Birmingham in a no “WIN” situation
By Dr. Gregory T. Graves, AEA Associate Executive Secretary
I’m sure all of you have heard the old saying, “what’s done in the dark shall soon come to the light.” It is far past time that someone shed some light on what has been going on in the Birmingham City School System under the disguise of flexibility. Simply put, the foundation has been laid for the implementation of charter schools within the school district. Frequent readers of this column know I have had an ongoing problem with the events that transpired with the Birmingham City Schools before and during the take-over by the state. I find it totally inappropriate that the state intervention team felt compelled to become involved in a local election and to tell voters if the candidates the intervention team supported were not elected, there would be negative repercussions for the students in the system.
This is just one example of what has occurred.
You may be asking yourself, “What does that have to do with me and my school system?” The answer is simple and undeniable. Birmingham is the latest front in the war on public education by the privatizers and those who wish to destroy public education and public educators. Their latest tactic in this war is to try and establish a beachhead for charter schools in Alabama through something called the “Woodlawn Innovation Network” or WIN.
When the Alabama “Un”Accountability Act was debated in its original form as just a “flexibility” law, I had grave concerns that it would be used to create charter schools. I was told I was over- reacting. I was told this wasn’t the intent. I was told by some, “see, we put in a clause that says you can’t use this to create a charter school.” Yes, that was put into the bill, but I knew there was too much money and ego at stake for those pushing charter schools to let something as petty as the letter of the law stop them.
Like clockwork, the charter school people descended on Birmingham with the blessing of high-ranking school officials in and outside of Birmingham. What we ended up with was a vague plan to create the WIN, with all these glowing promises of improved test scores, college credit for high school courses, etc. However, we’ve seen these promises and this model before.
This model of “purpose built communities” like WIN always revolve around a charter school. These people do not want to reform a public school, they want to replace it with a charter school. However, they know that they can not use the word “charter,” so they do everything the same as they do in other states, they just do not use the word charter.
My suspicions were further confirmed when I learned that those running WIN are trying to pressure long-term AEA member principals to resign and get out of their way so they can push their corporate charter agenda. Dr. Evelyn Nettles, principal at Ramsey High School, has been in the Birmingham City Schools for 28 years, 17 years as principal. Damita Pitts, principal at Washington K-8 School, has been in the Birmingham City Schools for 22 years, nine of which she served as a principal. Many others have been threatened, adversely affected and even blackballed for speaking out against what we all know to be happening. It is appalling when hard working employees and veteran educators with a half-century of combined experience are being forced out to make it easier to advance a corporate agenda. We cannot, and I will not, allow that to stand.
I’ve repeatedly asked the State Board of Education why a flexibility plan, that had no specifics on how schools were to be run, was approved. I’m still waiting on a satisfactory reply. My hunch is that they fell for slick presentations and pie-in-the-sky promises, or worse, succumbed to the corporate pressure being brought to bear and simply did not ask the questions they should have prior to approving the WIN.
AEA has asked for documents pertaining to the WIN to try and either confirm our suspicions or put them to rest. The response we received contained very little information about how these schools will actually operate. We are currently evaluating our legal options. However, every person reading this article, friend or foe, should know with absolute certainty that AEA will not allow charter schools to be established in Alabama under the guise of “flexibility.” Not in Birmingham or anywhere else.
“Anywhere else.” That is the key phrase here for everyone reading this outside Birmingham. Our sources tell us that the privatizers want to use WIN as a model to take statewide to try and advance their corporate, profit-driven agenda, and weaken public education by turning all of it into charter schools. We can’t let that happen.
I urge all of you to start asking some serious questions regarding the WIN. Why would any board (local or state) vote to approve the Woodlawn Innovation Network without knowing what was going to happen? We need to know if we are dealing with charter school supporters or individuals that are committed to following the law and preventing their establishment. Do not accept half-answers or dismissive responses. If we do not get the necessary answers, be on the lookout for a charter school by any other name.
As always, together we stand.
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