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Sobering review of Birmingham City Schools, but superintendent remains optimistic

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Superintendent Dr. Kelley Castlin-Gacutan this week gave an overview of the Birmingham City Schools system. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times).

Ariel Worthy
Birmingham Times Staff

Superintendent Dr. Kelley Castlin-Gacutan this week gave an overview of the Birmingham City Schools system. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times).
Superintendent Dr. Kelley Castlin-Gacutan this week gave an overview of the Birmingham City Schools system. (Ariel Worthy/The Birmingham Times).

It has been a year since Dr. Kelley Castlin-Gacutan accepted the position as superintendent of Birmingham City Schools.

On Tuesday, Gacutan and chief financial officer Sharon Roberts talked about the state of the Birmingham City Schools.

Giving an overview of ACT test scores from 2014-2015 school year, Gacutan said there is a lot of work to be done. “We are not pleased with where we are,” she said. “It is unacceptable, quite frankly.”

For the year, 51.6 percent of students in grades three through eight were not meeting reading standards; 34.7 percent of those students were not meeting math standards. However, Gacutan said she is encouraged that the scores will improve.

“We brought [this data] to the forefront and said we recognize that we have to do some things differently,” Gacutan said. “We have put district priorities in place in terms of teaching and learning, starting with our instructional framework.”

Gacutan said school officials have focused more on reading. “We really want to make sure that we have a K-12 reading program in place,” she said.

Roberts said $22.3 million in projects have been approved by the board. Most are maintenance repairs.

Many of the K-8 schools are not filled to capacity which, according to Roberts and Gacutan, could make a big difference financially. There is space for roughly 1,000 students in Birmingham’s K-8 schools; space for over 1,800 students in the middle schools and space for over 3,000 students in the district high schools.

“We have been able to identify that we are not functioning at capacity in our schools,” Gacutan said, “and because we are not, we are spending about $11 million per year.”

The superintendent hopes that more people will come back to the school district.

“We certainly hope that word is getting out,” Gacutan said. “We do believe in the importance of making sure that we have options for our students and the families, so we are preparing even in the upcoming school year that students have even more options.”

Options include virtual learning options and collaboration with our colleges Lawson State and Jefferson State, she said.

There is good news to report, she said. Since 2010, graduation rates have improved, with 80 percent of students graduating in four years.

“Even in the midst of difficult times we all know how important it is to celebrate,” Gacutan said. “It is important to recognize that over the last three years the district has seen incremental growth in the graduation rate.”

Ramsay High School was the only school with a 100 percent graduation rate; others rated between 72 percent and 90 percent, she said. For college and career readiness, 49 percent of students in the district meet the criteria; with 94 percent at Ramsay.

“It’s not just about them taking the course,” Gacutan said. “It’s about them earning the credentials so that it truly puts them in the position where they have options after graduation.”