The 2018 race for governor of Tennessee has been a thing for nearly two years. During this time, there has been no shortage of suitors whispering sweet nothings in the ears of potential voters – both Democrat and Republican. Currently, Tennessee sits solidly in the red, but if history is any indication, our next governor is certain to make our red eyes blue.
We’ve heard rumblings from Democrats former mayor Karl F. Dean and state representative Craig Fitzhugh. And just yesterday, real estate magnate and former Nashville mayoral candidate Bill Freeman backed out and rallied behind Fitzhugh (already interesting). Additionally, we’ve heard from a long list of Republican hopefuls currently enjoying their day in the red sun. But Sunday, The Tennessean broke the news of the race’s first candidate, Mayor Dean.
It’s All Connected
Karl F. Dean, a northern transplant and man of means, spent many years as the city’s top lawyer before making a run for mayor in 2007. Dean brilliantly ran on the slogan “It’s all connected” winning over the hearts and minds of those of us concerned about education, safety, and economic development. The two-term mayor made good on his promises and our little city looks almost entirely different in 2017 than it did 10 years ago when the good mayor took the reigns.
Nashville is a beautiful city. As a native Nashvillian, the city’s aesthetics have always been a source of pride. Interestingly, despite all the growth, the city is even more beautiful. From the walking bridge that beautifully welcomes visitors into the city, to the un-Nashville-like bus station, to the blocks-long convention hub, the Music City Center—all can be attributed to Karl F. Dean. All things we didn’t know we needed.
More than buildings, Dean’s impact can be seen in less obvious (socially acceptable) ways as found in our education landscape (you didn’t think education wasn’t going to be discussed, did you?). The then-mayor had a thing about charter schools and quickly assessed the city’s collective disdain for the money-sucking, anti-union craze forced upon us by the state’s Republican delegation (note: the mood hasn’t changed much).
Taking matters into his own hands, the mayor forced the anti-charter town into the world of ed reform— and we went in kicking and screaming. Intent on doing it his way, Dean brazenly created a charter school incubator, a pipeline designed to groom the perfect application for submission to the unfriendly school board. Even though these applicants were backed by the mayor there was little guarantee they would be approved.
Working at Metro Schools during Mayor Dean’s tenure, each application from his incubator was submitted to my office. I watched charter hopefuls submit thoroughly vetted, perfectly coiffed applications clearly churned out by a highly skilled team of application whisperers. While I’ve never been anti-charter, I was miffed at the audacious operation. Fast forward a few years and I can help but respect the vision. Though still not wild about how it was executed, I get it.
Further, as Dean staffer Courtney Wheeler tweeted at me, the gubernatorial hopeful is not an education one-trick pony. She reminded me of the increase in teacher pay under his leadership and Limitless Libraries, a ground-breaking partnership between the city’s libraries and school libraries, giving students access to the “world” (literally) from the comfort of their own school. And there are more things we didn’t know we needed.
The creation of Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA) is an excellent example of campaign promises made good. Using his background as law director, Dean understood better than most the connection between schools and criminal justice. So after discovering a swath of kids of a certain age without supervision and positive engagement, Dean created NAZA to catch them during a particularly critical time in their development. Before NAZA, students between the ages of 10 and 14 were left to their own devices often leaving them vulnerable to undesirable influences and behaviors.
Oh, but we can’t leave out the not-so-gentle introduction to alternative teacher prep programs Teach for America and The New Teacher Project. Adding more furor to the teacher’s union and public education purists alike. Yet, these projects are now an integral part of how we do business which is a testament to the man’s vision. Or power.
Sour Grapes Never Die
While this is not intended to be a pro-Dean piece and I’m still munching on a few sour grapes from his time as mayor, it would be inauthentic for me to ignore his influence on our collective expectations for high quality schools. Some of the schools created out of the incubator are not only in existence but thriving. He made those of us eternally loyal to traditional public schools to take notice – even while we were kicking and screaming.
Speaking of screaming… After the candidacy was made official, my Twitter and Facebook was on fire; lit by the same anti-charter crowd that experienced great success during last year’s school board race. Meanwhile, those warmer to the prospect tended to be those friendly to ed reform. So, while he may be a moderate in terms of business, the same cannot be said about his stance on education. But there’s plenty of time to make peace or wage war.
Only 21 Months To Go
Breaking from tradition, I voted for Republican governor Bill Haslam twice because of his platform on education. If I had to put my money on a Democrat with a different eye for education, Dean would be the guy. In the meantime, I’ll wait for the campaign’s education platform with the expectations planted by the guy who could be our next governor. Don’t sleep on this race.