Alabama’s largest charter school breaks ground in Woodlawn

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — By this time next year, kindergarten through 5th grade students will be able to attend classes at i3 Academy, a 41,000-square-foot charter school in the Woodlawn community.

As of Tuesday, i3 Academy will be the largest charter school in Alabama.

Portions of the charter school will look familiar. While there is brand new construction underway, the school will partially be housed in what was the former First Baptist Church of Woodlawn.

“We will have open enrollment, and actually our applications will drop October 1st [2019],” said Dr. Martin Nalls, head of i3 Academy. “So we’ll have applications available to all students. However, the first level of enrollment will be for Birmingham city residents.”

Nalls and other leaders with the project say that families can anticipate a different educational experience.

“We will recruit the best teachers in the state,” he said, “and they will be the highest-paid teachers in the metro area.”

They went on the say that the school won’t look or feel like a traditional public school, calling it “messy” and “interactive.”

“Our bureaucracy is simply a board of parents, educators–which I am a former educator,” said Dr. Tommy Bice, chairman for i3 Academy’s board of directors, “and we oversee the operations. So there is zero bureaucracy so we can really focus our needs, our money, our energy and our resources on the children.”

Bice said their mission at i3 Academy is to empower students to become agents of change and solve problems in the world.

Prior to developing the charter school, he said that they went out into the community and listened to families to find out what they wanted out of their child’s education.

Bice explained that three terms emerged: imagination, investigation and Innovation, which became the basis of i3 Academy’s name and identity.

“They tell us that’s what they need, and we provide it,” Bice said. “We are raising money because we can’t do that with just the traditional funding per student, but we are working with foundations and philanthropies across the nation that believes in our model.”

Bice and Nalls also talked about plans to provide students with access to free dental, health, and mental health benefits. They also talked about being able to offer students after school activities–even private piano lessons at no charge.

“We thrive on community-based partnerships,” said Nalls. “Christ Health is a partner for us. Christ Health offers health benefits, dental benefits, mental health benefits–they have a pharmacy at Christ Health. So we’re going to partner with them to have all of those benefits for our students.”

Austin Evans is a ninth grader headed for boarding school at St. Paul’s in New Hampshire. However, he had been attended Highlands School, where he was required to have a Capstone Project.

Evans became interested in an Auburn-based program that takes recycled materials and turns them into playgrounds.

“I started looking for places, and I got connected with Woodland Foundation,” Evans said, “and found out about i3 Academy and just started making connections and everything kind of fell into place.”

At the groundbreaking, Evans handed over a check for $1,119 that he raised for the construction of the playground he designed.

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