Tuesday, July 28, 2009

They Coulda Stayed Home

"The BOE candidates addressed the Nashville Council on Tuesday 7/21/09 prior to their voting to fill the open District 9 seat. The final vote was 9 for Elizabeth Merkel and 29 for Kay Simmons. After viewing the video I understand why Simmons was the easy vote. She's a known quantity, she wasn't shy about reminding them she'd brought $12 million into the system, she had touching emotional stories. Regardless, I'm very disappointed that other than Merkel, no other candidate got any votes at all. Obviously, this Council doesn't appear to have any issues with the current MNPS administration and is content to send to them another of their ilk. Council lady-at-large Megan Barry was quoted in the Tennessean as saying "I want somebody who's going to be challenging, but not somebody who's going to be disquieting to the board." She certainly got someone who wasn't going to rock the boat. Whatever we do, let's not 'disquiet' the board.

Simmons was head of the Nashville Alliance for Public Education. When she stepped down former BOE Chair Pam Garrett took her place. Now, Simmons is on the BOE and will likely end up taking Garrett's former position as Chairman if she's re-elected next year. Throw in the lack of seemingly promised change in the central office and one begins to realize if the best we can do is shuffle the deck chairs...the children are in serious trouble indeed.

Here's the video from last week for those interested along with my comments.

Paul Brenner started by apologizing for his casual attire. His excuse was that some of the candidates didn't the letter about the evening's proceedings. He also answered questions that were asked previously because, according to him, councilmen came late and didn't get to hear Brenner's answers. He accuses the system of picking people even before the interviews have occurred. (Something Kennedy also touches on later.) Brenner comments on school uniforms (all or none), mayoral takeover (going to do the best job I can), charter schools (I'm against), cell phones (not in classroom), Pedro Garcia 1-10 (2. Part of the reason Brenner retired).

Brenner's solid no on charter schools because they're not the same as regular schools, take money from regular schools and don't have certified teachers like regular schools is just the sort of party line statement that got him the MNEA endorsement in 2008. I wonder if he realizes that the man he was hoping to replace is now head of the charter school office that is going to be expanded. Brenner's is a completely wrong point of view for 21st Century education.

Rich Haglund starts with a quote from the band U2: "Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die." [Crumbs from your table for those that aren't up on your U2 lyrics.] According to Haglund all discussion of schools should be focused on children, teachers and schools leaders. As an attorney it's Haglund's opinion that the rules are tools to be used for the children's benefit. "The Board's job is to empower other people and then get out of the way."

Rich Haglund works for the Tennessee State Board of Education as their attorney. The number of potential conflicts of interest that could arise would handicap the MNPS Board in many ways. He should never have even considered holding both positions. Further, he leaves out parents and taxpayers as having standing in those discussion of schools. Since the MNPS BOE already knows how to "empower other people and get out of the way" I don't see that they need Haglund.

Martin Kennedy definitely unloaded on the Council regarding the process that Brenner also commented on early. This father of 5 MNPS students (one with autism) and economist makes it clear that there is a socio-economic bias at MNPS which says is part of a protected monopoly he calls the education blob. He asserts that low income parents should have education choice. "The public funding of education is not the same as public provision of education."

I already blogged my support for Kennedy and Kennedy blogged his prepared comments before the vote. He did vary from the text somewhat. I truly believe that MNPS needs someone that can look at the system from an econmic and marketing point of view and say the reason we're losing children (and so our customer base and reason for being) is X and Z. Let's fix that.

Michael LeHaie was the fellow that seemed most personable. He gave a nod to Martin Kennedy saying his "comments were excellent" which probably was when folks stopped listening. He's an assistant principal at St. Cecelia Academy and it looks like they're fortunate to have him. He does have some experience in MNPS schools. He supports charters, the rezoning and dress codes. He's wasn't keen on mayoral control. Obviously, a bullet dodged for now.

Julie Lamb begins her presentation by having her daughter Georgia speak first to tell council members "she'll fight for what's right". As a parent in the Hillwood cluster, a former Parent Advisory Council Chairman and a small business owner she feels she's right for the job. A litany of her activities was given as well as her assertion that she does know the needs and parents of District 9 and the issues on the table. She did say she was excited by former BOE member Alan Coverstone's new job overseeing charter schools.

Unfortunately, while obviously an involved parent I remembered her support for Pedro Garcia (who created the Parent Advisory Council) and her comment back in 2006 that the district had made "awesome progress since Dr. Garcia arrived". We all know better now.

Elizabeth Merkel's comments included all the right buzz words: I'm a new voice, the system is broken, I'm a coalition builder, implement change right away to impact the students right away, school board needs to support teachers, we need to engage the community... She did point out the absolute fact that people are leaving the system saying there are 32,000 in elementary schools, 19,000 in middle schools and 24,000 in high school. She also reiterated that the average ACT score in Metro is 19 which won't qualify students for the lottery scholarship.

Those statistics are some that no one really wants to be reminded of. Parents start out their children in MNPS elementary schools with high hopes and good words about the local school and then look toward the future and say "No way" and we never get 8,000 of those children back into the system. Until MNPS is willing to take a long cold look at the marketing end of this equation and is willing to deal with what drives all those families out that's never going to get better. MNPS is looking toward being the education delivery system for those that have no other options. That whole "educating children is the most important thing a community can do" bumper sticker campaign has got a pretty hollow ring to it about now.

And so the star of the show, Kay Simmons takes the microphone. She reminds everyone that she's been working with the MNPS system for 35 years, and through NAPE she's brought in $12 million to MNPS, she's got heart wrenching stories of her own personal interaction with needy children and many of the folks on the Council already know her. She went through the motions of asking for their vote but they'd obviously pledged them beforehand.

Citizens, parents and taxpayers didn't get much of a chance to weigh in on these candidates. It'll be a year until they do. I don't think Simmons was a bad choice. I just don't think it was the best choice. I don't see how MNPS can make the great strides forward that are necessary with merely good choices and essentially the same folks in charge. And every year it takes to improve is a year gone in the life of a student. They've got a finite number of educational years but the system, the educational blob, goes on forever.

AC Kleinheider has a great opinion piece at the City Paper this week entitled "Nashvillians need their truth candy coated". In it he writes of Martin Kennedy:
"You can't just wake up one day speak truth to power and expect the scales to drop from the establishment's eyes. It doesn't work that way. You have to prime the pump. You have to make the connections and form the personal relationships. Quite simply, you have to play the game. You don't have to like it, but you have to do it. Then you can hit them with a bit of truth."
"...with a bit of truth." Kleinheider's got it right. If you work exceptionally hard at making those connections, bide your time and play the game they might hear a bit of truth. They might even make some small symbolic effort at changing, but it doesn't last long and then there's a new director, new fad, new unfunded mandate from the Feds. The MNPS blob resents anyone outside their circle and if any dare point out the the emperor has no clothes the blob won't even examine the truth but react by attacking the speaker. They hardly tolerated truth from Board members like Murray Phillips, Mebenin Awipi or Kay Brooks (that interloper of the highest order) and they certainly weren't going to take it from CM Eric Crafton. The blob values the messenger and his delivery more than the actual message. It values its own preservation more than the education of the children.

And that exceptionally disheartening truth is why it's taken me a week to finish this post.


din819go said...

Great post!! I did not realize until yesterday (dumb me) that the new District 9 school board rep lives on Richland Avenue and is zoned completely for the Hillsboro Cluster. While this is fine, it sure appears there are two board reps from the Hillsboro cluster on the board and no one with the knowledge of the Hillwood schools. (Maybe Hillsboro needs the extra help as both HIllsboro HS and JT Moore are still on the "challenged" school list.) Hopefully someone will step forward to run for the board next year that lives in the heart of the Hillwood cluster and understands its challenges...

I wish Kay well...

N.S. Allen said...

You act like there are only two paths here - to go and sit on whatever board like a nice little piece of the establishment or to rush in "aiming between the eyes" and talking about the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, like Kennedy did. Both, of course, are silly, self-defeating choices.

In reality, all of those council and board seats come up for democratic election, eventually. If anyone was serious about reforming education in Nashville, there'd be a campaign to raise awareness in the city about the importance of (for instance) school board posts. There'd be some concerted effort to make sure that we don't have less than 8% of the city's voters making decisions over who sits in those chairs, as happened in 2008.

If you want functioning government, you have to have functioning democracy. That means getting the voters to pay attention or, failing that, shifting control of the board into the hands of someone they already pay (slightly more) attention to, like the mayor.

The fact that so many would-be reformers prefer to just butt heads with the "blob" and hope that maybe, just maybe, they'll get lucky makes one suspect that they know that the citizens at large wouldn't want anything to do with their "reforms," if they got a good look at the details.

Kay Brooks said...

NS writes from Obamaland:
"If anyone was serious about reforming education in Nashville, there'd be a campaign to raise awareness in the city about the importance of (for instance) school board posts."

So, what do you think I'm doing with this 4 year old blog with 1,400+ posts? Or is my effort not 'campaign' enough?

Missy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
din819go said...

Missy -- very well said!! Now to accomplish both --