My Thoughts on MNPS School Board Race

show-me-the-money-LAUSD-School-Board-RaceYesterday I realized that I’ve written 32 blog entries. That means, in my eyes, I’ve got a body of work. Therefore I think that I’m entitled to do an endorsement post. However. I don’t want to do a standard dry “these are the candidates who I  support” kind of piece. I’d like to actually have a little conversation, actually a frank conversation about this upcoming election. I may mention a few things that make people uncomfortable but I think these are the things we need to talk about when deciding where to cast our vote.

The biggest thing to keep in mind about these upcoming school board elections is voter turnout. An election in August with no mayoral vote or referendum vote usually equals a low turnout. Low turnout means its anybody’s game. The margin for error becomes so slim. So while its extremely nice of folks to put up a sign supporting their favorite candidate, in order to truly be effective they need to follow up with a trip to the polling place.

On the subject of signs, you’ll hear people often say, “signs don’t cast votes.” Which is true but I’ve been involved in enough elections to know that if one person has a large advantage in signage, they usually win. People just don’t get as informed as we’d like them to and subliminally they default to the person who’s sign they’ve seen the most. So if you got a candidate you like, put a sign up for them and then go vote.

So let’s run through these districts. We’ll start with District 2. This race has the incumbent Jo Ann Brannon squaring off against the challenger Bernie Driscoll. This is the district where my wife teaches and my child will start kindergarten. Its also adjacent to the district where I live. So I know a little about the demographics of it.

Jo Ann Brannon has been at this school board thing for a while. She’s solid in an understated way. Most importantly she knows the make up of these schools. She’s a former educator so her opinions are rooted in experience. Ms. Brannon was involved in the recent project based learning fair that took place this past spring, so she understands what innovation really looks like. She’s readily available to all constituents. Like I said, she’s solid.

Driscoll, I’m not sure has ever been in the classroom other then for parent teacher conferences. I may be wrong but that’s how it appears to me. He embraces plans like hiring more bi-lingual teachers and more parental involvement. Both sound great on paper but don’t hold up in practice. Tennessee is an English only state. That means teachers can only teach in English. Let me say that again, teachers can only teach in English. Also there are more then sixty languages represented in these schools, that’s a lot of hiring.

Parental involvement also sounds good but its usually more indicative of socio-economic status. This district has a huge refuge population. That’s refuge not immigrant population. They are different. They have different needs. Many of these parents might want to be involved but don’t have the time or means to. An EL teacher recently tried to survey other districts in the country for comparisons, due to our having both immigrant and refuge children there are no other district to compare to. We need people on the board who understand that uniqueness.

Much of Driscoll’s money, 35,440k so far, comes from Charter School supporters. Let me tell you what else they’ve been up to in this district. They’ve been aggressively recruiting refuge students to attend charter schools by telling them that the local schools are terrible, if they come to the charter school they’ll play sports for free and get a free I pad. They’ve actually scared many of these parents because they just don’t have the knowledge base to make a true evaluation. Now does that sound like people who want to be part of the public system or people that want their own system?

 I endorse: Jo Ann Brannon

On to District 4. This one has a three way race between Anna Shepherd, the incumbent and the challengers, Pam Swoner and Rhonda Dixon. Lets look at the money here and see if you can tell me who the charter school supported candidate is. Shepherd $2310, Swoner $3200 and Dixon $30600. Little obscene no? Stick around, you’ll see a trend.

The choice here is really between Swoner and Shepherd. In my eyes, it actually comes down to being able to see the flaws in the one you love. Shepherd has been a big supporter of superintendent Dr. Jesse Register and rightly so he’s done great worker. However, there are some fundamental flaws though that need to be corrected. MNPS is not as supportive to their teachers as they could be. They are terrible at communication both internal and external. Ms. Shepherd seems more concerned with the “tone” of the conversation then actually making the central office accountable. Ms. Swoner is not afraid to have hard conversations in order to improve.

Swoner has been a clear underdog from the beginning. Early on people tried to talk her into getting out of the race, out of fear that she would split the vote. I think its commendable that she ignored these voices and just went to work. She’s been tirelessly canvassing and based on her money report seems to be making headway. She is teacher centric and supports policies that are good for all, not just some. At a time when teachers could use a friend….

I endorse: Pam Swoner

District 6 is next on my list. This one has Tyrese Hunter challenging current board chair Cheryl Mayes. What’s interesting here is that Hunter has received the least of the charter supported candidates, $27,372, yet is outwardly the most supportive of charter schools. It’s baffling to me that the schools she supports are mostly of the longer days, more discipline ilk. They are made up of primarily minority students and are markedly different then the schools attended by more affluent students.

I asked John Little, who’s working doggedly on her campaign and who’s a friend, why she would support sending minority children to a school that teaches, eyes front, pay attention don’t talk out of turn while white children populate schools where they are encouraged to be creative and think outside of the box. What does he think the effect would be when the two demographics left school with two different skill sets? Who were going to be the worker bees and who were going to be the overseers? He didn’t have an answer, but I encourage you to ask that question when casting your vote.

Cheryl Mayes, again knows her district and is extremely accessible. She’s exhibited balanced leadership during a very tumultuous time. I don’t always agree with Ms. Mayes but I certainly respect her. She deserves another term.

I endorse: Cheryl Mayes

Lastly, but certainly not least, is district 8. The land of the big money. This district alone has raised over 100k between the two candidates. The incumbent in this district decided not to run, so we have two first timers. Mary Pierce has raised $66,620 while Becky Sharpe has raised $42,070. While its a little more difficult here, I think you can figure out who has the love of the reform crowd.

Watching this race is like watching a college football team compete against an NFL team. Ms. Pierce is personable, engaging, and energetic but Ms. Sharpe is just deeper and more concrete. The skills that she brings to the table are nothing short of jaw dropping. I once heard someone say that if you have to explain why someone is a hall of famer…they’re not. That axiom applies here. Ms Sharpe’s credentials require no explanation. On re-evaluation, this is like watching a Teach for America Corp member teach next to a seasoned teacher.

I endorse: Becky Sharpe

So there you have it. That certainly took a little longer then I anticipated, but hopefully was worth it. Keep in mind that even if you don’t have children in the school system this race is important. The children of today are the shapers of tomorrow. Your future quality of life is directly dependent on the quality of citizens developed. Parties fueled by self interests are obviously trying to buy the outcome.  I’d ask why? Push back. Do your due diligence and most importantly vote.



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