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.
- A couple hours later director of schools Dr. Shawn Joseph announced he would not seek a contract renewal.
- An hour after that school board member Anna Shepherd filed notice that she would motion to terminate the director.
- Dr. Joseph agrees to leave contingent upon negotiations.
- All hell breaks loose. Jubilation and seething. (See Volume & Light Facebook page)
- Parent group Nashville P.R.O.P.E.L. calls press conference to talk director search and demand a seat at the table.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019 (Board meeting day)
- Minority Caucus of Metro Council holds press conference blasting the school board and the racism exacted upon the first black director of schools.
- 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.
- Board meeting. Whew. See Dr. Joseph’s speech.
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.