Friday, May 11, 2007

The Education Press?

Today's City Paper has a good rundown of the major candidates' education positions so far (City Paper, May 11, 2007).

If a casual observer were to listen to the collective political pitches of the Metro mayoral field they might mistake this summer’s election as an old-fashioned school superintendent campaign (City Paper, May 11, 2007).

It is indeed a good thing for the Mayor's to be paying such attention, but as I noted yesterday, something is still missing. The Mayor should understand and have opinions regarding the specifics of the schools' daily operations, but the Mayor's real role is to hold accountable those people responsible for those decisions. Doing so is difficult because the 4 branches of the school system are so easily and almost naturally at odds with one another. An education Mayor will have to show that he/she is able to bring these groups together to pull in the same direction while still leading.

To that end, David Briley wins this round. His position is that the school district's strategic planning effort should be complete before he weighs in. While there is room to suggest where that effort should lead, I agree that getting too far in front on the specifics can complicate the real job I just described. The danger in Briley's approach is that waiting will leave him unable to lead once the strategic plan is in place. The danger that the others face is that they will have to compromise their strong positions or face permanent conflict over tangential issues.

I like the discussion, and I am pleased by the City Paper's coverage of it, although I find it curious that this article is found inside, while the results of the latest straw poll stream across the front page. The horse-race mentality sells papers and garners interest in campaigns, but it doesn't help a city improve its educational outcomes. But for more on those issues, visit Debate Scoop.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mayoral Impressions So Far

The mayor's race is heating up a little, and I'll be honest, I've yet to see the candidate that combines the leadership and inspirational qualities our schools need with the fiscal sense and experience that our city as a whole needs. Let's face it: the schools are funded by the Council, and those funds are administered by the School District's Administration. The School Board has important work to do in holding the Administration accountable, so the two bodies that should know and care the most about successful public education are also systemically at odds with each other. Their conflicts open the door for Council members to play shallow politics with the school budget, making the mayor's job (defending the money and overseeing its use) very difficult most of the time.

I have investigated the Mayoral candidates according to the standards I laid out in My Conversation with Bob Clement's Campaign. To remember, my hopes for an education mayor include:

1. Creativity, innovation, and ideas (specific ones) for helping the public schools meet the unique challenges of educating for the next century rather than the past.

2. A willingness and ability to work the legislative and bureaucratic process to secure significant and well-managed monetary increases to support those good ideas.

3. A charismatic personality and the passion to inspire the people of the city to support public education.

My thoughts are informed by a range of inputs: personal contacts, careful reading of position statements, and discussions with other voters, including those who attended the teen forum last week. My impressions are just impressions, and I welcome your feedback, but I have always maintained, that this blog will chronicle my decision-making process, so these impressions make up the latest step in that process.

Bob Clement - My impression of Mr. Clement is that he is surrounded by good people, has a good heart, and can generate good ideas. His 30 ideas in 30 days show his capacity for bold vision and creative thinking. His political prowess begins and ends with his contacts.. He can raise money, and that indicates that he is supported by a lot of powerful people and groups. Unfortunately, he has yet to convince me that he can connect with the people he needs to connect with to address the concerns I have in #'s 2 and 3 above. I have not spoken to too many inspired people who see Mr. Clement's ideas as inspirational. Has he displayed first-hand knowledge of our schools? Personal understanding of the concerns of parents? Has he formed a good working relationship with Dr. Garcia? the School Board? How will he relate to the brand new Council?

David Briley - While one has to acknowledge that Briley has Council experience on his side in that equation, many of the same questions linger. Mr. Briley does seem to do a better job of listening and reaching out, and for good or bad, his ideas show a vision for the future of Nashville. Some seem to think that vision is too far in the future, but I am more inclined to believe that moving forward the way he details might be worth it, given that sitting tight will not likely prevent changes and instead increasers the chances of botching the opportunities inherent in change. Regarding the schools, however, I am still waiting to determine my opinion about his ability to inspire and celebrate schools while also working effectively with the Council, Board, and District. He did seem to connect better with the students at last week's forum than the other candidates, but whether he can lead effectively remains to be seen. I am still looking for better indicators.

Karl Dean - Mr. Dean is interesting because he is fresh and new enough to inspire curiosity and hope, and there can be little doubt about his fiscal sense and government/management experience. I rate his pure abilities as a mayor ahead of Purcell's (whom I thought was good in those areas) and even Clements given the uncertainty I have about how his experience will translate to city/county government. I read with interest Mr. Dean's plan for education, however, and he still has some work to do in this area as far as I am concerned. Specifically, his plan, while displaying a broad grasp of many significant and necessary reforms or trends in education lacked the coherence of a plan that would satisfy the three criteria I am using to identify a successful education mayor. Either his priorities really lie elsewhere, or Mr. Dean will need to show how all of these detailed suggestions will actually be implemented. Without charisma, confidence, and strategy none of these ideas will become reality (ditto Clements'). The mayor who drops off this "wish list" will make quick enemies on Bransford Avenue. He may bring the administration and school board together, but they will join forces against the Mayor. What we need to hear in the next round is how Mr. Dean will build support for public education among the public at-large, cultivate confidence among parents, nudge the school administration and school board to move strategically and consistently in smart directions, and stand up to the Council for the money they need to do so when the time comes. That is a hard job, and Mr. Dean may be the best man for that job, but I haven't seen that side of him yet.

Howard Gentry - He is a good man with a good heart, but my early impression of him is that he is leaning too heavily on his experience as vice mayor without explaining how that experience will help him meet the challenge outlined above. As I composed this entry, I received an outline of Gentry’s Schools Initiative in my email. I will say that my quick initial read reveals it to capture a greater sense of the challenge of marshalling support and cooperation from a host of different quarters while simultaneously inspiring and celebrating the good yet identifying and fixing the bad that what I have seen from the other. I would love to see the debate move in that direction, and I would love to hear more from Gentry fans, and perhaps his experience there DOES qualify him to work with the stakeholders I mentioned above, but he has not made that case to me yet.

Buck Dozier - He has alot of signs up near me. I saw a bit of his TV commercial. I am not sure where he stands on education, and I haven't seen any ability to rally the stakeholders yet. More to come? I doubt it.

Those I may have left out have not met the inspirational test yet, so their policies on education seem unlikely to dominate or drive the improvement of public education over the next 8 years, but we'll see. Maybe one of these candidates or someone yet to become well known will give me what I am looking for and what we as a city need. For now, I will focus on continuing to investigate these options and see how they do.

Agree? Disagree? Let's get the discussion going. This person will likely lead our city into 2015. It really matters. If you are 18 now, you will be 26 then. If you are 35 now, you will be 43 then, and if you are 55 now, you will be 62 then. The public education system matters to us all. The mayor has an important job.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Oliver and Workman

Phillip Workman was killed by the people of Tennessee last night. Lt. Oliver was killed either by Phillip Workman or a stray bullet in 1981. Unfortunately for the families and loved ones of these two men, the action taken in our name last night did nothing to reverse their pesonal tragedies. The arguments over he death penalty go on and on, and the state of Tennessee has not been incredibly aggressive in enforcing death. The death penalty has become unusual in Tennessee. As a state, we are clearly conflicted enough to render its use unusual, but we are simultaneously numb enough to allow it to happen in a case of ambigous and disputed proof like Workman's. And if risking the execution of innocents is not cruel, we have lost all sense of that word.

It is time to stop. Real justice must include certainty when the punishment is final. It was unjust for Lt. Oliver to die, but it is also unjust for Phillip Workman to die. Killing Phillip Workman will not save a single life. Because the action was undertaken in my name, as a citizen of Tennessee, I have a right and a duty to point out that all we did last night was add another name to the list of victims from that night in 1981.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Teen Forum

Mayoral Candidates will gather for a teen forum at East Literature Magnet School this Thursday evening, May 3 from 6:00-8:00.

Here's to the candidates and forum organizers for making this event possible. Here's hoping Nashville's students will take full advantage of the opportunity.

If you are a student who attends the forum, I would love to see your take published here. The best way to make an impact on the future of this city is for young people to get involved. It is too easy to dismiss active political involvement because it seems complex, difficult, and inaccessible. The good news is that making a difference in your community, whether through politics or other forms of volunteerism, is much easier than you think. It usually just takes a desire to get involved and a willingness to act.

I hope that this forum will inspire many of our city's vibrant young people to see how easy and important it is to give time to our community goals.

Let us hear your feedback from the forum.