I’ll do anything to help B’ham schools except send my kids there

David Sher
David Sher

On March 1st I attended a TEDxBirmingham event at the Alys Stephens Center.  Fifteen speakers gave passionate speeches with the common theme to rediscover the magic of Birmingham. Quite frankly, it was an event I will never forget.

One of the speakers, Victoria Hollis, who’s the Program Manager at the Birmingham Education Foundation (ED), urged the audience to take ownership of Birmingham Schools.  She gave the analogy of a small child falling down on the playground. She said even though the child wasn’t yours, you would still rush over and pick the child up.  At the completion of her talk, the audience gave her an enthusiastic standing ovation.

A friend, who was sitting next to me, tapped me on the shoulder and implored me to go home and write a blog for ComebackTown about Victoria and her talk.

This is that blog.  But it’s not the blog my friend thought I would write.

Victoria’s speech was moving.  She was right on target–emphasizing that we don’t know when our lives will intersect with the children of Birmingham and that we will never have a great Birmingham without great local schools.  The audience obviously agreed.  Another speaker mentioned helping Birmingham schools and the crowd broke into spontaneous applause.

Birmingham schools have been on a downward spiral since the 1960’s.  When my wife first started teaching in the Birmingham School System in 1967, there were more than 70,000 students enrolled.  When she retired last year, there were less than 25,000. (I hope she had nothing to do with that drop)

It appears most of us  want to help inner city children–as long as it doesn’t impact our own children.

So it’s fair to say that Birmingham schools will only succeed if the education provided is equal or better than the surrounding school systems.  If people are serious about helping our inner city children, then they should invite those children into their school systems.  (There are twelve school systems in Jefferson County)  Or they should send their children to Birmingham schools and then fight like hell to make them better.

All of us know this is totally unrealistic.  No one who can afford it so is going to take the chance of sacrificing their childrens’ education and their future.

For those of you who are regular ComebackTown readers, you know our primary objective is to begin a conversation on how to fix our segmented/dysfunctional government.  Competing cities like Nashville, Charlotte, and Jacksonville successfully combined their county and city governments and they have left us far behind.

Many folks in our community won’t consider that option because they ‘think’ the schools would have to be combined.  That is absolutely not true.  Indianapolis unified their county and city and left the schools in place.

So how do we make Birmingham schools equal to or better than surrounding schools?

We could follow the lead of Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Kalamazoo is very similar to Birmingham and their schools at one time were struggling just like Birmingham.  But now Kalamazoo offers free college tuition to their high school graduates.  And as you might expect, they have turned their school system around—even causing competing school systems to be better.  It would be easy to say we can’t afford anything like that here, but take a moment to read how Kalamazoo did it in this fascinating New York Times Article.

Or we could borrow an idea  from Republican Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee who recently proposed that all Tennessee high school graduates receive two years of free community college or technical school.  We could consider the same for Birmingham.

We in Birmingham will have to do something audacious to transform our schools.  Throwing a few bucks at the problem or visiting the schools is nice, but it ultimately won’t save Birmingham and Birmingham schools.

Victoria, we are all rooting for you.  We appreciate your passion and your enthusiasm.  You are an angel.  But if we are to reach our true potential, we will have to do something courageous and bold.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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9 thoughts on “I’ll do anything to help B’ham schools except send my kids there”

  1. David,

    I’m sick and tired of listening to the politicians tell us that we need to put more money into our school systems. Our lousy city school system is that way because the people in charge don’t want to change it. It could be one of the best school systems in the country, IF people wanted it to be the best in the country. We don’t need governement handouts to be great… we need to stop whining about our schools and do something about them.
    Let me prove to you that it’s possible to have a great school with NO MORE MONEY…. Ten years ago, we pulled our children out of the public school system when Cahaba Heights was annexed into Vestvia Hills. A total of 425 students didn’t live within the fire district that was annexed, so we were “displaced” and our kids were put into trailers on the Gresham Junior High campus. Unacceptable and thoughtless on behalf of Jefferson County.

    So we pulled our kids out and joined with a group of concerned parents who had started a cooperative teaching group called the Excelsior Coop. No state money, no special grants, no special teacher training programs, no special help… just concerned parents wanting to create an excellent educaton for their children. Together, we find excellent teachers and ask them to teach our kids. Some teachers volunteer, others get a modest honorarium for teaching classes. My wife has been teaching history, public speaking, and personal finance. Everything on a shoestring budget, but it has provided an outstanding education (predominantly AP classes) to over 300 kids per year.

    My last child of 3 is about to graduate from this program… she scored 29 on her ACT and has scholarship offers from 4 universities. My older 2 scored, 32 and 31 on their ACTs and were both valdictorians of their classes. This cooperative effort produces excellent students without ANY state or federal money. Oh… and yes… our children are well adjusted socially and in fact, these kids are outstanding citizens… well behaved, attentive, and making contributions to society as young adults.

    I could go on and on, but I think you get the point… we have a lousy educational system because people in power don’t want it to be better than it is. Our country has some of the greatest resources in the world for educating our children. Lets stop accepting second best for our kids and take an active role in rebuilding the system from the ground up. Dont let them tell you it can’t be done… it can.

  2. I know that freedom is un-American, but we really should try it.  Vouchers can’t be worse than our socialist (government owned) and monopolistic educational systems.  Even a few leftists realize that some monopolies (those seeking that “evil” goal of a profit) tend to produce poor quality at high prices.

  3. Before everyone starts crying, “Charter schools! Vouchers! Home school!” I have something to say about what IS ALREADY being done.

    I am one of the few who has enrolled her child in a Birmingham City School, and I plan to fight like hell. If you have ever met these students, you will also want to fight like hell for them. They deserve the same as any other children regardless of zip code.

    Just last week, I sat in a meeting with Dr. Craig Witherspoon, Superintendent, at Avondale Elementary. The folks in the Woodlawn Innovation Network – a new program that will aid the schools in the Woodlawn High School feeder pattern – presented plans for what is developing. Through the generous funding of the Woodlawn Foundation (and yes, it does take money), a company (EdWorks) who has helped other school systems in other states improve their schools is working on this inquiry-based, problem solving approach to learning that will be implemented in these schools. The final upshot is that Woodlawn High School students will soon have the opportunity to earn up to 2 years of college credit while still in high school at no charge. That’s right – 2 years of college for free, similar to what the article mentions.

    This model will be rolled out to the rest of the district. Yes, details are still being worked out. But it has my support.

    Whether or not our child eventually goes to private school (which will depend on our child, our family, our economic circumstances, etc.), we are very supportive of WIN and the Birmingham City Schools. I hope the energy from the TedX talks spills over into community partnerships that will better our schools, children, city and area.

  4. Avondale is a great “public option.”  Glen Iris is a great “public option.”  The Woodlawn Innovation Network is focusing on increasing quality in the Woodlawn High School feeder pattern.  Many of us who send our children to these public schools, can “afford” to send our children to private school, but we see benefits of the public school system over private schools. We are not sacrificing our children’s education, we are providing, in my opinion, a fuller education. I guess our values are different. 

  5. I love the idea about paying for tuition for Birmingham students! That’s great impetus for some students to do well…. And I think it fixes the problem of parents.

    Parents have to be a huge part of a child’s education in order for them to succeed. When I was younger, the only reason I cared about doing well in school at all is so I wouldn’t make my parents upset. The “scholarship” idea is really for the parents. If this is marketed as a way to bring parents who care back to Birmingham city schools then I think it will work very well.

    I think education has a lot to do with the school staff inspiring the students… But even more important is the students!

  6. I went to Barrett Elem School, 1947-53, then Mineral Springs, Watson, Ala, Near the Lassater Mountain Raceway, (where we lived) Then New Market, Tn, Then Jefferson, NC, then Bean Station, Tn, & went to Rutledge HS, then back to B’Ham, in 1958 & finished at WHS in May 1959.  Had B’ham, been able to pay for first 2 years of college, I may have gone to college instead of the USAF, I stayed in USAF from AUG 59 to JAN 67, then in 1971, went to a Business School, Durham College, in San Antonio, Texas, on GI Bill. In 1973, I moved to Tulsa, OK, & been here ever since. They have a good program here, 2 year Jr. College, paid with Pell Grants, & If you live at home, it’s reasonable for just about any one. My older son, Robert Jr, went on to NSU, at Tahlequah, OK, on Student Loans & God his Business Degree. Ross, my younger son got a 4 years scholorship to Lyons College, in Batesville, Ark, & now has a good job in SC.  I’d like to hear from those who went to school with me. the http://WWW.WOODLAWNHIGH.ORG Site is closing 15 April 2014. BUT, if you have Facebook, & went to Woodlawn, you can still find them on your facebook page, go to the “F” at the top, type in: Woodlawn High School Alums 1920-1980’s & find folks you may know. Thanks, BOB GWIN SR. (918) 664-5147 CGwin@SBCGlobal.net & Robert.Gwinn@SBCGlobal.net 

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