In may, Alana Edwards resigned her seat on the Birmingham Board of Education and the board appointed Wardine Alexander to complete her term. Now, Alexander and two others are running for the district seven seat.
As Edwards was leaving, she said she looked forward to watching the district progress. As of today, two of the seven schools in district seven are on Alabama's failing schools list, both are middle schools.
The candidates I spoke with know there is work to do. They believe they are up for the challenge.
"I believe that every student who leaves the Birmingham school system should be qualified and prepared to meet the needs of a global society," said Alexander. "I'm seeking this position for district seven because I know a lot about the system," said Lawrence Jackson
Two of the three candidates Alexander and Jackson answered questions at a recent community forum held at Central Park United Methodist Church. Alexander says her background as a supervisor prepared her for the position. "I feel that my education and training and working with staff as they come in the biomedical career field, that it would help to meet the needs of our community with the biotech industry that we have here in Birmingham," she said.
Jackson has a much different perspective. He's a product of Birmingham schools. He was also a brick and tile layer, and concrete setter for the Birmingham BOE. He says simply being in close proximity to the board gave him insight.
"I worked for the board of education for twenty-eight years and I know the inside and out of the board," he said.
A third candidate, Darius Moore, talked with us in a different setting. He says his community involvement qualifies him for the position. "For one, I'm a concerned citizen. I've been a youth minister since the age of twenty. I guess you would say I feel connected with young people,"said Moore
One hot topic during the forum was Birmingham school's declining enrollment. In 2012, Birmingham lost more than one-hundred students at the start of the school year. The year before, some eight-hundred students left the district, taking thousands of dollars in funding with them.
Jackson says the board has to take responsibility for the problem. "Our officials need to be accountable for certain actions that we've taken to drive some of our parents off to other systems,"said Jackson.
Alexander and Moore agree the best way to increase enrollment is by changing the perception of the system. "There are three things that people ask when they decide to live in the area. Location, cost of the house, and the school system. So it's important to them we have a thriving school system within the city of Birmingham," said Alexander."It doesn't appear that the school system is aggressive enough to young families these days. And I would like to help change that image," said Moore.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools did not look favorably on the board. Recently SACS found the board micro-managing, and undermining Superintendent Craig Witherspoon.
Alexander who was appointed to the board just six months ago says this is an opportunity for voters to bring about even more change. "I think we need to take a critical look at the candidates because we have the opportunity to make overwhelming change," said Alexander."As board members, we're going to have to form an umbrella around our schools system and lift them up and bring them up to speed," said Jackson."Some of the things have been done is political between both the superintendent and the school board. I think those things have to stop for the best interest of the children,"said Moore.