Third Rejected Birmingham Charter School Plans to Appeal

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The Birmingham school board informed the state this week that it denied an application for a Woodlawn-area charter school. This marks the third charter school proposal Birmingham has rejected since 2017.

Birmingham Board of Education President Cheri Gardner said officials denied the school’s proposal because of deficiencies. “The application only partially met the standards,” Gardner said.

The Birmingham school board must make sure authorized charter schools meet standards to provide a quality education to all students, Gardner says.

The school board’s rejection notice, obtained by WBHM, cites concerns about staffing, plans for serving students with special needs, student transportation, and continuous funding. Former state school Superintendent Tommy Bice, a leader on the proposed school’s organizing team, says he plans to appeal the decision with the Alabama Public Charter School Commission.  

The school, i3 Academy is proposed for the Woodlawn area, but enrollment would be open to all Birmingham students in grades K-5. Bice said the school still plans to open in August 2020.

“We would have loved to be the first locally authorized charter school,” Bice said. “Our desire is still to serve the community.”

In January 2017, Birmingham rejected the application of Star Academy. That school successfully appealed the decision to the state. It has since been renamed Legacy Prep and is scheduled to open in August in west Birmingham.

The board also rejected an application from iBestow charter school in 2017. Its plans for opening a charter school are on hold for now, organizers say.

Charter schools receive public funds to offer non-traditional academic programs. They also are governed by an autonomous board.

Birmingham parents have mixed opinions about charter schools. Some wonder why charter schools are only gearing up to operate in Birmingham. Others, like Genita Hawkins of Avondale, fear that charter schools will put a financial strain on traditional schools.

Hawkins, 29, attended Avondale schools and now has two children who are students there.

“I feel like it wouldn’t be good for the students because it would take away some of the resources,” Hawkins said. Charter schools, like public schools, receive local and state funding.

Hawkins says she also fears that more businesses would direct their support to charter schools. “That would mean less money for traditional classroom teachers to do some of the things they really love.”

Some welcome more options. Woodlawn Neighborhood Association President Valencia King says people in the area will support education whether it’s a charter school, traditional school, or private school.

“Most residents are just excited to see another choice,” she said. “School keeps our kids out of trouble. The fact that they have a choice is a plus.”

The i3 Academy would target the community served by Woodlawn High School and its feeder schools — Hayes K-8, Putnam Middle, Avondale Elementary and Oliver Elementary.  Many of those schools struggle academically. Woodlawn High, Hayes and Putnam are all on the most recent state list of failing schools.

Bice says the i3 Academy team continues to raise awareness about the proposed school as it works to appeal the board’s decision.

Officials are arranging “porch parties” to talk with small groups in Woodlawn.

“We want to share with them what a charter school really is – a place where students and teachers have more say in what is taught.”

The school hopes to open in Woodlawn, he said, because it wants to be part of the community’s revitalization.

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