The death of Dr. Mike Froning, executive director of the Birmingham Educational Foundation, leaves a void in efforts to improve city schools and enrich student success.
“Mike’s legacy will be tied not only to his work to improve the Birmingham City Schools, where he worked to help implement career academies, professional learning communities for teachers, and additional AP classes for students – he was first and foremost a teacher of students, which he did for many years and enjoyed thoroughly,” said Fred McCallum, president of AT&T Alabama and a member of the board of directors of the nonprofit Birmingham Educational Foundation, which is sometimes called ED.
Froning died unexpectedly at his home Tuesday night. As the founding director of ED, Froning had led the organization for three years. Froning had planned to retire at the end of June, and ED was already searching for a replacement.
ED had played a pivotal role in recruiting Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon, and had been a critical support for his efforts — and those of the state Department of Education — to stabilize and improve the school system.
The foundation took on the mission of helping the beleaguered school system through career academies, pre-Advanced Placement initiatives, professional learning communities to train principals, advancing the development of “Parent University” to increase parental involvement, putting on the first Birmingham Education Summit and developing an AmeriCorps VISTA program.
The Birmingham Education Foundation was staunch in its support of Witherspoon when members of the Board of Education began trying to fire him last year. “Working to terminate Craig Witherspoon after only a brief stint of service in Birmingham goes against national research that suggests turnaround plans in schools need consistency of effort and focus, and it shows disregard for the positive outcomes of the Yes We Can! Birmingham campaign,” Froning said at the time.
After Froning’s death, Witherspoon issued a statement. “We are saddened to learn of Dr. Froning’s passing,” Witherspoon said. “Dr. Froning has been a tremendous supporter and asset to the improvement of education in Birmingham. His contributions will have a long-lasting impact.”
At the time Froning announced his retirement, Witherspoon said he “will be a tough act for anyone to follow. His leadership has been invaluable to the work of strengthening our system.”
Froning’s legacy as an educator goes back years before founding the Birmingham Education Foundation. Froning had been dean of the UAB School of Education for more than a decade, and before that, director of the Russell Math and Science Center at the Alabama School of Fine Arts for more than eight years.
“In the years he spent at UAB he worked to improve the urban education environment,” McCallum said. “Overall, Mike’s passion for both students and their teachers, combined with his calm but persistent temperament, gave him the unique ability to improve the educational experience — and ultimately the lives — of many, many students.”
Kate Nielsen, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, said that “Mike Froning’s legacy will be his commitment to students both directly as a teacher and indirectly in his tireless work to refocus all educational efforts on what is best for the students and their families. His efforts have and will continue to transform our community.”