A Community In Pieces

The Metro Nashville Public Schools that exists today is a product of forward-thinking community leaders who believed in serving all citizens more efficiently by combining city and county governments forming what we know as Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County, affectionately known as Metro.

Since 1963, the district has seen segregated schools and creating busing plans, celebrated the district’s unitary status – removing any hint of segregation and implemented zoning plans believed to be an effort to resegregate. Further, in the last 56 years, Nashville has elected dozens of elected officials who have been responsible for hiring strong leaders of this magnificent product of forward-thinking resisters of the status quo.

Why share a spark notes version of Nashville’s history? Besides the fact that it’s cathartic for me, I think it’s important to take a few steps back to get a fuller view of where we are. At least, that’s what works for me.

Indulge me while I take inventory of the circumstances citizens of Nashville whose kids attend public schools find themselves today.

Monday, March 25, 2019

  • School board member Will Pinkston resigned.
  • Dr. Joseph agrees to leave contingent upon negotiations.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019 (Board meeting day)

    Before board meeting, the State Board of Education delivers the final blow by suspending the director’s educator license for failing to report upwards a dozen teacher complaints.

A Community Shredded

Someone asked me last November what I hoped would happen with Dr. Joseph and I bluntly responded “I wish he would take his family and get the hell out of here.” Though the statement appears crass, it actually was rooted in love and concern. In my mind, there was no scenario where he could be at irredeemable odds with Amy Frogge and Jill Speering and come out unscathed. Not in Nashville. I was also afraid the situation would get infinitely worse before it got better. Here we are.

Our community is bloated with racial discord. Black people are angry and white people (and some black) don’t get it. They call him a bad actor, that he moved the system backwards, and that he was a crook. Meanwhile, thousands of black families and community leaders pinned decades of hope on the man from Prince George’s County. They (we) saw somebody who would unequivocally have our kids’ backs. That a district plagued with five decades of inequity disproportionately hurting black children finally had someone at the helm with a vested interest in leveling the learning field. Further, these supporters know that being black in Nashville comes with a price if you play by different rules or fall short of a Barack Obama-like tenure. Even with Dr. Joseph’s performance problems, thousands of Nashvillians believed it would work it out, if only he was afforded more time.

Back to Two Nashvilles

I’m sure Dr. Joseph hasn’t cleared out his office, but for all intents and purposes we are in director search mode. The group responsible for that search is the severely splintered school board. Sadly, the community surrounding the board is equally fractured. Some jumping for joy over the ouster, while others have lost faith that the board will do what they were elected to do.

So, we need an honest broker with the courage and foresight of Nashville’s forebears who recognized the need to consolidate government services. Someone (or group) with vision and courage to offer support to the board and work to bridge the racial divide within the community. We need this today. Not after the August mayoral and council elections. Today.

Psst… we don’t have a school board election until August 2020, please allow this blog to serve as a “save the date.” Also, let the blog be a reminder of the importance of voting in school board elections. A school board member’s activity has a direct impact on your child’s education.

Time is no friend to children tethered to schools with inferior resources.

Let’s move forward, friends.

5 thoughts on “A Community In Pieces

  1. There will never be a perfect Superintendent, never a perfect school board. I am hoping cooler heads will focus on children and their learning, equity in the classroom and providing teachers respect and a living wage! If this can happen, Nashville will be well served.


  2. Thanks for pointing to the history of our school system. Only that history of endless small bad decisions explains how we arrived at the mess of a system we have today.

    I don’t recall 1963 being particularly important. The period between Brown vs. Board and the cross-town busing order around 1968/69 was marked with the Hattie Cotton bombing, and some right-wing racist protests as formerly white schools were opened to African American families who wanted to cross the street to attend them.

    Prior to that period, schools were assigned strictly by skin color, and that was the height of segregation – not something since 1963.

    The cross-town busing order resulted in a cratering of the student population from 95,000 down to 55,000 as mostly white families ran to private schools and surrounding counties.

    The courts retained control of our system until 1999, at which time “Unitary status” was conferred. During those 20 years, the busing plans were tweaked here and there. To attract affluent families to then-blighted areas of town score-segregated magnet schools (Hume-Fogg, MLK, Head, Meigs) were created (by court order, not by the wish of our Board), with separate lotteries for white and African American students to maintain a 2:1 ratio. These were “successful” in that they soon had wait-lists. Many white families would participate in racial integration, even in a desolate party of town, if the African American children were filtered through a score-screen, and kept to 1/3 of the student population.

    Also during these decades, the structure of our School Board drifted towards increased direct election by voters. When the courts let go in 1999, political pressure being what it is, the School Board made a few (horrible) decisions that set us up for the current era.

    1) Auto-pathways from Meigs Middle (and Head a few years earlier) to score-segregated MLK and Hume Fogg were created. This would create increased anxiety and lottery backlog as families seeking score-segregated high schools now felt compelled to secure those slots out of 4th grade. Local zoned middle schools, where graduates used to have the same chance of a score-segregated slot at MLK and Hume Fogg, were in an instant reduced to second class status.

    2) The race-based lotteries were dropped. In short order, the percentage of African American students at Hume Fogg and Meigs decreased from the 1/3 standard that had been set by the courts.

    In response to the explosion in middle school waitlists, we had the ludicrous Great Hearts charter school proposal…… and the more recent history outlined in Wil Pinkston’s excellent Race to the Bottom piece.


    Today, with 40% of families leaving zoned schools after 4th grade, it is no wonder that funding increases for our teachers seem so difficult to round up from our community leaders.

    For the last years, I have prayed that our leadership could set aside the endless rancor and personal attacks, and implement the structural changes recommended in Dr. Joseph’s excellent transition plan.

    Alas, it appears the best we can do is point fingers and scream at each other. I had so hoped that Nashville could be better than that. But, here we are.

    Given the madness of it all, it is perhaps time to wonder if we should follow the lead of Memphis, where affluent suburban families threw in the towel completely, and by 95% to 5% votes, left the central urban district for charter-free, total-commitment public schooling. That’s so wrong on so many levels. But, what other options are out there at this point?

    I don’t think there is a Messiah out there who is going to solve all this. We must find some way to come together and support public education in Nashville if we are going to avoid the fate of Memphis. It’s on all of us. Thanks for your posts.


    1. “Will Pinkston” and “excellent” don’t go together in the same sentence. #justSaying His take on history through his lensAgenda. And, for the records, Head is not “score segregated,” your fave adjective, no matter how misleading that may be.


  3. While I was in the camp that was certain Dr Joseph needed to go, I’m not “jumping for joy.” I welcomed his arrival to the District with great anticipation and hope. He brought all this mayhem and division upon himself. The underserved students in our district deserve(d) someone at the helm who actually serve them, who do have their backs. He never did. Dr Joseph was all about serving his personal interests, lining his pockets, dividing, and retribution.


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