Proposed Birmingham Charter School Draws Mixed Reviews

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Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the proposed I3 Academy charter school is affiliated with the Woodlawn Innovation Network; it is not. It also misidentified the Woodlawn Innovation Network as a nonprofit organization; it is not an entity, but an education strategy under the Woodlawn Foundation.  In a related broadcast interview on Jan. 18, that information was repeated. 

 

Birmingham’s first charter school would open in Woodlawn in fall 2020 for students in grades K-5 under a proposal before the Birmingham Board of Education.

School leaders heard mixed feedback on the plan at a Thursday night hearing.

Tommy Bice, former state school superintendent, is leading the effort to establish the school, called I3 Academy. The group will discuss its plans with the Birmingham Board of Education on Jan. 22. The board is expected to vote after that presentation, Bice says.

LaShunta Boler, a Woodlawn-area parent and a board member for the proposed charter school, says the community needs education options such as the proposed charter school.

“This school will take away the cookie cutter and give each child a tailored experience of education to meet their needs,” she says.

But Julie Easlick, whose daughter attends Avondale Elementary School, says she’s concerned about the impact the charter school might have on resources for traditional schools.

The Alabama Legislature passed laws in 2015 to establish charter schools, which receive public funds for non-traditional education programs.

The charter school proposed in Woodlawn would have 420 students and an annual budget of $4.6 million, Martin Nalls, head of the school says. It would be in Woodlawn on 45th Street in a former church. It would have its own administration and an autonomous operations board.

In Birmingham, charter school applications must be approved by the school board. Birmingham is one of a few local systems that decided to become a charter school authorizer. Charter schools can be established in other local systems if they are approved by the state’s Charter School Commission, according to the process approved by the state. Bice says I3 Academy  would be required by the school board to achieve specific goals.

Birmingham school Superintendent Lisa Herring acknowledges the school systems’ struggles, but adds the recent standardized test results show significant improvement.  She says the hearing and presentations are part of a process dictated by state law, and the Birmingham City Schools will follow those guidelines.