History of the Birmingham City Schools
The City of Birmingham was formally organized in 1871. However, no formal school system was set up. The education of the children was the responsibility of their parents.
Several pioneer settlers were teachers and schoolmasters, but there were many unschooled children. The children that were afforded the opportunity to attend the schools were from families that were financially able. After the cholera epidemic, a financial panic struck. People were out of work and feeling the pinch of poverty. Tuition was difficult to pay. It was at this time that a group of laboring people went to Col. John T. Terry, a prominent citizen and civic leader, with an appeal for a free school. Col. Terry took the appeal to James R. Powell, president of the Elyton Land Company and mayor of Birmingham.
Mayor Powell recommended that the Elyton Land Company donate a lot 100 feet by 140 feet on the southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and 24th Street for a free school. The citizens donated money to start building the school, but the money gave out before the school was completed. Col. Terry came to the rescue and loaned the City $3,000. The city placed bonds to cover the amount until the loan was repaid. This was Birmingham's first school bond issue.
As a result of the zealous efforts of the citizenry, a four-room brick structure was built and opened on March 1, 1874, with approximately 150 students. D.C.B. Connelly was the principal. An addition to the school came later. The school was designated as a free school, but fees were charged and ranged from 25 cents to $1. These fees varied by grade level and were charged monthly.
In 1882, A.O. Lane was elected mayor of Birmingham and in 1883 he began a reorganization of the Free School. He wanted to upgrade the school in methods, curriculum, and instruction. Mayor Lane took the operation of the school out of the hands of the mayor and aldermen and placed it under the supervision of a superintendent. Professor John H. Phillips was the first superintendent for Birmingham School System. Professor Phillips organized a Board of Education and set the school up in three divisions: primary, grammar, and high school. The school was named Powell in honor of James R. Powell. The school system grew and by 1887 there were seven schools.
In 1910, the Alabama State Legislature passed a bill creating Greater Birmingham. This bill allowed Birmingham to annex the surrounding municipalities. Each of these municipalities had been operating their own schools under their own school boards and local governments. The Birmingham Board visited all the schools in the surrounding municipalities and found that most of the buildings were substandard and were in disrepair or in need of replacement. The total number of schools annexed were 40, and some were operating in churches or rented spaces.
The school system experienced periods of expansion and change. The growth of the school system followed the pattern of the city. Old neighborhoods were dwindling and new ones were appearing at an alarming rate. The school system had difficulties keeping up with the new neighborhoods. In 1971, 100 years after the birth of the city of Birmingham, the school system had 13 high schools and 77 elementary schools operating.
During the 1980s, there was an effort to establish middle schools in the system. In the late 1990s, the demographics of the city was changing and schools were merged to serve the changing demographics. Since then, a number of schools have been closed.
At the same time, the district has been building new schools and renovating and adding onto older facilities.
The changes includ: the merger of Ensley High School with Jackson-Olin High School to form the new P. D. Jackson-Olin High School; the building of Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School, renovations and additions to Glen Iris Elementary School; renovations to Woodlawn High School; and new buildings for Robinson Elementary and Wenonah High School.
A new Hudson K-8 School opened in August 2009. A new Washington K-8 School opened in early 2010, along with Green Acres Middle School, which received major renovations and additions. Other capital improvement projects that are under way include new facilities for Huffman High School, Whatley K-8/Gibson Elementary School and Tuggle/Hill and Brown elementary schools. A new K-8 school is under construction in the Oxmoor Valley as well.
The capital improvement plan, funded by a one-cent Jefferson County sales tax, includes several additional projects that will be completed in the next few years.
There are currently 51 schools in the Birmingham City School System. This number includes 25 elementary schools, 11 middle schools, seven K-8 schools, seven high schools, and one alternative school.