What is the Power of a Promise?
When I began my career in public service, I knew that I would have to make popular and unpopular decisions for the residents in my district and the City of Birmingham and in those moments, I will always be transparent as to why I made the decision.
When the budget was presented, it included a reallocation of $2 million towards a new program, the Birmingham Promise. The program is a public-private partnership designed to provide every Birmingham City School senior with a college scholarship or an apprenticeship. While the program was promising on the surface, we were left with several questions and faced with the tough decision of continuing at level funding or reallocating a portion of the funding towards the Birmingham Promise, a program that has the potential to shift the trajectory of our school system and our city as a whole.
I have spent a lot of time in our schools and a couple of things are abundantly clear; we have a lot of great principals, teachers, counselors, coaches, and support staff; our students can receive a high-quality learning experience in our schools. However, the major issue that I have concerning our schools is what feels like a lack of motivation among many of our students. I think back to my high school days and consider the things that motivated me and honestly, I was motivated by the possibilities the future held and what I could become if I worked hard enough. I benefited tremendously from people around me that made sure I was exposed to the seemingly infinite options ahead of me. I believe that many of our students show up and go through the motions, because we have not exposed them to the options that will become available to them; we have failed to paint a clear picture of how their education translates to the future quality of life for themselves and their families.
My decision to ultimately support the Birmingham Promise is centered in the belief that we are at a major crossroads in Birmingham in regards to our school system and I believe that changes must be made within the next three to five years in order for the Birmingham City Schools to reverse the trend of students leaving the system. I believe that the City can best support this goal by investing directly into a program that provides our students a chance to either pursue a college education or move immediately towards building an accelerated career pathway and incentivizes families to stay in the city of Birmingham school system. Too many of our students graduate high school unprepared for high paying, high demand jobs and we must do better. We must support the professional development of a high-quality workforce through education and training or our school system will begin to look less like what we envision for our children and more like cities where city schools experience a consistent loss of enrollment, are forced to close schools and become outnumbered by charter and private schools. I fear that this is what Birmingham is headed toward, if bold and decisive action is not taken.
I am hopeful that the Birmingham Promise will be fulfilled, and generations of students will be placed on a clear path towards prosperity. We can no longer accept high school graduates responding, “I don’t know” when asked what they plan to do after graduation. A clear road map ensures that every student has the opportunity to thrive. What if Birmingham became a city where we do more than just shake our students’ hands, pat them on the back and say good luck as they walk off with their diploma? What if Birmingham became a city that launched its graduates into the future free of college debt? What if Birmingham became a city where every graduate was offered a hand up as they walked into adulthood? I support the Birmingham Promise, because I believe that Birmingham can become that place and I promise to do my part to help build a foundation for every Birmingham student to succeed.