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Birmingham Teachers Union President ‘Shocked’ by Woodfin’s Critique of City Educators

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Richard Franklin, president of the Birmingham Federation of Teachers, said the mayor, above all people, should have been aware of progress made in Birmingham City Schools. (FILE)
By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson
The Birmingham Times

Richard Franklin, president of the Birmingham American Federation of Teachers, said Wednesday he was “shocked” to hear Mayor Randall Woodfin, a former board of education president, criticize teachers.

In a press conference on Tuesday at Birmingham City Hall, Woodfin called out “lazy” schoolteachers, asking them to resign, in response to the Alabama State Board of Education revealing its annual report card, in which the Birmingham school system received an overall “C” grade, or 72, on an A – F rating system. It’s a score that Woodfin called “unacceptable” for city schools.

“My initial reaction (to the mayor’s comments) when I heard was that it’s not true” what he said about teachers, Franklin told The Birmingham Times. “…it just shocked me. He (Woodfin) used to be president of the [Birmingham] school board …. and knows what educators have to go through.”

Franklin said the schools have shown progress, a point echoed by Mark Sullivan, Ed.D. superintendent of Birmingham City Schools.

The superintendent said last week BCS doubled the number of schools receiving the grade of A and had nine schools to increase a full letter grade. Central Park Elementary School, for example, moved from a grade of F to the grade of C. G.W. Carver and Huffman high schools both moved from D to C.

“We are pleased with progress, but we must continue addressing the academic challenges faced by some of our scholars, and the barriers to progress,” said Sullivan, in a statement last week.

The union president said the mayor, above all people, should have been aware of the progress. “When he was on the board, Birmingham had a rating of a D at the time,” said Franklin.

Providing Solutions

The union leader said he had hoped the mayor would have spent his time at the press conference offering solutions rather than criticism, especially considering the many factors that go into the results regarding school grades.

“We’ve been having a national shortage of teachers before COVID and a lot of people who have left the profession. They aren’t sorry workers. So even when he says ‘resign,’ that sounds good but that’s not going to solve the problem. And that’s what I want the conversation to get bigger with – solutions.”

Another factor that contributes to the test scores is homelessness, he said. “We have about 1,700 homeless students in Birmingham, so what support are we getting from the city to help us with that?” Franklin asked.

Attendance is another factor in the grades, said the union chief. “No one from a principal all the way down to the teachers can address that. That lies with the parents, and when their family members or friends are being killed, the school system is one of the first places that offers support with this.”

Financial Assistance 

In Birmingham, the solution could lie in a dollar-and-cents approach, he said. Other local city governments provide financial assistance for their school systems, “and it’s not just their property taxes.”

He called on the mayor to be “intentional” and do the same, so “we could get some money from the city to do class-size reduction and put aides in classrooms to assist the teachers.”

“I do know he cares,” Franklin continued, ‘but I think the context and the way he said it is wrong when you tell people to ‘resign.’”

The mayor did say during his press conference that he was not pointing fingers, and “this is not the time to blame teachers. There is no time to blame students or parents or any adult group, [and] that includes the school board or superintendent. We’re all accountable,” he said.”

But Woodfin called out some of the same people trying to fix the problem, Franklin said.

“That’d be just like us saying in Birmingham our police officers are sorry because crime is going on. It’s easy to point the finger at the people who are there and are trying to provide a service,” said the union leader.

Just as the mayor says that crime can’t be solved or reduced solely just by him or the police, but with the help of the community, the same can be said for education, said Franklin.

“It’s a partnership with the families,” he said. “The first thing I’ll ask the mayor to do is to start meeting with the superintendent (Sullivan), the city council and the school board and get into conversations about what they need.

“To just lay it at the feet of teachers as to why some of our schools aren’t performing, I don’t think it’s fair … in any profession, you have people who can do better,” he said.