A Closer Look

 
Posting Date: February 26, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Superintendent's Message, March 2015

Note: "Superintendent's Message" is a monthly column published in the Community News of Vestavia Hills.

As winter turns to spring in Vestavia Hills and we edge closer to the end of another school year, I am reminded of the level of work we are able to complete through the contributions of our Partners in Education. This year, more than 100 local businesses, organizations, and community members joined with us to offer financial support and a dedication to the work of our schools, faculty, and students. These partners enable us to achieve much more as a system than we could otherwise do on our own. 

As a superintendent, I have seen first-hand that “it takes a village” to create an environment where our children can learn without limits. We are blessed to be one of the school districts in Alabama where this vision has become a reality. As we reflect on the accomplishments of this year and those that are still to come in the months ahead, I offer my thanks to our Partners in Education for their pivotal role in supporting the work we do on behalf of our children.

— Sheila Phillips


Posting Date: December 16, 2014
Expires 12/31/15

New elective courses coming to VHHS

When students begin planning their fall semester this January at Vestavia Hills High School, they’ll have more than a dozen new electives to choose from.

Students will have the opportunity to enroll in four new courses in the Career & Technical Education Department and 12 new courses in the Arts Department. Courses will be taught in the 2015-2016 school year.

The new Career & Technical Education courses will provide students with instruction in software development, Java programming, college accounting, and management principles. The classes are targeted toward students who plan to pursue degrees in business, accounting, computer science, and technology, according to Career & Technical Education Department Chair Deana Goodwine.

To get the word out about the new course offerings, the department will host an “open house” on Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. at VHHS. “This is an opportunity for students to find a place of belonging here and get the edge on some of the most highly-demanded college degrees,” Goodwine said.

The new career and technical offerings join with the Arts Department, which recently received approval of a dozen new courses in visual and performing arts.

VHHS arts teachers led design and creation of the new classes, some of which carry unique titles like “The Perfect Portrait” and “Let’s Get Crafty.” The idea, according to Arts Department Chair Faith Lenhart, is to teach art concepts in a more practical setting.

“We think these classes will appeal to a lot of kids,” Lenhart said. “They’ll make projects like you see on Pinterest and teach art fundamentals and creative problem solving at the same time.”

Lenhart, who works directly with performing arts students, said elective classes like the new ones being offered this fall provide students with incentive to attend school every day.

“Attendance in my classes is almost always 100 percent,” she said. “These courses give them something to hold onto and be a part of. It gives them a sense of ownership and pride in what they do.”


Posting Date: March 18, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

VHCS launches new online registration system

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (VHCS) — Families in Vestavia Hills City Schools will use a new, completely online system to register students for the 2015-16 school year.

The new system, powered by InfoSnap, Inc., will allow parents to register their children from the VHCS website at their own convenience between July 30 and August 13, 2015. The new system eliminates in-person registration. Parents who need in-person assistance or do not have web access will be able to register on July 30 or August 4 at the Board of Education building on Montgomery Highway.

At the end of the 2014-15 school year, parents will receive a "Snap Code" which functions as the login ID for each student in the registration system. Families will be able to use these codes to "snap" data onto the online forms, streamlining the registration process. Most families — particularly those with multiple VHCS students — will see a significant reduction in registration time as a result.

The system will accept payments by e-check and debit or credit cards; parents who pay by cash will be able to schedule a visit with their school's bookkeeper from the registration website. Following completion of the registration process, the new system will provide students with their class schedules, locker assignments, and parking space assignments.

More details about the new registration system will be emailed to parents before the system goes live in July.


Posting Date: March 16, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Pizitz Robotics Team headed to worlds

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (VHCS) — The Robotics Team at Louis Pizitz Middle School in Vestavia Hills is headed to the world championships after a big win just days ago.

The team, under the direction of coach Bill McInnish, won a design award for one of its five competition robots on March 7 at the state championships at Jacksonville State University. The team placed 12th overall in the competition, which pitted Pizitz against both middle and high school teams from Alabama.

The design award gave the team an automatic berth into the world championship meet, April 15-18 in Louisville, Kentucky, McInnish said.

The team will be taking "Robot A," a forklift-shaped robot that can build tall towers and stack objects. Students have been designing the robot since the school year began in August and have rebuilt and upgraded it several times, McInnish said. He estimated that only three robots of this type existed in the state.

"We've been to seven competitions, and after each one they redesign it and go through the engineering process to make it better," McInnish said.


Posting Date: March 11, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

8 VHHS student-athletes sign with colleges

Eight students at Vestavia Hills High School signed in February to play sports on the collegiate level.

The signings include students who will play baseball, soccer, softball, basketball, and Olympic sports for some of the South's most well-known institutions.

Students who signed in February include:

Margaret Swain, Furman University, soccer
Rebekah Pfitzer, Samford University, pole vault
Kaitlin Hogan, Birmingham-Southern College, basketball
Watterson Young, University of Louisville, soccer
J.D. Gann, Meridian Community College, baseball
Landon Crowder, Darton State College, baseball
Caroline Hardy, University of Alabama, softball
Margot Woolverton, Birmingham-Southern College, track

The teachers and athletic department of Vestavia Hills High School offers their congratulations to these standout student-athletes!


Posting Date: March 11, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Youth government programs at VHHS flourishing

By Michael Sinnott

Fourteen students from Vestavia Hills High School participated in the YMCA Youth in Government “Youth Legislature Conference” in Montgomery, AL. This was VHHS’s first participation in the sixty-seven-year-old conference as a full delegation. The conference, held in the Alabama State House’s Senate and House of Representatives, has students write and then debate bills pertaining to Alabama politics. The VHHS delegation performed exceptionally well for its first time at the conference. Senior Tommy Archibald was named a delegate to the Conference on National Affairs held every summer in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Seniors Sophia Warner and Kathryn Jason, along with Junior Michelle Newman, were named alternates to the national conference. Junior Michelle Newman was awarded the Jere Hardy Award as the top speaker in the House of Representatives, one of two speaking awards given at the conference of 250 participants.

Vestavia Hills High School’s Youth Legislature program’s sister program, the YMCA Youth Judicial Conference, was held this past November. VHHS took 36 students, making up six separate mock trial teams, to Montgomery. VHHS completed against teams from across the state at the Federal and County Courthouses. The senior mock trial team of Philip Wang, Justin Chediak, Lynn Han, Shirley Zhang, Charles Li, and Karan Patel finished as the third-place plaintiff team and will be participating in the YMCA National Judicial Conference in Chicago this summer. Vestavia Hills High School’s YMCA Youth in Government Program is coached and advised by Michael Sinnott and Jane Schaefer.


Posting Date: March 26, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

VHCS to host public forums on school facilities

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (March 26, 2015) — Vestavia Hills City Schools Superintendent Sheila Phillips announced on Wednesday that she will be hosting two public forums to discuss facilities planning and growth in the school system. 

The forums are scheduled for Thursday, April 16 at 6:30 p.m., and Tuesday, April 21 at noon. Both meetings will take place at the Vestavia Hills Board of Education building on Montgomery Highway. 

The forums will give Vestavia residents an opportunity to discuss the use and development of school facilities as the city plans for growth over the next decade. “I think it is important that as a community we talk about where we are and what the possibilities may be,” Phillips said during the district’s Board of Education meeting Wednesday night.


Posting Date: March 02, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Weather decisions: How VHCS makes the call

To close or not to close? That, inevitably, is a question school administrators in the stormy South face each year. From flurries in February to severe weather in April, school districts are annually confronted with the decision to open, delay, or close schools when forecasts take a turn for the worse. 

The pressure on central Alabama school systems to get it right during dangerous weather has never been higher. The region continues to recover from a tornado outbreak in April 2011 that claimed the lives of 238 Alabamians, as well as a winter storm in January 2014 that paralyzed highways and left thousands of motorists stranded. These storms traumatized many residents and compelled school systems statewide to strengthen their weather plans.

Vestavia Hills City Schools has delayed for weather four times and closed once so far in the 2014-15 academic year. The culprit each time was winter weather that had only a marginal effect on the city. Storms that ultimately leave little to no impact create a challenging dilemma for school administrators: Cancel school and risk the ridicule of parents and taxpayers if nothing happens, or keep the doors open and risk the safety of students and employees in the path?

“I would rather be a fool fifty times, than be fatally wrong once,” Paul Parets, a retired teacher at Alexis I. du Pont High School in Delaware, said in January in a widely-shared Facebook post about winter weather. Indeed, Parets’ sentiments were echoed in many of the comments made by Vestavia parents during a December reassessment of the district’s weather policies, according to VHCS Superintendent Sheila Phillips.

“I asked many from the parent perspective what they felt the community needed at times such as this, knowing that we would never please everyone with the decisions made,” Phillips said. “The overwhelming request was that I not wait until the morning of a possible weather event before making a decision. Most working parents have a shared appreciation for knowing the evening before a storm what we will do in order for them to make arrangements for work. Given that we have several hundred students who drive, I also want to make decisions that protect our student drivers.” 

Phillips said she utilizes a multi-layered approach to gather as much information as possible before making weather decisions. District administrators consult with Emergency Management Agency and National Weather Service officials, while Phillips communicates directly with Vestavia Hills Mayor Butch Zaragoza and other local superintendents. Each school’s schedule is also taken into consideration before making a decision, including field trips, athletic events, and extended-day programs, she said.

While Phillips acknowledged that delays and closures can be an inconvenience to working parents, she said the city’s unique geography creates extra factors that must be considered every time weather threatens. “The hillside our system sits on and the distance our Liberty Park families drive make for additional risks when severe weather is a possibility,” Phillips said. 

As a blustery winter gives way to spring and the annual severe weather season begins in central Alabama, Phillips said the school system will continue to be as cautious as possible, even if it means more delays in the days ahead.

“My primary goal is to communicate with parents as efficiently and as timely as possible to avoid issues like the ones we had last year. I will never take this lightly, and I would always rather be safe than sorry,” she said.


Posting Date: April 14, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Superintendent's Message: Weather offers glimpse into daily system work

Note: "Superintendent's Message" is a monthly column published in the Community News of Vestavia Hills.

The weather events we faced at the end of the winter season presented unique challenges at our central office. Within a three-week period, predictions of snow and ice forced us to close schools twice and delay opening four times. In each instance, we took into consideration the terrain of our city, the hundreds of our students who drive, the distance Liberty Park families must travel each morning, field trips, sporting events, and the strain that a delay or closure can put on working families.

Our decision-making process during weather events offers a glimpse into the larger issues we face each day in our system. As we set our sights on implementing a new strategic plan and developing facilities for future growth, we will continue to ask the difficult questions, weigh every decision against the needs of our students, and consider the possibilities for every family on every street and zip code in our city. Through these moments, we will work to earn your trust by putting children first with a commitment to communication, transparency, and accountability.

Sheila Phillips


Posting Date: February 17, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

From the State: ALSDE corrects ACT Plan score report

Montgomery, Ala. – The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) has issued a statement to all City and County superintendents concerning the posted test results of the 10th Grade ACT Plan assessment given last year.

Due to an error in data calculation by the ALSDE, the test scores published on January 20, 2015 were incorrect. Since then, the test scores have been corrected, validated, and will be reposted to the ALSDE website, www.alsde.edu in the Data Center under Assessments Reports on Tuesday, February 17, 2015.

Specifically, the ALSDE inadvertently used preliminary benchmarks when calculating results on the 10th Grade ACT Plan, instead of the final benchmarks. As a result, the new statewide level of student proficiency increased by 10 percent in English (from 51% to 61%) and increased by two percent in math (from 17% to 19%).  Both the preliminary and final benchmarks in Science remained the same, so there was no change in reported Science scores.   

State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Tommy Bice said although the number of students proficient in English and math shifted upwards, there remains much to do in the challenge to make sure students are prepared for career and/or college.

“It is important to remember these scores reflect a new assessment with more rigorous academic expectations than the previous Alabama High School Graduation Exam.  These new assessment results create a new baseline, aligned with the expectations of our technical schools, two-year and four-year colleges and business and industry and are to be used to design instructional programs and curriculum at the local level to continually move students toward college and career readiness” Bice said. ”

Bice said the ALSDE accepts full responsibility for the error in reporting inaccurate testing data, and has put in place procedural safeguards to insure that all data released is reviewed and validated prior to release. That said, he is confident that students are now being assessed by a balanced and meaningful system that informs parents and students, while assisting teachers with strategic instructional plans to ensure every child graduates and that they graduate prepared.


Posting Date: February 10, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

VHCS Foundation awards 2014-15 grants

The board of directors of the Vestavia Hills City Schools Foundation has awarded 13 grants totaling $61,000 to the eight schools in the Vestavia Hills system and to the Vestavia Hills Board of Education.

The Foundation currently has a grant-making endowment of over $2.2 million. The principal endowment is invested, and only the interest earned on the principal is used to fund the annual grants. Since providing its first grants in 1999, the Foundation has awarded $728,000 to Vestavia Hills city schools and the Board of Education. 

Grants awarded this year will provide schools with curriculum enhancements for reading, math and science; technology-related equipment; and professional development for teachers. In addition, the Foundation’s $28,000 grants to the Board of Education will provide training opportunities for every teacher in the Vestavia Hills school district to further implement the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards and to further integrate technology into classroom lessons.

The Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, provides funds each year to Vestavia Hills educators for technology improvements, classroom enhancement projects, and professional development training for teachers. All Vestavia Hills teachers and the Board of Education may submit grant requests to the Foundation each fall.

The Foundation’s endowment is funded by contributions from parents, grandparents, and other community-minded residents and companies who want to ensure Vestavia schools have access to funds for educational improvements. The Foundation is able to provide a perpetual source of funding for schools that is not federal or state controlled and can never be prorated in times of financial hardship.

“The financial support our schools receive from the Foundation makes an important difference to the achievement of our students and the academic experiences we have come to expect in our community,” said Vestavia Hills City Schools Superintendent Sheila Phillips. “I have seen first-hand that it takes a village to create an environment where our children can learn without limits. Funding from the Vestavia Hills City Schools Foundation helps to make this vision a reality as we continue the pursuit of excellence on behalf of our students.”

For a complete list of the grants awarded this year, visit www.vestaviafoundation.org.

Vestavia Hills City Schools Foundation 2013-14 Grants

Vestavia Hills Elementary – East $4,280
Purchase iPad minis to create lab for Kindergarten students.

Vestavia Hills Elementary – West $4,158
Purchase Chromebooks to create a class set, purchase 32 copies of Numbers Talk-Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies, and purchase two ipads for media center.

Vestavia Hills Elementary – Liberty Park $4,250
Provide professional development opportunity for K-5 teachers to work on effective instructional strategies, develop formative common assessments, integrate writing into the curriculum, and vertically align CCRS curriculum.

Vestavia Hills Elementary – Cahaba Heights $2,312
Purchase FOSS  Hands on Science modules for every classroom.

Vestavia Hills Elementary – Central $4,500
Purchase Chromebooks to create a class set.

Pizitz Middle School $5,500
Purchase Chromebooks to create classroom mini labs, provide funds to help start a community garden.

Vestavia Hills High School $8,000
Purchase Chromebooks to create a Visual Arts lab.

Vestavia Hills Board of Education $15,000
Provide summer professional development opportunities for district’s 500 teachers to fully implement the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards in English, Math and Content Literacy in Science and Social Studies. 

Vestavia Hills Board of Education $3,000
Provide summer technology professional development training to assist teachers in integrating technology into their lessons while promoting problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration skills.

Vestavia Hills Board of Education $10,000
*Provided summer science professional development training to middle school teachers.  Training occurred during the summer of 2014. 

* This grant was secured by the VHCSF and funded by an award from Wells Fargo Foundation.  


Posting Date: January 20, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Harrelson offers tips to reduce flu exposure

VESTAVIA HILLS (VHCS/AP) — This year’s flu vaccine is doing a pretty crummy job. It’s only 23 percent effective, which is one of the worst performances in the last decade, according to a government study released Thursday.

The poor showing is primarily because the vaccine doesn’t include the bug that is making most people sick, health officials say. This year’s formula didn’t include the strain of H3N2 virus that ended up causing about two-thirds of the illnesses this winter. 

School officials in Vestavia Hills reported a spike in flu cases during the month of December. The number of children getting sick from the flu is higher than in recent years, according to Vestavia Hills City Schools Health Services Coordinator Carol Harrelson. She says healthcare providers are expecting another possible spike in flu cases in February. 

“We’ve seen more children in our schools get it than adults,” Harrelson said. “Flu primarily spreads through droplets from coughing or sneezing that lands on someone else or on surfaces that other people touch.” 

Symptoms can appear within a matter of hours, with fever being one of the few ways parents can tell whether their children have flu or a common cold. A persistent cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches and fatigue are also common, she said.

To combat the virus locally, school officials are encouraging students, employees, and families to take practical preventive measures. 

“It’s an old cliché but it’s still true: Washing your hands often or using hand sanitizer will cut down on the number of germs you’re coming into contact with,” Harrelson said, adding that schools have increased surface cleaning and sanitizing during peak flu season.

If a student contracts the virus, it’s important to keep them at home while symptoms persist, Harrelson said. “You are shedding contagious virus in your environment up to seven days after you get sick, so keeping children at home is a key factor in preventing a real outbreak,” she added.

Even with the limited effectiveness of this year’s vaccine, Harrelson says it can still help to reduce the length and severity of the illness. The school system has been offering the vaccine with no direct charge to students and employees for the past three years; more than one-third of the student body received the vaccine in October via injection or nasal spray.

“It’s still the best we have to prevent flu,” she said. 

Selected excerpts from the Associated Press were used in this article.


Posting Date: January 15, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

VHHS students fund Magic Moment for young cancer survivor

Students at Vestavia Hills High School had a big surprise this morning for a young cancer survivor. 

Connor, a 4-year-old from Birmingham who has been fighting a brain tumor, was surprised this morning with a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando through student fundraising efforts for the Birmingham-based charity Magic Moments. The organization funds wishes for critically ill children in Alabama, like Connor.

The school held an assembly this morning in its gym, which had been adorned with Disney-themed decorations. Students dressed in Disney costumes and played and danced with Connor before the assembly began. Members of the school’s Student Government Association then gave him the news that he would be going to Disney World with his family.

The school raised money for Magic Moments throughout the fall. By this morning’s assembly, students had raised enough to cover Connor’s trip along with a check to the charity for more than $21,000. “It was a privilege to raise money for Magic Moments this year and to make a magic moment happen for this deserving child,” SGA President James Harris said.

Connor, who will turn 5 on Jan. 22, was diagnosed in August 2014 with a brain tumor. Since then, he has been in the hospital or to daily doctors’ appointments, undergoing rounds of intense chemotherapy and radiation. Connor is now in remission from his cancer, and his prognosis is positive.


Posting Date: January 15, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

ALSDE updates website with new Data Center

Realizing the importance of education data to parents, business, industry, and educators, the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) has released Phase One of a new Data Center on its website at www.alsde.edu. Phase One consists of the following changes:

1. Report portal— All reports have been moved to various places on the new website and in the Data Center global navigation.

2. Accountability Reporting has ben moved to Assessment Reports > Statewide Reports.

3. Public Data Reports have been moved to Enrollment Reports.

4. Accountability and Assessment Reporting (previously accessed under the “big blue button”) has been moved to Assessment Reports > School Level Reports.

Additional phases of the Data Center will be released as ALSDE moves into a new reporting system. Several critical pieces of school data will be made available on Jan. 20, 2015 on the ALSDE website, including:

Graduation Rate Reporting: ALSDE will be releasing its annual public data on graduation rates by district, school, and sub-groups on Jan. 20.

Assessment Reporting: Last spring, students in grades 3–8 took the first year of new assessments aligned to the Alabama College- and Career-Ready Standards (CCRS), the ACT Aspire assessment in place of the Alabama Reading and Math Test (ARMT). ACT Aspire and ACT Plan scores provide parents with honest feedback about how prepared their child is for college and/or a career after graduation. In addition, the ACT Aspire and ACT Plan align with the ACT assessment that all 11th graders in Alabama now take. The annual aggregate reports will be made available to the public through the ALSDE Data Center on Jan. 20.


Posting Date: January 08, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Pizitz creative writing students pen novels in competition

The idea of writing a novel of at least ten thousand words in one month would be a daunting challenge for most anyone. But just before the holidays, students in Stratton Brock’s creative writing class at Louis Pizitz Middle School did just that.

When the word counts were tallied at the end of the month, three students had each written more than fifty thousand words. Two of those students wrote more than 125,000 words. By comparison, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit checks in at 95,000 words.

The challenge was all part of National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo,” a nationwide competition that challenges adults and children to write the great American novel during the month of November.

“The majority of students who compete in the competition are in high school, so it’s unique to see the participation of my middle school creative writing students,” Brock said. “Most adults can’t even do this.”

Brock said he encouraged his students to turn off their “internal editor,” a common obstacle that stops many writers from putting words on a page. “I tell them to give in to their writing, and for most of them, that’s a ‘zen’ moment where their output suddenly rises. As they write, quality stories emerge,” he said.

Those quality stories that students penned during NaNoWriMo can even be published through a special agreement with Amazon, Brock said. Some of his students are editing their stories right now to prepare them for submission.

“These students are fiercely motivated,” Brock said. “Now, when I give them a writing assignment, they’ll write twice as much as I ask of them. These kids are really good.” 


Posting Date: March 02, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

New VHHS principal named

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (VHCS) — Dr. Tyler Burgess was named tonight as the ninth principal of Vestavia Hills High School.

Burgess, who last summer became the principal of Louis Pizitz Middle School, was approved for the high school position this evening by the Vestavia Hills Board of Education. He will transition to his new job in May.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity,” Burgess said earlier today in an interview. “I spent the first 13 years of my career in a high school, so I’m comfortable with that setting and ready to get back into that environment at a high school that is known for excellence.” 

Prior to arriving in Vestavia Hills, Burgess worked as an administrator and science teacher in Homewood City Schools. He holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership from Samford University. Burgess will replace Tim Loveless, an administrator who most recently worked in Cullman City Schools and has been serving this year as interim principal at Vestavia Hills High School. 

“Dr. Burgess has quickly become an asset to our school district over the past year,” Vestavia Hills Superintendent Sheila Phillips said this evening. “His depth of knowledge and varied experience, coupled with his enthusiasm and passion, brings the quality of leadership we desire for Vestavia Hills High School.”


Posting Date: May 20, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Segars named Vestavia Hills High School athletic director

May 20, 2015 (VHCS) -- Vestavia Hills High School will have a new athletic director this fall.

The Vestavia Hills Board of Education approved Jeff Segars for the position this evening. Segars is currently the high school's assistant AD.

Segars will take the reins from Buddy Anderson, who will return this fall for his 38th consecutive season as the school's head football coach. "I would not be doing this without the blessing of Coach Anderson," Segars said earlier today. "He has raised me to become who I am, and that's important to me."

In an interview this afternoon, Anderson said he approached Vestavia Hills superintendent Sheila Phillips last fall to discuss the AD role.

"Jeff is prepared for this job, and he's ready," Anderson said. "He has been an excellent teacher, coach, and assistant athletic director, and I'm excited for him to lead our athletic programs. I look forward to continuing as the head football coach and helping Jeff in any way I can."


Posting Date: July 23, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Alabama Teacher of the Year focused on leading by learning in 2015-16

By Whit McGhee

The summertime gives students an opportunity to take a break from the daily grind of the classroom. But for Alabama Teacher of the Year Jennifer Brown, learning doesn't stop when the school year ends.

Brown, a Vestavia Hills High School science teacher, took part this summer in more than a dozen professional development opportunities from Montgomery to Washington, D.C. She delivered a keynote address at a middle school summit, presented to teachers at a reading and writing conference, and even moderated a statewide Twitter chat on education.

Brown says the nonstop schedule gave her the opportunity to learn from her colleagues and grow as a teacher.

"It's been so much fun sharing with teachers," Brown said. "I love it because I get new ideas. I've learned so much from every session I've been in.

"It is our duty as educators to share with other educators. Times are changing and our students are changing, so we have to learn new strategies every year. That's the only way we're going to grow," she said.

One of the strategies Brown and a group of her colleagues developed last year was "instructional rounds," in which teachers visit each others' classrooms to observe and collaborate. Brown said the concept is similar to doctors' rounds in a hospital. She hopes to grow the project full-time in the coming year as an instructional coach at Vestavia Hills High School.

"We're calling it 'Leading by Learning,' because we're leaders in our classroom and we're learners, too. I've already had teachers approach me about new things they want to implement in their classrooms this year, and now I'm going to get to help them with that," she said.

Brown will continue traveling and speaking statewide throughout the coming months. She'll keep on learning, too, as she works this fall to earn the distinction of being a National Board Certified Teacher.

"A teacher has the opportunity to impact the life of every student who walks through his or her classroom door," she said. "If we expect to make a lasting, positive impact, we have to make an effort to be better than we were the day before, just as we expect our students to do."


Posting Date: July 15, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Superintendent Phillips' remarks to Board of Education on VHHS mascot

Transcript of Remarks by Vestavia Hills City Schools Superintendent Sheila Phillips

Board of Education Meeting, July 15, 2015

After extensive consideration, I drew my final conclusion and made the decision late yesterday to put the topic of our mascot and name on the agenda for this evening because we are at a point in which I feel I have all of the information I need to make informed decisions about our mascot and name, and no further study is needed for this initial step in the process.  Just to be clear, this recommendation is not a response to the media hype and rhetoric.   It is in response to and about our school district and community and an issue that continues to be a source of contention and division for us in what can appear to be a no-win situation.

Over the past several weeks, I have met with numerous stakeholders — students, parents, and citizens of our community with a vested interest in our school system.  I have fielded more than 200 emails and have engaged in numerous telephone conversations to hear all sides of the controversy spurred by publicity that was often misguided.  I read every single word of every email or letter I have received, as has the Board.  I have read all social media posts, viewed several videos produced by our alumni, and read every news article sent to me or brought to my attention.  I have consulted with experts on the history of our wonderful community and those in business who reached out to help us ensure we can resolve the issue of our branding in the most consensus-building way possible.  I have listened to the perspective of our teachers, without whom none of our successes would be possible. And I have reached out for the guidance of former leaders of our school district who had a hand in our success. We opened our doors to a community forum for the purpose of providing one more avenue of communication.

I have had several meetings with Mayor Zaragoza and individual representatives of the City Council. Individually, they are unanimous in wanting to keep the Vestavia Hills High School “Rebels” name and the history it represents. There is also an amount of varied agreement on the mascot.  As with many in our community, some do not want to make any changes to the current Rebel Man while others are open to modification of him to make it more current, and if an agreement cannot be reached in this area, the possibility of researching the option of a new mascot.   Please know the Mayor and City Council have communicated with me the many e-mails, phone calls and petitions they have received on both sides of this issue from the citizens of Vestavia Hills. I appreciate their candor and views.  It is imperative even when our views may vary that we work together as we know that economic growth, a healthy tax base, and the success of our schools are intertwined.  

While there are differing opinions on this issue, it is important to recognize that we do share common ground.  We know that we are a community full of inclusion and generosity, with caring citizens and a school system that is by all measures excellent. The history of this great community and the documented facts based on rulings time and again clearly show that we are not a community of hatred, racism or bigotry.  But for many within and outside our community, our mascot does not project our positive attributes. 

I have not been able to respond to each, but I want to say again that personally and professionally I am incredibly grateful for the many, many people who shared their views, reached out in empathy for the position we have all been put in, and the support for the decisions of this leadership.  I also want to thank this Board for the manner in which they have truly listened and contemplated this issue.  You should be proud to have service-minded individuals who want to give back to their community.  I want to state for the record, they have done their jobs.  They have taken no action nor have they made any decisions collectively to this point.  For our critics who want to speculate and overgeneralize the process of decision-making: you are right, this is a unified board.  They are not afraid to push the envelope of school district leaders and progress in our schools, but at the same time they are a body that embraces our school and community traditions.  And most importantly, they understand what our focus must be: that of students.  We should all be working toward the same goal — providing the very best environment for our children to learn and thrive.

This debate has brought out the best in most and the worst in some, as any controversy will.  Now, we are at a point where we must work to come to a consensus that truly speaks to who we are as a community — one of common beliefs and unity — and to set an example for the children and students of Vestavia Hills.  Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed a shift in this recurring debate about what should be.  In the end, the strongest families debate and argue, but then forgive and move on with love and kindness.  I hope that we will come to regret some of the things we’ve said to each other and that kindness and goodwill will indeed prevail.

In this community, a rebel is someone who breaks from the norm, who strives for excellence, who thinks beyond himself or herself and gives back to a purpose beyond themselves.  A Vestavia Hills Rebel represents a spirit of community, philanthropy, and the highest standards.  Our students know how to be a part of a team, whether it is academic or athletic.  Our teachers know how to instill pride and a love and understanding of the importance of owning one’s learning.  Our parents instill a standard of behavior and expectation for educational outcomes.  All of these things give us what we call “The Rebel Edge.” 

We have not been portrayed as such, as we seem to have lost the focus of what makes this school system and community great.  But, we are a family in this school district and in this community.  The care we have for our neighbors and the excellence we strive for and expect is what makes us unique.  We hold dear traditions such as excellence, safety and security, and giving back to the community.  We should all be clinging to these things as we teach them to our children in our schools.  We must keep alive our traditions of strength and the attributes we hold so dear. 

In this community, our children, our students, our youth come first.  Their voice matters, and all we do in this school system should and will be focused on them and their endeavors.  As a public school leader, I have the responsibility to advocate on behalf of all students.  Our Youth Leadership program in our high school seeks to and has successfully assisted in building a program over the last ten years to instill a character of empathy, tolerance, and understanding among our students — to embrace those different from themselves.

I believe we have a moral imperative to have empathy for others no matter our personal views and beliefs; that we are to make certain every student feels welcome. Collectively our community came together to develop our new strategic plan; diversity, inclusivity, and respect were identified as traits that will strengthen us. We will be diligent and thoughtful to take these teachable moments and turn them into inspiration for healthy dialogue among our faculty and staff and lessons in our classrooms.

As with all business decisions, we will seek to be fiscally responsible, frugal and sound as decisions through this process are made.  With any strong and progressive company or organization that must continually refresh its image to represent the direction it is going, to ensure that it reflects the future and does not lose its competitive edge, logos change.  It doesn’t change who you are, it modifies how you are branded.

It is for these reasons I recommend to the Board that we remain the Vestavia Hills Rebels and that we enter into an aggressive process with a professional firm for the purpose of rebranding and repositioning our mascot. 

And, I encourage our stakeholders to allow the process to work.  Change and progress happen over time and with the collective wisdom of many.  We will involve stakeholders and focus groups and, most importantly, our students.  We will study other schools, colleges, universities, and businesses that have successfully been through this process.  We will do so methodically and with great sensitivity through the lens of our strategic plan developed by so many in our community.

I have a few last remarks.  To certain members of the media who flippantly portrayed this as a one- dimensional issue: I am a rebel with a cause.  It is that of leading this institution of learning for our students.  We represent something very different than that of a “smear.”  May I encourage you to be responsible in your reporting when the facts and reputation of many are on the line. 

My hope and belief is that the goodness within us will prevail as we work to heal from the divisiveness we have witnessed.  As a result of the rebranding efforts of our City, we now claim “A Life Above.”  And we are.  That is what we want to teach our children and project to our state and nation.   In the past year, we have gained too much momentum as a school district to focus on anything different.  We will regain our unity.  If someone wants to make an example of this school system and community, let it be that. 


Posting Date: July 13, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Liberty Park teacher embarks on international adventure

By Whit McGhee

LIBERTY PARK -- Linda Rummell loves a good adventure.

As a child, Linda Rummell dreamed of traveling to interesting places around the world. So when her youngest son left the nest after graduating in May from Vestavia Hills High School, the Gifted Specialist and sixth-grade English Language Arts teacher from Liberty Park Middle School decided it was time for an adventure. "On a whim, I filled out this application with no idea what would happen," she said.

Her application put her in the running to become a fellow in the U.S. Department of State's Teachers for Global Classrooms Program. In June, Rummell learned she was one of the 82 teachers accepted into the program from around the United States.

"I had almost forgotten about it, then I got this letter in the mail that said I had been accepted. I was shocked," she said.

The State Department program provides yearlong professional development for middle and high school teachers aimed at globalizing American classrooms. She will attend a professional global symposium in Washington D.C. Then in the spring Rummell will travel abroad for a field learning experience. On her return, she will collaborate with other fellows to develop a curriculum focused on global competency, technology integration, and cross-cultural communication.

"I don't know yet where I'm going," she said, "but I'm excited about it. I'm a lifelong learner, and I'm going to love taking what I learn back to my students."

As part of the program Rummell will continue teaching at LPMS, sharing the experiences of her new adventure along the way.

"My hope is, if there are any students interested in traveling and learning abroad, I can show them that they can do it.

"We're all one big world, we're all human, and we can learn a lot from each other," she said.

Once she becomes a fellow, she will have an opportunity to apply for US State Department grants to help globalize her classroom.


Posting Date: July 02, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Statement from Vestavia Hills Mayor and VHCS Superintendent

From Vestavia Hills Mayor Alberto Zaragoza and VHCS Superintendent Sheila Phillips
July 2, 2015

Dear Community:

In the last few days, our school district and community have been thrust into a situation in which a spotlight has been placed on us by outside media sources regarding our high school mascot, flag, and the name Rebels.  Negative and threatening posts on social media do not help us model inclusivity and community for our children or for those that have a watchful eye on us.  If we continue to argue among ourselves over what is right, those that know nothing about us, who are willing to ignore the evidences of excellence in our school system and community will have accomplished exactly what they set out to do – pit us against one another.  We must remain focused on finding a solution through respectful dialogue.  Let us come together to reach a respectful resolution to this matter.
 
Alberto C. Zaragoza, Jr., Mayor
Sheila Phillips, VHCS Superintendent


Posting Date: June 09, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Vestavia Hills High School appoints former Rebel as new baseball coach

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (June 9, 2015) -- Vestavia Hills High School will have a familiar face managing its baseball team next season.

Jamie Harris was appointed today as the Rebels' head baseball coach, athletic director Jeff Segars said.

Harris, a Vestavia Hills native, has been an assistant coach to the baseball and football teams for the past seven years. He coached hitting and infielders during the baseball team's 7A playoff run last season.

"It's an honor to be head coach of this team," Harris said in an interview earlier today. "I'm excited about how we're going to play and act and carry ourselves as a team."

Harris graduated from Vestavia Hills High School in 1996 and played for late Rebels coach Sammy Dunn who guided the team to nine state championships in a decade. Harris said it was humbling to follow in Dunn's footsteps.

"I know I'm going to feel pressure to carry on his legacy and the name that Vestavia baseball is," Harris said.

"When I was younger, kids grew up dreaming of playing Vestavia baseball. You can see it in our rec league; it's bigger than anyone else's in this area. I want to carry on that tradition. We're never going to let that well run dry," Harris said.

Segars said today that Harris was an obvious choice to lead the Rebels.

"The vision that Jamie Harris has for where our program needs to be amazes me," Segars said. "I could not be happier for the young men of Vestavia to be a part of a program run by Jamie Harris and coached by men like Wes Kelley, Kris Thomas, Keith Trotman and Charlie Dickinson."


Posting Date: March 20, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Six VHHS seniors named Presidential Scholar candidates

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (March 20, 2015) — Six students from Vestavia Hills High School have been named as candidates in the 2015 United States Presidential Scholars Program, the most of any school in Alabama.

The students — Philip Wang, Spencer Haynes, Lynn Han, Shirley Zhang, Luke Hogewood, and Sam Tindall — are now in the running for one of the highest academic honors in the nation. No more than 141 students are named as Presidential Scholars each year.

“We are very proud of these students for earning the honor of being Presidential Scholar candidates,” VHHS Principal Tim Loveless said. “These students are leaders in and out of the classroom, and we look forward to seeing them recognized on a national level for their achievements.” 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964 by former President Lyndon Johnson to recognize distinguished high school seniors who excel in academics or the arts. Application is by invitation only. 

Semifinalists will be announced in mid-April, and the finalists will be chosen in early May, according to the Department of Education. Finalists will be flown to Washington, D.C. over the summer to meet the President and receive the U.S. Presidential Scholars medallion in a special ceremony at the White House.


Posting Date: May 26, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Message to parents regarding security breach at MySchoolFees

May 26, 2015 -- Over the Memorial Day weekend, we were informed of a security incident at one of our partner websites. We want to let you know about this incident and what we are doing to protect you.

TES Software informed us over the weekend that the MySchoolFees website was breached. The company has assured us that the attacker(s) did not gain access to any personal information. TES Software does not store personal data, such as credit card numbers, on its servers. Thus, your personal information is safe.

Here are the important points we want you to know:

  1. We have been assured that it was not possible for anyone to obtain your information from MySchoolFees.
  2. MySchoolFees services are offline until its owners complete an investigation.
  3. While your password was not stolen, you will be required to change your MySchoolFees password on your next login.

We also want you to know that Vestavia Hills City Schools servers were not attacked. Our information systems remain protected through a multi-layered security program which includes:

  • Perimeter protections such as firewalls and intrusion prevention systems
  • Antivirus and antimalware systems
  • Strong passwords that change frequently
  • Ongoing patch management to remove software vulnerabilities
  • Email and website content filtering to prevent malicious files from entering our network

Our goal is to ensure that data belonging to you and your student(s) remains protected. We will resume using MySchoolFees when we are certain that this goal has been met. Until then, we invite you to contact us if you have any questions about this situation.


Posting Date: August 04, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Vestavia Hills High School Mascot Rebranding FAQ

Over the past few weeks, VHCS administrators and members of the Board of Education have received many questions related to rebranding efforts of the mascot at Vestavia Hills High School. Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions. If you have follow-up questions, please click here to submit your feedback.

1.     What does “rebranding” mean?
Rebranding is a comprehensive process that will create a new image capturing the true climate and culture of the high school and district. It is not limited to simply replacing the mascot; the rebranding process will involve a professional firm and take place over an extended period of time. It will include student and stakeholder input, focus groups, and marketing campaigns.

2.     What has been done so far?
The image of “Rebel Man” has been removed from the gym wall. The vendor from whom we rent our floor mats has replaced the mats in the gym. We will also change the Rebel Man watermark on student report cards in our upcoming order.

3.     If the school is simply “rebranding” the mascot, why is it being removed?
The Board of Education decided that the school system would no longer endorse Rebel Man as the official mascot of VHHS. As such, we moved forward with removing the existing images of Rebel Man from school property. The rebranding process itself has not yet begun.

4.     What are the costs associated with removing images of the former mascot from the high school?
The only cost we have incurred to date is the repainting of the gym wall. Other changes, such as the mats and report cards, are no additional cost to us.

5.     Was the gym floor refinished sooner than was recommended?
The floor was already scheduled for a refinishing in the spring of 2015 due to normal wear.

6.     When did you decide to change the design at center court of the gym floor from Rebel Man to a “VH” emblem?
That decision was made in the late spring to create a consistent look among all our gyms and athletic fields. We also changed to a logo facing the bleachers to denote the home side of the gym.

7.     Was the refinishing of the gym floor more expensive since a new emblem was put on?
The cost to us remained the same regardless of the image on the floor.

8.    Will anything be painted on the gym wall in the place of Rebel Man?
Yes. “When you play one Rebel, you play us all” will be painted on the wall in the next few days.

9.     Is the school system buying up merchandise bearing the image of the former mascot?
No. Current merchandise in inventory will be sold at athletic events. VHHS will not distribute, sell, or endorse any new merchandise bearing the image of the former mascot. We are not planning to buy merchandise from any private businesses or groups.

10. Will the school still sell merchandise at athletic events?
Yes. There will be VHHS merchandise available for purchase at athletic events.

11. Is clothing with the Rebel Man image going to be banned from school? What will happen to students who wear it?
Clothing bearing the image of Rebel Man will not be banned.

12. What will happen to the student(s) who were supposed to be Rebel Man this year?
No students signed up in the spring to audition to be Rebel Man; thus, the position was not filled for the coming school year. This was the second consecutive year that no students auditioned in the spring.

13. Will there be an opportunity for students to be the mascot in the future?
One possible outcome of our rebranding process is a new sideline mascot; if that happens, students will be invited to participate.

14. Is a sideline mascot completely out of the question this year, or could we have one if a new mascot is created in time?
It is unlikely there will be a sideline mascot this year. Given the importance of the rebranding process, we will not push any firm that we hire to make hasty decisions. There will be other opportunities for students to lead school spirit activities throughout the year.

15. Why hasn’t the school system consulted with the students yet?
The rebranding process has not yet begun. We have instructed potential firms that students must be given outlets for input throughout the rebranding process.

16. What is the name of the marketing firm that has been hired for the rebranding? Is the contract available for public review?
We will disclose that information when we have a formalized contract ready for approval. We have not come to terms with anyone yet.

17. How can you afford this?
The school system maintains funds for management of facilities and school upgrades. Through these efforts, we will be joining the many educational institutions that have rebranded and updated their own mascots and symbols. We are already planning for the potential expenses in our coming budget year and do not expect any setbacks to teaching and learning, student services, or athletics. Given the importance of the Rebel name and what it represents to the thousands of students who will attend VHHS in the years to come, we believe this one-time expense is worth the cost. When this process is completed, we will explore opportunities to recover our costs through trademarking and merchandise sales.


Posting Date: May 13, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

VHHS' Jennifer Brown named Alabama Teacher of the Year

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (VHCS) — Jennifer Brown, a science teacher at Vestavia Hills High School, is Alabama's Teacher of the Year.

Brown received the award from the Alabama State Department of Education at a ceremony on May 13 in Montgomery. With the honor, she now becomes a National Teacher of the Year candidate.

Brown has been teaching for 16 years. Along with her science classes, Brown is co-sponsor of the Vestavia Hills High School Key Club and advisor to the school's Ultimate Frisbee Club. She is a graduate of The University of Alabama at Birmingham and The University of Montevallo.

At the ceremony in Montgomery, Vestavia Hills City Schools Superintendent Sheila Phillips said, "It is no surprise to me that the committee recognized something special in Jennifer.

"It is evident to all who come in contact with her that she possesses an unconditional love for students, an esteemed level of professionalism, and an ability to inspire not only her students but her colleagues through her creative approaches to teaching and learning," Phillips said. "There is not a more deserving individual. We are so proud of her."


Posting Date: May 06, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Meredith Hanson named Pizitz Middle School Principal

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (VHCS) — Vestavia Hills Assistant Superintendent Meredith Hanson will become the new principal of Louis Pizitz Middle School at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

The Vestavia Hills Board of Education approved Hanson for the position Wednesday evening. She will move into the job later this month after current principal Tyler Burgess, Ed.D., transitions to the principal’s post at Vestavia Hills High School.

Hanson has served since last July as the district’s assistant superintendent and worked as Executive Director of Human Resources in Auburn City Schools from 2012 to 2014. She spent six years prior to that as assistant principal of Vestavia Hills Elementary Central.

“This is my passion; I love being in our schools,” Hanson said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s important to me to be working beside our fine faculty at Pizitz and to help them push the school farther than it has ever been.”

“Meredith’s love of children, teaching and learning, and her broad background of experience will make her a great middle school principal,” Vestavia Hills Superintendent Sheila Phillips said Wednesday.


Posting Date: May 06, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Sen. Jeff Sessions visits Vestavia Hills High School’s We the People class

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (VHCS) — Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) visited Vestavia Hills High School on Friday, May 1 to congratulate members of the school’s We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution class for its top-five finish in a national competition.

Sessions spent about an hour with incoming and outgoing members of the class in the school’s library. He discussed the ongoing legacy of the United States Constitution, a focus of study for the class, and took questions from the students about constitutional law and working in Congress.

“I’m proud of what you’re doing,” Sessions said of the class, which competed in April in a mock congressional hearing competition in Washington and finished fifth in the nation. “Any of you could be a governor or President or a senator. All of you are smart enough to do that,” he said.

The class, according to teacher Amy Maddox, is a study of AP Government with a focus on civil political discourse. The class competes nationally against other We the People teams and has finished among the top ten teams in America in eight of the past ten years.

“It’s a nice way to close out the year for the seniors. It makes everything they’ve worked so hard to learn and understand real,” Maddox said of Sessions’ visit.

“I think it’s really cool to get to listen to the thoughts of one of your state’s representatives,” junior class member Sophia Traywick said. “It gives me a feel of what We the People and law and government are all about.” 


Posting Date: April 29, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

VHCS unveils finalized strategic plan, new mission statement

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (VHCS) — The Vestavia Hills Board of Education this evening approved the district's new strategic plan for school improvement.

Assistant Superintendent Meredith Hanson said the plan, which took eight months to develop, included contributions from more than 400 local volunteers. "These are our guidelines for our destiny as a school system," she said.

The plan includes seven strategies and more than thirty action steps to bring each strategy to fruition, according to Hanson. She added that district administrators had already assigned themselves responsibilities for the first phase of the plan's rollout.

"Our hope is that, when you walk into our schools, you'll see this plan in action," she said.

The full strategic plan is available for download on the "Reports" section of the VHCS website.

Mission Statement

The mission of Vestavia Hills City Schools is to ensure each student learns without limits by pursuing knowledge and igniting curiosity about the world through a system distinguished by:

-       A safe and nurturing environment

-       The courage to be creative

-       Unparalleled community support

-       Appreciation of diversity

-       Multiple paths to a bold future

Strategies

  1. We will provide multiple opportunities for students to choose pathways toward achieving their aspirations.
  2. We will expose students to an array of opportunities to discover their unique gifts.
  3. We will build staff capacity emphasizing individual responsibility.
  4. We will create a dynamic of teaching that provokes questioning and honors academic risk taking.
  5. We will create a culture of inclusivity and respect.
  6. We will customize and create global learning environments to facilitate learning without constraints.
  7. We will intentionally cultivate reciprocal relationships with our community.


Posting Date: April 28, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Superintendent's Message: Gratitude for students, faculty in successful year

Superintendent's Message is a monthly column published in the Community Newsletter of Vestavia Hills.

The close of another school year offers us an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of our students and teachers. We are very proud of our students because they represent the best of Vestavia Hills. We are humbled by the selfless acts of those who have given thousands of dollars, tons of food, and countless hours to others in need. We are inspired by the new heights they have reached this year in academics, assessment, athletics, and the arts. We are motivated by their dedication to be leaders in classrooms and in the community.

I am grateful to our faculty for helping to develop these young leaders. Our teachers have asked their students to investigate, discover, analyze, comprehend, and develop self-discipline. They have taught with purpose so that our children might love what they learn. The work of our faculty this year has prepared thousands of young minds for tomorrow's world, and we appreciate them for their commitment to this high calling. We are also thankful to you, our community, for your support of the work done on behalf of these students over the past year.

Finally, as we prepare to bid farewell to the Class of 2015 and mark this significant milestone in their lives, we send with each graduate our best wishes for a bright future. We know that as leaders and alumni of Vestavia Hills schools, they will earn for themselves a reputation that reflects wisdom from the education they have received from their experiences here.

— Sheila Phillips


Posting Date: April 23, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Op-ed: Answering the call for new and improved school facilities

By Sheila Phillips, VHCS Superintendent

I had the opportunity during two public forums in April to speak with members of our community about our school facilities. I made the decision to hold these forums because I believe it is important to inform our residents about the growth that is projected here through the end of the decade. This is a crucial moment for us as we prepare for new land, new homes, and new families in Vestavia Hills. I am grateful to everyone who came to our forums and asked tough questions.

The need for improved facilities is not a new conversation for us. Our Board of Education has spent years building a reserve knowing that someday our enrollment might grow to a critical mass which would require intervention. We have now arrived at that point. After touring each of our buildings with a team of facility advisors, we have determined that our schools are operating at capacity. The time has come for us to take steps to ensure our facilities continue to meet the needs of our students.

Earlier this spring, we conducted a survey with our teachers and parents to gain an understanding of their priorities with facilities. The survey questions were left open-ended so each respondent could tell us in their own words what mattered to them. We heard from hundreds of people and found common themes of safety and security, overcrowding, and use of non-instructional spaces in our schools.

We also conducted a year-long strategic planning process which brought together hundreds of Vestavians to collaborate on the future course of our system. Participants had the liberty to determine the beliefs, objectives, and specific actions that define who we are and where we are going. Our planning team also developed strategies which build on the need for transformative learning spaces and facilities. I am grateful to our volunteers for their openness and willingness to help us move forward. I will present our strategic plan to our Board of Education on April 29 and encourage you to visit our website (vestavia.k12.al.us) after its approval to dive deeper into these strategies and the actions that will guarantee their implementation.

One of the more powerful statements among many that our community strategists composed was a belief to guide our decision-making: "We believe all people have the right to learn without limits." As we move forward, we must uphold this belief so that our facilities do not place physical or programmatic limits on the ability of students to grow in education. Our planning team also identified the belief that, in their words, "Every person has the responsibility to be a good steward of resources." This means that I am accountable to you, our community, for how we use the money that you entrust to us through your taxes and purchases in our city limits.

Armed with strong parameters and strategies, we must set our sights on the remedies and new projects necessary to enable healthy growth of our system. We know that our schools are at capacity, but we also recognize that many of our learning spaces need refurbishment, that our pre-kindergarten program needs room of its own, and that traffic patterns and parking must be addressed everywhere.

We also must prepare for new development in the communities of Cahaba Heights, Patchwork Farms, and the Altadena Valley. We are thankful for the opportunity to partner with the city in the sale of our Patchwork Farms land which was too small for our needs and will ultimately serve the greater good of Vestavia by generating revenue for our district. Each of these developments will likely introduce about twenty new students into our school system, according to projections from the city. In the long term, we expect more growth in Liberty Park, and we know that at any time, the number of families with school-age children in our city could rise.

To address these issues and ensure that we maintain a safe reserve, we will work on capital projects in phases. The first phase will expand our elementary schools in Liberty Park and Cahaba Heights. These projects will add new classrooms, larger cafeterias, and desperately needed storage space. A similar expansion of Vestavia Hills Elementary West, approved by our Board in 2014, will soon begin as well.

These three projects alone will cost the school system almost 18 million dollars — more than half of our current reserve — before we can even begin to address needs at the rest of our schools. We are legally and strategically bound to maintain a safe operational reserve, so we must therefore consider new sources of funding for future projects. Every option is on the table for sources of revenue, but we must maintain a high level of fiscal accountability. This is an issue that will require careful consideration. Our community-developed strategic plan mandates that we make all decisions — including financial ones — for the best interests of students. We cannot and will not take this decision lightly.

Beyond this first phase, all eight of our schools have opportunities for growth and renovation. If you do not see your child's school on this list, please know that it is on mine. While we do not have specific timelines or figures for every school, we know that we cannot delay the programs, personnel, and technology our students need. The questions that arise from confronting this truth deserve answers that don't just pacify a short-term need but also fulfill long-term visions for the economic growth our city leaders desire.

These reasons are why I will continue to hold forums, conduct community research, and speak publicly about our plans, and why I encourage you to contact me through surveys, emails, or meetings whenever you feel that your voice could make a positive difference in this conversation. The stakes for our children and our city are high, and I want you to know that we will rise to the occasion and answer the call for a greater Vestavia Hills City Schools.


Posting Date: June 09, 2015
Expires 12/31/15

Superintendent's Message: Summer activities in the school system

Note: Superintendent's Message is published each month in the Community News of Vestavia Hills.

Summer provides each of us in the school system with an opportunity to sharpen our skills through professional development. This summer, our teachers are participating in more than 130 professional development projects. Our own faculty have designed many of them to address specific student needs. These projects provide our teachers with knowledge and ideas to foster learning without limits.

This summer will also bring the introduction of our new online registration system. We know that time with your children is precious during the summer. To honor that time, you will now be able to register your student from our website at your own convenience. Registration will be open on our website, vestavia.k12.al.us, between July 30 and August 13. If you do not have Internet access, drop by the Board of Education building on Montgomery Highway on July 30 or August 4 for help.

It has been a joy to serve as superintendent this year, and I look forward with excitement to the year ahead. Until then, we wish you and your family a safe and restful summer.

— Sheila Phillips