Earlier in the week, I wrote a post about the past actions of the two candidates in the upcoming runoff election for the mayor of Nashville. Ok, well, primarily one of the candidates. The Tennessean, Nashville’s local rag, decided to write a bit of a compare and contrast piece for themselves. But there are several points in the Tennessean piece that deserve further discussion.
First of all, I’d like some clarification on David Fox’s statement that nothing he has seen indicates Megan Barry is “prepared to engage as muscularly” as the mayor should to keep our public education system from falling apart. What does that mean? I went and looked up the word “muscularly” to get a little more edification. According to the free dictionary, it means “having or suggesting great forcefulness, especially at the expense of subtlety” (e.g., muscular reasoning that does not bother with the finer points). Hmmmmm…. seems to me that public education is one of those areas where the devil is in the details, so it might require a little delicacy. Based on this statement, Mr. Fox thinks the mayor just needs to be a bulldozer.
I dated a girl for a while whose father’s solution to every repair project was “bring me the hammer.” Needless to say, not a lot of repairs got done around the house. Unfortunately, a tool chest needs a screwdriver and a wrench and a ratchet. Likewise, with something as vast as public education, sometimes a great deal of subtlety – and more tools than just a hammer – is need to bring the different stakeholders together. You know, more brain than brawn.
Many of my female friends contend that Fox is sending a subtle message to his people with this messaging. Letting them know that a woman might not be up to the hard job of keeping a school system together. Ok, I don’t know about that. Since I’m not one of his people, I wouldn’t get the message, but it is awful strange language and I am concerned about his perceived need for the mayor to keep the system from falling apart. This is a head scratcher because I thought there was an elected school board for that. Is he advocating for the mayor to take over the board?
Well, keep on scratching your head because things don’t get any clearer. When David Fox was on the Nashville school board, he advocated for then-Governor Bredesen to grant mayoral control over the school district. Now that he’s running for mayor, he says, “I’m running for mayor with the full expectation that we will always have an elected school board in Nashville.” Based on this statement it sounds like the mayor doesn’t have to keep things from falling apart because there are people charged with that task. So, where is he going to apply this muscle of his ? If I didn’t know better I’d say he’s “muscularly” trying to have his cake and eat it too when it comes to our schools. He wants to dictate to them but not be accountable for them.
The next thing that puzzles me is this: Megan Barry has long been a supporter of universal pre-K. She’s not alone in this support, as the majority of educational experts see its value. We call that a research-backed policy position. Fox feels that “we don’t have an unlimited amount of money. So, what I would like to do is, let’s fix the problem. Let’s don’t take all these kids who have privately-funded pre-K and put them into a government system. Let’s take all the resources that we can muster for pre-K and put it to the benefit of children whose families cannot afford it.” My question is who determines who can afford what? Why segregate kids out at an early age between those who get private pre-k and those who get public pre-k? Lack of funding is a poor excuse for this short-sided policy.
Especially in light of the fact that when it comes to the subject of charter schools, which research has shown have mixed results, and a study commissioned by MNPS showed that charter schools are an expensive proposition for the district, Fox’s take is this: “I don’t have any vision for how many charter schools we need. I don’t have a vision that we need to charterize everything. It doesn’t matter to me who runs the school. They just have to be successful.” Of course, he never defines what successful means. Nor does he seem concerned about the fiscal cost. So, it’s no money for universal pre-K, unlimited money for charter schools. Have I mentioned hedge fund managers love charter schools?
Also, under Fox there would be no money for community schools. Despite having a district where over 70% of children qualify for free and reduced lunch and that community schools are successful in combating the challenges that urban schools face, Fox’s response is this: “So after adding more than $1 billion to Metro’s debt and leaving the taxpayers holding the bag over her last eight years on the Metro Council … Now, she is coming up with even more ways to spend our money that have little to do with actual learning.” That’s called a non-research-backed position. We need to be finding a way to increase the number of community schools instead of clinging to the status quo of hit and miss charter schools.
The last area I want to address is Fox’s recent comments about the outsourcing of custodians and groundskeepers that occurred in 2010 when he was on the school board. Fox puts it down as a kids’ needs versus adult needs thing. Apparently, according to Fox, it’s Barry who “doesn’t have in my view a really firm understanding of why schools aren’t successful.” but I think he’s got it backwards. He apparently does not grasp that schools are not a strict teacher-to-student equation. Equally important are administrators, nurses, guidance counselors, administrative workers, bus drivers, and yes…. custodians and groundskeepers.
When those jobs were outsourced, not only did our schools lose some dedicated people, but also a great deal of institutional knowledge. If you own an older home, then you know that there are a lot of hidden tricks to keeping all aspects of it fully functioning. Over time, we homeowners learn those tricks, and they allow us to maintain comfort and functionality without having to undertake costly repairs. You cannot put a price tag on institutional knowledge. Those custodians maintained an environment that allowed children to learn, and I’m pretty confident that most were as dedicated to our children as our teachers are. That’s having a broad enough vision to put kids first and recognizing all the components that go into learning.
When I wrote my last piece, I received some complaints that I painted Fox in an unfair light. I would contend that his own words do a better job of that than I ever could. Megan Barry is not the perfect candidate (if she writes another letter to Jeremy Kane trying to solicit his 10 voters, I may try and get Dr. Mike Looney to run for mayor), but she is clearly the better choice for mayor. She doesn’t speak in code and will help ensure that we have a public education system that supports all of our children. We don’t need to look at the past for evidence for that; just listen to what’s being said today. Please I urge everyone to take this to heart and get out and vote so that Barry is the next mayor and not Fox, because that would be disastrous for the future of our public schools.
On another note – and one that doesn’t fit here, but it’s my blog so I can say what I want – kudos to the incredible work being done at Maplewood High School by Twjuana Williams and her students. It was announced today that as part of their school work, Maplewood students will be running a Firestone Complete Auto Care Center. That’s the kind of innovation being done in our public schools.
The other thing I really admire about this story is that nowhere is the dynamic leadership of Executive Principal Ron Woodard or Assistant Principal Ryan Jackson mentioned. The focus is solely on the students and Ms. Williams. Real leadership is the ability to allow your teammates to take the spotlight while you remain in a support position. Maplewood and its community should be proud.