Over the past couple of years, I've written about public education a bit. I've written about charter schools, the need for site based management, and values to which I believe the Director of Schools should adhere.
At the same time, I've stayed on the sidelines as Nashville has engaged in a spirited debate about the growth of charter schools. My silence was not out of a lack of interest but for other reasons. First, I have friends that were making good arguments on both sides. Some friends opened charter schools, others vigorously oppose them, and at least one who has done both. Second, I've been around long enough to know that the School Board and the mayor are almost always at odds and to take the rhetoric from both sides with a grain of salt. Finally, I found my opinion on the matter somewhere in the middle.
I accept as a fact that adding more charter schools to our system of public schools will drain funds from MNPS. I also accept the fact that LEAD Public Schools seem to be doing something extraordinary. I don't think that one can compare charters to the zoned schools, because they are not identical in many respects. I also cannot deny that MNPS has schools that have failed for too long. My opinion might not make either side happy, but I'm pretty sure the vast majority of Nashvillians share my view.
The challenge for our City today is how we convert the renewed energy surrounding public education into progress for the children we are responsible to educate. I think it through like this:
Three Basic Truths
1) Neither the Mayor nor the Metro Council will ever directly influence the education of a child in a Metro School.
2) The School Board lacks the legal capacity to fund the needs of the school system.
3) We must build broad community support around funding and pedagogy in order to see improvement in our system of public education.
I believe that the role of the Vice Mayor over the next four years is to build this community support. How, you ask?
The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University offers some insight into building this community support. Case studies, including Mayor Purcell's work in Nashville, indicate that the following efforts build the community support necessary to improve public education:
• Forging a common vision for educational equity and excellence.
• Forming collaborative bodies to support and sustain the vision.
• Expanding services and supports for student learning and healthy development.
• Mobilizing public and political will for quality schools.
In Nashville, we've been doing much of this for years. As Vice Mayor, I will work every day to continue the advancement of these efforts by working with teachers, parents and students, the School Board, the Metro Council and Mayor, charter school advocates, the Chamber of Commerce, and everyone else who shows up. Together we can build the community support necessary to improve our public schools. I will praise our public schools when they are successful. I will challenge them to adopt each other's models when they work. I will call balls and strikes.
Public education is the most important job of government, because without an educated society our community will fail.