UAB has long been committed to solving the unique educational challenges that exist in urban school systems. To that end, the UAB School of Education has joined with Birmingham City Schools to announce its Innovative Learning Collaborative—a partnership between faculty and students and Birmingham teachers, principals and the school system’s upper administration to form a learning community that improves education and benefits for students and all involved entities.

City School Partnership

The participating schools are Glen Iris Elementary and EPIC Elementary. Both are located adjacent to UAB’s campus and, because of existing partnerships and proximity, are ideal for the initial collaboration, says Lynn Kirkland, Ed.D., chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

“I am hoping that we are able to create an atmosphere where excellence is the norm for students, teachers and the university,” says Michael Wilson, Ph.D., principal of Glen Iris.

“The collaboration between these entities is not new,” says Vicki Stokes, Ed.D., principal of EPIC. “We have worked together for many years. The difference is that there will be a more defined purpose and planning, such that the relationship and its benefits will last for years to come.”

The components include hands-on, in-classroom training for School of Education students, tools and resources for Birmingham schoolteachers and principals, collaborations among the groups to provide community education that include literacy efforts and partnerships to apply for funding for various initiatives such as innovative after-school programming. The partnership will also generate collaborative research that will provide instructional strategies that can be used in urban education.

Wilson and members of his staff, as well as Stokes and her administration, have been meeting regularly with UAB faculty to create a partnership they hope will make an impact.

“They are invested as much as we are,” says Deborah Voltz, Ed.D., dean of the School of Education. “We all have skin in the game.”

This past summer, the group acquired a memorandum of understanding signed by the Birmingham Board of Education. Craig Witherspoon, Ed.D., superintendent for Birmingham City Schools, says he hopes this initiative will become a district model.

“For the past few years, we’ve established and nurtured professional learning communities within our schools,” Witherspoon reports. “This partnership allows us to expand that concept and, not only broaden our base of knowledge and professional network, but also create additional opportunities for collaborative learning.”

Ultimately, the goal is to expand into the schools into which Glen Iris and EPIC feed, being there to assist students as they progress throughout their educational careers. “We are spending all the time we need to make this right,” Kirkland says. “Next is middle school, then high school. We want to help them feel as though we are with them every step of the way.”

Another expected outcome is highly trained teachers who have relationships with potential employers, as well as creating a UAB presence in the classrooms that could inspire students to consider attending UAB.

“When you think about recruitment, the students will have seen us all along,” Kirkland said. “Then they will want to come to UAB.”

Voltz is excited about that. “It does take a village to prepare a teacher and train a child,” she says. “We want to help to infuse new energy into the P-12 schools.”