Parent Spotlight: Michael Hightower

IMG_20150905_111700Stillman graduate Michael Hightower is a native of Birmingham, Alabama and a longtime friend of Birmingham City Schools – Hightower graduated from Ensley High School in 1997 and his children will be the products of BCS, too.

Michael is the father of three daughters: Brittany, a 2009 graduate of Parker High School; Leshae, a 2014 graduate of Carver High School; and Michaela, who will graduate from Carver this spring. “I am extremely proud of them” says Michael about his daughters’ success in school. Michael is very active with his daughters while they participate in extracurricular activities He has been a band booster for Brittany and was a supporter of the cheerleaders when Leshae and Michaela were a part of the squad. “All that I ask is that they finish high school,” Michael says. “I trust that any decisions made after that will be responsible”.

IMG_20140924_074101Michael is new member of the Ed Network and is excited to participate in our programs, especially Network Night, which he was encouraged to attend by Coach Aubrey Bennett, Ed Connector and the Athletic Director at Carver High School.

“What I like about Ed is that it is a source of information,” Michael says. “Not only information about education, but also in learning about other people’s lifestyles and cultures and getting to know the people in and around our schools. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”

Getting to Know Our Families: Nikilya McNeil, Ramsay and Tuggle Parent

Nikilya McNeil

“Sometimes it’s hard to balance my life and [my children’s] with all of the academics and activities, but I make it a priority” says parent, Nikilya McNeil, a Birmingham City parent and minister at Love Fellowship Christian Center. In our brief conversation, Nikilya clearly conveys her dedication to supporting her children and what it means to be an involved parent. Continue reading

Getting To Know Our Families: Shasheema McKinney, South Hampton Elementary parent

1We believe that Birmingham has a rich history and a bright future and we are reminded of that everyday in our interactions with students and their families.

Take Shasheema McKinney, for example — born, raised, and educated in Birmingham, Shasheema is intricately a part of the history of our city and shares some of the experiences her children are now living.  Continue reading

Getting to Know Our Families: D’Anntoinette Johnson, Tuggle Elementary

IMG_3078I have to make a confession.

That first time I showed up to Tuggle Elementary to talk to Ms. D’Anntoinette Johnson about the upcoming student talent show, I asked for “Ms. Johnson, the teacher.”

When I first met Johnson, only a few weeks before, she stood up during the Marketplace at Tuggle’s Network Night requesting volunteers to help her organize and promote the upcoming event, and I took her up on her offer, unconsciously assuming she was faculty at the school. But this is the beauty of the Network and of the unique environment that Principal Teresa Ragland has fostered at her school: one that is filled with parents and regular volunteers who have integrated themselves seamlessly into the fabric of the school and are taking advantage of every opportunity, using their own skills, talents, and passions to contribute to student success.

Since that night, Johnson – a mother of four and Vice President of Membership for the Tuggle PTA – has been spending the last month nurturing her dream of organizing a talent show for the students of Carrie A Tuggle Elementary. As you might guess, one of Johnson strengths is the sense of personal responsibility and determination that characterizes her work on this project.  In addition to raising four sons between the ages of 21 and 3, she is also currently working to finish her bachelor’s degree. “It has been a personal goal of mine since high school,” she says, “and I want to lead my sons by being an example to them.”

For the talent show, Johnson and others first asked students to audition and then chose 13 students to participate in 10 acts. Since then, students have been practicing after school to refine their performances and get feedback.

IMG_3084On Tuesday, fifth-grade students Esmerelda and Kiara are deep in discussion, meditating on the modifications they are making to their performance in the hallway outside the gym.  “Our teacher suggested changing some of the moves,” says Esmerelda, “So we are practicing those new steps today.”

“We are really excited to show our talents,” says Kiara. “It’s the first time Tuggle has had a Talent Show and we are glad to be a part of that.”

While Johnson stands out as the lead on planning for the talent show, however, she acknowledges that the process has been a group effort.

I am so overwhelmed by the number of people who want to help,” she says. “Having our community contribute means they have a real interest in this event, and in our school, in our students. It is a really great feeling.”

fylerDuring the Marketplace – a dedicated part of the Network space during which members can make an offer or request, and people make exchanges in real time – Johnson’s request was met with an extremely positive response. Many people, like Tuggle alum Denzel Plump, offered to participate in the event itself as a judge.

The Tuggle Talent show will take place this coming Friday at 4:30pm. Judges will include Plump; Donnell Humes from State Farm; Ed Community Partnerships Director Marshall Pollard; Cynthia Northorp, Tuggle faculty; and Birmingham City Councilor Lashunda Scales. Tickets for students are $2 in advance and $3 at the door; tickets for adults are $5 and $7, respectively.

“I wanted to give students a opportunity to show off their talents and receive positive praise,” says parent D’Anntoinette Johnson. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long, long time, so when I got the green light, I ran with it.”

Getting To Know Our Families: LaTasha Allen, parent at Carver and Inglenook

IMG_3798“Dominique wants to be a teacher, Quasi wants to be a doctor, and Romeo is a future engineer,” says Ms. LaTasha Allen during a regular meeting with Ed staff as part of the Family Partnership Initiative. We talk in the dim light of the Christmas tree in the corner of the room that illuminates us and many Christmas cards strung over her fireplace. It’s a quiet night in Birmingham, but the pride in Ms. Allen’s heart fills the room.

“They love to read,” she continues. “All of my kids are so smart. They all went into kindergarten knowing how to read and write.” When asked how she keeps her children engaged in education, her answer is simple: “Prayer. Lots of prayer. I wish I could say it was easy, but it’s hard keeping them focused.  It’s been a roller coaster keeping them on the right track.”

In conversation, Romeo confesses that he struggled in his classes in middle school because he didn’t take the initiative to ask for help and Ms. Allen says it is Romeo that she worries about the most, especially because of the risk of negative peer pressure from kids his age in their neighborhood. As an FPI family, Ms. Allen and Ed staff meet regularly to talk through ideas like this and connect Ms. Allen to people in the community that can help her attend to the individual needs of her students. As an aspiring engineer, Romeo will likely be connected to professionals in the industry that can help him pinpoint his interests and get hands-on experience that relates to and encourages his academic and professional pursuits.

Ms. Allen appreciates how important it is to keep her children in a supportive environment that instills in them the importance of education and responsibility, and she cultivates that in her household and in the relationship that she is building with Ed as an FPI participant. “I pray for strength,” she says, “So that I can strengthen them.”

Now, all of Ms. Allen’s children take their own initiative to ask their teachers for help when they are struggling. They all receive some form of tutoring from school or the public library. Ms. Allen sees this initiative as an expression of their independence, their strength of character, and their ambition.

I want them to have their diploma and to have the choice to go to college,” Allen says. “I tell them, ‘Don’t let anyone take the choice away from you to go to college. If you decide not to go it’s not because you can’t but because you made that choice.'”

The kids agree that while Ms. Allen is their mother first and foremost, she is also their teacher. Dominique, the youngest, clarifies this, saying, “Our mom wants us to know that we can get somewhere in life but we have to study and bring books home.” Quasi agrees, “She makes us bring books home to study subjects we are doing bad in. We study them hard all week, all of the time.”

Ms. Allen’s favorite approach to education is problem-solving, and she emphasizes that while a problem may only have one answer, there are multiple ways to arrive at the same place. It’s a skill that she believes is extremely useful in their studies and beyond. “I support every dream they have,” she adds, “they may hate me now for making them study, but professional careers require studying extensively, self-sacrifice and self-discipline. If they dream to have a professional career, then I will make them study. I will make sure they learn these values. It is not my job to live their life, but show them life.”

Ed wants to thank Ms. Allen for her partnership, for her time, and for sharing a small part of her life with us!

Getting to know our families: Trudy Hunter, Carver HS

UntitledEvery day, Ed goes to work with parents.

Trudy Hunter is one of those parents who has been working for students in her household and in her community long before we met her. A Miles alumna, wife, mother, grandmother, and native Bostonian, Trudy wakes up each day with a tenacity that is contagious. “I didn’t grow up with many people around me making sure I took the right path,” she says. “So I’m doing whatever it takes to make sure my kids are.” Even now, Trudy sees the fruits of her labor – one of her children is following in her footsteps to continue his education at Miles College and another is a junior at Carver – and is confident that her children will continue marching with her on the right path.

With all that’s on her plate, playing a role in her kid’s education came down to what Trudy had capacity to do, which to her was as easy as showing up. Trudy believes that listening to her children’s hopes and dreams is crucial. “I do my best to know what they want for themselves. But it’s their future,” she says, “and they’ve got to own it.”

Trudy is all about high expectations and the consistent support, but she doesn’t limit that support to her time at home with her kids: she makes herself present in the school in anyway she can. Even if it means bringing her grandson with her, Trudy is often found at Carver meeting with teachers, helping out in the front office, and connecting with parents.“Every year, I make sure my kids’ teachers know who I am,” she says. “That relationship is so important.”

Trudy joins two other parents in the Carver feeder pattern as the Parent Connector for Ed’s Asset Mapping with Birmingham Neighborhoods and Schools. The purpose of this program is to create community to school partnerships by connecting “assets”: students, parents, teachers, residents or organizations with similar ideas or hopes for Carver. When asked about her experience working with Ed, Trudy says, “Being the Ed Parent Connector for Carver has afforded me the ability to get involved and express more of an interest in my child’s and other children’s lives. Interviewing and talking to parent’s about their dreams and hopes for their children has created an atmosphere where our children will benefit greatly.”

With a (little bit of) Boston flare, Trudy often talks about her desire for Carver to be a place where parents and community members are seen lending their time and talents, even when there isn’t a meeting going on. “Teachers and students have so much on their plates,” she notes. “My hope is that one day you see this place full with community people, alumni and parents who are welcomed and helping out in ways that they enjoy.” Mutually-beneficial relationships between all involved is exactly what Ed is hopeful for—at Carver and in every Birmingham City school.

Only when Ed works with parents like Trudy Hunter will we take steps (together) in that direction.

Making Birmingham City Schools Successful Again by Staci McCloud, Parent, Tuggle Elementary

There are many components that comprise the long list of things that are needed in order to make the students of Birmingham City Schools more successful.  The main and most important component piece is the school, the actual school building.  The school building needs to be sturdy and well lit.  The structure also needs to contain computers, a gym area, lunchroom and music room.  These additional areas help to make the student whole. The computers help to broaden the mind and expand their use of technology.  The gym helps them to unwind and play as children need to in order to stay well balanced.  The lunchroom functions as a fueling station with healthy meals containing fruits and vegetables that the students might not be getting at home.  Lastly, the music room provides the art and culture element for the students.  Some children, once exposed, are naturals in this area.

Next, very important to the successfulness of each student is a strong principal, teacher and parent partnership.  The principal should be visible daily and willing to speak with students.  This shows a very tangible leadership.  This is important to the teaching staff, parents and students alike.  As a parent myself, I like to know that my son is in good hands.   Teachers need to be well educated, trained and prepared for the lesson daily. They also need to be good listeners.  There are many teachers that could completely change a student’s pathway by taking the time to listen.  There are many parents that don’t work and would possibly be interested in volunteering—but, haven’t been asked.  The principal, teacher and parent should be all visible in the school.  Of course we as parents need to more involved.  We need to keep an open dialogue with the teaching staff.  Some teachers go all year without seeing the parents or guardians one time.  The teachers should be our friends and allies not our enemies.

One other component that would change the current state of Birmingham City Schools is the communities they are in.  While we cannot change the location of these schools currently, we can change the composition of the neighborhood.  By this, I mean, we can get the community involved so that they show a sense of ownership.  There are several families that require their children to walk home due to lack of vehicle etc.  It is possible that there could be a group of retired individuals that could patrol that neighborhood in order to ensure safety.  I have driven home in the past and seen fights or bullying taking place.  Our children need to feel safe at home, at school and in their neighborhood.  I have friends that have taken their children out of Birmingham City Schools because they didn’t feel safe.

In conclusion, our children need strong principals, teachers and parents.  A wonderful addition is the community getting onboard also.  I feel that if the children see all this support they have no choice but to be successful.  As students, they need parents that care enough to get them to school daily—on time and prepared for learning.  As parents, we need to really engage in what is being taught to our children.  We need to keep a constant and friendly banter with the teacher.  As a community, we need good schools that make us proud to be in the Birmingham area.  We need everyone as a whole to cooperate in making our schools successful.

Getting to know our families: Staci McCloud, Tuggle Elementary

Staci McCloud has high hopes andstaci expectations for her children.

“This is just the beginning,” she says, “And I want [my children] to understand the foundations so that they can be whomever they want to be.”

With two children, ages 4 and 6, she takes her role in laying the foundations seriously: “We read a lot. We talk a lot. I do everything I can to expose them to different ideas and experiences that will spark their imagination and make them say ‘Wow, Mommy’!” From trips to the Art Museum and McWane Science Center to spotting objects by color during the car rides to and from school, Ms. McCloud constantly keeps her children’s curiosity heightened.

“You can’t have a future without education,” Ms. McCloud says, reminiscing about the messages her parents and community consistently reinforced in her as a child. “We all went to school. It wasn’t an option to not finish high school and go to college.”

She expects the same outcomes for her two children. Her youngest aspires to be a doctor and her eldest daydreams about being a racecar driver. Whatever different career paths they may ultimately choose, Ms. McCloud believes that their education is the cornerstone on which their imaginations rest.

McCloud notes that Tuggle Elementary is a school characterized by varying strengths and areas of growth, many of which are shared by other schools in the district. “I have experienced teachers at Tuggle who really care,” she says. “They’ve welcomed me and provided the space for me to get involved.” McCloud believes it’s the role of the school to ensure that parents are connected and engaged in meaningful ways, and as an active member of the PTA, hopes for even more opportunities for parents to get together and bounce ideas off each other. “I want to see everyone working together,” she says. “Not in silos.”

You may find Staci McCloud at PTA meetings, a smile on her face, and her contagious charisma lighting up her eyes. You may find her studying at Miles College and welcoming visitors at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. But you will most certainly find her at Tuggle Elementary with her children, counting steps as they walk hand-in-hand, turning everyday occurrences into learning experiences for her children and inspiring you to do the same.

For this, Ed thanks you, Staci McCloud. You are certainly a parent we are thankful to work with.

Getting to know our families: Princess Henderson, Hudson K-8 School

phendersonPrincess Henderson, Hudson K-8 mother of three, is just like many of you—a parent of children attending a Birmingham City School. And just like all of us, she has a powerful story: one full of gifts, hopes, dreams and struggles.

Princess lives in the North Birmingham community near Hudson. Like every parent we’ve met, she has high expectations for her children. She also has the same expectations for the school she sends them to.

“Hudson’s standard’s are different,” says Henderson. “The staff members at the school hold my kids accountable for their actions.” Henderson makes an effort to stay in contact with her children’s teachers by continuously being present at the school and maintaining an open line of communication. She knows this is one thing she can do to ensure that her kids get the education they deserve—one that will lead them to be ready for the college or career of their dreams.

But Princess knows that part of the process of preparing kids for life after high school takes place at home.  When asked what she does to support her students academic success, Princess passionately replied, “I am willing to take that extra step that makes sure that they are doing their absolute best. And both of them are on the A/B honor roll—and they will stay on it.”

“Whatever [my students] need help with, I’m doing all I can to provide it.”

Princess is the Parent Connector for Ed’s Asset Mapping with Birmingham Neighborhoods and Schools program at Hudson K-8 this year. The purpose of the program is to create community-to-school partnerships based on the assets that are discovered by “Connectors”. Princess is a full-time mom, wife, and student and has committed to working with other parents to connect them to Hudson K-8.

“My hope is for the doors of Hudson to be wide-open with structured opportunities for parents, teachers, and community members to work together for our kids,” Henderson says smiling, dreaming aloud about a school and community that worked together to “teach our kids to give back to the community that gave so much to them.”

She speaks with optimism coupled with doses of realism. She understands the barriers students, families, and educators face. “It’s tough,” she says, “but we’ve all got one thing in common—these are our kids. By working together, we’ll be the village they need us to be, you know what I’m saying?”

We do know what you’re saying, Princess!

Here’s to you Mrs. Henderson—a parent Ed is more than grateful to work with.