Nashville Parent Leader Allison Simpson Discovers Her Power, Helps Others Find Theirs

Not all parent-shaming is created equal. As a society, we expect anyone with any degree of wealth to assign their resources to goods and services that will yield the greatest return on investment.

In Nashville, in certain zip codes, you might get shamed for attending public schools. Some parents get shade for choosing a school out-of-zone. But no group gets the burden of being responsible for the downfall of an entire district like parents who choose charter schools. This group, mostly families of color and poor, are shamed for participating in the middle-class act of selection. 

Nashville Rise leader Allison Simpson has a powerful message for parents. Take heed.

My mom used to say, “Allison, you have two things against you, you’re female and you’re Black—and because of that, you’ll have to work harder than your peers your whole life.” And she was right.

In school, I was an average student while my sister made straight A’s. I remember hearing someone say little Black girls like me would never amount to anything but a baby mama.

With that statement running through my mind I worked my butt off and on June 1, 2002, I walked across the stage and accepted my high school diploma—making me one of the few in my family to graduate from high school.

Both of my parents are college graduates. As a result of that, they always made sure my sister and I went to the best schools so that we could both go to college.

I can remember my mom stressing the importance of finishing school, doing well and going to college. And with their voices in the back of my mind, I took my parents’ advice, attended and graduated from Auburn University in May of 2007.

Two years later, August 13, 2009, I had my daughter. That was the scariest time of my life. When she entered into this world, I realized that I held her success in the palm of my hand. I didn’t want that responsibility.

I worried everyday about how I would provide. I wondered what she would be like when she grew up, and if I could be a good mother to her. I had questions and needed answers, but soon realized that there was no perfect recipe for parenting—I’d just have to rely on my instincts and focus on providing the best life for my daughter that I could.

I HAD HEARD BAD THINGS ABOUT THE SCHOOLS AROUND US, SO I KNEW I WOULD NEED TO LOOK FOR OTHER OPTIONS.When I began my search for a quality school in Nashville for my soon-to-be kindergartner, I knew nothing about the school process. I had heard bad things about the schools around us, so I knew I would need to look for other options. That year I toured what seemed like thousands of schools. I even considered moving out of Davidson County, but my budget would not allow me to do that.

One day I stumbled upon a community event for parents at Tennessee State University. At this event, I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel after meeting with a school leader who, in minutes, walked me through options I didn’t even know I had.

I rushed home, got on the computer and spent the entire night searching for high-quality options for my daughter. After touring about five schools, I found a great option for my baby.

Because of all the volunteer opportunities and time I spent at my daughter’s school, I was introduced to Nashville Rise. I couldn’t believe there was an organization out there empowering parents and advocating for kids. So, I joined. And because of Nashville Rise, I was able to engage and empower parents around school quality and choice.

I’m dedicated to this work to elevate the voices of parents who, like me, felt like they didn’t have a voice. Parents who, maybe at one time, were told that they would never amount to anything and believed it.

I’m here to let the lady who said that little Black girls like me would be nothing more than a baby mama know that I’m more than that. I’m a doctor when my kids are sick, I’m a taxi cab driver, I’m a counselor when there’s meltdowns at home, and I’m a cheerleader.

But most importantly, I’m an engaged parent and no one can take that away from me.

School Board Meeting Will Go Deep Into the Night Thanks to Parents, West Nashville Residents 

The first School Board meeting of 2017 is scheduled to end at 8pm, but with 72 people signed up to petition the Board – well, you just never know how these things will end!

By the looks of it, most are signed up to speak about the highly sought after suburban high school west of Nashville to replace the current school that includes a segment of North Nashville (primarily black students). 

Also on the agenda are Nashville Rise parents continuing their campaign for quality choices. Yes! 

The final ten speakers will be petitioning on behalf of LEAD Academy charter renewal. Making an offensive play in this situation is the best defense!

Oh, oh, oh! The Director’s Evaluation committee meets today. I mentioned this back in December. This, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road. Stay tuned.

#NashvilleEduStory Feat. 2016 and 7 of Its Best (whether I like the story or not)

The days that remain in 2016 are so few they can be best expressed in hours. While never really buying into the whole “new year, new you” craze, within the next 36 hours I’ll be owning it!

Then there’s the whole personifying of 2016 as the grim reaper (which is the personification of death?). Yes, I agree that in 2016 too many of the Creator’s best have left us, some of his most questionable remain, and more than usual have been dealt soul-crushing blows. Still, I maintain that while it’s human to try to make sense of it all, 2016 is not the bad guy here. (But Carrie AND Debbie, really?)

Toward that end, there are people and actions in 2016, locally and nationally, that deserve as much attention as the losses. Even as I’ve spent the last six months bellyaching about the education scene in Nashville, I love my city and the characters within it, good and bad, agree or not. So, I’m offering my personal list of 2016’s 7 best stories:

7. Unions and other anti-choice proponents sweep school board races. This.

Most of the union-supported school board candidates, all of whom where incumbents, won their races to the recurring theme ‘pro-public schools, anti-privatization’. Furthermore, infusing fear of “dark money” while, in turn, hiring a private eye to stalk Stand for Children’s Daniel O’Donnell (even going into his dating profile!!!) proved to be the winning strategy. IT WAS UGLY.

Our education community is still on the mend, but as long as the school board continues to propose anti-choice resolutions and policies, we will never completely heal.

NOTE: The story behind the title created much consternation within yours truly. Actually, it was the impetus for the story The Friendliest City in America Got Downright Mean In Its School Board Elections This Summer leading to the nonstop education blogging you enjoy today. Selected as one of the best story lines of 2016 because the school board election illuminated what was missing – the voices of parents of color.

Daniel O’Donnell, Nashville Director Stand for Children

6. Daniel O’Donnell – I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the Nashville director of Stand for Children on a couple of occasions. The bespectacled young man struck me as passionate, introverted, and wildly intelligent. So watching the Nashville Witch Trials play out for weeks with Daniel as the object was depressing and I’m still trying to find him so that I can give him a mama-hug.

The opposition blasted Stand for Children for bold campaign donations, thereby making O’Donnell the face of “dark money” and illegal campaign activity.  Mr. O’Donnell was thrown into the fire and tossed around in it, but came out like a shiny, new penny! Excited to see his next move.

Nashville group that joined The Memphis Lift in Cincinnati

5. The Memphis Lift and Sarah A. Carpenter– Maybe this isn’t totally a Nashville story, but it has some Music City flavor.

In October, several Nashville parents accompanied Memphis parents to Cincinnati, OH protest the national NAACP’s ratification of the resolution to place a moratorium on charter schools throughout the United States. Though serving in an official capacity, I couldn’t avoid being drawn into the passion and determination of parents and grandparents fighting for the nation’s children.

Sarah A. Carpenter, director The Memphis Lift
The story has since spread like wildfire (what’s with all the fire references?) and The Memphis Lift’s director, Sarah A. Carpenter, has become a celebrity in her own right. This grandmother of 14 is quick to say “it’s not about your child, it’s about ALL of the children!” with as much sternness and love any one person can muster. It is, indeed, a blessing to the Memphis community that this fearless leader invests in future generations by educating and training today’s parents. Onward, Sarah.
Amy Frogge, District 9 School Board Member
4. Amy Frogge, School Board Member – This woman is a force. And flanked by a force, to boot!
First, I must acknowledge my personal admiration for Amy. Our relationship started out as a working one and since my leaving Metro Schools, it continues as one of mutual respect (I think). Because while our platforms on education are as different as our race and sometimes as distant as her west of Nashville suburb from my east of Nashville suburb, we both have hearts for children (and animals).

I have sort of tripped into the ed reform world where Amy is not a friend and a world about which she speaks and writes with severity. Still, she stands for something greater than herself and fights fiercely for it, hence, Amy’s Army, the scores of supporters who helped her take the school board race.

Our passions will, no doubt, continue to collide, but, I got nothing but love and respect for the wife, mother of two, and ardent animal lover. Soldier on!

Nashville Rise Parents Working an Event

3. Nashville Rise – Under the umbrella of Project Renaissance, this organization seeks to “inform, empower, and engage” Nashville parents.

This past summer the parents of Nashville Rise hosted a forum for all school board candidates which ultimately turned into a social media circus. Three of the school board candidates, also sitting board members, rallied against the forum and refused to participate. Despite the spite, the parent-organized/hosted forum was a huge success taking its rightful place in the education landscape. 

And just this month Nashville Rise parents made another splash onto the scene by using their most powerful weapon in support of quality choices by speaking against the school board’s proposed resolution to stop charter growth. 

I’m thrilled about NR’s service to MNPS families and fully expect increased participation with new director Neonta Williams at the helm!

2a. Sharon Gentry, Anna Shepherd, JoAnn Brannon, Jill Speering, Elissa Kim, Tyese Hunter, Will Pinkston, Mary Pierce, Amy Frogge – The Nashville School Board that voted unanimously to hire director of schools Dr. Shawn Joseph.

After a failed attempt the year prior, the embattled school board retreated and returned unified and better than prepared to hire a director. So, in May 2016 an offer was made and accepted.

2b. Anna Shepherd, Jill Speering, Sharon Gentry, JoAnn Brannon, Christiane Buggs, Tyese Hunter, Will Pinkston, Mary Pierce, Amy Frogge – The Nashville School Board that stood by their hire in the face of harsh criticism and unrelenting media scrutiny after being on the job for less than three months. 

1. Dr. Shawn Joseph – Of course! 

The former Prince George’s County standout made his way down south with his trusted teammates in tow. Jumping in long before his scheduled first day, the soft-spoken director has traipsed across all 525 square miles in less than six months meeting with thousands of staffers and parents. 

Impressively, in a span of less than 3 months, the director hosted two sets of meetings around the district specifically for parents. The director and his leadership team then collected, compiled, and reported out data from those meetings with plans to analyze and use to inform strategy. 

Need I point that during the execution of this work the director was under fire? 

Dr. Shawn Joseph is my top 2016 #NashvilleEduStory!

May your new year exceed your expectations. Cheers!