BCS Superintendent Craig Witherspoon To Resign: Reaction And Perspective

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Last night at a special called Board of Education meeting, Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Craig Witherspoon announced that he would resign at the end of the year. Neither he nor board members had much to say immediately after the announcement, but late Tuesday night board president Randall Woodfin told WBHM, “There are no underlying issues. Dr. Witherspoon is to be commended for his leadership under trying circumstances, including accreditation probation, financial struggles, and a board that was highly dysfunctional.” Woodfin added, “He kept the focus on student achievement.”

Asked if he thought the turbulence of Witherspoon’s four-and-a-half years as superintendent would discourage potential replacements, Woodfin replied, “No. We’re on great financial footing, the [school system’s] population is stabilizing, our technology upgrades put us on par with districts across the nation, and we continue to have dedicated employees.”

Woodfin went on: “Rest assured, the Birmingham School System will conduct a fair, open, and transparent search.”

J.W. Carpenter, Executive Director of the Birmingham Education Foundation, agreed that an open search process will be vital. “I’m focused on the next step,” he said. “I’m optimistic we’ll build a diverse pool of talented applicants and candidates and that we’ll hear from a diverse group in the community about what they want in the next superintendent.”

Witherspoon has certainly had his critics (see links below), a fact both Woodfin and Carpenter acknowledged. But Carpenter also pointed to what he called Witherspoon’s two most important accomplishments: “the expansion of Pre-K classes, which will pay off a lot down the road, and his stewardship through challenging times. He was always thinking about how to make sure kids were getting what they needed through those challenging times.”

Below are links to some of WBHM’s and Al.com’s reporting on Witherspoon’s tenure as superintendent, followed by the full text of his statement to the board and the public Tuesday night.

Click here for a national story — with audio that captures the chaotic atmosphere — detailing some of the controversy surrounding Witherspoon and the former school board.

Click here for a one-on-one interview with Witherspoon after BCS was put on a list of “failing” schools as determined by the highly controversial Alabama Accountability Act.

Click here for WBHM’s local and national coverage of Birmingham City Schools being taken off accreditation probation.

Click here for Al.com’s latest report, which includes recent turbulence in the school system.

Click here for a longer-term overview of Birmingham City Schools’ troubles and triumphs — our award-winning three-part radio and print series, “Birmingham Schools, From State Takeover To Today.”

Witherspoon’s statement last night:

Today, I announce that I am resigning as Superintendent of Birmingham City Schools effective December 31, 2014. This decision will allow me to pursue other opportunities, and gives the Board of Education the time needed to make a smooth transition as it searches for a new superintendent. In the past four-and-a-half years as Superintendent for Birmingham City Schools I have gained 24,500 great memories I can take along with me the rest of my professional journey. I thank this board, our parents, community members, and our students for allowing me the wonderful opportunity to serve as superintendent. When I reflect on my time as superintendent, I recount the great strides made during my tenure. Under my leadership, I am pleased that I was able to help bring about the following achievements for our district and students:

— Increased graduation rate by 15 points based upon latest preliminary data

— Reduced dropout rate by 8 points at 4 percent

— Worked with state team to increase fund balance from $2 to $20 million

— Made strides toward restoration of district’s accreditation

— Implemented and expanded career academies across Birmingham City Schools

— Implemented Dropout Recovery Program, graduating over 500 students

— Reduced student flight from the district by increasing student retention

— Expanded enrollment in Advanced Placement offerings and International Baccalaureate

Programming

— Expanded the number of pre-kindergarten classrooms in the district from 9 to 23

— Secured a $19 million GearUp grant to help advance learning at middle schools.

Each of these accomplishments helped us establish a solid foundation for the future of Birmingham City Schools. I am personally excited about that future.

In closing, I thank the Board of Education for allowing me to serve. I also thank the teachers, staff and principals. Our work together helped contribute mightily to every one of our accomplishments. I send a special thanks to parents and community members for being vested and engaged in our schools. The kind of community interest we have in Birmingham is rare and does not get enough appreciation. Lastly, I thank our students. It is because of you that I awake each day to work in education. The foundation is set for a strong future. And, the time is now for this Board of Education to write others chapters of success for our district. I am honored to have played a role in pointing Birmingham City Schools toward a path of progress.