WBHM Surveyed Birmingham School Board Candidates — Here Are Their Responses

 1537919327 
1629694817

The Birmingham Board of Education Building on Park Place across from Linn Park.

Miranda Fulmore, WBHM

Whoever is elected to the Birmingham Board of Education on Aug. 24 will have to make decisions for students and teachers in a new era of schooling marked by COVID-19. WBHM reached out to all 22 school board candidates with a survey to poll their thoughts and plans for the next four years. WBHM received 10 responses to questions about COVID, academics, federal relief funding and parent engagement. Here’s a rundown of their answers:

Responses are unedited.

Neonta Williams | District 2

Q: What is the biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools?
A: Returning safely.

Q: How can the school district catch students up after a year of remote learning?
A: (1) Strengthen parental relationships and understanding of performance; (2) Strengthen community partnerships; (3) Hire more educators to decrease student/teacher ratio; (4) Extend school days/hours for students in need most

Q: What is the first thing the school district should spend federal relief funds on?
A: Safely returning students

Q: What are some methods to improve communication between the school board and parents?
A: Community Forums; Parent Symposiums and hosting events within the community

_____________________________

Byron Lagrone | District 3

Q: What is the biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools?
A: The biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools is not reopening schools until mask mandates are in place and (hopefully) vaccinations become available for students. We are enabling more deaths of staff, students, and their families by reopening in-person in fall 2021 similar to what we saw in October 2020-January 2021. Funneling the energy and money being used to re-open schools would be better spent purchasing virtual equipment, safety supplies, and assisting families with childcare and food needs during the school year.

Q: How can the school district catch students up after a year of remote learning?
A: Asynchronous and self-paced learning for eligible students will help. Accepting that social growth and certain learning environments change drastically between in-person and virtual learning — especially during a pandemic — is critical. We should not brand students as having “fallen behind” but instead explore innovative ways to ensure they have the teaching material and third-party resources necessary to succeed in any learning environment.

Q: What is the first thing the school district should spend federal relief funds on?
A: Teachers’ salaries and supplies. This would help drive down our high teacher turnover, and our teachers often purchase supplies / educational resources out of their own pockets or in some cases are forced to pass some of that financial burden onto students and their families. We need to upgrade our teaching experience in Birmingham City Schools to a platinum standard.

Q: What are some methods to improve communication between the school board and parents?
A: Reinforcing the communication between parents, teachers, and school administrators is critical. The HVAC situation at Avondale Elementary is a great example of this — a complete lack of transparency led to a growing number of disgruntled parents and eventually a town hall that did little to assuage the problems and hurt feelings. We should, as board members, admit when we are in error. We should encourage a transparent process — scheduling a meeting during the workday means working families are unable to attend and make their voices heard. To enforce transparency we should provide summaries of the meetings as well as video footage for the public, and schedule them appropriately with a focus on increased attendance. Additionally, parents should know the path their concerns should take — frequently they are told “go through the appropriate channels” but the path is not communicated or difficult to discern. Our parents and students are our customers and we cannot take them for granted.

_____________________________

Derrick L Billups | District 4

Q: What is the biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools?
A: Priority should be given to ensuring the health & wellness of the entire school community and the remediation/acceleration of student learning.

Q: How can the school district catch students up after a year of remote learning?
A: The school district should develop a District Recovery & Improvement Plan to comprehensively address student learning losses occurring as a result of remote learning. This plan should seek to identify and initiate strategic partnerships to work in conjunction with the superintendent, school leaders, parents, local government, ecclesiastical bodies, nonprofit & for-profit organizations in order to secure desired academic outcomes for students.

Q: What is the first thing the school district should spend federal relief funds on?
A: The school district should spend federal stimulus funds on matters addressing student health & wellness and academic learning losses.

Q: What are some methods to improve communication between the school board and parents?
A: Communications between the school board and parents can improve using several methods including board member attendance of school sponsored events, periodic assistance with school morning/evening duty assignments, community visitations to parents with school aged children attending Birmingham City schools, provide regular reports of board related activities to community neighborhood associations, and adopt a practice of responding to stakeholder inquiries in a timely manner. These are a few methods I would recommend.

_____________________________

Jamaree’ Collins | District 6

Q: What is the biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools?
A: A lot of focus has been placed on the health and safety of our students. That’s 100% understandable. At the same time, however, I think we have to start including principals, faculty, staff and parents more in the conversation. Education doesn’t progress without principals to lead our schools either in-person or virtual. Our principals need a staff of men/women to teach our students. Then you look at our parents and the stress they endured. We have to realize everyday problems existed in many households and neighborhoods before the pandemic. Everyday academic struggles existed for certain students. The Hispanic population has grown within our schools and many arrive having to adapt to the English language. Then COVID made all those things worst . Therefore, to answer your question, the “biggest” priority is for our board, our schools and community at-large is to finally work together as a unit. I would truly love to see the predominately  black communities stronger than what we currently are. It makes zero sense to constantly see other races come from the outside and give a ton of effort & love. It makes zero sense to see people travel to a neighborhood or school they know little about and volunteer their time. Yet we have people who live across the street or blocks away who care more about being paid to help tutor a child from their own backyard.

Q: How can the school district catch students up after a year of remote learning?
A: Ask the student body if they can identify their school board representative. Ask parents the same question. With much respect, it’s tough to achieve a goal like that with absentee leadership. You have to spend time learning about the problem or problems before the creation of solutions. We can’t simply say, COVID happened and every student has the same issue. Let’s catch up students like this and it will work for everybody. Again. This is a process that should include the opinions of people who spend the most time around our students. I can tell you from both personal experience and common sense. No child learns the same. You have to know the mindset of said child. In fact, Birmingham City Schools have always lacked options to properly evaluate and balance our student body. Our approach doesn’t match the need of every student. So what happened? Parents started gradually sending their child or children to other school systems. Now charter schools have become a headache. Furthermore, we have to consider habits our student body picked up during the remote learning process. We have to consider where those same students were in the learning process when the pandemic started. Imagine being that eighth grader preparing for the ninth. Now as 2021-22 begins, you’re a 10th grader and still trying to fully adapt to a brand new school.

Q: What is the first thing the school district should spend federal relief funds on?
A: The first thing? That’s tough because several come to mind. But I’ll go with increased funding for teachers. I think teachers have always needed better pay. This pandemic should be the catalyst for making that happen. From a personal point of view, the STAIR reading program and being an instructor for the DISCO poetry workshops have allowed me to “walk a mile” in the shoes of a teacher. I can only imagine how tough it is to teach virtually. I can only imagine the fears and struggles as our school doors have reopened. I can only imagine having to put aside personal issues and feelings with the pandemic. You truly have to love teaching. We have to reward our teachers for taking on the various challenges they face. In addition to that, I’d love to see money go towards creating teacher internships through local colleges and universities. I’ve seen that programs like the previously mentioned STAIR and DISCO would struggle without college students who are willing to teach/tutor. I’ve seen education majors strive to find internships and jobs. So I think having the funds to create would help introduce more potential teachers to our school system.

Q: What are some methods to improve communication between the school board and parents?
A: It begins and ends with visibility. I constantly mention former school board member Virginia Volker for a reason. During my childhood, she did some amazing things to try and help Titusville. She built the partnership between UAB and Washington K-8. Mrs. Volker basically set a new standard. Nowadays, I think our board has grown far from that. We elect representatives who represent the district behind the scenes. We elect representatives who don’t make an effort (outside of campaigning for votes) to connect and build a bond with the district they represent. As a result, it’s often our principals who have to be that sole community liason. We have some strong principals who are doing a tremendous job. Yet they need help. Our board has to change the narrative. Elected officials have to set the standard for how their role is best served and remembered. Beyond that, we have to earn the trust of parents and teachers. The only true method is taking bold, genuine and consistent action. We have to stop telling people things. We have to start showing them “I’m truly with you”.

_____________________________

Yancey Williams | District 6

Q: What is the biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools?
A: All individuals need to be vaccinated to protect everyone.

Q: How can the school district catch students up after a year of remote learning?
A: Year round school and or enrichment during the holiday season.

Q: What is the first thing the school district should spend federal relief funds on?
A: Cleaning the facilities, hiring teachers to teach remotely, and adding security at all high schools, most middle schools, and some k-8 schools.

Q: What are some methods to improve communication between the school board and parents?
A: Rotate every other meeting to a different school within the city.

_____________________________

Sonja Smith | District 8

Q: What is the biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools?
A: The biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools is three-fold: Thoughtfully assist students that have been emotionally and socially traumatized due to COVID and being home for the past year. Ensure third grade students are equipped to read at grade level for the AL Literacy Act. Address learning loss due to COVID learning while preparing students to the next grade level.

Q: How can the school district catch students up after a year of remote learning?
A: The school district cannot catch students up on our own. The school district needs to engage the community — churches, neighborhood associations, businesses, parents, former teachers — we need to engage everyone to read with our third graders and help them with phonics. We also need everyone to help all of our students by providing resources and volunteers that can serve as classroom aides to allow for more individualized learning plans and smaller classroom sizes.

Q: What is the first thing the school district should spend federal relief funds on?
A: Additional support for teachers. We need additional teacher aides in the classroom to lower our student-teacher ratio and ensure students are getting the attention they need to catch-up, keep-up, and grow.

Q: What are some methods to improve communication between the school board and parents?
A: As a Board, we need to have a concerted effort to have the best possible communication between us and parents. We need to communicate early and often. We currently communicate via robocalls, emails, weekly video segments, and social media. We are working to implement our own TV station. Having an analog TV station will be a great way for parents to learn the latest from the Board regardless of whether they are computer/technology savvy. We definitely need to have more in-person (when possible) sessions that are held during the day and evening to answer parent questions. We should also partner more with channels and organizations that have a wide reach to help us funnel out our most important information. We also need to consult with parent groups more about our engagement efforts to ensure what we are doing is working.

_____________________________

Antoinette “Toni” King | District 8

Q: What is the biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools?
A: Offer continuous enrichment sessions before and after school. Incorporate Social-Emotional Learning into the school curriculum.

Q: How can the school district catch students up after a year of remote learning?
A: Offer enrichment before and after school.

Q: What is the first thing the school district should spend federal relief funds on?
A: Teachers, behavioral counselors and classroom resources.

Q: What are some methods to improve communication between the school board and parents?
A: Weekly prerecorded Webex to provide information and training to assist parents at home with students having difficulties adapting back to the classroom.

_____________________________

Susan Diane Mitchell | District 9

Q: What is the biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools?
A: Wide spread hygiene education, resources and practices district wide. Deep cleaning of schools, and ongoing upgrade of hygiene in school structures and ventilation systems, with HEPA filtration in each classroom. Radical transformation of school nutrition program to boost immunity and well being with fresh delicious superfoods. Respecting each other as we all adjust and recover.

Q: How can the school district catch students up after a year of remote learning?
A: The year of remote learning is an opportunity to press the reset button on how our students learn. We can commit to implementing creative, multifaceted educational experiences that allows more freedom for nontraditional learning. Using the latest technology and marrying with it a state of the art land-based experiential curriculum that is grounded in developing high critical thinking skills and literacy mastery is an effective way to more fully engage students across a wider spectrum of interests and talents, builds skills in leadership and collaborative learning, and prepares our young people to be more fully equipped for life after high school, with measurable improvements and outcomes, graduation rates, test scores, and post high school training and education.

Q: What is the first thing the school district should spend federal relief funds on?
A: We must make sure each and every school that is open for classroom instruction has small student teacher ratios, and small classes in general. My suggestion is no more than 10 students per live teacher, with a classroom attendant on hand, and an attendant for the online learners choosing to continue to study at home. These practices will need funding. In addition, transforming the school hygiene policies and practices, installing the latest state of the art HEPA air filtration systems, and deep transformation of the school nutrition program to boost immunity, brain health and general well being of our BCS students. Handwashing stations throughout the school. Creating living walls to provide live plants in student spaces that naturally purify the indoor air quality. Lots of natural light, and outdoor recreation everyday for all students.

Q: What are some methods to improve communication between the school board and parents?
A: Regular text messages may be a good way to keep parents up to date rather than relying on an app, Facebook, or an email. We are bombarded with info from so many sources, but as a parent, text is immediate, it brings me to immediate attention of what’s going on with my children.

_____________________________

Le’ Darius Hilliard | District 9

Q: What is the biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools?
A: The biggest priority is addressing the fact we’ve been out of school (in person) for almost two years and implementing ways to address our low reading and Math levels.

Q: How can the school district catch students up after a year of remote learning?
A: We have to come up with new innovative ways to ensure a quality education is provided to each student even during and after a National pandemic.

Q: What is the first thing the school district should spend federal relief funds on?
A: We should invest in new programs or curriculum that advance students in areas of reading, writing, and Math.

Q: What are some methods to improve communication between the school board and parents?
A: Meeting parents where they are. Everybody can’t make board meetings or PTA meetings but we can make other venues accessible for the communication lines to always be open.

_____________________________

Jason Meadows | District 9

Q: What is the biggest priority in COVID recovery for schools?
A: Recovering learning loss specifically around reading and math.

Q: How can the school district catch students up after a year of remote learning?
A: Hire additional staff to place in the classrooms for grades K-3. Build-in extra supports around the regular classroom instructional times. This includes after school, weekend, and summer programs that are offered to teachers for additional pay. Then the opportunity should be extended to retired educators and lastly to partner organizations.

Q: What is the first thing the school district should spend federal relief funds on?
A: Hire additional staff to recover learning loss. This includes teacher aids, after school programming, weekend/summer enrichment, and social-emotional staffing. COVID also negatively impacted our students emotionally. We have to address those issues as well.

Q: What are some methods to improve communication between the school board and parents?
A: Town Hall Sessions where the Board has two-way communication with parents. Instead of sessions to present an agenda or slideshow then leave. The board has to create platforms to engage. That can be in Neighborhood Association Meetings, Sporting Events, or other events.

_____________________________

Kyra Miles is a Report for America Corps Member covering education for WBHM.

 

Alabama Will Follow CDC Guidelines For COVID-19 Booster Shots

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has authorized a third shot of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for certain groups.

Alabama Lawmakers Will Take On A $1.3 Billion Prison Construction Plan In A Special Session

As Alabama faces mounting federal pressure to address violence in state prisons, lawmakers begin a special session Monday to vote on a proposal that includes two new mega prisons for men and a new women's facility.

There Were More Deaths Than Births In Alabama Last Year, A Grim First For The State

Alabama's top health official says the state has "literally shrunk." According to preliminary data, it saw 64,714 total deaths and 57,641 births in 2020.

Yes, It Is Safe To Get The COVID And Flu Vaccines At The Same Time

Alabama is gearing up for flu season. Health professionals say it's okay to get the COVID-19 vaccine in conjunction with the flu vaccine.

Hoyt Leaves Legacy In District Eight After Sixteen Years

For the last sixteen years, Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt has represented areas like Ensley, West End and Five Points West. But Hoyt will leave office next month after choosing not to run for reelection. His last meeting is October 19.

Bridging The Empathy Gap Between Birmingham Schools And The Community

The interactive art exhibit “All In” put viewers in the shoes of Ramsay High School students.

More Education Coverage