The City of Birmingham could be the next Homewood.
Homewood is one of the most livable and popular cities in Alabama.
Young folks are flocking into Homewood.
Young folks also are flocking into Birmingham.
But Birmingham has a problem…
I recently was invited to speak to a local civic club on how we might build a robust Birmingham.
I was stunned to walk into a room jammed with young folks excitedly engaged in conversation. The room was electric!
Let me describe the folks in the room:
- Primarily white
- All males
- All under the age of 30
- All upper middle class
These young men joined this club to expand their business connections, socialize, and to support a non-profit with a mission to make a difference in children’s’ lives.
These men are our future leaders. They are establishing careers and starting new families.
I was invigorated just being in the same room.
I began by asking a question.
“How many of you live in the City of Birmingham?”
I always ask who lives in Birmingham knowing that very few hands will be raised.
But I was wrong.
To my astonishment, almost everyone in the room lived within the city limits of Birmingham.
I was dumbfounded! This has never happened to me before.
But then someone in the audience shouted out, “Ask how many will remain in the city when their children reach school age?”
The question dramatically changed the tone in the room.
He was right. These future leaders would soon abandon the city.
Think about that for a moment.
Young folks actually choose to start their careers and families in Birmingham, but we make it impossible for them to stay.
What does this have to do with Homewood?
- Homewood is thriving
- Homewood is diverse
- Homewood has an excellent school system
Homewood is thriving: When my wife and I bought a home in Vestavia Hills, our first choice was Homewood. But the cost per square foot of house in Homewood was more than we wanted to pay. The demand for homes in Homewood is intense.
Homewood is diverse: Drive around the neighborhoods of Homewood. Yes, there are plenty of whites, but you also see large numbers of African-American and Latinos—even a fair number of Asians. There are upscale neighborhoods and others that are not as upscale.
Homewood has an excellent school system: The Birmingham Business Journal recently ranked Homewood City Schools as the 4th top performing school system in Jefferson County after Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills and the Alabama School of Fine Arts.
Homewood Schools are highly rated—even with its diverse population.
Approximately 27% of Homewood students are on free or reduced lunch, yet Homewood students have a 94% graduation rate; 91% meet or exceed state proficiency standards in mathematics; 95% in reading.
If Birmingham had a comparable school system, the City of Birmingham would be unstoppable.
Millennials are choosing Birmingham to start their careers, but they soon move to Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, Trussville, or Hoover for better schools.
Birmingham schools are on a march to nowhere
Birmingham City Schools have had 10 school superintendents in 18 years. No school system can survive with such rampant turnover.
In contrast, Bill Cleveland has been the superintendent of Homewood Schools for nine years and is a graduate of Homewood High School.
Birmingham School Board members are elected from nine separate districts. No board member is elected city-wide. So it’s in the best interest of each school board member to please his or her constituents rather than to make decisions that may benefit the school system as a whole.
The result is what you might expect.
No superintendent can survive with nine board members pulling and pushing from different directions.
I asked one of the few non-Birmingham residents at the meeting where he lived. He said he lived in Birmingham until he had to make a school decision and then he and his family moved to Homewood. He chose Homewood for its schools system, but he really liked the diversity.
Many young parents today–contrary to past generations–seek diversity–but that diversity must be paired with excellent schools.
Come on Birmingham, with good schools you could be more like Homewood.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.