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/
Mary Boehm: The Board will be successful if a strategic plan can be adopted (or readopted with modifications) by the Board and the Superintendent that includes specific and measurable short and long-range goals. Also, if a broad constituency of community stakeholders and parents are brought on board to help implement the strategy and if the Superintendent is given the flexibility and support needed to do her job. Each Board member will subvert the needs of schools in their own District for the good of the entire system, when necessary. Annual financial and academic targets will be measured and met and each Board member “owns” these established growth goals.
The challenges are great but the rewards for students will be in increased academic growth at each grade level. A goal that I would like to see considered is the implementation of first class 4K classrooms for every eligible student in BCS which would help most students fully master reading and math foundations by 3rd grade. Once this foundation is laid, it should be reasonable to expect that most of the students in every teacher’s class achieve a year of academic growth each school year. This can happen if teachers are given adequate professional development, classroom resources and support and District funds are redirected toward direct classroom instruction.
Amber Courtney: Success of the board begins with a unified vision in conjunction with the superintendent and some realistic goals. As such, I aim to make sure we are creating a path for success for our children by introducing blanket programming that is communal and partnership-based. While some schools have skill, education and language programming, access needs to be equitable to achieve exceptional results.
Access to technology beyond computers and Wi-Fi (ex: Virtual 3D learning) is important in order for children to achieve a more globalized perspective. Also, kids needs to learn from one another – social language integration via the classroom as a space that provides that is imperative in student engagement. Kids need to feel connected to the lessons they are being taught, and so curriculum also needs to be adapted to do this to keep them engaged.
I want to work on repairing and rebuilding bridges between students, stakeholders, leadership, and residents – a lot of trust has been breached and that needs to be repaired through a sense of transparency and a clear understanding of procedures in order to move forward together in changing this system for the better.
Lastly, I want to support but also challenge our teachers – we need to ensure that we both have the best, retain the best that we already have, and attract the best for our students. Hands Down. This vision will help to close the achievement gap and garner community support while we work with them to do it – ultimately, success means greater academic achievement and more attainment of living wage jobs or acceptance to college. This will also be the maximum benefit if the board is successful. We will not all have the leverage or capability to send our children to the best magnet school the City has to offer – so we have to make sure all of our schools are just as good. That will also be the depiction of success for the Board.
Buford L. BurksBurks: The ACT Test scores in our high schools should average “18” and “27” at Ramsay High. The system’s success will (rely) on eradication of discipline issues and elevation of ACT scores. Barrett Elementary, Oliver Elementary, and Philips K-8 in my district were academically clear in 2016-2017; only Parker High in the district was on the failing schools’ list.
Martha McDowell: We need to explore more career academies for parents as well as students. To help prepare our sons and daughters for academic and personal success.
Michael “Mickey” Millsap: First and foremost the board needs to come together as a unit working towards a singular goal. For too long there has been infighting and personal battles that have not worked in the interests of students and families. I have spent a career working successfully to bring people together and to develop positive relationships and will work hard to do that with the other 8 members.
More broadly, success to me would be a change in the entire working culture of our system. We need to bring a culture of innovation and excellence that includes our board, teachers, administrators, and even families at home. We need to create an environment where teachers are celebrated for having great ideas and rewarded for outstanding performance. We need to create an environment where students, teachers, and administrators are excited to get up and go to school/work every day because they know they are valued and that their work is changing the lives of children.
If we are able to achieve this, it will completely transform our classrooms and schools and the result will be higher student achievement. If we stick with the status quo, nothing will change and we will remain where we are. We must be willing to try new things and invest in what is working, and stop what is not. If we do this, we will succeed.
Aaisha Muhammad: What will board success look like for me is to see improvement and a greater value or more interest in learning from students. Success to me looks like, a new attitude shown from teachers, students and parents, a new respect for each other; a more discipline school system is another area of success. Improved and the best grades earned is another show of success; A new expression of care for our schools, as well as, our communities. A new vision to help our less fortunate find ways, show them how to improve their quality of life and not sit around with a desire to beg, steal or kill in order to live.
…The board must have a vision, set goals, give expectations and translate them to our Superintendent. The Superintendent can easily analyze or evaluate herself and the Board will, too. The Board will analyze or evaluate itself and the public can give their analyst on both, the Board and the Superintendent. The evaluation process should be a requirement at least annually.
Tyrone Silmon: Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, commented that education is the bridge over troubled water … it is a ladder out of poverty. I could not agree more with his comments. I believe that education has the capacity to be the “Great Equalizer.” A good education has the propensity to provide students with the opportunities needed to overcome and eliminate poverty and oppression in their local and global communities. The overarching goal of education is to assist children in developing the knowledge and skills needed for college, career, and life.
When students graduate from high school and in many cases college, we expect them to be able to solve problems that affect our local and global communities, think critically, work independently and collaboratively with others, speak well, write well, read well, and (be) proficient with math. To assist our students in becoming global minded citizens who are college and/or career ready, they must have access to opportunities that allow them to grow academically, emotionally, economically, spiritually and socially in supportive and safe learning environments. To accomplish this feat, it will take the collective effort of the School Board, Superintendent, administrators, teachers, and staff, and community partnerships. Thus, I will know that we have succeeded when all of the individuals and groups mentioned in the preceding sentence are working together for the greater good for our children to ensure that they are equipped with the tools they need (for) college, career, and life!!!
Sonja Smith: Board success is subjective. From my perspective, this means that ALL of our schools are choice schools and there is not a need for magnet or charter schools. Parents will feel comfortable placing their children in ANY public Birmingham school, children will be proud of their environment, and our schools will become a recruiting tool for our city.