Monday, December 24, 2007


The Tennesseean expended a lot of ink this weekend on opinions about improving schools.

We heard from Catherine McTamany an East Nashville resident whose education credentials are mentioned but not her political ones. She thinks student poverty as it relates to mobility is the most serious problem.

Students do not fail at school because they're Hispanic. They don't fail because they're black. They don't fail because they're poor. They fail because our system is based on an antiquated model of parent involvement and wealth-based access. Higher achievement in Metro schools is linked to lower mobility in those schools — lower mobility, in turn, is linked to wealth.
We hard from Anderson Williams of Oasis Center which has been in our schools for a good long time. He beats the same mobility drum and takes it a whole step (or two) further.
We must look to the mayor now to make the connections; to ensure we are doing all we can for affordable, stable housing for the working poor; to promote zoning and policies that prevent predatory lending practices; to focus as much on the economic development of our core urban neighborhoods as on new corporate headquarters; to create a proactive agenda for us all to address the systemic issues of poverty in our city.
And we get new Mayor Karl Dean's view:
But unlike many other cities where entire school systems are struggling, our problem in Nashville is isolated to just a handful of schools. If we address this now, I know we can solve it. It's just the right thing to do.
Notice he doesn't shame any particular BOE members, or their constituents, by naming those schools.

Bob Fisher of Belmont University and Co-Chair of the Mayor's new drop out committee Project for Student Success opines:
Another reason that our work will succeed is because of the strong leadership and unity that has, and hopefully will continue to exist in our board of education and our director of schools. In the past couple of years, the board members and the director have made student learning and welfare their guiding North Star. Substantial gains have been made and now is the time to solidify those gains and to continue to build on them.
If he really believes this...he's in for a rude awakening.

And of course the Tennessean editorial board, those anonymous elders of wisdom, states:
But one reason the 40-member committee given the task of improving the rate looks promising is the inclusiveness of the panel. It includes not just good-intentioned, community-minded citizens but people with direct interests in the success of schools. The group includes representatives of higher education, the business community, school officials, law enforcement, Metro officials ranging from the Juvenile Court judge to the head of parks and recreation, and students themselves.
I look at this panel and see dozens of names that, yes, have a direct interest but not necessarily in ensuring the truth of the situation is revealed and dealt with. Many of these are people who have enabled this situation for quite some time and are unlikely to change their ways. As I wrote before, perhaps the magic is in reshuffling the cards....but I remain skeptical.

And after all of the above it's Gail Kerr that seems to bring us all back to reality.

Mayor Karl Dean faces a Catch-22 management situation.

To succeed, he's got to somehow fix public schools, over which he technically has no control, without appearing to usurp the elected school board, which really is in charge.

He's got a limited amount of money to spend, and no expectation of much more.

The system is run by Pedro Garcia, who works for the school board, not the mayor. Garcia has lost his once powerful edge. He's looking, but hasn't been able to find a job. His evaluation is coming up in January.

Mayor Dean tied his campaign to improving schools. Only time will tell if he should have avoided the issue altogether and referred people back to the BOE. He got a lot of flack for not having his children in public schools and yet making them a big part of his campaign. I appreciate his concern for the children. My suggestion to him is to work on the Chamber to actually back BOE candidates this August that will actually run the system the way it ought to be. They bought and paid for many of those BOE members, as did the unions...and look where we are. If you want change, you're going to have to put people in charge whose first loyalty is to their constituents and not the adult organizations with a 'direct interest' in the system. People who aren't afraid of speaking up, debating the issues and holding its employee responsible.

5/9ths of the BOE is up for reelection in August. Pay attention folks. Get involved in a campaign with your money and your time. Ask these board members some hard questions and expect specific answers. How are they going to ensure your child's school, your neighborhood school is better? With the exception of Mark North, all of these folks have had plenty of time on the BOE or as employees of MNPS to have a track record you can utilize. With the exception of Mark North all of these folks voted to keep MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Pedro Garcia , their only employee, and give him a hefty raise. In January they will all review Garcia's performance and decide if he deserves another raise or if it's time to send him packing. I think having the State of Tennessee in the house would be sufficient grounds for dismissal. Unfortunately, all year long his assessments haven't reflected this reality. They've put themselves in a corner and our children at risk.

From left to right:
Ed Kindall on the BOE 22 years since 7/9/1985,
George Thompson, more than 11 years: 4 months on the BOE in 1991 and then back on 8/1/1996,
MNPS BOE Chair Marsha Warden on the BOE since 8/24/2004 ,
Gracie Porter elected in August of 2006 and
Mark North since spring of 2007.

No comments: