Thursday, November 6, 2014


Anna June is great, except she is not going to bed and I am super tired.
As such, I thought I would share some content that I wrote earlier this week. A local alternative paper, Weld, solicited opinions on the superintendent search going on right now in Birmingham. So I wrote 900+ words, because I could not stop.
The reporter used some of it in his article, here:
Weld article
In case you have trouble sleeping, here is the text of my letter in its entirety.
Dear Cody,

A fellow Avondale PTA member posted in our Facebook group that you're looking for parent opinions about Birmingham's superintendent search. You've come to the right group! I am sure you will get a great response.

First of all, I have great respect for Dr. Witherspoon as well as all of his predecessors. It is a huge job, and it has been an uphill battle for every single one of Birmingham's superintendents.

A few years ago, when we were looking to engage more of our neighborhood's families in Avondale Elementary, we found great support in Dr. Witherspoon. His presence at meetings before we took the plunge to send our daughter to Pre-K there spoke volumes to us. While there were clearly other schools and issues that needed his attention, he seemed to be listening, and we appreciated that. 
I just took the survey from Birmingham City Schools asking what the most important qualities were in our future leader. I filled out the survey, but I wanted to scream that ALL of the qualities are important! Everything listed - from being articulate to knowing the state and federal laws to creating positive work environments - are all key elements we want to see in our next leader. I want to see a great communicator who believes in transparency. I want to work with someone who seeks input but is not afraid to make tough decisions.

Unfortunately, a perfect human does not exist.

We would like someone with experience, but it is more important that he/she has common sense. We want to take the hard work that has been done since 2012 when we got involved (and started paying closer attention) to not be undone.

Specifically, for Avondale (and other schools) this means the continued support and growth of the Woodlawn Innovation Network (WIN). We've committed to project-based learning, and a new superintendent must understand this vision, and not complicate matters by taking any steps backwards. The plan is to distribute this type of learning across the system.

I'd like to see the unprecedented good press and optimism about Birmingham's future spread through the school system. I want to have a superintendent who harnesses the business community's interest in educating the next generation of leaders, employees, and entrepreneurs. With WIN, we have great partnerships that need to be fostered.

A good superintendent will continue to work with the Birmingham Council of PTA as Dr. Witherspoon has done.

A great superintendent will to get information and input from teachers and principals, but not unnecessarily burden the instructors with reporting duties. I hear from teachers and our principal that the daily paperwork required is cumbersome and interferes with instructional time. Hopefully, a good administrator will know how to balance this.

Any superintendent hired must be aware of the Board of Education's unsavory history, but be able to look past it and work with the new, seemingly functional board.

In my opinion, a new superintendent must not undo any of the tough financial decisions that have been made - we can't come under state control or accreditation scrutiny again. I responded to the survey that growing district enrollment is one of the top priorities of a new leader - and I believe this wholeheartedly. I want every family in Birmingham to WANT to send their children to their neighborhood schools, (and yes, I'll be the one to say it) including white families like mine. The IB programs and career academies are a great start. We just need to keep growing these programs, improving test scores, improving morale, and improving teaching. With greater enrollment comes more federal dollars.

While I'm in favor of less administration, there are some things worth spending the money on. For example, substitute teachers are a problem. They are only allowed to work a certain number of hours per week, leaving them as part-time employees with no benefits. It is quite common at Avondale for subs to not show up or to say that they have already worked their limit of hours. On a recent morning, I witnessed the Assistant Principal calling for a volunteer among her "specials" teachers (art, music, computer, library, counseling) to sit with a class and have their classes canceled for a day - the librarian volunteered, but this meant that some kids would not get library time that week.

Furthermore, the GATE program now has teachers coming to the individual schools instead of bussing the children to a central location. When I was a student, each school had their own or at least shared a gifted resource teacher, and I am in favor of the teachers moving around instead of the students. But some parents hate this idea - they loved the GATE kids meeting friends from other schools. Maybe a new leader could find a balance between the two. An investment must be made in our brightest students.

I don't have an opinion about whether a new superintendent should come from inside or outside the school system - I can see advantages to both ways. I do want the best person for the job.

Finally, I want what is best for the children in BCS - they only get one shot at childhood and their education. While I liked Dr. Witherspoon, I was not on the BoE working with him closely, and they disliked him so much they tried to fire him. I am sure things could have been handled differently in every instance.

I hope someone wonderful is found, and quickly. I don't think that an interim superintendent would be a good idea - the clock is ticking, Birmingham!

Laura Gallitz
PS - The opinions expressed here are my own, and not to be construed as the opinion of Avondale Elementary PTA (where I serve as a board member). They are not even to be construed as the opinions of my husband. :)

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Anonymous said...

Well written!!! (What is happening to MrWitherspoon? Isn't he really new?)

Anonymous said...

Is Shenandoah distancing himself from this controversy and / or your stand?

Laura Gallitz said...

Dr. Witherspoon has been there for a few years (4, maybe?). He resigned, and his last day will be 12/31/2014.

Ben is not distancing himself, but I wrote and emailed it without his knowledge, so I felt I should add the disclaimer.

SRG said...

Not distancing myself, just waiting fora shorter Executive Summary.