Photo courtesy of Jason Gaston.
Berry High School
Former Berry High School campus.
Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy today said she is interested in exploring potential partnerships with nearby school districts for use of the former Berry High School property on Columbiana Road.
Potential ideas include working with other districts to provide a joint alternative school program, career tech academies or a fine arts center, Murphy said.
The 35-acre campus now houses Hoover’s Crossroads alternative school and is used for a variety of other functions, such as teacher training and offices for some districtwide personnel.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham even holds some classes there.
The city of Hoover has offered to buy the campus for $9 million, in hopes of building an athletic complex there, but Murphy said she and other school system leaders want to first make sure the school district doesn’t need it for educational uses.
“Obviously, the pleasure of the (school) board will determine what happens with that facility,” but she feels it in incumbent upon her to at least explore various alternatives before making a recommendation to the board.
“Once it’s sold, it’s sold,” she said. “But have we thought about every viable option for utilizing that property? I want to be sure of that … We’ve got to get our homework done.”
Murphy mentioned the idea today during a meeting with 14 other central Alabama school superintendents and community organizations and businesses that are interested in partnering with schools to improve education in the region.
State schools Superintendent Tommy Bice met with the superintendents and community partners today to encourage them to continue looking for ways to collaborate.
The meeting was organized by the Bold Goals Coalition for Central Alabama, a group of business, nonprofit, government and education leaders who have joined together to address disparities in education, financial stability and health in the region.
With regard to education, the group aims to increase the overall graduation rate in Jefferson, Shelby, Blount, St. Clair and Walker counties from 89 to 90 percent by 2020.
The group is focusing on three primary areas: making pre-kindergarten services available to more children, boosting third-grade reading test scores and improving the percentage of students who are ready for college and careers when they graduate high school.
Less than one-third of all high school students in Alabama are deemed ready for college or a career, and in some school systems, less than 60 percent of the students graduate on time, according to the Alabama Department of Education. Of those who do go on to two-year and four-year colleges, one-third of them require remediation in reading and math, state department stats show.
The Bold Goals Coalition realizes that there are a lot of businesses, groups and government agencies that want to help improve education, but too many times, they are working independently instead of in a coordinated way for maximum effect, said Drew Langloh, president and CEO of United Way of Central Alabama.
The Bold Goals Coalition wants to change that and has brought together 211 partners under one umbrella to help seek solutions collaboratively and work toward common goals, Langloh said.
The idea is not to start a new program but to better align existing resources with the areas of greatest need, said Bill Jones, a retired executive from O’Neal Industries, who is co-chairman of the coalition’s education committee along with retired Jefferson County Superintendent Phil Hammonds.
The education committee wants to bring education leaders and community partners together to think boldly and creatively to provide better instructional opportunities for children, Hammonds said.
Bice said this is a great model he hopes to see duplicated in other parts of the state. There are many services out there to help children, but sometimes the dots just have to be connected to get the help where it is most needed, he said.
Walter Gonsoulin, superintendent for Fairfield City Schools, said that through help from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, his school district was able to partner with the Bessemer and Midfield districts and get a $100,000 grant to help provide pre-kindergarten services for children in their areas. Today, 112 children are getting a pre-K education they didn’t have before, and that number continues to grow, he said.
More collaboration between the three school districts enabled Fairfield to expand its number of career tech academies from five to nine for this school year, Gonsoulin said.
In 2007, the city of Vestavia Hills made a joint offer with Shades Mountain Christian School to buy former Berry High School campus from the Hoover school board for $10 million, but Hoover officials were not sure whether they wanted to sell the property or hold onto it for use by either the school system or city of Hoover. The joint offer expired without action by the Hoover school board.
Efforts to reach the Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook superintendents for comment today about any potential interest in joint use of the Berry property were unsuccessful.
Homewood Superintendent Bill Cleveland said he doesn’t know today of any specific interest that Homewood City Schools might have in the old Berry property but today’s discussion was a good impetus to get school officials thinking creatively.
Cleveland said Homewood is very fortunate to have the Homewood City Schools Foundation that is very active and supportive of his district’s teachers and students. However, he and other superintendents are very appreciative of the support exhibited by the leaders in the Bold Goals Coalition, he said.
“In this time of limited and dwindling state funding, I’m not sure there is any system in this state that doesn’t appreciate an organization like this bringing folks together to help our kids,” Cleveland said. “It’s refreshing. It’s appreciated, and at the same time, it’s inspiring.
“With the way that funding for education is trending, it is going to cause many systems to think creatively in the best interests of our students,” Cleveland said.
Murphy said she respects school district lines but there could potentially be some efficiencies gained by cooperation and collaboration in programs.
“We’re all starting to realize we’re not islands … that as a group we can accomplish much more than we can as individuals,” she said.
For more information about the Bold Goals Coalition for Central Alabama and its education initiative, go to www.boldgoals.org/education.