Parents, students share school-related concerns at community meeting

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Nearly 50 people attended a community meeting April 18 to voice concerns about funding, infrastructure, classroom materials and educational opportunities at local schools.

Parents, school employees, city leaders and even students who attend schools in Columbiana, Wilsonville and Shelby gathered at Columbiana City Hall for the first of multiple meetings designed to facilitate open discussion about school-related issues and potential solutions.

Julie Horton, who has two children in Columbiana schools, spearheaded the organization of the meetings after speaking with other parents and Mayor Stancil Handley about residents’ shared concerns.

Horton created a Facebook event called Stand Up for Our Schools to announce the meeting date, time and location, and to explain the purpose of it.

“Do you agree that our schools in Columbiana get overlooked year after year? Do you agree that our kids don’t have the same opportunities that other schools in our county have? Do you agree that no one ever hears us saying we need help, our schools need more, our kids deserve better? If you said yes to any of that then spread the word,” Horton wrote on the event page.

Cristin Brawner, executive director of the David Mathews Center for Civic Life in Montevallo, served as moderator.

Handley opened the meeting and expressed his support of Horton’s and other parents’ efforts to prompt positive changes at schools in the area.

“I think we are blessed and being shown favor with faculty and the people running our education system, but I think we’re getting the short end of the stick,” Handley said. “The council monetarily supports our school system, and our relationship is good. Does it need to be better? Absolutely.”

Numerous adults and students in attendance raised their hands to speak, and lists of concerns and solutions were made.

Concerns discussed included zoning lines creating low numbers at certain schools; online courses, including AP courses whose enrollment was too low for a teacher, being less effective than teacher-led courses; the need for equipment to help grow and develop new and existing athletic programs; adequate funding to update or maintain school buildings and athletic facilities; and a discrepancy in the number of electronic devices available for all students, especially when textbooks are not available.

Solutions discussed included increasing enrollment to justify AP classes, and forecasting for the next year’s enrollment; starting a citizen-funded athletics campaign to bolster programs; implementing a mechanism through which parents can be informed about what is happening in the school system; and utilizing the city’s development and residential growth as a springboard for school improvements.

In a post on the Stand Up for Our Schools page, Horton thanked those who attended the meeting and urged them and anyone else interested to attend the next meeting, which is set for Thursday, May 2, at 6 p.m. at the Columbiana Recreation Building next to the Shelby County High School tennis courts.

“There will always be people to tell us all the reasons why we don’t have what we are wanting,” she wrote. “To them I say, thanks for the information, but I’m going to spend my time figuring out how to get it. And that’s the point of meeting No. 2.”

Horton said the second meeting will focus on forming action plans for solutions.

“This is just the beginning,” she wrote. “I’m going to focus on the reason I started all of this in the first place, and that is because our kids deserve more. And I’m going to do everything I can to help them get it.”

Handley said he would ask Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Lewis Brooks to meet with the group once its initial meetings are complete.

“We are not going to ignore problems,” Handley said. “I welcome the opportunity to help our school system become better than it is. There’s no one entity that’s going to solve this problem; it has to be a collaborative event.”