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.
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.