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COMMENTARY: Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring; Vote for Our Children

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — It is my hope that it comes to you as no surprise that as superintendent of Birmingham City Schools, I am writing to inform you of, and urge you, to participate in the upcoming special election on Tuesday, Oct. 8, which will determine the future of our children and our community. It is for this reason that I solicit your support in helping to secure our collective vote for our children. It is our vote that will allow for the continuation of the resources needed to sustain our good work in order to continue improving and growing.

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Dr. Lisa Herring

By Dr. Lisa Herring

It is my hope that it comes to you as no surprise that as superintendent of Birmingham City Schools, I am writing to inform you of, and urge you, to participate in the upcoming special election on Tuesday, Oct. 8, which will determine the future of our children and our community. It is for this reason that I solicit your support in helping to secure our collective vote for our children. It is our vote that will allow for the continuation of the resources needed to sustain our good work in order to continue improving and growing.

Birmingham City Schools has made significant progress for our scholars. If we wish to maintain this momentum, we ask you to vote “for” Birmingham City Schools three times on your ballot in support of a renewal of taxation. To be clear, this is not a tax increase. Additionally, this is not a yes/no vote.

We ask you to vote FOR this proposal three times, which will allow us to continue receiving current funding by giving our scholars the best opportunities for success. Your three for votes will help us protect the future of vital areas such as pre-k, technology, and job readiness.

As we reflect on this progress we have made, I want to remind you that our scholars have been positively impacted the most. If we lose these dollars, their futures and the future of our city will be jeopardized.

Help us protect our progress by voting for our children, for our community, and for our future on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Our progress is just beginning.  As we continue to rewrite the narrative of our system, I invite you to join us in the work of using our voice, celebrating our victories and executing the power of our vote. Three solid votes “FOR” our children in Birmingham City Schools.

In May 2017, I humbly accepted the invitation to lead and serve the children, staff and families of Birmingham City Schools as school superintendent. Approximately 28 months have lapsed since the whirlwind of the transition from Louisville, Kentucky to Birmingham, Alabama. In the reflection of the last two plus years, much like one of my favorite authors, Maya Angelou, I often reflect and think to myself, “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now!”

As a child of the South (born and raised in Macon, Georgia), Birmingham has taught me so much about the critical importance of leading our children with confidence and empowering our communities with knowledge and support. It is the history of our great city that demands that we are all accountable for the wellness and future of our most valuable asset: our children.

The work of the public school superintendency, particularly in urban schools, is complex to understand and challenging to navigate. However, any standing superintendent should be confident in stating that the scholars we serve and advocate for are worth every effort executed along the way.

In Birmingham City Schools, a committed school board of nine members and I work tirelessly and strategically to improve not only academic performance but also the narrative of our system and the narrative that one day, each of our scholars and their families will tell. What we have learned in the midst of our transition together is that we must maintain a clear message and a strong voice.

It is our voice, our collective voice, that helps all of our constituents understand the critical elements of our work and why we do it. Our strategy has been clear: strive for strong, sustainable leadership, work together, measure our progress and write our own story in order to move away from the struggles of the past and highlight the present success and celebrations of the future. We have worked hard to move away from low performing schools to more schools making academic progress than the city has seen in some years.

Our board unanimously supported a strategic plan that is grounded in four key pillars: Student Success, Team Excellence, Stakeholder Trust, and Effective Systems and Planning. This strategic plan measures our progress annually. Our victory will come in many areas. However, our greatest victory must be seen in the success of the nearly 23,000 scholars we serve.

By design, we have not hesitated to highlight our victories, many of which we have seen and shared over the course of the last two years. Early childhood education provides scholars with a vital foundation for academic success, which is why our district invests heavily in pre-k education. BCS has nearly 50 pre-k classrooms. Research shows that children who participate in pre-K education perform better academically because they are acquiring fundamental skills at an early age. These skills empower them to excel throughout their educational careers. We continue to celebrate our victory in the classroom!

As many people know, technology is a gateway to the future job market. BCS is building leaders by ensuring scholars become proficient in the ever-changing world of technology. Our STEAM practices engage students with science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. We partner with technology companies to provide students with the best opportunities for success. We maintain our focus and our commitment to be victorious through innovation.

As for our scholars who have graduated from the district, the future is looking very bright. The BCS Class of 2019 received $44 million in scholarships. This is a testament to investments BCS is providing toward programs offering scholars hands-on experience in real-world settings in fields such as engineering and health sciences. BCS strives to ensure scholars are equipped for success in college, career and life by empowering students to attain positions in high-paying fields.

Help us protect our progress by voting for our children, for our community, and for our future on Tuesday, Oct. 8.

Lisa Herring Ed.D. is Superintendent of Birmingham City Schools. 

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

#NNPA BlackPress

PRESS ROOM: First Book, an Innovative Leader in Education Equity, Releases Groundbreaking Research Illustrating the Impact of COVID-19 on Emotional Wellness of Students in Underserved Communities

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Collaborating with First Book to provide educators with evidence-informed activities and curriculum is one more step forward in making sure they feel more prepared to support their students,” said Ariana Hoet, Ph.D., clinical director of On Our Sleeves and pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Educators have been on the frontline supporting children’s mental health before and throughout the pandemic with limited resources. We know the pandemic has exacerbated worries around children’s mental health, so this need is even more crucial than ever.”

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Nearly One Thousand Educators Participated; Report that over half (53%) of the students they serve struggle with their mental health

WASHINGTON, First Book, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring education equity for children living in poverty, today announced the results of a national survey designed to identify emotional wellness challenges faced by school-age children. In addition to reinforcing earlier findings regarding the devastating mental health effects of COVID-19, this survey shed new light on the severity of this impact — especially in communities of need. It also established that emotional wellness issues have become a significant barrier to education for many students who attend schools in these communities – a majority of whom are children of color. Pediatric psychologists from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s On Our Sleeves movement for children’s mental health partnered with First Book to offer a clinical perspective on survey questions and process.

In the new survey findings, educators report that 53 percent of the students they serve struggle with their mental health and only 20 percent of educators feel prepared to support the mental well-being of their students. Of significant concern, 98 percent of educators say mental health challenges act as a barrier to children’s education. And notably, educators are facing their own mental health challenges. Student mental wellness issues have a ripple effect on educators who feel helpless and unsupported.

“Educators across the country are speaking out about the urgency of the mental wellness issues that their students are facing, how they don’t feel prepared to address the issues, and how those issues act as a barrier to learning. Based on what we’re hearing from our Network of educators, this is truly a crisis,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO, First Book. “First Book is committed to supporting low-income communities that have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and the data revealed in this survey is guiding us in providing educators with high-quality, research-driven tools to nurture emotional wellness and develop healthy habits that prepare students to not only learn but thrive.”

On an ongoing basis First Book solicits input from its Network of more than 525,000 educators – all of whom serve children in need – to enable the organization to directly address the needs of practitioners and the children they serve. Mental wellness was spotlighted as a critical problem exacerbated by COVID-19, leading the organization to design focus groups and a survey to better understand the magnitude and scope of the issue, as well as what is needed to address this barrier to education. Nearly 1,000 educators responded to the survey providing startling data. The results provided a framework for the resource, which is now available, entitled: Taking Care: An Educator Guide to Healthy Habits for Student Emotional Wellness, a free resource created in collaboration with On Our Sleeves. The resource and study are now available through First Book.

“Collaborating with First Book to provide educators with evidence-informed activities and curriculum is one more step forward in making sure they feel more prepared to support their students,” said Ariana Hoet, Ph.D., clinical director of On Our Sleeves and pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Educators have been on the frontline supporting children’s mental health before and throughout the pandemic with limited resources. We know the pandemic has exacerbated worries around children’s mental health, so this need is even more crucial than ever.”

According to the First Book study, the top three life circumstances or experiences that contribute to children’s mental health challenges are 1) unstable or difficult home life; 2) hunger/food insecurity and 3) isolation due to Covid-19. Because these three factors often intersect as children grapple with returning to normalcy post-pandemic, the resources First Book provides to educators are essential tools for helping them become better equipped to aid students who are still dealing with the effects of Covid-related depression, trauma, loneliness, and loss.

First Book’s findings are particularly relevant given recent warnings issued by professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association. These groups have declared a national emergency in children’s mental health and have noted that psychological strains, made worse over the past few years by pandemic-associated isolation, anxiety, fear, and grief, have caused a crisis in several societal sectors including education. They also emphasize that children in communities of color have been disproportionately impacted due to previously unresolved inequities linked to structural racism.

Additional key findings in First Book’s survey include:

  • 72% of educators say the pandemic has introduced new mental health challenges among students/children;
  • 65% of educators report the pandemic has exacerbated the existing mental health challenges students already faced;
  • 80% of educators believe gaining access to mental health support is a high or emergency priority in relation to students’ overall needs at this time;
  • 98% of educators say mental health challenges act as a barrier to children’s education;
  • 93% of educators became aware that a student was struggling with mental health issues due to a noticeable change in behavior;
  • 92% of educators indicated they are very or extremely interested in accessing support resources focused on promoting the general mental health and well-being of all students;
  • 51% of educators report that a student’s race/racial identity is relevant to their mental health;
  • 68% of respondents indicate that they take a child’s race and/or culture into consideration when supporting their mental well-being (e.g. observe family/cultural norms, design a culturally inclusive curriculum, and foster open and trusting relationships with their students);
  • 74% of educators are very or extremely interested in accessing support resources to help them approach mental health challenges related to race, identity, and intersectionality;
  • Older children reportedly struggle more than younger children. Educators serving middle and high school students estimate that 59% and 60% (respectively) of the students they serve struggle with mental health, while early childhood and elementary educators estimate 50% and 52% (respectively) of their students struggle.  This compares to the general population at 53%;
  • Educators in urban and suburban communities consider addressing mental health as a stronger priority (83% high/emergency priority) vs. their rural counterparts (75% high/emergency priority).

About First Book

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 29-year history, First Book has distributed more than 200 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its Network of more than 525,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.

First Book also expands the breadth and depth of the education field through a family of social enterprises, including First Book Research & Insights, its proprietary research initiative, and the First Book Accelerator, which brings best-in-class research-based strategies to the classroom via relevant, usable educator resources. First Book Impact Funds target support to areas of need, such as rural communities or increasing diversity in children’s books. For more information about First Book, please visit http://www.firstbook.org.

About On Our Sleeves®

Children don’t wear their thoughts on their sleeves. With 1 in 5 children living with a significant mental health concern and half of all lifetime mental health concerns starting by age 14, we need to give them a voice. On Our Sleeves®, powered by behavioral health experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, aims to provide every community in America with free resources necessary for breaking child mental health stigmas and educating families and advocates, because no child or family should struggle alone.

Since the inception of On Our Sleeves® in 2018, more than 3 million people in every state across America have interacted with the movement’s free pediatric mental health educational resources at OnOurSleeves.org and educator curricula have reached more than four of five classrooms across the United States.

To schedule an interview with a spokesperson for First Book, please contact Ian Kenison at ikenison@firstbook.org.

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#NNPA BlackPress

Moore Brown: Maryland Set to Have Two Black Statewide Officials

NNPA NEWSWIRE — If they are elected, Maryland would be the first state to have two Black statewide officials. Wes Moore has caught lightning in a bottle. He has run ads that have been narrated by Oprah Winfrey and has captured the excitement of the moment in Maryland.

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By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

On July 19, Wes Moore and Congressman Anthony Brown won their primary contests to be Governor of Maryland and Attorney General.

Maryland is a deep blue state that currently has a moderate Republican Governor. It is expected that Moore and Brown will have a major advantage over their Republican competitors.

If they are elected, Maryland would be the first state to have two Black statewide officials. Wes Moore has caught lightning in a bottle. He has run ads that have been narrated by Oprah Winfrey and has captured the excitement of the moment in Maryland.

Moore’s main opponent was former DOJ Civil Rights chief and DNC Chair Tom Perez. Perez came in second to Moore. The results were 36 percent for Moore, 27 percent for Perez and 19 percent for Peter Franchot.

Wes Moore’s victory is verification that Black statewide candidates in states with over 20 percent of the Black vote can run and win strong campaigns.

Current Governor Larry Hogan has said publicly that he will not vote for the Republican nominee for Governor. That nominee, Dan Cox, is a supporter of Donald Trump.

“Dan Cox …is a QAnon whack job who was in favor of calling Mike Pence, my friend, a traitor, when they were talking about hanging him,” Hogan said at a news conference on July 19.

Attorney and former prosecutor Glenn Ivey defeated former Congresswoman Donna Edwards in a primary to replace Anthony Brown in Maryland’s 4th district. Ivey is all but certain to be elected to Congress in such a blue district.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent investigative journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke

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#NNPA BlackPress

DOJ Indicts Four Police Officers Who Allegedly Lied to Secure Search Warrants for Breonna Taylor’s Home

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home, as usual, on the morning of March 13, 2020. Tragically, she did not. She was just 26 years old. As Attorney General Garland just stated, today’s indictments allege that Louisville Police Detective Joshua Jaynes and Sergeant Kyle Meany drafted and approved what they knew was a false affidavit to support a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home. That false affidavit set in motion events that led to Ms. Taylor’s death when other LMPD officers executed that warrant,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke on August 4. 

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By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, has long been insisting that Louisville police have never been at her daughter Breonna Taylor’s apartment on the night they shot her dead.

On August 4, the Department of Justice, led by the Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke, announced the indictments of four police officers who fatally shot Ms. Taylor during a nighttime raid on her apartment.

They asserted that the officers lied in order to get a search warrant for Taylor’s apartment.

The Justice Department announced that the indictments against the four current and former police officers would include federal charges of using “unconstitutionally excessive force.”

“Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home, as usual, on the morning of March 13, 2020. Tragically, she did not. She was just 26 years old. As Attorney General Garland just stated, today’s indictments allege that Louisville Police Detective Joshua Jaynes and Sergeant Kyle Meany drafted and approved what they knew was a false affidavit to support a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home. That false affidavit set in motion events that led to Ms. Taylor’s death when other LMPD officers executed that warrant,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke on August 4.

“The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution ensures that people are subject to searches only when there is probable cause supporting a search warrant. Falsified warrants create unnecessary hazards for the public and for the police, who rely on facts that fellow officers report in carrying out their public duties,” Clarke added.

“These charges focus on the conduct of the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Place-Based Investigations Unit. In the first indictment filed today, we allege that in early 2020, that unit was investigating suspected drug trafficking in the West End [area] of Louisville. On March 12, 2020, officers from that unit sought 5 search warrants they claimed were related to the suspected drug trafficking.  Four of those warrants targeted properties in the West End where that activity was allegedly occurring,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland before Clarke spoke.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent investigative journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke

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