Of Ice and I.C.E.: A Strange Tale of Values, Sanctuaries, and Catfish

Nashville showed up and showed out for the Predators as the 16th seed blazing an icy trail to the western conference and sliding to the Big Dance against the 2016 champs Pittsburgh Penguins. There is a multitude of stories from this amazing journey to the Stanley Cup, but none more inspiring than the Stanley Cup-produced local hometown hero – #CatfishGuy.

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Jake Waddell courageously entered hostile territory (Pittsburgh) armed with nothing but a catfish and the love of his team. Following Nashville’s time-honored tradition, dude tossed a dreadfully decomposing mud cat onto the ice during game 1 of the NHL STANLEY CUP FINAL.  He definitely took one for the team and Waddell will always have a home in the hearts of Nashvillians. I, too, love #CatfishGuy!

I’m about to draw a wild parallel – stay with me.

Nashville’s Metro Council recently passed a bill to protect immigrants by going against federal law in a big way (think losing federal dollars). Apparently, the legislation was crafted in response to an incident involving Immigration and Customs Engagement (ICE) targeting members of the Kurdish community while posing as local law enforcement. And it pissed off our mayor.

My councilman and lawyer-by-day Larry Hagar abstained from this vote (due to legal uncertainty). My feelings about this vote are neither here nor there, but the noise in my community around his action needs attention.

Crazy talk as posted on a neighborhood Facebook group’s page:

‘Abstaining’ is the same as voting ‘yes.’ So you don’t seem to care if Old Hickory is over run by Illegals? Doesn’t Old Hickory suffer from enough crime Sir?

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First, I know not all Old Hickory residents feel this way. Second, baby girl has a right to call out her elected official for a (non) vote that challenges against her belief system. BUT — she can take that hate-laden rhetoric and stick it. Unfortunately, others joined the discussion in support of that mess, so they, too, can go to hell.

Because that kind of anti-immigration talk is reminiscent of my being called a nigger after moving to this area sixteen years ago. Additionally, maligning immigrants by associating them with crime reminds me of the women who protect their purses as soon as they lay eyes on me. But what hits me hardest is that 25,000 English Learners in our schools, some with families who are not here legally, stand to suffer the greatest. While our schools are tiny sanctuaries, the world around them is cruel.

So I think about misplaced priorities, the varying values attached to lives and laws, and the selective adherence to laws depending on the life.

#CatfishGuy devised a masterful plan to smuggle a catfish into a high-security international sporting event, even halting the nationally televised game to allow for clean up and the guy will never want for anything as long as he’s in this town. In the city of Nashville, and possibly in the state, Catfish Guy will always have a place to call home. A sanctuary even.

University Instructor Imposes Price on Free Exchange of Ideas

The University of Tennessee student featured in this Tennessean article challenged her instructor’s views on the state of the black family during slavery. Seems the instructor glorified the family structure while the student pointed out the peculiar institution’s role in ripping men away from their families (and let’s not forget other evil behavior toward slave women). 
I was taught college professors have the authority to do or say whatever they want because it’s their classroom. That’s certainly one way to survive college, but the other way is to use the brain the Good Lord gave you and be willing to defend yourself. I couldn’t be more proud of this student if she was my own child.  
Unfortunately, social media’s role in this might have exacerbated the situation, but clearly that was the point. And 45 year old Vesia would be slow to tag the instructor a racist but agree that racism rears its ugly face in our institutions in seemingly innocuous ways (institutional racism). 
As for the instructor’s behavior, defending herself through intimidation and ridicule, well, that’s just petty.

Parent to School Board: “Please Stop The Disparaging Remarks Toward Our Families For Our Choice”

Contributed by KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School parent Camiqueka Fuller as read at the June 13, 2017 school board meeting. Because five of nine board members were not attendance, the parents featured in this series expressed grave concern about the cold shoulder extended to charter schools and their families at board meetings. They have a voice, please listen. 


Good evening, my name is Camiqueka Fuller.

I am the mother of 3 beautiful and intelligent, but very different children. Anyone with more than 1 child can probably attest with me of how bewildering that can be. Yet, because we want the very best for our children, we work with them to grow in their strengths and overcome their challenges.

I’m reminded of my brother who struggled with many behavioral challenges in school; to the point that the teachers were calling home almost daily to report those challenges. My mom addressed and dealt with each of those issues.

However, it also prompted her to ask if there was anything good that they saw in her child. That’s where I am each time I see article after article of some of our elected school board officials. Is there anything good you see with Metro Nashville Public Charter schools? I would have loved to see an article congratulating the rising senior class of KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School – where over half of the students qualify for the Hope Scholarship, having scored a 21 or higher on the ACT, or a tweet applauding over a third of them that scored a 24 or higher.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to hear how many of the students, including my daughter who scored a 29, went back this past Saturday and took the ACT again, hoping to improve their scores and opportunities to get into the colleges of their choice?

While those deserved recognitions and countless others would have been nice, our students, and teachers, and parents continue to not only press and progress without them, but also in spite of the negative rhetoric of some of our elected school board members. Much like my brother, who went on to serve his country for 21 years in the Navy, earn his degree, and now continues to serve as a teacher in a public school.

While I laud the efforts of MNPS to improve the educational outlook for all of our children through choice, I ask that you please stop the disparaging remarks toward our families for our choice.

Founder and Leader Mia Howard, Mastermind Behind Success at Intrepid College Prep Schools

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“We Build Relationship Systems.”

A school that bakes parent engagement into its strategy for student success is a school after my own heart.  Intrepid College Prep Schools, a Tennessee reward school scoring in the top 5% of schools in the state, is a superstar in an ever-growing, beautifully diverse southeast Nashville. Opportunity Academy, the organization’s flagship middle school with students in grades 5-8, sits in the busy, traffic-burdened Antioch ‘business district’ and housed in a nondescript building adjacent to a church.

I had an opportunity recently to delve into the world of a charter school founder who still leads the school while boasting improvement from its launch until today. Mia Howard is a straightforward, no-nonsense CEO with a quiet confidence that could rival Muhammad Ali. Very early in our conversation I got the impression that Ms. Howard never leaves well enough alone, that excellence is something for which to strive, not attain. So when the Brooklyn native says “This is our best year yet!” I believe her.

Recipe for Success

Ms. Howard knows exactly why her school is successful at preparing its students for

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Credit: Nashville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40

college. Relationships and data. Yes, the touchy-feely stuff and reliance on numbers (“numbers do not lie”) are what makes this school soar. Interestingly, relationship-building does not fall in the half-hearted, olive-branch category that it is typically assigned. Relationships with parents, teachers, and amongst school leadership is an integral part of the strategy of success for Intrepid’s students. So, even relationships are informed by data!

And when it comes to parents, Ms. Howard says, “parents are so important because they chose us.” The school has an open door policy and treats parents as peers and considers itself a school that belongs to parents and students. Little wonder why 88% of parents attend report card conferences – striking for a middle school.
 

Speaking of Data

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“Measuring results, not intentions” is in big bold letters on the school’s website.
The student population at the four-year-old school is 51.7% Hispanic, 24.2% Black, and 21.8% White, 35.6% English-learners and 89% economically disadvantaged. For Intrepid, this data is used to inform—not make excuses. And the CEO knows precisely what needs to happen to increase achievement and close gaps between diverse student groups.
Intrepid’s Dean of Culture analyzes data weekly, including whether or not teachers are calling parents every two weeks as required. It’s tough to separate relationship-building and use of data because they work hand-in-hand at Intrepid. Internal and external relationships are nurtured and continuously improved.   
 

“We agree to close our school if we do not deliver for kids”

 
The anti-charter school noise does not distract Mia Howard from the mission of educating Intrepid’s students because creating a proof point where 90% of Intrepid alumni complete four-year colleges is at stake. Of course, Howard is well aware of the negative narrative pushed out there, but knows it can be easily dispelled with numbers (remember, “numbers do not lie”). She also understands that taking her eye off the prize runs the risk of losing a high-quality option serving traditionally underserved students in a severely overcrowded part of the county. It’s not a risk she’s willing to take, because the babies. There’s a reason she has been recognized in the Nashville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40!

And They’re Off!

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Location for Independence High School opening Fall of 2017
In the fall of 2017, 97% of Intrepid’s current eighth-graders will matriculate to the new Independence High School opening in a recently purchased building near the middle school. In addition to satisfied students and families, Howard proudly clued me in on the high retention of her middle school students – above 90% in all grades – and teachers and leadership – 88%.
Considering what an indelible impact Intrepid College Prep Schools is making on the southeastern corner of Davidson County, I’m already looking forward to writing about Independence High’s first college signing day in 2021!

Plea to School Board: Respect Parents and Students of ALL Schools

Contributed by Valor Collegiate parent Elizabeth Louie as read at the June 13, 2017 school board meeting. Because five of nine board members were not attendance, the parents featured in this series expressed grave concern about the cold shoulder extended to charter schools and their families at board meetings. They have a voice, please listen. 


My name is Elizabeth Louie. My address is 310 S 17th Street. Hello members of the board. Thank you for the opportunity to speak this evening. I have one child. Her name is Carmen Does. She is 10 years old. She attended Lockeland Design Center from kindergarten through 4th grade. She was waitlisted for her choice for middle school as well as waitlisted to Valor. She got off the waitlist to Valor, had a great 5th grade year and is a rising 6th grader at Valor.

Our family likes Valor for three main reasons which are safety, academics, and community. My child is safe and well cared for in her school environment with staff and faculty all looking out for her best interests to offer the skills and tools to be a productive, creative, and innovative person. There is strong communication between teachers, staff, family, and scholars through text, email, newsletters, websites, phone calls, meetings, and mail.

The classrooms can be fast paced and the students are engaged, thinking, and processing on their “feet.” And for those students who may learn at a different pace or a different way, they are accommodated. Every child and their family is part of the Valor community and supported so the child has what they need to succeed. Teachers and staff are all very approachable and personable to help support students/families needs. The energy at the school is a feeling of comfort and security as well as educating. It is a community with a common goal to prepare children to succeed in society.

What I hope for – is that all students and families are respected for how they choose to educate their child and that they are supported in that decision. We all should work together to support our students and families with a common goal for ALL. I want to thank Mary Pierce for bringing a resolution to the school board in favor of supporting all students and families regardless of how we choose to educate our children.

In closing I would like to make an analogy, if I may – I am a special needs parent. My daughter has a tracheostomy tube and every time she sleeps she needs to be on her ventilator. This is for the rest of her life.

 

The kids who have this condition can be mechanically ventilated via a tracheostomy tube, a mask, and/or a phrenic nerve pacer. There is no one best method. Each family decides what is the best treatment for the health of their child and what works for their family. So the important lesson I learned as a parent to a child with medical needs is that parents will do what is best for their child and family. Thus, my family chose and continue to choose Valor Collegiate Academy as the school to educate our daughter as it is the best fit for our family.

Thank you for your time and attention and for listening to my family’s story.

“Option Is Not The Enemy. One Size Fits All Is The Enemy”

Contributed by Valor Collegiate parent Jim Myers as read at the June 13, 2017 school board meeting. Because five of nine board members were not attendance, the parents featured in this series expressed grave concern about the cold shoulder extended to charter schools and their families at board meetings. They have a voice, please listen. 

Good evening Chair, members of the board who are actually here, and Dr. Joseph.
My name is Jim Myers and my address is 6620 Clearbrook Drive.
My wife, Suzanne Demmas Myers, and I are proud parents of a student who recently finished 5th grade at Valor Collegiate on Nolensville Road. Suzanne taught for ten years with MNPS, first at the now defunct East Middle School, where she was a Teacher of the Year, and then at Stratford Comprehensive High School.
Suffice to say, we value quality education.We chose Valor specifically for its commitment to real diversity, not in words, but in numbers. That diversity extends across socio-economic strata, across the panoply of cultures that call Nashville home and across the racial lines that have so long separated us from each other.
In short, it is a beautiful reflection of our community. We chose Valor because we saw a school ready to tackle contemporary issues in education within a diverse community. We were attracted to their rigorous curriculum, attention to character development through social and emotional skills, and to their robust mentorship program.
I am here because of continuing concerns we have that certain board members, instead of advocating for all students under the public education umbrella, seem to be devoting an inordinate amount of energy to a divisive agenda of attacks against charter schools like Valor, instead of working to solve problems and address the real and present issues that all schools share.
Option is not the enemy. One size fits all is the enemy.
There is no place for mediocrity, indifference, political gamesmanship, and the turning of backs on a significant swath of students, parents and dedicated educators. Just as Valor advocates for all of the students within its walls, so, too, should all board members of MNPS advocate equally for all schools under their oversight.
Learning takes place at the institutional level, too, where both common challenges and successes are shared. Learning comes from within. Together, we are better.

Charter School Parent to School Board: ‘I’m Grateful for School Choices’

Contributed by Nashville Classical parent Dominique Bailey as read at the June 13, 2017 school board meeting. Because five of nine board members were not attendance, the parents featured in this series expressed grave concern about the cold shoulder extended to charter schools and their families at board meetings. They have a voice, please listen. 

My name is Dominique Bailey. I have three children, but today I would like to focus on my oldest child who is going into the third grade. When my son started school, he was enrolled in a district school.

Early on, I received calls complaining about behavior issues, but the school never talked to me about his academic progress. During IEP meetings, they talked about problems, but never any solutions to the problems. To my surprise, at the end of kindergarten, my son was on the honor roll, and he was passed to the first grade. But, when I asked my son what is 1 +1?he could not tell me.

That is when I knew it was time for a change. A family member told me about Nashville Classical Charter School.

From the moment I walked through the door, I felt the change. My son started making progress. The teachers took the time and even the principal took his time to help my child and his classmates to grow. Nashville Classical Charter School is a loving, caring school that helps parents to understand the growth of our children.

I signed the letter supporting charter schools, and I am glad to live in a city that gives me different school choices. Thank you Mary Pierce for supporting parents wherever they decide to send their children to school.