The Birmingham City Schools system is one of the largest in Alabama, in charge of educating students from the biggest population center in the state.
At the same time, the BCS has a difficult history and a present reality in which a number of schools are performing at standards lower than what the superintendent, board of education and city administration would like – based on their stated goals for the system.
The system has mixed results in the state’s assessments of student performance and some of its schools are on the state’s failing schools list.
In an effort to understand the state of the schools, BirminghamWatch examined the data made available from both the education report card and failing schools list and sought interviews and/or written information from BCS officials.
Our efforts were less than fully successful.
We made the initial request for interviews Feb. 1. We were granted an interview with BCS school board President Cheri Gardner, the content of which is in this package. Our efforts to talk with School Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring were unsuccessful; the time she was available to us was while we were in progress with an interview with Gardner. We could not reach her for comment after that.
In April, we made an additional request, for information regarding three schools in the system that assessments indicated were struggling: Wenonah High, Jones Valley Middle and Hayes K-8.
We asked for interviews with Herring or others who could talk about those schools: “Would you arrange for us to interview someone – Dr. Herring, school principals, etc., who can talk about the situations at those schools for the story? We’d like someone to talk about the challenges in those schools, the reasons for the way things are, and what’s being done to improve in ways that will be measurable – and build confidence that the schools are on a good path.”
Failing that, we asked for statements from the BCS as an institution about the state of those specific schools. And we sent a series of specific questions that we invited the system to respond to in writing. You can see the questions here.
BCS spokeswoman Adrienne Mitchell objected initially to the scope of our questions and declined to talk about the three schools about which we requested information. We invited her to tell us whatever the BCS would like our readers to know about the schools – which was just one of the questions we sent in writing.
In response, the BCS arranged for an interview with Terrell Brown, the principal at W.E. Putnam Middle School, who was authorized to talk to us only about Putnam and his previous service at Minor Elementary Schools, where he succeeded in raising the school’s Education Report Card grade from an “F” to a “C.” A story about Brown will be coming later this week.
BCS Strategy and Communications Coordinator Craig Williams requested that before the interview with Brown, we “please send questions/topics you would like to discuss.” These are the questions we sent.
Williams responded that “There are a number of questions on this list that Dr. Brown is not in a position to discuss, such as overall district progress and challenges at other schools.”
We responded, “We’ll be glad to comply. Who will you provide to address the other questions?”
Williams responded, “We can send a statement to speak to other items.”
That was April 29. To date, BCS has not sent a statement to respond to the written questions. As of this writing, many of our questions about the state of the Birmingham City Schools remain unanswered.
More on the state of Birmingham City Schools