Birmingham Weighs School Closings, New Services

By Peter Schmidt — May 03, 1989 3 min read
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Twelve Birmingham, Ala., schools would be closed, six others consolidated, and the rest restructured to create middle schools, summer Chapter 1 services, and new course offerings under a reorganization plan proposed by Superintendent of Schools Cleveland Hammonds Jr.

Mr. Hammonds said his plan was designed to address “an unevenness of programs and quality across the system” that resulted from changing demographics and shrinking enrollments at many schools in the city.

“This is not a cutback,” Mr. Hammonds stressed, adding that the district’s budget has a balance of about $21 million. Although some teachers and principals would be shifted to new positions at other schools under the plan, the school chief added, none would be left unemployed.

“We are consolidating schools so that we can use our teaching positions more efficiently,” he said.

The superintendent’s recommendations are scheduled to go before the city school board for approval on May 9. With the exception of students and parents at a handful of schools slated for closing, few city residents have reacted negatively to the plan, which has received the backing of the Birmingham Education Association and the Birmingham Association of Principals.

“We should have entered into this some years ago,” said Errol T. Pharris, president of the principals’ association, who criticized the system’s previous policies as concentrated too heavily on magnet schools and other narrowly focused programs that were intended to stem the flow of white students from the district.

“The schools targeted for closing so far are no surprise to people within the school system because they had low enrollment,” said Samuetta H. Drew, president of the teachers’ association.

“I am pleased with the concept,” said Linda F. Coleman, a member of the city council. “It looked at the city as a whole.”

A 10-Year Process

Mr. Hammonds said his goal in the reorganization, which would be accomplished over the next 10 years, is to establish middle schools for grades 6-8 and to standardize academic programs throughout the system, which serves about 43,000 students.

In addition, Mr. Hammonds said, the district needs to upgrade and renovate its facilities, “but it is not appropriate to do that when you8have too many buildings.”

The plan also calls for Chapter 1 programs to be extended by six to eight weeks, with additional adjustments as needed. “Youngsters lose ground over the summer,” Mr. Hammonds said.

Other recommendations include: the establishment of a transition or half-grade program to help students who are failing return to the classroom; a requirement that each middle school offer a foreign language and algebra or advanced mathematics; and a provision to give each elementary and middle school a full-time counselor.

Most Magnets To Remain

A blue-ribbon panel appointed by the school board had recommended a year ago that the district eliminate its magnet schools and close other schools with low enrollments.

Mr. Hammonds declined to close all of the magnet schools, however, opting instead to try to enrich the programs offered in neighborhood schools that are not magnets.

Jones Valley High School, a magnet school scheduled for conversion to a middle school, was the site of a protest by about 150 students who wanted the facility to stay open.

But at other nonmagnet schools scheduled for closing, the reaction has been one of resignation.

Principal James W. Pharris of the Shields Elementary School, for example, commented that “it was only a matter of time” before his school closed because its enrollment of 198 students made it impossible to provide physical education or music classes.


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