggest issues are communication and antiquated operational systems,” he said. “It’s important for the district to be able to share its own story and receive information directly with/from parents, students, teachers and other community stakeholders. What I have seen over the last four years are groups taking information about the district and using it to better their cause which may or may not be what is best for the district.”

BirminghamWatch sought the insight of the five BCS board members who are leaving. Watson alone responded. He said he saw reason for optimism. “I do have hope,” Watson said. “The reason that I have hope is because I believe in the students, the staff and Dr. Lisa Herring.

Herring, the latest in a parade of superintendents, is also striking a hopeful note. As she began the 2017-2018 school year with a talk to teachers at the Birmingham CrossPlex on Aug. 9, the current superintendent got a welcome worthy of a rock star.

With an easy stage presence and an upbeat delivery, Herring’s address was positive, as she paced back and forth in front of the podium, speaking with a confidence you might expect during a TED talk. Herring’s enthusiasm was infectious, judging by the cheers and applause that punctuated her speech.

“We’re getting ready to birth something here in Birmingham,” she said. “We are about to show the state of Alabama and the United States of America and the globe, how we educate every single child. But especially those scholars that are part of the Birmingham City School system.”

Herring spoke of Birmingham’s “divine destiny of success for every child.” She told the educators there they were trailblazers, visionaries, warriors, dream makers. “And every young person that will walk into your building, your classroom, your office. every parent that greets us, comes with the best that they have, with this expectation that we will meet them where they are. And in this space called public education, that we will use it to allow their child, and their experience to be better than ours. And that’s OK because that’s what we’re supposed to do,” she said.

“We’re coming out of where we’ve been,” she said. “And we’re coming out better, if we were broken. And we’re coming out at our very best, if we were slightly bent. We’re coming out bold, if we were bruised. But be very clear,” she said, pointing at the audience, “we are coming out.”

It might be easy, given that approach, to miss that the Birmingham city schools are facing a number of challenges. “They’re not challenges,” Herring insisted. “They’re opportunities … . If we look at it as challenges, we focus on the negative, and our babies don’t have time to focus on the negative,” she said.

Herring said that, no matter what issues the students face individually, the goal of her administration would be positive development. “Regardless of how they enter,” she said to the teachers and officials present, “our collective charge is how they exit.” she said.

 Michelle Love also contributed to this story.