With a two and a half-year old soon to start preschool and another little one on the way, Boss and I have finally started to discuss a very important topic we’ve consciously avoided since moving here.
Where will we send our children to school?
Sure, call us irresponsible for not tackling this before we settled into a neighborhood, but there are reasons we did not get into the meat of the matter until now. (And yes, we were well aware of the state of Birmingham’s school system from the beginning.)
A – With another mortgage in Charleston, our real estate options were limited.
B – We wanted to live in the City.
C – We had that newcomer’s optimism… Surely, we thought, there are other families like ours and certainly they have found a situation they are happy with.
Now as we get cozy and settled and begin to look at our five-year plan, we are considering options that never entered conversation before: private school, homeschooling…moving. I don’t have to tell you what the state of Birmingham City schools look like, but I do have to wonder why?
Background Check: When the City of Birmingham was formally organized in 1871 no formal school was set up. Education of the children was left up to the parents. Several pioneers of the city were teachers and schoolmasters, so those children that were financially able to attend this early school setting did so. There were many children left out and, basically, left unschooled. A cholera epidemic that led to a financial panic eventually ignited the community’s plea for a free school. Powell School was opened in 1874, although it was not really a free school as students and their families were expected to pay monthly fees. New leadership took hold and new schools were built. By 1887 there were seven schools in Birmingham.
In 1910, the Alabama State Legislature passed a bill creating Greater Birmingham that allowed the City to annex the surrounding municipalities. Forty schools were annexed and many of those were operating under substandard conditions. Throw in white flight a few decades later and the evolution of Birmingham schools continued. More schools, fewer resources, poorer communities…it reads like a sad book.
Today Birmingham has 56 schools: 29 elementary schools, 12 middle schools, seven K-8 schools, seven high schools, and one alternative school. On average, dropout rates are high, a number of campuses are unsafe, academic scores are low. In a nutshell, parents like us fear the worst. We don’t at all feel comfortable with the notion of sending our children to public school. And that’s a shame… *Update: According to education.com, Birmingham now has over 80 schools: http://www.education.com/schoolfinder/us/alabama/district/birmingham-city-school-district.
So, here we are. The future of our family depends greatly on accessible education.
Tell me there’s a silver lining that I’m simply missing. Where on earth do we begin?