Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Considering a Campaign of My Own

Why would anyone want to be on the school board? It is the classic position of all the responsibility coupled with none of the power, right? It is a part time job with full time duties. The combination of electoral politics and solid board judgment makes the job impossible from the start. And, have you seen the state of our schools? How could you make any difference in that?

As I have seriously considered entering the race for school board in district 9, these tidbits of conventional wisdom about the decision have never been far from my mind. It will take too much time for too little improvement, said many. You will grow frustrated as you try to bring people together who have spent too much time apart. Getting the board to focus on a few priorities, set high and accountable standards, and hold the Director responsible for meeting those ambitious goals is simply not possible, said many.

And they may be right. But there comes a time when it is time to stop speculating and start finding out. I have spent the better part of my 40 years as an observer and critic of politics and politicians. I have lived in the world of ideas. Iknow how to listen, consider, and debate. Though I have tried to eschew harsh and divisive criticism in favor of more optimistic and cooperative dialogue, the gap between what I have believed to be possible and what I have acted to bring about has always plagued my thinking. Identifying a problem about which I felt qualified to advance a solution but stopping short of that public commitment that puts me and my loved ones on the line has kept me from being the change I want to see. The risk so seemingly great...the reward so frustratingly elusive.

I have, in particular, devoted my life to education. As a teacher, I like nothing more than the moment of realization when the student grasps the concept for the first time. As a parent I long for those meaningful relationships between my children and their teachers that will cultivate in my children the passsion for life-long learning that my own great teachers instilled in me. As an educational administrator, PTO member, Parent Advisory Council member, and active parent I want to see reasoned discourse, and data-driven decisions that can rally support for the broad mission of educating all the children of Nashville. As a citizen of Davidson County, I yearn for the pride that comes from living in a city whose reputation for excellent public schools is second to none, attracting all the commerce and community involvement that vibrant cities with that reputation enjoy.

Do I imagine that the grueling sacrifices associated with a political campaign will enable me to realize all of those aspirations? Not really. Will incremental progress be enough to satisfy me? No. Am I likely to be frustrated. Seems like it.

So why do it?

I guess it comes down to a simple feeling of responsibility to the children and families of this community. We have an obligation to be sure that each child in our community is educated and ready for the future he or she will inherit. We need school board members who can work together and generate meaningful cooperation and creative efforts not only to leave no child behind but to propel each child into the future. We need a school board who can hire a director whose grasp of institutional management is realistic and nuanced. One who recognizes that generating ownership in the system, communicating effectively, and inspiring enthusiasm to work hard (whether the workers in question are students, parents, teachers, administrators, custodians, PE teachers, arts teachers, special ed teachers, ELL teachers, principals, counselors, city leaders, community activists, or any of the multitude of others in this community with a direct stake in the education of our children) are the essential ingredients for success in the common goal of educational excellence that we all pursue.

Can I help with that? I think I have the perspective, the experience, the empathy, and the patience to help with that in many ways.

I don't think I can afford to wait until a more comfortable time. Now is the time, and if I am going to confront the challenges and do my part, now is the time for that.

What's the matter with Tennessee? Nothing that can't be rectified by the active and serious efforts of committed and caring Tennesseans.

Perhaps it is my turn to do something.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Service

I have just returned from a great week working in Bay St. Louis, MS. I led a group of 20 high school students to work in the Gulf region as a way of spending their spring break getting to know and understand the incredible challenges still faced by the victims of Katrina, two and a half years after the storm.

The students worked hard and had a good time, but none of us were expert craftsmen when it comes to building a house. Nevertheless, we worked as hard as we could and did our best, and it was fun to see our effort produce results.

The reality of the situation is that even though we advanced the construction of the house somewhat, the homeowner gave us more than she could ever know. Not only did she insist on treating us to a craw fish boil, but she never stopped expressing her gratitude. And it was the experience of service that gave the students on the trip the greatest benefit.

Sometimes people are reluctant to help because they feel like they cannot do that much. My experience this week reminds me that it is the human interaction and the relationships that are the most significant outcomes when we work to help each other.

Relationships strengthen communities far more than any program ever could.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

School Board #9

So the speculation grows. Will Marsha Warden run for re-election this August? Now that Eric Crafton has picked up papers (3/11/08), we have to wonder if he is seriously contemplating giving up his Council seat in order to run. If so, what will his objective be?

I have to say that the campaign for School Board #9 is taking an unfortunate turn. I have no personal opinion of Eric Crafton, because I have never met him. I do know, however, that his positions and his tendency to grab headlines seems more likely to divide and distract the school board than to move us closer to the central goal of an excellent education for the children of Nashville.

I am well aware of the need for dramatic change in the way the school system pursues its goals, but it is clear that we need a school board that can forge consensus and compromise so that change advances those goals rather than leading us further from them. We need a school board that can govern as a board should, hiring and maintaining high expectations for the Director, making sure that the District's priorities remain clear and well-focused, and representing the entire community's common interest in high quality education for the children of Nashville.

The school board has been drawn too deeply into the micromanagement of the system responding to personality and politics when sound judgement and direction were earnestly needed. We need more board members who help to clarify and pursue high standards of performance not people who grab headlines for their controversial pronouncements.

As I said, I don't know Eric Crafton personally, and I have no reason to doubt his intentions, but I do know the presence he has in the papers of this city. I am afraid that the bold move of resigning his council seat and joining the school board will move the board further into controversy and micromanagement rather than helping it to move forward in its proper role.

As we seek a new Director of Schools, I cannot imagine a worse time for that to happen.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Guess he was Mr. Wrong

Ben Wright submitted his resignation yesterday.

My first impressions of him turned out to be off the mark. Over the 7 months of Mr. Wright's tenure, he never lived up to the hopes we had for his job performance. Many found the information on his website questionable, and as he got further into his job at Bransford Avenue, he had difficulty finding his way.

How many more central office personnel will lose their jobs before a new administration is organized?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sen. Clinton's Management Skills

Now that some changes have been made among the personnel in the Clinton campaign, stories are swirling about a campaign that miscalculated the degree of opposition it would face, failed to establish contingency plans, and stuck with a failing strategy long after its failure became clear.

For example:

It's been said that one benefit of the torturous process presidential candidates must undergo is that it gives voters an extended view of their managerial ability. After all, this line of thinking goes, if a candidate can't organize a national campaign, he or she can't run the federal government.

If that's true, there are four emerging reasons why voters may want to take a second look at Hillary Clinton. So far, in a number of key areas, her campaign is falling short - and she won't solve the problem simply by changing campaign managers, as she did earlier this week. (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/02/clintons_squandered_lead_can_s.html)

Margaret Carlson notes:

Clinton saw the New Hampshire result as her political resurrection, where she finally found her ``voice.'' But if the voice was different, the message was the same. Her Lazarus-like win kept her from looking any further into why she lost so badly in Iowa. It put off any move to change her insular staff and validated her original strategy in which the primaries were a mere formality.

Voters would coronate her partly because she had been first lady, because shewas a Clinton, and because it was her turn after all she had been through. It wasn't as much a matter of competing as it was waiting until Super Tuesday to accept the crown. (http://bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&refer=columnist_carlson&sid=azceW2G4gToM)

One of the principal concerns about Barack Obama is that he will not be able to lead effectively and that his plans for Iraq represent false hope. It is safe to say that there has been plenty of false hope spread around regarding the Iraq strategy from the start. Remember the claim that, "We will be greeted as liberators?" It was that miscalculation, based on false hope that seems to have kept the Bush administration from making contingency plans in case a more hearty opposition emerged. Failure to plan for contingencies and effective reconstruction are widely regarded as among he more obvious managerial failings of the Bush administration in the Iraq War. They assumed that their cause was unstoppable, and acted without thinking it through. The result was a strategy that miscalculated the degree of opposition it would face, failed to establish contingency plans, and stuck with a failing strategy long after its failure became clear.

The military and tactical side of war will always be the purview of the Generals. No need to fear an inexperienced young president moving troops on a whim. The principal of civilian control of the military is not based on the idea that the president is a military strategist; it is based on the notion that the president has the wisdom, foresight, and humility to think it through. Self-assured and arrogant leaders make their mistakes less by alienating others than by failing to think it through. There is no reason that the Bush administration could not have planned for stiff opposition or implemented a strategy to win the peace. Yet, even after the glaring absence of such plans became obvious, the administration refused to change course, remaining loyal to Donald Rumsfeld even at the expense of the 2006 Congressional Elections.

Reading this account of the recent changes at team Clinton leaves me with the eerie feeling of déjà vu. I realize that a political campaign and a war are vastly different, and while George Bush's poor planning has cost lives, Clinton's poor planning stands only to cost her a chance at the presidency. Nevertheless, a political campaign is a managerial challenge, and while the presidency is much more than just management, Sen. Clinton has grounded her campaign on her particular strengths in that area.

Perhaps the question of voting to authorize the war is ultimately only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the management experience that Clinton and her team have brought to the campaign is more reminiscent of the Bush administration than she would hope to admit. If management, foresight, wisdom, and the humility to plan for unanticipated contingencies are skills we should value in a president, is Barack Obama really the more risky choice?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Yes we can change Tennessee!

They say we cannot hope that our Senate representation will change.

They say Tennessee is a blindly Republican state.

They say that no one will challenge the third-ranking Senate Republican, especially not here in Tennessee.

They say that we are stuck with representation that uses fear of immigrants to justify its policy agenda.

They say we have to continue the culture wars of the Boomer generation even if we are younger than boomers.

They say that if we are younger than boomers, we are too young to understand.

They say that Tennessee is incapable of supporting a democrat state-wide.

They say that we would rather have laws encouraging discrimination against foreign speakers than health care for the sick.

They say that working people are greedy to expect a living wage for their time and effort.

They say that fear will keep us committed to a war that has done nothing to reduce our fear.

They say that we should deny aid to single mothers in the city so that they will take responsibility for themselves, but that the Iraqi government should remain on our dole 100 years or more.

They say that the improbability of change will paralze us, and that we will remain divided and cowered by fear until it is too late to act.

They said that a strong challenger to Lamar Alexander could not be found.

We say, "YES WE CAN!"

Monday, January 28, 2008

When Will Al Gore Endorse Barack Obama?

Now is the time. With the leading figure among northern democrats now comparing Obama's campaign to his brother's 1960 campaign and the tactics of the former democratic president to those of Harry Truman, the time has come for the south's other leading democrat to have his say.

Sure, Mr. Gore may be a little gun shy. After all, he was early to endorse Howard Dean in 2004 only to see his potential influence as elder statesman and kingmaker in the democratic party evaporate with a scream. And, of course it is by no means certain that Barack Obama will win the nomination, but this time, Al Gore has nothing to lose.

He is now clearly established as an elder statesman and one with a Nobel Prize. He has established himself as a leading voice on one of the most significant challenges we face in the future Barack Obama is vying to lead. Al Gore would do us all a favor by linking the cause of combating global warming to a president with Barack Obama's vision. While we are going nuts with JFK parallels, it must be said that the Kennedy challenge of going to the moon is probably exactly what we need to address the challenge of global warming through technological advances sure to bolster our economic well-being rather than the inevitable and draconian conservation mandates that will emerge if we wait too long. It is possible that a clear conversation about the urgency of such an approach, combined with Obama's clearly established ability to inspire and motivate with great vision, could produce the "moon shot" that would make Gore's lifetime commitment to fighting global warming a reality.

And if not, what has he to lose? I suspect that the personal scars from his relationship with the Clinton's makes endorsing Hillary out of the question, and endorsing Edwards is so unlikely to produce a victory for him that Gore has only one choice left. It is a good choice.

Al Gore should endorse Barack Obama this week.