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Mayor Woodfin: Birmingham City Schools Face Reading ‘Crisis’

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin makes remarks during a "Rally for Reading" at Bill Harris Arena. (Ryan Michaels, The Birmingham Times)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said Monday night that Birmingham City Schools (BCS) were facing a reading “crisis” and that adults citywide needed to step up to help fix the emergency.

At the close of the 2022-23 school year, “almost 50 percent” of third graders were not reading on grade level, said Woodfin. The reading issue “is a serious situation…It’s not the kitchen, but the house that’s on fire,” he said.

“This is an urgent situation. This is a crisis situation, and we as adults have a job to do, and I hope all of us, the collective as adults, the village, join in with me, to protect our children, invest in our children, and most importantly, continue to read to our children, so they can graduate from the third grade,” Woodfin said.

The mayor made his remarks during a “Rally for Reading” at Bill Harris Arena where parents, students and city and school leaders promoted literacy.

Parents, students and city and school leaders were in attendance for the “Rally for Reading” at Bill Harris Arena. (Ryan Michaels, The Birmingham Times)

The event served as the kickoff for a year-long campaign, BCS Reads to Achieve, to ensure that Birmingham’s third graders are reading on par with their peers and are not in danger of being held back a grade under the Alabama Literacy Act, which goes into effect this school year.

“We know that reading is not something that is solely the responsibility of the student. It is all of our responsibility, and if you look around, you see caring adults who are here to support reading at Birmingham City Schools,” said Dr. Mark Sullivan, superintendent of BCS.

At the rally, hosted by comedian Jermaine “Funnymaine” Johnson, parents and students had access to BCS staff, as well as a variety of different school system partners including Birmingham Promise, Girls Inc. and Miles College.

While it would be easy to blame parents or teachers, reading is the responsibility of everyone in the community, Woodfin said.

“…if there was ever a time to say the village is responsible, this is the time. The entire village— every parent, every teacher, every community partner, every adult in this city—is responsible for where our children are right now, so none of us can point the finger at another adult group,” Woodfin said.

To address reading deficits, Woodfin said every BCS elementary school is offering free after-school programming between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

“If your child is reading below grade level, let them stay after school. Let us make up the time [they’re not learning] at home…to learn [during] the additional time at school because we want to make sure your child does not have to repeat the third grade.”

Additionally, the mayor pointed to Page Pals, a program which started in March of 2022, in which adults volunteer to read for 30 minutes a day to BCS students, as a way for community members to bring change in reading ability. Woodfin said his administration wants to see a minimum of 749 volunteers, one for each third grader currently reading under grade level.