Local Politics in the Time of ‘Rona

Volume and Light, the platform for my fight for 3 years and the amplifier of unpopular education values has been out of service for almost 11 months. In the months leading up to my last blog, writing became an excruciating exercise that left me exhausted and unfulfilled. Ultimately, the circuitous search for just the right word or phrase to persuade the reader to see a different perspective became an exercise in futility.

Fundamentally, I no longer believed my voice mattered. Against the cacophony of anti-choice voices and generational reading crisis, trying to pen my fight for educational justice week-after-week became a fool’s errand. So I stopped blogging and a short few months after my last blog, life as we knew it would forever be altered. On March 3, 2020, parts of Nashville were devastated by a tornado and two weeks later a deadly pandemic, COVID-19, shut the city (world) down for weeks.

Still, not even an EF4 tornado and global pandemic inspired an attempt to go toe-to-toe with the blank page. Until now…

It has come to my attention, that a recall effort is in progress for my friend and former colleague Gini Pupo-Walker, school board member for the mostly affluent District 8. Gini is a lifelong Nashvillian, former teacher and administrator responsible for family engagement and partnership. Since meeting her nearly a decade ago, her commitment to children has been a comforting constant. So I’m confused as hell by this recall effort. But the ‘Rona (AAVE for coronavirus/COVID) is wreaking havoc in every part of our lives, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

The coronavirus has devastated our country, as we have lost more than 180,000 Americans in a few short months. Corporations and small businesses alike are forced to close forever and currently, a critical mass of families face eviction and homelessness. Public education, too, is caught in ‘Rona’s web of death and destruction. In fact, school districts are losing students in large numbers (think in per pupil dollars) to homeschooling, private schools, and neighboring counties. Teachers are checking out, too.

Apart from the recall effort, some crazy shit has emerged in the public education section of the ‘Rona story. Like, the “haves” are pissed at other “haves” for creating pandemic pods. Pandemic or learning pods are nothing more than parents helping parents to assist with virtual learning while schools are closed. The controversy centers around affluent parents who can afford to take extra measures to support their children’s education while low-income parents fend for themselves with no extra resources, thereby exacerbating the equity gap. That, my friends, is already called public education. If you don’t know, now you know.

In addition to the learning pod furor, we also see playing out before us parents who refuse to send their kids to school versus parents eager to return to in-person school. Here is where race and class show up in a big way while challenging stereotypes about Black parents’ values. It’s wild, y’all.

White parents (34%) are twice as likely as non-white parents (19%) to say they feel comfortable sending their children back to school in August or September.

American Enterprise Institute

Need another source?

Black workers are more likely to be employed in essential services (approximately 38 percent) than white workers (roughly 27 percent). Black workers are about 50 percent more likely to work in the healthcare and social assistance industry and 40 percent more likely to work in hospitals, compared with white workers.

Also, many Black parents, low-income or not, prefer that their children not return to school.” – Rann Miller, Progressive.org

What point am I failing to get to quickly? Depending on your lens, there a few nuggets of wisdom to glean from this past summer’s bevy of studies. I’ll share the more generous critique. White and higher-income parents, the true beneficiaries of public education, believe the system will protect their children. Black families know better.

Did I just make this about race and class? YEP

Pupo-Walker publishes a blog My School of Thought On… and her lengthy August 31, 2020 entry explains her decision to support the director of schools and the importance of science and following trends as they relate to COVID-19 cases. But I suspect that’s not an issue for her constituents. You see, in the second-to-last paragraph, Pupo-Walker states, “and to ensure we are doing all we can for our students who are most at-risk.”

Yikes(!) for affluent District 8 families, but on par with her decades of service to Metro Schools and commitment as a school board member. I can say that there have been at least 2 votes during my friend’s tenure that thoroughly ticked me off. Even then, I never questioned her commitment to doing right by kids. Not once. And I’m a pretty unforgiving person (working on this).

While reading about the recall effort in Tennessee Lookout, I was reminded of the statement Pupo-Walker read at her very first board meeting. Two years later, her words still ring true:

I ask each of you to judge my votes, and the actions that I take as a board member, through the prism of my values and beliefs about children, about educators, and about Nashville.

Gini Pupo-Walker, 9/11/2018

Let me be clear, I’m not mad at the recall group. I believe in parents, all parents. I also believe Gini is being persecuted for siding with traditionally marginalized students. I’d be interested to learn more about the bedfellows collaborating with D8 parents to get rid of the school board member who does not hate the idea of choice. Politics in public education. If you ask a Nashvillian the African greeting “How are the children?”, he or she would respond “what children?

Race, class, and choice hate overshadow the mission of public education and dominate discourse that should be linearly focused on the children.

Gini Pupo-Walker has been accused of dereliction of duty and conflict of interest. I have first-hand experience of what both charges look like and it doesn’t look remotely like Gini. But go off. We will need that energy in the next few months when things go back to “normal.”

4 thoughts on “Local Politics in the Time of ‘Rona

  1. Welcome back.

    You should not feel totally frustrated. My District 8 family, in deed many of my neighbors, agrees with you that Gini is indeed making the right vote on COVID 19 policy.

    Simultaneously, I do understand online is super stressful for dual income families with young and/or special-needs children. It’s good they are hoping to get K-2 back first, then surely, January… I hope….

    Surely we’ll have good vaccine news in couple of months.

    In the meantime, have you considered pointing your frustration with district 8 to policies that disproportionately serve district 8? I’ll mention my A-1 frustration again. I believe it is dead wrong that this district does not support zoned integrated middle schools. All 8th graders should at least have equal access to the test-score-segregated 9th grade seats at Hume Fogg and MLK. Support for integrated middle schools will never happen so long as MNPS allocates those segregated 9th grade seats by 3rd grade test scores, and seats at score-segregated middle schools.

    I have a good number of people ready to ask for the change back to how things worked in 1999 – when all 8th graders lotteried into 9th grade on equal footing.

    It is the most ridiculous construct in the entire district, does nothing to boost academics, and sends families running for the exists in 5th grade.

    Any interest in penning or joining that petition?


    1. I can’t say that I have pointed my frustration to support the plight of frustrated District 8 parents. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re suggesting every D8 student have equal access to the academic magnets?


      1. Yes, I’m suggesting every 8th grader across the district have equal access – whether they are attending an integrated school, a charter school, a magnet school, or a private school.

        We should remove the middle school auto-pathways that favor kids at a few middle schools. Instead of the current auto-pathways which write off our zoned middle 5-8 schools as schools for “track B lottery losers”, eliminating the auto-pathway would ensure that academic were a focus across the district, through 8th grade, at all middle schools.

        From 1981 to 1999, this is exactly how our magnet high school worked.

        Only when the courts let go of control in 1998 did our Board add the Meigs, John Early, and Rose Park auto-pathways – which have fanned the flames of uncertainty, churn, and flight for those who would have been happy to stay in assigned schools through 8th grade before this change.

        I think that if more kids could stay with friends through 8th grade, it would do wonders for community support of the district.

        It costs ZERO to make this change, and would de-clutter the lottery dramatically.

        Thanks for thinking about it with me.


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