Meet Birmingham's BOE District 4 candidates

What a year it has been for the Birmingham board of education. A state takeover, a board member forced to resign, and now the system is on two years probation.

Do voters want a new board? Or are they willing to stick with the one they have? Municipal elections next Tuesday will provide the answer.

The district 4 seat was vacated by Edward Maddox after he pleaded guilty to using his office for personal gain. Three candidates now want the position.

All three candidates are familiar with what's been going on with the Birmingham School Board. Each believes he or she can make a positive difference in what has been a negative setting.

"I take the job seriously. I take it so seriously that even though I have not been elected, I've already been to the training for school boards. I've already attended eighty percent of the school board meeting because I needed to know what was going on," said Rodney Huntley, one of the candidates."I'm a retired educator and I've worked very closely with the school system in the past. I served for several years as part of the teachers association and I;Ave worked with parents as well," said Gwen Sykes, another candidate."I'm a parent. I have a fifth grader who just started school today. And as a parent and an active PTA member, I've just decided to try to see if I can help in a leadership capacity," said Daagye Hendricks, the third candidate. {}

District four will definitely see new leadership from one of these candidates. In spite of the scandal and abrupt resignation of Edward Maddox, district four has seen positive signs.

None of the five schools listed in the district{} is on the failing schools list. And the district is engaged in a new program{} promoting science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Still, there are challenges within the school system with which the entire board must deal.

Huntley has been attending board meetings for nearly three years, and he says he has seen the deterioration. "There became a rift on the board. And of course you know in the end we had a state takeover," said Huntley.

A review from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools says much of that rift was caused by board members themselves. The review claims members undermined superintendent Craig Witherspoon authority.

Hendricks, who works in early childhood education, says the dysfunction is what she wants to change. "As a parent, I was embarrassed about the leadership. And one of the things that we have to deal with is governance. And I think I can bring leadership to the position. I can disagree and not be disagreeable," said Hendricks.

However, Sykes suggests the board is within its right to challenge the superintendent when it sees fit."If we collectively feel that it is time for the superintendent to go, it should be respected. And a lot of the things that I see happening really reflects the board's inability to exercise the power that they have," said Sykes.

Huntley says it boils down to communication. "We need to be more specific with the superintendent with what we need from him so he can be more forthcoming and specific with what he's giving us. Better communication back and forth," he said.

Other than changing the image of Birmingham's school board, Huntley and Hendricks say{} they want to change how employers view the school system and the students coming out of it. "If you don't have a group of kids in school who are ready to go to work, or trained for work, or trained for college, then we're already falling behind," said Huntley."Why can't we pull together collaboratively with our banking industry and with our school system and with our neighbors to be able to include that in the curriculum," said Hendricks.

Sykes considers her experience key. "I've worked in leadership all my life. And I believe we need to have someone who knows what's going on the inside and the outside," she said.