Fingers crossed for Mountain Brook

Mountain Brook sign
Sign in front of Mountain Brook City Hall

A friend from Mountain Brook recently sent me an article about Southlake, Texas that turned my stomach.

Southlake is a city that appears to have a lot in common with Mountain Brook.

Southlake is an “elite, mostly white suburb 30 miles northwest of Dallas (that) has a reputation as one of the best places in the country to raise a family, thanks in large part to its highly ranked public school system: The Carroll Independent School District, home of the Dragons, where the median home costs $650,000 and average SAT scores are good enough to get students into top-tier universities.”

Mountain Brook might similarly be described as ‘an elite, mostly white suburb South of Birmingham that has a reputation as one of the best places in the country to raise a family, thanks in large part to its highly ranked public school system where the median home costs $699,000 and average SAT scores are good enough to get students into top-tier universities.’

Each community, however, has experienced a dark incident.

In 2018 a student at Carroll High School in Southlake posted a Snapchat video showing several white high school students laughing as they filmed themselves shouting the N-word at a party that went viral.

Last year a Mountain Brook Facebook group posted a Snapchat video of a high school student with two large black swastikas and the word ‘heil’ scrawled on his back while a group of boys laughed at him that also went viral.

The 2018 Southlake video triggered an immediate reaction from school leaders. “The district hosted listening sessions with parents and students, gathering numerous accounts of racist, xenophobic and anti-gay comments… Afterward, the school board created a diversity council of more than 60 parents, teachers and students to come up with a plan to make Carroll more welcoming and inclusive.”

The Mountain Brook’s School System likewise responded to its video by forming  a 17 member blue ribbon Diversity Committee to examine its efforts to “enhance structures and practices to ensure that the school district honors individual differences, diversity, and the dignity of all, and that all members of the school community are treated with respect.”

But Southlake’s well-intentioned efforts had an unexpected backlash.

“The school board unveiled a plan that would require diversity and inclusion training for all students as part of the K-12 curriculum.”

“Within days, outraged parents — most of them white — formed a political action committee and began packing school board meetings to voice their strong opposition. Some denounced the diversity plan as ‘Marxist’ and ‘leftist indoctrination’ designed to ‘fix a problem that doesn’t exist.'”

“The dispute grew so heated that parents on both sides pulled children out of the school system, while others made plans to move out of town. One mother sued the district, successfully putting the diversity plan on hold.”

Mountain Brook, fortunately, appears to be headed in a more positive direction.

A local diversity and inclusion advocacy group, MB Listens, has been organized with a vision “for everyone, regardless of ability, age, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status; to be accepted, welcomed, and treated equally in Mountain Brook.”

Kevin Cornes, Chairman of MB Listens, wrote in a recent column for ComebackTown, that the initial response to MB Listens  demonstrates two things: “(1) there are many in our community that want to be accepted for who they are and feel welcome in Mountain Brook; and (2) there are many more who want to open their hearts, listen, learn, and be a part of the solution.”

According to Mountain Brook Patch, “MB Listens…recognizes that the school district has been working for some time now on studying the feasibility of several key initiatives regarding diversity and inclusion. (It) believe(s) the timing is perfect to immediately adopt one of those initiatives: a new policy that would allow the children of MBS faculty and staff, who do not reside in the district, to attend Mountain Brook Schools.”

The Mountain Brook School System is the only system in our area that does not allow children of full time-employees to attend its schools.

Mountain Brook Patch goes on to say, “Mountain Brook City Schools received an ‘A+’ in every category but one: Diversity. The system received a ‘D+’ in that category, while excelling in the categories of Academics, teachers, Activities, College Prep and Health and Safety.”

I talked with Kevin Cornes of MB Listens before I published this piece and he said that “the response has been positive with everyone showing a lot of empathy and determination to make real progress.”

We should not be proud of our racial history, but Birmingham and Mountain Brook often seem to get a bad rap because of the actions of few bad players in the past.

Mountain Brook people are overwhelmingly kind, decent people, who want the best for their children and community.

Mountain Brook is not Southlake.

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  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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Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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13 thoughts on “Fingers crossed for Mountain Brook”

  1. Thanks for sharing this information David. People of good will in Mountain Book can make a positive difference. I applaud Kevin Cornes and MB Listens. The Chinese proverbs tell us that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Thanks to MB Listens and the MB Board of Education for lacing up their shoes.

  2. When I respond to some of these postings, I often say that a bigger city is not necessarily a better city. Improvement of the quality of life is what should be sought. Mountain Brook is really doing exactly that, and setting a standard that hopefully will spread throughout the entire metro area. That is indeed what will make all of the area better for all. Bravo Mountain Brook.

  3. My wife and I have lived in Southlake for 17 years, part of the 40% or so here who aren’t elitist, bigoted racists. We moved here long ago for the acclaimed school system, but the ugliness of the Trump years has exposed this place, and our children (all raised as strong, progressive secularists) are all grown now, so our plan is to sell and move back to civilization as soon as we’re able to. We applaud the people of Mountain Brook for maturing into the 21st century. We hope that Southlake will get there, too, someday.

  4. At risk of being calleda bigot, I post this with reluctance, but I want to provide my opinion for others to see and comment on. I live in this city and I’m torn on whether school employees should be allowed to send their children to the public schools here. I think the diversity would be a big benefit, but there is also a pretty significant cost. Let’s suppose there are 500 employees in Mt. Brook Schools and 30% of those people have school aged children that they choose to send to Mountain Brook rather to the school districts where they pay taxes. If these families averaged 1.5 kids per family “in the system” and they were all regular education students that cost the same to educate as resident children ($13K-$14K per year) they would add approximately $3,000,000 per year to MB education cost. Considering MB gets relatively little state funding for schools compared with all other Alabama Public school districts, this cost will largely be a burden on the MB tax payer. That’s not trivial, so let’s not act like it’s simply a matter of being willing to have a more diverse student body (which I applaud). After writing this and thinking about it, I couldn’t be for this unless there was a “light of day” discussion of benefits and costs that the residents could vote on. More than the back of the envelope exercise I did here that may be off pretty substantively. This is one of those things that once it’s done, it can’t be undone easily, so we need to be convinced it’s in the best interest of the community and the children. What would be other options for that $3MM, what if we raised every teacher with 10 years at MB salary by $10K dollars…you’d still have money left over and you’d have the highest paid teachers in the state. Would that be a good way to spend $3MM?

    1. One other thing…how many of faculty and staff at Mountain Brook are of “diverse” backgrounds? Often (not always, so don’t take this wrongly), diverse is a term used to convey the percentages of underrepresented minorities which would typically be Black and Latino populations. What portion of MB teachers and staff fit these categories I don’t know for sure as I haven’t seen much of the ample work that goes on behind the scenes, but the teachers seem overwhelmingly white and affluent. This means that this program would disproportionately advantage other white affluent children. Here’s the back-of-the-envelope analysis. Let’s say 20% of the 225 students mentioned above (across all grades) would be from under-represented minority backgrounds. That is 45 kids across 12+ grades. $3MM spent a year for 45 diverse kids hardly seems a cost conscious way to achieve diversity. What about a more targeted MB outreach program where parents (including staff) could apply for an out-of-district transfer in? You could set academic standards and provide preference to staff and for children that bring diversity (racial and economic) to the admittedly white and rich school. This would allow a more targeted approach to increasing diversity and would also ensure that the students coming from outside this “high-achieving” district would be well prepared to meet and exceed the substantial class-room demands. It also allows an easier modification of the program in the future as you are not setting a blanket policy, but creating a mechanism to increase diversity that we can modify to improve in the future.

  5. Southlake is very different from Mountain Brook. The high school is double the size and Southlake is fast growing and part of one of the fastest growing areas in the country meaning change comes faster. If you don’t think there’s a healthy group of parents at MB with ready to launch similar backlash you’re kidding yourself. Southlake is one of the wealthiest conservative places in the country so sure they don’t want their kids being indoctrinated with pro-gay, pro-trans, pro-anything but Christian values.

    So I give them credit for having the balls to stand up for their children’s education.

  6. You also have to understand that forcing increased diversity means Mountain Brook schools will not be ranked as highly. So right now, everybody wants in, not if you force diversity, thereby decreasing test scores among other things.. Look at Hoover HS.. People aren’t knocking down the door to get in there anymore are they?

    1. So, Jim, your assumption is that kids of staff and faculty members would make the system perform poorly? Interesting take. What makes you assume that? And be honest. Are you saying non-white and affluent kid are not as smart or are not as capable of learning as those who are white and rich? Because it sure sounds like that is what you’re implying. And last I checked, Mountain Brook is NOT the top ranked school, system in the state anymore. Homewood has surpassed Mountain Brook, and they DO allow faculty and staff to enroll their kids in the system.

      Just be honest, Jim. What is it you are opposing here?

      1. “Poor kids are just as bright as White kids.” – President Joe Biden. Alright, now that the overplayed quote is out of the way, I too think Jim’s comment implied some things that it should not have. Diversity is desirable and we can’t ever say how any particular child will perform. But there are things that we can say. As an example, AS A GROUP and with regard to test scores, Black children aren’t keeping up with Latino children, Latino children aren’t keeping up with White children and White children aren’t keeping up with Asian children. Again, I’m speaking only about standardized test scores and only in general. I know people want to dissolve standardized test because of the persistent disparity of outcome, but I wholeheartedly DISAGREE with that philosophy and believe it’s a race to the bottom to stop doing measurements when the answer is not what we want to see. We need to use the data to address the problems and not to ignore them.

        So, I’ve looked at the stats pretty thoroughly. Even in the same school, you have disparity in outcome along racial lines in A LARGE MAJORITY of the cases. What drives that disparity? It’s complicated, but the portions contributing to the performance difference that are occurring outside of school need to be addressed in the same place the problem is occurring – outside of school. This could include things like prevalence of reading to young children, the vocabulary a child hears from his/her earliest days, the grammar of the parents, the culture of embracing homework, etc. None of these things are inherently White. Like I said, Asian kids are outperforming White kids and it’s likely because of these same things, but the impact on children and their performance capacity is there and we need to be above board about it.

        So what does this mean? If we’re looking for diversity to improve (and that’s the only reason MB isn’t still at the very top of the list), we need to find a way to encourage diversity while not compromising on performance. I expect that teachers kids generally outperform other students in general, but at a school like MB, I just don’t know. All this is just a hunch as I haven’t studied child performance by parent occupation. I do have a very close family member who is on the lunchroom staff at a local school and her child was a horrible student. He wasn’t “diverse” either, just a bad student and he didn’t have much success in life after school either. Would he have improved the MB community? Absolutely not. But one data point does not make a trend and I’m sure school employees from all vocations have had tremendous successes and tremendous failures.

        But when it comes to my kids, I don’t want to have almost the same performance with diversity, I want the same or even better. If diversity makes us better, and I believe it does, let’s find a way to do it without dropping average SAT/ACT one point. Let’s do it without reducing college readiness at all. Let’s do it so that the homogeneous classmates can respect their new Black/Brown/Latino classmates for their achievements and not see them struggling to keep up.

        Note: this is a completely different argument than the cost observations I posted about a day or two back and both are valid and it’s just another reason this is a complicated issue.

  7. Many of us that have kids in Mountain Brook schools support and are encouraged by the Diversity Committee and other measures that would make our community more inclusive & diverse. I fully believe our community is heading in the right direction.

  8. Mountain Brook has plenty of issues as do the rest of the Over The Mountain suburbs. What sets it apart, however is that it has thoughtful, caring, and committed people who are pushing the city to be its best for everyone. That is something that can truly make Mountain Brook a leader. MB Listens has the potential to be a model program for other areas and it can make Mountain Brook a better and more inclusive place.

  9. Thank you everyone for such thoughtful comments. I gain insight from everyone of them.

    Let’s concentrate on the positives for Mtn. Brook.

    My children graduated from Mtn. Brook Schools. They got an excellent education, but had virtually no school interaction with anyone much different from themselves. One of the most recognized problems in the U.S. today is that different groups of people don’t know or understand one another. Diversity would broaden that understanding. In many ways, my children were cheated.

    Allowing full-time Mtn. Brook teachers and employees to bring their children to school with them rather than putting them on a bus to another school system would create a big incentive for the best people to work for Mtn. Brook Schools. In talking to school board members of other school systems, they all said this is an important perk for their employees and helps significantly with recruiting.

    Keep in mind, Mtn. Brook is the only Jefferson County School System that does not allow full time employees to attend its schools. Why is that? People might infer the reason is race. The optics sure don’t look good.

    Vestavia Hills and Homewood Schools allow full-time employees’ children to attend their schools. Both school systems are in great demand and are highly rated. Homewood Schools are extremely
    diverse and homes in the Edgewood area have the highest values per square foot in Alabama. Many young parents have chosen Homewood Schools because of that diversity.

    Hooray for MB Listens! These conversations are important.

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