Recently, at the December 13, 2016, board meeting of Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), there was a pretty big deal on the agenda: a moratorium on new charter schools.
Because I believe that we don’t need any more charter schools in Nashville, I signed up to speak at the meeting during the time for public comment. Here is the speech I gave at that board meeting:
My name is Mary Holden, and I am a parent of a student in MNPS and a former teacher.
I’m here tonight to speak in support of our neighborhood schools, our zoned schools.
Dr. Joseph, when you came to Metro, I welcomed you at your first board meeting and asked you to be a champion for our children, for our schools. The question remains whether you are going to be that champion – a humble servant who is here to serve the needs of all our children, teachers, and community while fighting for equity in our public schools – or not. I hope you choose the former, because magic happens in our public schools every day. Despite bad leadership in some cases, lack of resources and support, or the crushing emphasis on data and test scores. Excellence happens in spite of these things thanks to our awesome teachers and staff members and supportive parents.
Our public schools serve all our children, and they need our utmost support. The existing charters in Nashville have plenty of outside financial support on their own. They don’t need our help. And no one is asking them to close up shop. They’re here. We just don’t need any more charters. Instead, we need to focus our precious resources on the close-to-90% of students who attend our zoned public schools.
We have the facts, the data, the research that tell us more charters, and even the ones that have already been approved but aren’t yet open, will drain our budget and pull money away from our neediest students. So it is very clear we do not need any more charters.
Please follow the lead of the NAACP. They have recently called for a national moratorium on charter schools. They see the break down of communities, the removal of resources, and the closings of public schools caused by charter expansion, and they want to put a stop to the harm it’s causing.
The answer to increase equity in our schools is not more charters; it is to fully support and fund our public schools! We need to see the level of support and resources that my daughter’s school has at every school.
Dr. Joseph, while there are many things that concern me about some of your decisions and the people you brought here who you insist are the most qualified even though they are very clearly not the most qualified, I do want to support you. But it’s hard when there are so many red flags. What concerns me most is your perception of our district. You have spoken about how this district is broken, diseased, and how painful changes are coming in January whether or not we are ready for it. But this implies that you think we don’t know anything about how to educate kids, and that is simply not true. There are some very real needs in our district – the need to provide and retain qualified teachers for every student, the need to provide support personnel at our neediest schools, the need for resources and proper facilities, for example – but we are not failing. Our district is not diseased, as you put it.
And it’s not about test scores. So testing our students repeatedly and adding more tests, and this increased emphasis on data collection for the sake of data collection is not the way to go.
Our schools are not failing. Our students are not failures. They need our support. Their neighborhood schools need our support. And our teachers need our support. We have enough charters. I hope you all make the right decision. Our kids depend on it.
As it turns out, when this item came up for discussion toward the end of the meeting, the board member who put the moratorium on the agenda, Will Pinkston, was also the one who decided to remove it indefinitely. As Pinkston said,
“We’ve heard that this resolution would somehow surrender power to the (Tennessee) State Board of Education, which is untrue,” he said. “For those outside of the board who don’t understand how laws and policies are made, this is what’s known as a memorializing resolution – simply expressing the mood of the body. The actual moratorium will play out over a series of votes next year when we’ll reject charter applications, one by one.”
Well, I look forward to seeing our school board hold to that and reject charter applications as they come to the board.
Amy Frogge, a well-respected board member and public school advocate, had this to say about the moratorium and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s role in trying to bring it down. It seems many wealthy (and white) business people in this city are hell-bent on privatizing our schools.
There’s a frustrating perception the general public in Nashville seem to have, that our public schools are terrible. However, as my daughter’s teacher reminded me recently, your perception is your reality. When I talk to parents who actually have their children in our public schools, they are generally happy. They like their kid’s teacher, they like the school, they think their kid is learning. It’s just that they aren’t screaming it from the rooftops.
And I don’t believe parents actually want choice. Blogger Peter Greene put it brilliantly: “Nobody really wants choice. What people want is to have what they want. What they want from education is for their children to be in good schools.”
But underlying all this is something we can all do: We need to cherish our public schools and tend to them, now more than ever. We need to be champions for our children and our public schools. We need to fight for them. Our children aren’t failures.