Our next Superintendent’s not going to save Birmingham Schools

Craig Witherspoon
Craig Witherspoon, outgoing Superintendent Birmingham City Schools

Every editorial I read about hiring a new superintendent for Birmingham City Schools says it’s critical we recruit the right candidate.  The future of Birmingham Schools and possibly the City of Birmingham may be at stake.

Unfortunately, our next superintendent has virtually no chance of being successful.

Every time we employ a new superintendent we think he/she’s the one.


  • Cleveland Hammonds
  • Ed Lamonte (interim)
  • Geraldine Bell
  • Johnny Brown
  • Waymon Shiver, Jr.
  • Stan Mims
  • Barbara Allen (interim)
  • Craig Witherspoon

We are hopeful that every new appointee is going to transform Birmingham City Schools—and yet, year after year, our school system loses students:  Enrollment Birmingham City Schools  (BHAM WIKI)

  • 1960-61    70,000
  • 1983-84   43,000
  • 2002-03   37,520
  • 2003-04   36,029
  • 2004-05   34,275
  • 2005-06   32,145
  • 2006-07   31,065
  • 2007-08   29,736
  • 2008-09   28,393
  • 2009-10    27,525
  • 2010-11     26,748
  • 2011-12     25,795
  • 2012-13    25,005
  • 2013-14    24,877

Every new superintendent brings his/her own people, starts new programs, and leaves.  Stir and repeat.

We’ve had six superintendents in fifteen years.

But that’s how it works for urban school systems across America.  The average tenure of an urban superintendent in the U.S. is 2 ½ years.  The math works perfectly for Birmingham.  Divide 15 by 6 and you get 2 ½.

So what can we do differently?

School board selection must change:

It makes no sense to have nine school board members elected by district.  There’s not a single school board member who represents our entire system.  If a school board member wants to be reelected he or she must put his/her school district first–not a good idea politically to do anything that might hurt your neighborhood like agreeing to close a school.

Our current school board selection model is not working and should be evaluated.  Do we need nine school board members?  Should the school board be elected?  If so, shouldn’t at least one or more represent the entire system?

Give Birmingham and City Schools a competitive advantage:

I’m convinced that if we want to turn the City of Birmingham around, we must give a competitive advantage to Birmingham schools over the other eleven school systems in Jefferson County.

We could follow the lead of the Kalamazoo Michigan Schools–a school system who historically has suffered many of the same problems as Birmingham.   Kalamazoo gives full college scholarships to all high school graduates.

This program has been so successful that nearby school systems have had to upgrade to compete with Kalamazoo.

Or we could follow the example of our next door neighbor, Tennessee.  Tennessee Promise offers free tuition to high school graduates to any community college in the state.  This article from the Nashville Tennessean will give you a sense of the possibilities.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It’s insane to think that hiring a new superintendent and placing him/her into our current system will yield a better result.

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 Agency 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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One thought on “Our next Superintendent’s not going to save Birmingham Schools”

  1. David, thanks for taking on this issue. I think at this point the most important question is why does Birmingham need its own school system? It obviously is not for the benefit of the children because they are not benefiting. It seems that for decades the political leadership of the City of Birmingham has ignored this problem. Since you have consistently stressed the need for government consolidation I am surprised that you did not take the opportunity to push for the Birmingham School system to be consolidated into the Jefferson County system. That is needed to change things significantly enough to improve the situation. The facts of the article show that this system has been in a death spiral for decades with no change in direction on the horizon. The people have voted with their feet and have moved out of Birmingham so that their children have a chance to get a decent education. I feel sorry for the kids that parents do not have the resources to do the same for them or do not value education enough to make it a priority. Education is the key to changing ones economic circumstances. The kids of Birmingham deserve better.  

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