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Meet New Birmingham School Board Members Who Will Be Sworn-In Tuesday

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By Haley Wilson
The Birmingham Times

On Tuesday, October 26, at 5 p.m., nine members of the Birmingham Board of Education will be sworn-in during a ceremony at A.H. Parker High School. The four-year, regular term for the incoming board runs from 2021 to 2025. The board will have its first meeting following the swearing in ceremony at Parker.

A majority of nine-member board will be newly seated. They are Sherman Collins who won in District 1; Neonta Williams, District 2; Derrick Billups, District 4; James Sullivan, District 5; Leticia Watkins, District 6 and Jason Meadows, District 9. They will join Mary D. Boehm, District 3; Walt Wilson in District 7 and Sonja Smith, District 8.

Here are priorities for those new board members:

Sherman Collins Jr. Dist. 1, BOE

SHERMAN COLLINS JR., DISTRICT 1

A Unified Board

“My first goal is to make sure that we have a Board of Education that is knowledgeable and ready to serve so that we can continue to move Birmingham forward into being not only a place where our children our zoned to go but become a parents’ choice when they choose [schools] for their children in Birmingham.”

Changing The Narrative

“We need to focus on selling our story, and not allowing perception and others to do that for us. We have some challenges ahead of us… we got to allow educators, our superintendent, academic advisors, and his [superintendent] staff to be charged with the work of making sure that we move our schools off the so-called “failing schools list” and never return.”

Media Relationships

“[My hope is that] the media organizations of Birmingham would become real partners . . . because we are definitely going to need that support so that we can tell our story, and change the perception about our school system. We have an excellent school system, and I hope that we are able to represent that more through media relationships.”

NEONTA WILLIAMS, DISTRICT 2 

Parents

“I’m a supporter of parents. And regardless of whatever option they choose… it should be quality. So, if it’s home school, it should be quality. If it’s a private school, it should be quality. If it’s a public school, it should be quality…”

Transparency

“We as the Birmingham Board of Education need to let them [parents] know where their child is performing academically, what they can do [if they are performing lower], what programs the district is already offering, and how they can enroll their children in those programs, and why – most importantly-not just how…but why it is important for them to ensure that their children participate in those programs…parents are their children’s first advocate.”

College Path

“My whole focus of baseline is academics, preparing our students for a career and or college path that they that they desire to be on. Birmingham is a beautiful city with plenty of resources, and not just so much from a financial standpoint, but businesses, professionals, paraprofessionals retired, and present workers. These people want to support… they want to get involved. So, we’ve got to create a robust way of partnerships to be established, so that we can have safe spaces and communities for kids.”

DERRICK BILLUPS, DISTRICT 4

Helping the Superintendent

“Well, I’ll say first and foremost, as a board member, I know that the primary concerns we are looking at helping the superintendent to move forward the vision that he or she has in place but also make sure that we’re abiding by and helping to set forth the policies and procedures that are necessary to move forward [also] being responsible, and looking at the fiduciary responsibilities and duties.”

Collaborative Board and Partnerships

“My hope is that we will be more collaborative… that we will be more collegial and that we will bring more innovation and ideas to move forward within school system, but also build more partnerships with not only the board, but with various organizations and entities outside of the schools as well.”

Engaging Parents

“I think that it’s imperative we do a better job, a stronger job of engaging parents, hearing and listening intently to what’s being said in order to develop a more comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of our students. I think that you can never have too much parental involvement or engagement. I think it only strengthens the overall quality of your programming, and the overall perception of our schools. 

JAMES SULLIVAN, DISTRICT 5 

Leadership Accountability

Birmingham City School’s need a solid foundation…my first priority is leadership accountability. It’s important for members of the board to come and be willing and ready to execute the initiatives needed to provide the changes that we seek.

5-C Plan

“I believe together we can address COVID lost learning, increase overall test scores, and build on current partnerships and relationships through my 5C plan. I believe BCS [Birmingham City Schools] needs to have a common purpose; clear expectations; communicating the message; coaching and collaborating opportunities and consequences made visible.” 

LETICIA WATKINS, DISTRICT 6

Support for Administrators

“I think our top priority as a district is focusing on our student learning. So, supporting the plans that our superintendent has to improve learning and [addressing] learning loss [and] bringing in programs to help our students with reading and math. I also think it’s a priority to support our administrators who are on the ground doing really solid work since the start of the pandemic. They’ve been heroes for our scholars. I think we have an opportunity to involve those who are in the communities, in our neighborhood, whether that be after school programs, safe institutions, higher learning institutions…they are really a wraparound approach to how we address, and how we improve learning for our students.”

Supporting Early Literacy

“One of the things that we’ve done is partner with the nonprofit sector to introduce early learning and early reading opportunities for children who are even younger than kindergarten age because reading tends to be our priority right now. But it ties back to building the foundation. While there is not a short-term answer to how we improve reading right now in 2021… it does provide somewhat of a long-term solution to helping with building a stronger literacy foundation for young people.”

JASON MEADOWS, DISTRICT 9 

Learning Loss

“I think right now we need to continue to formulate a strategy toward COVID learning loss. Having plans in place and making sure that we’re addressing the learning loss, education time, unstructured time. Most educators will tell you that it’s part of your evaluation metric. Time missed in the classroom, really can’t be re-captured. So, that’s why schools are judged based upon attendance. So now we have this global pandemic that is thrust upon the schools. We just have to make sure that we are very innovative and very diligent about addressing the learning loss because of the impact. . .  We’ve got to emphasize, reading, and just basically literacy, making sure people are reading at the right level, and their math skills. Even if it’s like taking time from other areas, focus on those. It’s about being innovative.”

Teachers

“I think that you’ve got to incentivize teachers and retired teachers to come and work. I’m not talking about crumbs… you got to pay them some real money. I think that if you pay them more, they’ll have the motivation and desire to do more. I believe incentives work. If it’s paying current teachers additional money to maybe work weekends or do something…or maybe if it’s virtual sessions with students. I think there are a lot of ways that we can address it.”