Educator Spotlight: Dr. Michael Wilson, Principal, Glen Iris Elementary

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The sign outside Glen Iris Elementary currently displays the text “The fun has just begun.”

Dr. Michael Wilson is well loved in the community that surrounds the school at Glen Iris Elementary. He is known for the innovative strategies that characterize his leadership, the openness with which he embraces local partnerships, and his lifelong dedication to student achievement.

Wilson’s overarching vision is a school in which teachers collaborate within and across grade levels and content areas, lessons are problem- and inquiry-based, and students are investigating relevant materials and developing opinions and beliefs that they can articulate orally and in writing. To do this, he notes, teachers must be posing challenging problems to students that are based on current events and issues that relate to our local community and the world, even in grades K-5.

It probably comes as no surprise, then, that Wilson names the outdoor garden classroom at Glen Iris – a project that is supported in part through a partnership with Jones Valley Teaching Farm – as his greatest professional accomplishment. Wilson advocated for integration of the outdoor classroom across disciplines, which provides for multiple points of engagement and more investigative learning. “Seeing students come to realizations about food through research, reading, investigating and collaborating,” he says, “it’s incredible.”

unnamedWilson’s vision for the school is part of the reason why Glen Iris continues to garner positive attention for both students and educators. But the success of the school isn’t all his: Wilson is quick to name teachers Lisa Long, 5th grade, and Curtrina Jones, 3rd grade, two National Board Certified Teachers who both regularly incorporate innovative teaching practices in their classrooms and utilize formative assessments to monitor student achievement on a regular basis.  Looking at teaching through the lens of student learning and achievement is something Wilson encourages all of his staff to do because he knows how much is at stake.

“The biggest misconception [about our population of students] is that poverty dictates intelligence levels,” says Wilson. “Our children are bright, eager learners.  What they lack are experiences that build vocabulary and give them a wider lens through which to view problems and solutions.  It is up to us as educators to create those experiences for them.”

And so, he does.

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Plans for the Glen Iris Teaching Kitchen.

This year, Dr. Wilson embarked on his second roof-top fundraiser to raise $20,000 for his newest idea: an outdoor Teaching Kitchen that will complement the already existing garden classroom.  The kitchen will provide a venue for student and adult learning through an endless variety of hands-on lessons.

“Not only will we be able to cover objectives across the content standards through food,” says Wilson, a telling smirk on his face indicating an even more exciting possibility. “[But] there is also the opportunity to teach healthy living and environmental issues.  For us, it is abundantly clear that the possibilities are endless.”

Want to contribute to Dr. Wilson’s vision?  Click here.

 

Educator Spotlight: Mark Sullivan, Principal, Ramsay High School

sullivanRamsay High School is over 70 years old and has a rich history and tradition,” says Mark Sullivan. “As one of only 12 principals to lead the school, I take my role very seriously.” Sullivan, who recently moved to Ramsay from Phillips Academy – another Birmingham City School known for its high academic standards for students and accountability for teachers – knows how important it is to create high-performing schools, especially in urban districts, where parents and students often face challenges that neighboring systems don’t encounter.

For example, during his tenure as principal at Glen iris Elementary, Sullivan notes that the population of English-Language Learners (ELL) increased dramatically from approximately 40 to over 200 students. “We had one ELL teacher, so to assist our parents, we added two more ELL teachers and three bilingual paraprofessionals,” Sullivan says, “but I still felt more could be done.”

To better understand the needs of ELL parents, Sullivan sent home a questionnaire.  He found out how many would be interested in English language classes, and discussed the issue with a parent of one of his preschool students, Gwendolyn Ekundayo, who also happened to be the Director of Adult Education at Lawson State. “Call it divine intervention or destiny,” Sullivan laughs. “But whatever it was it turned into a true partnership – Lawson State provided teachers, textbooks, and a curriculum.” What started as a program for about 16 parents, soon grew to serve over 70.

Today the adult ELL program at Glen Iris continues under principal Michael Wilson, which now provides English lessons as well as GED preparation.

It is my greatest professional accomplishment,” Sullivan says, “That simple idea to assist parents in helping their children has grown into a vehicle to change lives.”

IMG_0046For Ed, Sullivan represents a true leader, an advocate for kids, a sea change.  He has a clear vision for the school that aligns with the district’s mission, a desire that his students become more invested in “community outreach and giving back to our community,” and a high standard for their success.  He says, “As a college preparatory school, we will ensure that all of our students are prepared to succeed at any college. We will give our students the skills and tools necessary to be responsible global minded citizens. We believe that our students are capable enough and that our teachers are skilled enough to propel Ramsay to the top 10 of all high schools nationally.”

This is what Ed has in common with Sullivan and so many other dedicated educators in Birmingham City Schools: this excitement around the potential of our students.  “With the Ed Foundation,” Sullivan says, “There’s a sense that everyone has a vested interest in the success of the students of the Birmingham School System. That they are people who are willing to invest time and financial resources in our schools speaks volumes to their commitment to our students.” And also to you, Mr. Sullivan.  Also to you.

Educator Spotlight: Herbert Clark, Math Teacher, Carver High School

image-4Herbert Clark knows Birmingham City Schools.  In fact, he has had the unique opportunity to experience the district as a student and, now, as a teacher.

Clark is a pre-calculus teacher and head track coach at G.W. Carver High School. He holds a Bachelors in Mathematics from Alabama State University, a Masters in Secondary Mathematics, and a Masters in Educational Leadership from UAB. Clark entered the teaching field in his hometown in 2002, teaching math at Wilkerson Middle, then Whatley, and Hayes K-8. It was in the summer of 2013 that Mr. Clark finally moved back to Carver, his alma mater.

At Carver, Mr. Clark is now a part of the teaching teams for the Academies of Engineering and Health Sciences – programs that seek to make high school subjects relevant to students’  career interests, a theory that shows in Clark’s work. To keep his students interested in math, Mr. Clark sticks to three main ideas: “Relate math to the next time they’ll be using it, relate math to career fields they may be interested in, and relate math to everyday and/or standard life uses.” But Clark knows that there is more to teaching kids than getting them to pick-up classroom content; he said that most important piece of advice he has for fellow educators is to “establish relationships with students and continue them.”  This can help you anticipate their needs, Clark says, but it doesn’t hurt to also “expect the unexpected.”  He says, “[Our] kids are always coming from left field.”

This year Ed was lucky enough to work with Clark as school liaison for College 101. When asked to reflect on the experiences students got as part of College 101, Clark said the program was “a great resource for introducing kids to colleges and careers, the different functions of college, and the whole of college life,” a point that Ed and UAB were hoping to emphasize.  “These are the experiences our students need,” Clark said. “They need that perspective on what will expected of them once they attend college – because we’re going to do everything we can to get them there.”

Educator Spotlight: Rameka Davis, Principal, Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School

20130313_112736-1Rameka Davis can be a hard person to get a hold of.

“Ballard! You finally tracked me down!” Davis says to Ed staffer Ballard Jones, from behind her desk in her new position as Principal at Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School.

Over the course of a year, Jones and Davis have built an easy rapport, working together on College 101  during her time as interim principal at Woodlawn High School. Davis also played a major role in many of the successes that Ed enjoyed with other programs such as the College Prep Institute and Bridging the Gap.

Ms. Davis has been in Birmingham City Schools for sixteen years, beginning her career at Woodlawn as a special education teacher, and moving through the ranks as assistant principal, interim principal, and now principal.  Davis graduated from Jackson State University with a Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education; she also holds a Masters in Collaborative Teaching and Special Education from ASU and an EDS in Educational Leadership from UAB.

When asked about what it is that she does to ensure her students are getting the most out of their education, Davis explained that partnering with outside organizations – such as Ed and Church of the Highlands – helps keep learning fresh and lessens the load on teachers by utilizing the strengths of community organizations. Davis also said that she wants her students and teachers focused on college and career readiness, which, at Woodlawn, was emphasized in the Academy of Business and Finance, and the new Academy of Arts and Environmental Science. Ms. Davis also places special emphasis on project based learning, which she says “gives students the opportunity to collaborate and push their own thinking.”

As for her work with Ed, Ms. Davis said that Ed “not only talked about what [Ed planned] to do, but actually brought resources to the table to accomplish those outcomes.” Davis said that working with Ed helped her accomplish her mission for the school because the “programs are consistent with what [staff are] trying to do at the school level.”

Then she, pauses, shoots a glance at Ballard and adds with a laugh: “you were definitely persistent as well.”

Educator Spotlight: Tolanda Ramsey, Woodlawn High School

photoAt Ed, we like to make a point of recognizing all of our wonderful teachers, past and present. This year, Ed had the pleasure of working with Tolanda Ramsey during her final year as an English teacher at Woodlawn High School.  Ms. Ramsey was a great ally for Ed, specifically when it came to our College 101 program. Without teachers like Ms. Ramsey, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.

Ms. Ramsey’s five years with BCS were just one piece of her interesting and varied life story. A native of Phoenix, Arizona, Ms. Ramsey attended Troy University where she earned a B.S. in English, and a Masters in Public Administration. She has worked in the accounting department of the Alabama Legislature and as a Senior Management Assistant in the Community Services Division with the City of Glendale, Arizona.

Ms. Ramsey became a teacher because she believes that “in order for our society to flourish, we must take the necessary steps to prepare future generations.” Having worked in government, Ramsey saw firsthand the challenges that cities face.  “That first step [towards civic improvement],” she says, “begins with the education of our youth.”

It was this realization that led Ramsey to leave Glendale and get her certification to teach as an English Language Arts teacher.

When asked about her teaching style, Ramsey says that she strives to “motivate and support [her] students in all aspects of their educational careers.” She takes a unique approach to teaching because she wants students to learn from their peers as well; so Ramsey utilizes the students that already understand certain concepts to help teach others in her classroom. Ms. Ramsey also stays abreast of technology and the ways that it can be beneficial to the classroom environment, and includes using “social media and cell phone technology in [her] daily lessons.”

Ramsey’s support of Ed’s programs, like College 101, is informed by her interest in exposing her students to post-secondary options.  College 101, she says, “has provided the students with a wealth of information that has helped the students with college planning – and as an awesome bonus the students [that participated in College 101] also went on various college tours and information sessions. The feedback from the students was always positive.”

Ramsey makes her way now to Starkville, Mississippi and the folks at Ed will most certainly miss getting to work with her at Woodlawn.  But her spirit and wisdom will not be soon forgotten; even in our final conversations with her, Ramsey made a comment that rings true with the staff at Ed: she said, as educators, we have to stay open minded and open to change. “We teach every day,” she said, “but becoming a great educator takes many years.”

Educator Spotlight: Cornelia Davis, Academy Coordinator, Parker High School

Pastor_Davis_M_DDSC_053020120623_4966Pastor_Davis_M_DDSC_0530-1-1If you walk into A.H. Parker High School looking for Cornelia Davis, you’re not likely to find her sitting quietly behind a desk.

On most days, Ms. Davis is out in the school supporting her students and coordinating projects as part of her role as Coordinator of the Academy of Urban Educators. But Ms. Davis is also integral to the success of other programs at the school, so whether she is participating in the cosmetology department’s hair show, recruiting students for College 101, or reading to kindergardeners at Tuggle Elementary with the Academy, Ms. Davis is always on the go.

A transplant from Mississippi, Davis grew up in the town of Moss Point; after high school, she attended Mississippi State University and earned a BS in Education with an emphasis on math. Davis moved to Birmingham shortly thereafter, and has been working in Birmingham City Schools for 14 years.

During the 2013-2014 school year, Ed has found an ally in Ms. Davis.  Davis has run point on both the College 101 and Bridging the Gap programs, coordinating with Ed staffers Ballard Jones and Victoria Hollis to recruit students, schedule events, and coordinate partnerships.  Davis says that programs like Ed’s are important because they “broaden a student’s perspective on colleges and other opportunities in the educational field.” And more than than, Davis noted that College 101 and Bridging the Gap “gave students a better understanding of the opportunities available to them in their own back yards.”

In the classroom and as Academy Coordinator, Davis believes that it is important to create a unique environment for her students. “I’m a student centered educator,” she said. “I like to create opportunities based on students’ interests rather than generalizing their education.” Davis knows that relationships with students are at the heart of creating an individualized academic experience for them.  “We spend a lot of time getting to know our students at Parker; we work to develop a teacher-student relationship because we believe that is how we can get the best out of our students.”

Educator Spotlight: Betty Malone, P.D. Jackson-Olin HS

Betty Gross Malone-1Betty Malone, career prep teacher at P.D. Jackson-Olin High School, is what we like to call a veteran of Birmingham City Schools. Not only has she been working in the district for close to thirty years, she is also a 1976 graduate of the old West End High School.

Malone attended Alabama A&M and received both a BS and Master’s in business administration/education. After graduation, Ms. Malone returned to her alma mater as a permanent substitute teacher, before transitioning to a position at Spaulding Elementary as educational secretary. It wasn’t until 1987, when an opening came available in the business tech department at Jackson-Olin, that she began her current role as a career prep teacher.

During her tenure at Jackson-Olin, Malone has watched the world of K-12 education evolve.  “When I first started teaching I had a classroom full of typewriters,” She says. “Now my room is filled with computers, and this generation of kids is born knowing technology.”

Malone, who has always had a love for technology, uses this to her advantage.  She says, “In my classroom, I try to teach the students how to use the technology that they own and use every day to be more productive in school.”  For example, students are encouraged to take pictures of their assignments for easy access, browse YouTube for educational tutorials, and take advantage of online learning activities, such as www.aeseducation.com and www.everfi.com, so they can adapt to the format of online courses in post-secondary education.

Malone knows that it is important to state up-to-date regarding technology because it is here to say.  “I do all I can do to keep up with technology [because], as soon as any new technology becomes available, the students are the first to get it. I use the conscious effort to design ways to use technology in the classroom as an educational tool, because the students are going to bring it to class whether I want them to or not.”

Educator Spotlight: Christine Hall, Wenonah High School

IMG_2205Christine Hall has a sense of humor.

When she sees Ed program specialist and chief College 101 staffer Ballard Jones peek through her door, she’ll often say, “Oh, no, Ballard.  We don’t want you here today,” with a smirk and a short laugh.

Hall, curriculum coach at Wenonah High School, has been Ed’s main contact for coordinating and scheduling College 101 events during the 2013-2014 school year; this has been no small task, as Ed quickly expanded the program to engage students in over 1000 conversations about college prep and admissions this spring alone.

Jones appreciates the humor, but even more so, he appreciates her dedication to her students and her support of Ed programs.  “Dr. Hall is excellent to work with,” Jones says. “She and the other College 101 contacts have spent a lot of time coordinating programs and students and we are very grateful for their partnership. Our programs aren’t possible without the support of staff at the schools.”

Hall brings a bevy of academic credentials to her work at Wenonah.  She completed her BS in Biology at University of Alabama; a BA in English, MA in education, and EdS in educational leadership at UAB; an EdD in educational leadership from UA/UAB; and is currently working on her PhD in English through UA/UAB.  On top of that, she has dedicated 25 years to working in Birmingham City Schools.  IMG_2214

As you can imagine, after two decades here, Hall has seen her share of changes in Birmingham City Schools; but when asked about educational innovation, she cited the new and expanding Academies of Birmingham, an initiative started in 2011 that relies on the structure of national career-academy models.  “Through that paradigm, kids are exposed to more college and career choices, networking opportunities, and cultural experiences beyond the classroom,” Hall says.  “The principals of work-based learning provide opportunities to partner with professionals that align with students’ future career choices.”

Ed has worked with students in Wenonah’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism, providing ACT prep through the work of long-term volunteers from UAB Honors College and Lawson State, and enlisting Alabama Possible to expand their Blueprints College Access curriculum to the school.  Hall has served as the main point-of-contact for most College 101 programs, and has been the sponsor for the school’s College Champions, an elite group of students that promoted events to the rest of the student body.  

Despite her jokes and good humor, Hall is serious about her job and about supporting her students.  “Teaching is a unique profession,” she says, “because it is a journey that lends itself to many avenues, both positive and negative. But by capitalizing on the positive, a teacher can make a difference in a child’s life by giving him the opportunity to succeed.  And that is worth all the work.”

Educator Spotlight: Kristie Williams, Carver High School

k.williamsIn her first year as Academy Coordinator at G.W. Carver High School, Kristie Williams is already making great strides toward creating a one-of-a-kind educational experience for her students.  “Our teachers strive to give our students real world connections to what they are learning in the classroom, ” Williams says, “We want to create a correlation between what students are learning in the classroom and how it can be used in their professions.”

During the course of her own education, Williams earned a Bachelor’s in Communications Management with a minor in English, a Master’s of Education in curriculum and instruction specialized in secondary English Language Arts, and an Educational Specialist degree in the same field. She has been in Birmingham City Schools for eight years, during which time she taught middle school English and Read 180, and also served as a literacy coach. 

As Academy Coordinator, Williams coordinates activities and instruction for students in the Academy of Engineering and Academy of Health sciences.  In addition to guest speakers, Carver students get to participate in a number of out of classroom experiences, such as professional tours, competitions, and  job shadowing; she says, “We encourage our students to participate in competitions such as robotics and the Electrahon race because those activities use the skills they have learned in the classroom.” And in all of these activities, Williams participates alongside her students – touring hospitals, wearing hardhats, and donating blood at the Academy-sponsored blood drive.  

It is in the development of work-based learning experiences that Williams has worked most closely with Ed, specifically on Bridging the Gap and the Interview Expo.  “The Ed Foundation has helped to ensure that Academy students receive some amazing experiences with business industry experts throughout the Birmingham Metro Area,” she says.  “All these opportunities demonstrates the commitment of so many successful professionals that want to work with our students to make them better prepared for the professions of their choice.”

Still, Williams maintains that building relationships with students is the key to creating meaningful learning experiences.  “I have learned  that students don’t care what you know until they know you care,” she says. “It’s very important to get to know your students’ interests and let them know you want the best for them, and position yourself as a professional and parental role model at all times.”  

Ms. Williams is an important ally for children in Birmingham City Schools and Ed is grateful for her partnership, dedication, and hard work.  Her working mantra, advice, and promise is to remain committed to “making decisions based on what is best for students and their growth as learners,” a sentiment that is very much shared by all of us here at Ed.  

Educator Spotlight: Gail Quinn, Huffman High School

IMG_0004[1]Gail L. Quinn, English teacher at Huffman High School, has been a part of Birmingham City Schools for quite some time.  In fact,Quinn is a product of the system, having attended Kingston Elementary and Carol W. Hayes High School.

Quinn received her B.S., M.S., and Ed. S. from Alabama State, and has been employed with BCS for 35 years, serving in a wide variety of roles ranging from Community Education Assistant to Educational Secretary to Assistant Principal.  Now at Huffman, Quinn wears many hats, serving as English Department chairperson, PALS sponsor, member of the security team, band volunteer and tutor.

As a ninth- and twelfth-grade English teacher, Quinn knows how important it is to start with a plan, and hers is to make sure students are college- and career-ready.  To do this, Quinn infuses her classes with projects, cooperative team learning activities, student discovery, and research while also making sure her students are equipped with valuable life skills. “I use a lot of hands-on learning exercises,” Quinn says, noting that it is essential “to bring students into the learning process.”

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In her role as PALS sponsor, Quinn coordinates the many outreach activities that the group participates in; the PALS, a peer-assisted leadership program, often provide direct services to other students in the high school, such as freshman and those in the specials needs program.  As part of the College Prep Institute, PALS also participate in bi-monthly sessions on college readiness, such as FAFSA and essay-writing workshops, and visited Lawson and UAB in February to learn more about the campuses’ Joint Admission program.

Quinn is undoubtedly passionate about what she does, and is dedicated to her job and her students, partly, perhaps, because she strives to stay a student, too.  “As a teacher, I have remained a student,” Quinn says. “I think it is very important to learn everything I can about my field, to stay up-to-date on standards and trends, and learn how to best utilize technology in the classroom.”

But the most important thing, she says, is to remember why you’re a teacher in the first place: “Be flexible and be human, but above all, love your students.”