2017 Birmingham Elections

Given the recent series of superintendent changes over a relatively short period of time, how important is it to give the newly appointed superintendent time to achieve her goals? How long a period would you consider long enough for her to prove herself and/or turn long-standing problems around at BCS?

BirminghamWatch contacted the candidates vying for the Birmingham Board of Education to ask them questions about the future of the schools. We asked each candidate we could reach the same questions. A few of the candidates could not be reached for comment. Eight of the 32 candidates responded in writing to our short questionnaire. None of the incumbents responded.  A full list of candidates and their backgrounds is in https://birminghamwatch.org/birmingham-city-election-voter-guide/

District 3

Mary Boehm: I have many years of experience supporting Superintendents (state and local) in developing and implementing strategic plans and specific programs. This work is never easy and it will be critical for the Superintendent to have unflinching support from the Board.  It will likely take a decade of steady of progress to bring the school system where it needs to be both financially and academically.

However, it seems feasible for the system to achieve modest annual academic growth targets by summer of 2019 – and then each year thereafter. Redirecting a significant amount of resources from the bloated district budget into the classroom can likely be accomplished by the start of the 2020-2021 school year IF the Board and the Superintendent can agree on short and long-term goals. This will help achieve ambitious academic goals.

District 4

Amber Courtney: This is a supreme and imperative necessity – the time period has to be longer than the tradition of 2 years that the current Board has set…

District 5

Buford L. Burks: It is generally accepted that a superintendent needs five years to implement the strategic plan. The superintendent needs that time.





Martha McDowell: This is a hard question because there are many facts involved.  Maybe a year because we pick one with all of our requirements the state board was looking for in a new superintendent.




Michael “Mickey” Millsap: As I mentioned earlier, the revolving door of superintendents is one of the most significant problems facing our system. When we hire a superintendent we are asking them to be the Chief Executive Officer. This means we have to give them the time and resources to evaluate current operations, set a vision and plan for the future, then allow she/he the time to execute that plan.

The current board leadership has failed because they have been unwilling to allow our superintendent to make difficult changes that are necessary to move our system in a new direction. As someone who has worked in the private sector I understand the importance of having confidence in the leader of your organization and giving him or her the tools and resources they need to be successful. This doesn’t mean a blank check, we still must advise and consent on every decision, but it is not our job to micro-manage every day decisions or allow personal issues to cloud our judgment.

To your other question, “how long of a period would you consider long enough,” I think it is bad practice to give a specific time frame. The first thing we have to do is give our superintendent our support. When she presents us with her plans we need to work with her to implement the changes and then give those changes time to make a difference. What I do know is making another quick/rash decision is not in the best interests of our system, our children, or our community. I will rely on my experience running my own company, and having to evaluate my team’s performance to guide any decisions on the future of our superintendent.

Aaisha Muhammad: Time is of the essence. I believe at least one good school year with notable steps toward improvements. Action speaks louder than words. Evidence will show that her best interest is for BCS, teachers, parents and students. The Board, working as a team with input from the public, will give our Superintendent our utmost expectation, will be more than happy to commit to being there to assist her along the way.


District 8

Silmon: First, it is not uncommon to have high turnover amongst Superintendents. The average lifespan of a Superintendent is 3 years (Hammond, 2014). Superintendent turnover is typically high in urban school districts like Birmingham City. It typically takes a minimum of FIVE YEARS for a Superintendent to effect change. A 2014 survey conducted by the Council of the Great City Schools found the average superintendent in cities with populations over 250,000 lasts 3.2 years, down from 3.6 years in 2010. The turnover rate was 2.8 years in 2003.

That said, our superintendent needs time and the support of the school board, community, teachers and staff, and city leaders to effect change in the Birmingham City School System.

Sonja Smith: It is extremely important that we support our new superintendent in her time with BCS. If she is not successful, neither is BCS and we are doing a disservice to our students.  Since change will not happen overnight, it is important that we are patient with her. Timing depends on her strategic plan. We have hired her with the expectation that she is most qualified to be our superintendent. As such, we should give her a fair chance and the support to fully execute her strategic plan with the understanding that we must allow room for flexibility and as needed changes.