How i3 Academy fits into Woodlawn’s new vision—apply by Jan. 18, 2021


Mashonda Taylor of the Woodlawn Foundation + Dr. Tommy Bice with i3 Academy
i3 Academy is built into the fabric of the Woodlawn Community. l-r: Mashonda Taylor, Executive Director of Woodlawn Foundation + Dr. Tommy Bice, Chair of the i3 Academy board of directors. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

If you haven’t heard, i3 Academy is a new tuition-free public charter school in Woodlawn. Their mission: to help students become change agents and problem solvers. They’re currently taking applications for the lottery for rising K-6 students. To learn more, we reached out to Mashonda Taylor and Dr. Tommy Bice. Here’s what they said.

Meet Mashonda Taylor and Dr. Tommy Bice + find out how they’re connected with i3 Academy

Mashonda Taylor, Executive Director, Woodlawn Foundation

Mashonda Taylor, Woodlawn Foundation
Mashonda Taylor is the Executive Director of Woodlawn Foundation. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Mashonda Taylor is Woodlawn Foundation’s executive director. Woodlawn Foundation is a connector, convener and capacity builder.

“We get up every day thinking about the residents. We want to help people shift from generational poverty to economic opportunity and the ability to be successful in their own way.”

Mashonda Taylor

Dr. Tommy Bice, Chair of the i3 Academy board of directors

Dr. Tommy Bice, Chair of i3 Academy's board of directors
Dr. Tommy Bice is Chair of i3 Academy’s board of directors. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Tommy Bice has 44 years of experience in public education. He ended his official career as state superintendent of education in 2016. Next, he went to the MG Goodrich Foundation. There, Bice got to know some families in Woodlawn. Long story short, he became Chair of the i3 Academy board of directors.

i3 Academy fits with the broader holistic community revitalization of Woodlawn

Purpose built communities model
Woodlawn’s revitalization is following the Purpose Built Communities model. Graphic via Purpose Built Communities

Taylor and Bice explained how Woodlawn is following the “Purpose Built Communities” model. 

  • The Woodlawn Foundation serves as the Community Quarterback Organization, working with residents.
  • Community Wellness + Affordable Mixed Income Housing. The Woodlawn Foundation is working with partners in both of these areas. Their goal: to provide services to residents and improve quality of life.
  • Cradle-to-College Education Pathway. The James Rushton Early Learning Center provides high-quality early childhood education opportunities. Now i3 Academy provides a new and vital opportunity for elementary education. Over time, this will expand to include middle and high school as well.

i3 Academy is open to any student who wants to go there and gets a spot in the lottery. Birmingham residents get top priority.

“We wanted to make sure families in the greater Woodlawn area had an opportunity to be a part of the school. So, we hired people who lived in the four big housing developments nearby to spread the word about i3 Academy. We also helped people in those communities fill out applications if they needed it. We wanted to make sure the families who needed it the most had an opportunity.”

Dr. Bice

Are you the parent or guardian of a rising K-6th grader? Apply today for the 2021-2022 school year lottery. Deadline: January 18, 2021.

The Woodlawn community has a special feel

Bayles in Woodlawn
Have you been to Bayles for Soul Food Sunday yet? Photo via Bayles Catering & Restaurant’s Facebook

For Taylor and Bice, the answer is simple: “the people and the sense of community.”

“The people in Woodlawn are resilient, thoughtful and care about the neighborhood.”

Mashonda Taylor

Taylor has a few favorite places to go in the Woodlawn community:

Even though it’s very new, i3 is making an impact in the community

Family helping on a community day at i3 Academy
An i3 parent and her child volunteered to clean up the area around the school on Family Volunteer Day. Photo via i3 Academy’s Facebook

According to Taylor and Bice, revitalization in Woodlawn started in South Woodlawn. This is where the residents wanted to start. It took 10 years to do a lot of work on mixed-income housing.

“i3 represents the next phase of our work on the Northern side of Woodlawn,” according to Taylor. “It’s a catalyst for building intentional relationships with residents on that side of Woodlawn. Education is the anchor and also speaks to the bigger revitalization in Woodlawn.”

Mashonda Taylor

“Now that there’s a hub of activity in the middle of where some less than desirable activities were going on, the families who live nearby are so pleased. Individuals are renovating their houses. Properties are getting rehabbed. There are some new occupancies and all the vibrant energy a school brings.”

Dr. Bice

What makes i3 Academy so unique

people in front of i3 Academy
People gathered in front of i3 Academy in Woodlawn. Photo via i3 Academy’s Facebook

“Our community is resilient, and that resiliency was demonstrated when I3 Academy opened against all odds during a global pandemic.”

Mashonda Taylor

“We had over 1100 applications for 420 student spots. The most important thing was that we put 99.5% of our emphasis on who we hired to be a teacher, faculty or staff member. For three days, we met with thinkers, educators, business owners and others, to come up with what an ideal teacher would look like. As people applied, they took an assessment and had to score between 7-10 to match the model.

Now we have this amazing faculty of freethinkers and entrepreneurial teachers. They all believe in children and their ability to learn regardless of what they might bring to the table. Also, 26% of our faculty is African American men. Across the country in elementary education, that number is around 2%.”

Dr. Bice

Finally, Bice and Taylor raved about the school’s virtual kindergarten teacher. When she went to Mississippi to visit her family, she took her students along with her virtually. They got to go to the farm and stop along the way for lessons.

At the farm, the teacher’s family had put letters of the alphabet around to show things that started with that letter. The kids got to watch all of this via Zoom. They also got to go on a virtual visit to the zoo—also a huge hit with the kids.

“These kids’ potential is amazing.”

Dr. Tommy Bice

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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