Meet i3 Academy’s Dr. Martin Nalls + why he loves this new charter school in Woodlawn


Dr. Martin Nalls of i3 Academy
Dr. Martin Nalls is the head of school at i3 Academy. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Imagine, investigate, innovate. That’s what the three “I”s stand for at  Academy, and a lot of each is happening at this new charter school in Woodlawn. We spoke with Dr. Martin Nalls, the head of school at i3 Academy, to get the inside scoop on why he and others love this school so much. If you’ve got a rising K-6th grader, apply before Jan. 18, 2021 for the 2021-22 school year lottery.  

What is i3 Academy?

i3 Academy's faculty
The faculty at i3 Academy is part of this new charter school’s special sauce. Photo via i3 Academy’s Facebook

It’s a new tuition-free public charter school located in Woodlawn, open to any Alabama student who will be a rising K-6th grader in 2020-21. The school’s mission is to empower learners to become agents of change who solve the problems they see in their world. 

In their own words on Facebook, “i3 Academy…is more than a school. It’s a movement that’s powered by, and designed for, the community and your students.”

They just opened their doors in August 2020—what a time to launch a new educational endeavor, right? But according to Dr. Nalls, it’s been going really well. Keep reading to find out more, including their plans to expand to K-12 over time.

Learn more at i3 Academy’s website and apply before Jan. 18, 2021.

Bham Now: Dr. Nalls, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Dr. Martin Nalls at i3 Academy
Dr. Martin Nalls inside i3 Academy in Woodlawn. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Dr. Nalls: I grew up in Fayette, Alabama and came to Birmingham to attend UAB. After I graduated, I did not leave. I enjoy Birmingham, and this is now my home. 

I have a background in traditional public school administration. Prior to i3, I worked in Fairfield, Hoover and Homewood City Schools. 

Toward the end of my traditional public school career, I started a nonprofit called College Admissions Made Possible. Through that work, I was inspired to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In the summer of 2018, I was offered the opportunity to lead the i3 Academy effort in Woodlawn.

Bham Now: Tell us about your vision for the school.

Dr. Nalls: Our vision is to give families throughout Birmingham and especially families in the Woodlawn area another educational option. Our mission is to ensure these students have a clear pathway of high-quality education from K-12 (we just got approved to continue our effort through grade 12 over time). 

Bham Now: Why Woodlawn?

Woodlawn mural
This mural was designed with and painted by the community in Woodlawn. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Dr. Nalls: There’s currently an effort in Woodlawn around holistic community revitalization, and education is a key component of that effort. 

A lot of things are in place, including health and wellness through Christ Health, and the Woodlawn Foundation is doing a lot of work around accessible housing. 

Education was the major component that was missing. We hope to fulfill that need. 

Bham Now: Tell us about your students.

little girl hanging from monkey bars
Just hanging around at i3 Academy. Photo via i3 Academy’s Facebook

Dr. Nalls: We absolutely take students from outside of Woodlawn. Our recruiting is more intensive in Woodlawn due to proximity, but students throughout the Birmingham area are welcome. 

We currently have 420 students in grades K-5. As we grow grades 6-12, we’ll add approximately 100 students per grade level. Our full capacity is over 1000 students. 

For next year, we’re looking for K-6 students. There’s no litmus test. If a student qualifies for any other traditional public school, they qualify for us. Special needs, prior academic achievement or ethnicity—it doesn’t matter.  

Our student body is currently around 88-90% African American, and we have Caucasian and Hispanic students enrolled as well. Our faculty is right around 50% African American and Caucasian with some Hispanic employees. 

One of our goals is to provide our students with a diverse educational experience, not just in terms of ethnicity, but in terms of providing families and students with opportunities to experience and learn about different cultures. 

This school is for everybody—not just a select group of people. This is not a private or exclusive school. It’s for anyone willing to take a chance on something new.

Bham Now: What makes i3 Academy so special?

Thanksgiving turkeys at i3 Academy
Giving Thanksgiving turkeys to school families. Photo via i3 Academy’s Facebook
  1. It’s not just about a single school—it’s about a holistic community revitalization effort. This is very special.
  2. Parent engagement is a key part of our model, and we have great parental support. This is something a lot of traditional schools struggle with. 
  3. We offer additional support for reading and math. We have a reading lab and a math lab for students who are two or more more grade levels behind. This makes us very unique  in that we have an intensive effort to make sure that all students are on grade level. This is a challenge for a lot of schools, and one that we embrace.
  4. We have high-quality teachers—some of the best in the metro area—which was a main focus during our recruiting efforts.

Bham Now: If a parent or guardian wants their child to go to i3 Academy, what do they need to do?

Apply for the lottery at i3 Academy
What parent doesn’t want to see that look of wonder on their child’s face? Photo via i3 Academy’s Facebook

Dr. Nalls: The application process is open between October 1 and the Dr. King holiday each year. This year’s deadline is January 18th. 

When we receive more applications than seats, students go into a random lottery. 

Once a student has been admitted and enrolled, his/her seat is secure until they decline it. 

You’ll find Frequently Asked Questions about the enrollment process on the i3 Academy website.

Applications for the 2021-2022 lottery are open now through January 18 for rising K-6 graders. Apply on i3’s website, and email with any questions. Follow i3 Academy on Instagram + Facebook, too. 

Sponsored by:

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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