By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
The school that is home to Jefferson County Schools’ most challenged students now has a new home that’s a lot less challenging.
The William Burkett Center for Multi-Handicapped Children held an open house last Thursday, just weeks after the school moved to the newly-renovated former campus of Mortimer Jordan High School in Morris.
The center teaches youngsters with severe or multiple special needs, more than can be handled by special-education classes at the system’s other schools. About 85 students in grades K-12 are part of the older students program, while about 80 pre-schoolers — about half of whom are not special-needs children — have a separate program, according to
principal Dan Roth.
The Burkett Center moved from their former home at the old Springdale Elementary near Fultondale — a facility that had been described by staff and parents alike by one word: decrepit.
“Oh, heavens,” said Stephanie Branum, a special-education teacher at Gardendale Elementary whose son, Parker, attends Burkett. “Part of the old place was also the alternative school, and another part was the STAR Program for kids in serious trouble. I hated that we had our most violent kids beside our most vulnerable. It’s so much nicer here, and it gets these kids away from the ones in trouble.”
“I’ll summarize it nicely — it [the previous center] was an old building with old-building problems,” Roth said. “It was a building that reminded you of a barracks. But even in those conditions, what those teachers did for those kids is incredible.”
The old Jordan classrooms have been totally renovated. Restrooms were added, and all classes are equipped with Promethian boards — a combination of a computer video projector and an interactive touch screen that allows training of motor skills, among other things.
Two state-of-the-art therapy rooms are included, as well as a gymnasium for the adaptive physical education program.
“Their attention is zoned in on these boards, like they’re playing a video game,” Roth said.
It’s appropriate that the Burkett Center has found a home on the old Jordan campus, because its namesake is a former principal of the high school.
Dr. William Burkett ran Jordan for five years, before handing the reins over to longtime principal Jimmie Trotter. Burkett went on to become superintendent of the Jefferson County Schools, and remains the only graduate of a JefCoEd school to later head the system.
Burkett was in attendance at the open house, along with many members of his family, and he presented a donation of $25,000 to the school.
“There’s been a Burkett associated with Jordan ever since 1943,” he said.