By Sherrel Wheeler Stewart
For the Birmingham Times
On a recent morning at Nathaniel A. Barrett Elementary School, Principal Tikki Hines walked down the hall with visitors and noticed a third-grade boy who was upset while standing in line with his classmates.
“She keeps messing with me,” the child explained to Hines, who assured him that everything would be fine.
A few minutes later, as Hines walked down the hall again, the same child still was upset. She asked him to tell her what was going on. Then she extended her hand to him and said, “Come on and go with me. We’re going to the library.”
Hines later explained, “He was having a bad day, and I needed to remove him from the situation. We went to the library, so he could read. He’s new to Barrett, and we’re helping him adjust.”
Hines has been principal at Barrett for a year and a half, and she’s making adjustments that have the school headed in the right direction. System observers say she brings a fresh approach to dealing with everyday issues of learning and school management.
Barrett, a Birmingham City School (BCS) located in the East Lake community, has seen an overall increase of 35 percent in academic achievement based on the most recent Alabama Department of Education school report card on academics. In just three years, the school has gone from an F to a C grade.
Students As Family
For Hines, who has been an educator in Alabama for 23 years, it’s all about family, said Christina Norman, one of Hines’s longtime friends.
“She is a caring educator,” said Norman. “She wants the best for those students because she sees them as part of her family.”
Norman and Hines met years ago as members of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church and later developed a professional relationship. When Hines was appointed principal at Barrett in 2017, one of her first goals was to upgrade the school’s library. Norman, who supervises BCS textbook distribution and library media specialists, was right there to help.
Hines said children should have pleasant and engaging spaces where they can read. She worked to get the library painted and to fix a leak in the ceiling that was in desperate need of repair. A few other special touches were added, too: big, fluffy stuffed animals; rocking chairs; brightly colored rugs.
“[Hines] wants the children at Barrett to learn in an environment just like the one she wants for her own children,” Norman said.
Born Into Education
Hines was born in Pickens County, in Reform. Soon the family moved to Northport, just outside of Tuscaloosa, where she spent most of her early years.
She comes from a family of educators. Her father was the principal at an alternative high school, her mother was a second-grade teacher before retiring, and her grandparents were educators.
“Education was almost a natural choice for me. I wanted to continue the tradition that was in my family,” said Hines.
When the family gets together, quite often the discussion turns to education and what can be done to make it better. In fact, her mother came to Birmingham to help out with the library makeover.
Hines attended the University of Alabama (UA), which is where she met her husband, Jerrold. The couple has two daughters: the oldest, Kyla, is following her parents’ footsteps and attending UA; the youngest, Katelyn, is a student at Ramsay High School.
After graduating from UA, Hines took a job teaching at an elementary school in Selma. A year later, she landed a job in Shelby County at Calera Elementary School.
“I really enjoyed working in Calera, [though] there were challenges because this was just before the housing boom in that area,” she said, explaining that many of her students lived in poverty.
After commuting two hours round-trip to work each day, Hines landed a job with BCS, spending much of her time as a classroom teacher at Princeton Elementary School. From there she was appointed to her first administrative position at Bush Hills Academy and went on to become an assistant principal at George Washington Carver High School.
“At first, I did not know what to expect. I am short in stature, so I knew a lot of the students would be taller than me,” said the 5-foot-1 Hines.
That position at Carver helped complete her circle.
“It completed the K-12 experience, so I could know how the full picture looked,” she said.
As an educator, Hines said she wants to make sure her students hit the ground learning in kindergarten to ensure that they are ready for whatever is ahead by the time they get to high school. That means teaching them in the classroom, getting to know them individually, and exposing them to opportunities and information beyond the schoolhouse doors. Last year, for example, Barrett’s fifth-grade classes traveled to Montgomery to visit the Legacy Museum and National Lynching Memorial.
J.W. Carpenter, executive director of the Birmingham Education Foundation, commonly called Ed, met Hines when she was at Carver.
“She’s a hard worker. She’s willing to put in the hours to make good things happen,” he said, adding that Hines does not rest after a first round of success.
“[She] will be the first to tell you, ‘We’ve got a lot of more work to do.’”
Ed raises money and develops programs to support Birmingham students and educators. When Carpenter sees results like the recent reports from Barrett, he asks two questions: “How did you do it? And what do you need to do even more?”
One way Hines does it is by spending her days at Barrett walking up and down the halls, going in and out the classrooms, working to help students and support teachers. She does all of this even while facing challenges of her own.
Hines battles with sciatica, an ailment that causes severe pain to travel from the sciatic nerve down through the lower back and legs.
“I have to spend time sometimes just taking care of me, so I can stay healthy,” she said, explaining that she gets pain blocks but sometimes has a tough time walking.
When she’s not working, Hines relaxes by watching college football games or following her favorite football team, UA’s Crimson Tide. Over the years, she’s even taken students to football games to expose them to that atmosphere.
“I’ve been in education 23 years. The work we do can help determine a child’s future,” she said.
Hines’s goal is simple: She wants all of her students to achieve.