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.