When touring Henry J. Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama, yesterday, guests saw a school undergoing a dramatic transformation. People visiting Birmingham and Oliver Elementary included David J. Johns, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, Brenda Girten-Mitchell, Director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Eddie Martin, Under Secretary, Special Assistant, Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Forest T. Harper, Jr., President and CEO of INROADS and Keith Moore, President and CEO of opengovtv.
The broad approach that the Woodlawn Foundation is taking in Birmingham, working with housing, education innovation, wraparound services and economic development, is proving to be a model for the nation.
Henry J. Oliver Elementary School is part of a five-campus feeder pattern known as the Woodlawn Innovation Network (WIN), which is supported in part by the Woodlawn Foundation. The schools, Woodlawn High School, Hayes K-8 School, W.E. Putnam Middle School, Avondale Elementary School and Henry J. Oliver Elementary School, will be re-imagined around interest-based themes.
“By reorganizing traditional school structures into models of innovation and moving from traditional classrooms to spaces of student-centered, blended learning focused on the academic growth of every child as they are immersed in Inquiry and problem-solving is the goal,” said KnowledgeWorks National Director of Teaching and Learning Robin Kanaan.
Work with the school started last year and KnowledgeWorks Technical Assistance Coach Patti Gibson has been working closely with school staff. Constance Fields, a fifth grade teacher at Oliver Elementary, said of Gibson, “She encourages us to take risks inside the classroom. Being in the classroom for 25 years, it was not easy giving up the firm authoritative role. I always wanted the classroom to be extremely structured, but because of her sound advice, I learned to adapt and allow students to feel comfortable enough to move around from place to place, use computers, locate documents, and use whatever materials they need in an orderly fashion.”
Second grade teacher Tamika Smith participated in the design sessions, where district staff and community members partnered with KnowledgeWorks to plan for the future. “Our team has worked really hard this year to prepare our teachers and ourselves for next year,” Smith said.
When school started this year, many of those changes were already in place and teachers are excited for the effect it will on the community. “Our students need to know that they have a future,” Fields said. “Schools need to get them prepared. We have to make sure that kids from this community have the opportunity to become global competitors just like kids from surrounding communities. These students are our future.”
When people visit Oliver Elementary, they’re sure to see that the future of Birmingham is looking bright.