Over the next few days you will have an opportunity to meet every candidate vying for a seat on the Birmingham Board of Education. The election is set for august 27. In district two, there are two candidates: incumbent Virginia Volker, and challenger, Lyord Watson.
"My mother was an educator for thirty-three years. So when school ended it never really ended for me. And there was a value placed on education, it was very important. And that's really what I want to see the community do for these students," said Watson.
"Having been a teacher at the university of Alabama at Birmingham for thirty years in the department of health sciences. I know that having students come into college being prepared is absolutely critical," said Volker.
Lyord Watson and Virginia Volker each consider education to be a passion. Regardless of who wins, that passion will be needed to tackle the challenges associated with Birmingham's school board.
There are three schools in District two. All three are on Alabama's failing schools list. The schools are Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle, W.E. Putnam Middle, and Robinson Elementary.
"It's unfortunate that students have to go to schools with those labels of being a part of a failing school. And with those schools I believe that we have community members, teachers, and students who are able to learn it's just that we have to focus on the students,"said Watson.
Volker doesn't mince words. She hates the state's new Alabama Accountability Act.
"It's sort of like somebody trying to bring back the second coming of Jim crow. Because what that's about is trying to take money away from public schools. It's trying to define the school systems based on standardized test, which we know does not measure accomplishment," said Volker.
Some say it is the board itself that has little to show in the way of accomplishments. A special review conducted by SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, put the board on a two year accredited probation.
The biggest complaints are the board's attempts to undermine Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, and the appearance of being more interested in individual districts rather than the system as a whole.
"The condition of the school system, the board has to feel responsibility for what's going on right now. I've been to a number of meetings. I was at the meeting where it was an attempt to vote to fire the superintendent. And what I saw was chaos. Chaos on the board," said Watson.
Volker, who often speaks out at school board meetings, says what's happening is not chaos. Rather, democracy at work.
"I think part of this idea about the dysfunction and bickering on the school board is partly a myth. And you have to ask yourself, who profits from perpetuating a myth like that. I see us as having healthy debates. I see us as sometimes agreeing with each other. And sometimes not agreeing with each other," she said.
Still, Volker admits, there are areas in which the board has fallen short. Both candidates insist they're committed to turning this around.
"I am committed to keeping our schools accredited because it is critical. Particularly when it comes to students graduating and going to college and getting scholarships. We have to do that," said Volker.
"what I can bring to the school system, I call myself a community guy. I like to see problems and issues and then how resources can be used to address those different issues," said Watson.