Parents Deserve the Praises During Week of Celebrating School Choice

It’s National School Choice Week (NSCW) and those who devote their professional and personal lives to the advocacy, writing, and evaluation of policies and policymakers responsible for the availability and accessibility of high-quality options, are celebrating the hard work of the previous twelve months as well as the schools, optional and otherwise, that make such a week worth commemorating.

Though the celebration is not limited to non-traditional public schools, charter school proponents lead the pack with festivities honoring the seminal role they play on the school choice stage.

Education reformers, charter school leaders, grassroots organizers and policy wonks certainly deserve a pat on the back, but there are others that deserve to publicly take a bow.

School Districts

Too many school district leaders throughout the country are hostile to charter schools and other options and do one or both of the following: offer superficial choice and creating a choice process impossible for parents to navigate. Superficial choice says to parents: “looky, your child may attend this really high-performing school but you must get them there.” If transportation becomes a barrier, is it really choice? In the same spirit, some districts require parents to submit multiple applications to as many locations with instructions buried twenty-levels deep inside district websites, as seen in Oakland, CA.

According to the Center for Reinventing Public Education report on Common Enrollment, Parents and School Choice, there is a national push for common enrollment which “allows families to fill out a single application with a single deadline for any and all schools they wish to apply to. It’s meant to cut down on the confusion and stress of choosing a school and to assure families that the application process will be fair.” While this is not perfect, it’s an effort that illustrates a district’s commitment to empowering families.

So we must acknowledge districts not completely closed to the idea of offering choice,  that offer choices worthy of celebration and present a clear roadmap to accessing these choices.

Thanks, Nashville

I’ll start with hats off to Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools! For years, the district has worked to offer families a menu of options, providing transportation in some instances. And with the introduction of charter schools more than fifteen years ago, Nashville has increased, though slowly, high-performing choices to families. While the choice application and selection process are not perfect, district leaders work hard to make the process as accessible and navigable as possible.

But perhaps I’m most proud of the district’s Big Hairy Audacious Decision to hold the annual School Choice Festival during this year’s National School Choice Week! Metro Schools — 180 schools strong — includes charters, magnets, high schools with dozens of career academies, International Baccalaureate, open enrollment schools (schools with extra capacity opened to anyone), GREAT zoned schools (based on address) and more. I don’t know if the decision is rooted in fight or spite, but either way, parents win. To borrow a phrase from Metro Schools, yes, “excellence is everywhere.”

The REAL MVP of School Choice Week

Speaking of parents, without them there is no National School Choice Week. If there is an NSCW parade, the grand marshals should be parents who, by selecting the school that best fits, are making their first, best investment in their child’s educational lives. As a matter of fact, let’s just call it National Parent Educational Selection Week!

Moms, dads, grandparents and other guardians: I salute you! The choice is yours.

 

#EdChamp2017 Bold School Board Member Mary Pierce Ends Solid Service at One Term

I cannot tell a lie. Mary Pierce, the soft-spoken, pro-charter school, mom of four from the well-to-do side of the tracks made little impression on me during her school board campaign four years ago. I felt she was a project, a creation to fight the “status quo”, by the Nashville education reform crowd — a crowd I didn’t trust — and if I didn’t trust them no way I could trust their candidates. Mary, I thought, represented what I had seen so many times in this city — someone with a little time on their hands and could speak intelligently about the failures of the systems without ANY connection to those falling through the cracks.

It was recently said to me “Nashville is so white!” and that came from a white person who has lived other places. As a lifelong Nashvillian, I know that better than just about anyone here. But I understand what that person meant. Everything from entertainment to government is geared toward making Nashville’s majority comfortable while projecting an image to the world that this city is a welcoming place to all who can afford to comfortably live here.

So, without really knowing her, Mary Pierce represented the Nashville that the leaders in this city are so eager to protect and enhance. And now, four years after first meeting her, and, ultimately, getting to know her she has decided to end her school board service at one term. And while I am sad to learn of the news, I certainly understand.

Who IS this chick?

It wasn’t until immediately after she won the election that the no-nonsense Mary emerged and grabbed my attention. Though I can’t remember the situation or even the words she spoke, what struck me then and has stayed with me is her courage. Mary joined a school board with members ranging from agnostic to outright hostile on the subject of charter schools and whether she fully understood her place as part of that dynamic is a mystery to onlookers.

Over time, Mary, small in stature but big on bravado, owned the role of the maverick on the board, often the lone advocate on issues relating to choice or charter schools and delivering high-quality education no matter the school. I can only imagine the number of cold shoulders and side-eyes she received over the course of her term. Adults are often worse than children when confronted with someone who doesn’t walk in line with the group. But if she ever faced bullying (and rumor has it she has) we never knew it. Mary fought back by doing her homework, speaking out against low expectations, and never backing down.

Unlikely Ally

Recently, I had the opportunity to thank Mary for her service. I wanted her to know that this chick considers her an ally in the fight for choice and quality options for children of color. She has consistently voted and advocated in favor of charter school families, introducing a resolution last summer basically asking the board to treat these families as they, themselves, would want to be treated. The resolution failed. More recently, faced with a proposal to revoke a charter, Mary along with three other members exhibited loads of boss behavior despite heightened emotions and political strong-arming when the bold group voted to close the school. Volume and Light was thrilled to honor them as #EdChamps2017!

But the most notable quality about Mary’s term is that she never abandoned her platform. The platform that does not necessarily represent the “so white” Nashville. The platform for ensuring ALL families have access to many top-notch educational choices.  The platform that publicly acknowledges Black, Brown and poor families are not being served as well as they should. She carried that banner and, for that, she will always have my love and respect.

Wishing her all the best and may she find a way to stay in the game and take care of her family.

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One Year Later and Shaking My Head — Sorry, Dr. King

I decided to check out my blog from last year’s commemoration of Dr. King and what I discovered depressed me. Not only have my feelings and fears regarding the direction of this country NOT changed, they’re enhanced with anxiety.

In the past year, racism has re-introduced itself to the public forum, no longer satisfied with wrecking our institutions for people of color behind the scenes. This is due, in no small part, to this nation’s leader who makes known his disdain for Black people at every turn, energizing the hate that once had a home in the shadows.

One year ago, as the new POTUS, Trump addressed a very deceased Frederick Douglass as if he were alive. As the POTUS one year later, he exercised his privileged audacity and labeled countries with Black people “shitholes”.

In between time, he’s played cat and mouse with North Korea and celebrated racists at Charlottesville. He has killed dreams and is poised to kick out DREAMers. He has unapologetically clipped our coffers and compromised our health to benefit the rich and the greedy.

One year later… the peril is heightened.

Post below was published 1/17/17.


Today, I am not in the mood to march.

My former self would have clapped back with brute force at such a selfish statement. Armed with $100 worth of guilt, I would have said “What if Dr. King would have said ‘I don’t feel like saving Negroes today?’”

But today is a different kind of today. The black people of yesterday knew their enemy, understood their prospects, and were clear on how to overcome. Unlike today. This today is strangely unsettling for we know neither the form nor degree to which today’s hate will manifest.

We are on the precipice of an era that will, undoubtedly, redefine our nationhood. Strikingly, the American people have hired the most emotionally fragile, uncaring, arbitrary, impolitic male to lead our country. The filthy rich stand to reach stinking status and the stinking is in position to rule. So, where are historically marginalized groups in this narrative?

Herein lies the motivation for my current mood.

We are in a state of emergency

Let’s take a look from 50,000 feet at the burning landscape, shall we?

Dismantling affordable healthcare:  House Republicans nearly tripped over themselves to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Oh, and they have offered no alternative. Let’s not forget the campaign to defund Planned Parenthood.

Birth-to-prison pipeline made simpler: Senator Jeff Sessions. The senator’s record precedes him. Sessions is known for calling the Voting Rights Act “intrusive” and famous for prosecuting three black voter registration workers on trumped up charges of voter fraud in an effort to intimidate and discourage future registrants. Thankfully, the “Marion Three” were exonerated, but Sessions would go on to extend his hate agenda to immigrants and the LGBTQ community.

“If you have nostalgia for the days when Blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) said in a statement issued after Trump tapped Sessions for attorney general. “No senator has fought harder against the hopes and aspirations of Latinos, immigrants and people of color than Sen. Sessions.”

Doctoring up affordable housing: Lawdy! Dr. Ben Carson was tapped to lead Housing and Urban Development because he once lived in public housing. This nation’s love affair with poverty continues thanks in large part to increasing housing costs and decreasing access to affordable housing. By the way, the ‘Dr.’ that precedes his name represents MEDICAL DOCTOR. One would think that if a person is brilliant enough to perform neurosurgery that just about anything else is a piece of cake. Not so much. See Dr. Ben Carson, candidate for President of the United States.

“Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay.”

 

Finally, but first, education: The jury is still out on Education czar nominee Betsy DeVos. Daily, I fight the urge to call her Billionaire Betsy. President-elect Trump loves billionaires and clearly trusts them which produces mounds of ill-will within me. I’ve written about DeVos a few times, even leading my own counseling session to justify giving her a chance and supporting friends like Erika Sanzi who writes so eloquently on her behalf. It can never be said that I didn’t try!

But this shit is big! If we cannot get education right, we are doomed. This should absolutely be America’s top priority and I’m afraid with the incoming administration it will land just short of last. While I share DeVos’ appreciation for choice, we part at the point of her radicalized free-market approach to education. We do not want billionaires and their lesser counterparts, millionaires, buying up education real estate and peddling mirages to unwitting parents.

There must be controls. Our children, very simply, are not for sale and are too precious to be used as scratch paper.

So, I’m feeling a bit anxious today, because today’s today warrants the kind of anxiety that propels you to do something.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from the Birmingham jail

‘It’s Been A Long Time, I Shouldn’t Have Left You’ — But Let Me Explain

Ok, Ok. The amazing words in the title of this post belong to the legendary MC Rakim and DJ Eric B. ( I love you!), but biting their rhyme is a desperate attempt (but cool as hell, right?) to ask you for a big stinkin’ break. This may be a lame excuse to leave you hanging, but the first 11 days of 2018 have kept me super busy — more on this later.

However, I want to wish you a belated Happy New Year and ask you to indulge me on this short trip down memory lane (h/t Minnie Ripperton) and continue with me across threshold between what was and what’s to come in 2018. Let’s go!

Out With the Old…

Remember way back in December 2017 when we posted our final mic-drop post for the year Four Things That Must Stay in 2017 and the Boss Behavior Required for 2018? Well, not only did I love writing that post, but, surprisingly, it resonated with many people. I am always shocked when friends and strangers receive a message that emanates from my soul. Admittedly, it was a little preachy — something I violently reject from others, especially the chronically dishonest. But these times require something different from us, we cannot waste time promoting bullshit ideologies that hurt our most vulnerable or sit quietly while heartlessly watching injustices take place right before us — social justice is not a sport and it’s damn sure not a spectator sport.

At the risk of starting 2018 in the same holier-than-thou spirit that probably should have remained in 2017, I think it’s important to remember the dead, so I’m reposting the four things that, hopefully, expired in 2017. REST IN… THE MESS THAT BROUGHT YA.

Faux-Inclusion of Black Women – Inviting us to the table but somehow forgetting we need chairs, too.

False Progressivism – The New Republicans. Just be real about who you are and what you really care about.

Pro-Public Education Bit – Look, when I hear you are pro-public education, I hear “I’m really comfy with 86 percent of poor kids not reading.” And how are your kids doing in those schools? <<CRICKETS>>

Complicity – Repeating sentence above: Social justice is not a spectator sport. Your silence in the face of injustice and/or support of an aggressor is complicity — 2018 is no place for your mess.

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Boss Behavior Required in 2018

This part of that blog was written for me and if it helped even one other person I considered that a huge blessing. I’m a firm believer that you just can’t enter a new year without hope and a missive to be and do better. So, even though I’m quoting myself which seems awfully narcissistic, here’s my Do Better list:

 I choose to take the lessons from 2017 and rock them into and throughout 2018. What does that look like?

  • It’s honoring my worth even if you don’t and especially if you won’t.
  • It’s being my sister’s keeper
  • It’s relentlessly supporting parent choice
  • And fearlessly exercising my power through the use of my voice.

In With the NEW… #BossBehaviorRequired

Speaking of “exercising my power through the use of my voice” and quoting myself AGAIN, I’m excited to let you in on why 2018 has been so busy. A group of seven women, Black women, Black Women who fight (not just advocate) for equity in education for Black and Brown children united to form a collective — “a melanin-infused collective” affectionately titled #OneVoice. As part of this effort, I have spent all of 2018 working with my sisters to bring this mission to life.

We are no stranger to blogging, as each of us, in varying degrees, is a member of the Education Post network, a national organization that generously seeks and offers its large platform to education advocates of color. From that heart-project emerged One Voice Blog Magazine, a labor of love for each us, requiring of us additional intellectual labor and precious little extra time to breathe life into this platform — which is, in fact, our budget – intellectual and sweat equity.

But on Monday, January 8, 2018, One Voice Blog Magazine was born and we couldn’t be more proud of the support we’ve garnered already – and it’s just day 4! #OneVoice is blessed with a strong cast of badass women who make waves in their respective communities. I kept waiting for them to figure out that I’m not a wave-maker, but until then I’m in with the cool crowd!

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So please check us out. We hail from NY, CT, MI, PA, FL, and TN and are educators, businesswomen, and community leaders. We are mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, and damn good friends. We love our communities and our babies. We believe in the transformative power of education and the effect our voices, individually and collectively, can have on ensuring that power serves all kids. #OneVoice #FortheChildren #BossBehaviorRequired

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So, I’m back stronger, louder, and more powerful (see below).

One Voice Founding Members: Dia Jones, Dr. Kelli SeatonGwen SamuelVivett DukesBernita BradleyKerry-Ann Royes, and Vesia Wilson-Hawkins.

Oh, and if you catch us adjusting our crowns, just chill — it only takes a moment.

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Since my last post a young, beautiful, promising life has been forever silenced from the ravages of criminal injustice borne out of institutional racism. Rest in peace and power, Erica Garner.