By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — Academic growth, funding, and prejudice were part of serious talk on Jefferson Street when The Tennessee Tribune presented “The State of Education in the Black Community.”
“This is about who has control of the resources and who makes the decisions,” said Fisk University President Kevin Rome, adding it’s bigger than county schools. “If you want to isolate it to education, it’s talking about: ‘Do people think that we are educable?’
“Not everyone thinks that we are capable of learning,” Rome said. “And so they don’t even want to invest the resources because they don’t see the value.”
The largest group of Metro Nashville Public Schools’ students, 42 percent, are black with: 29 percent white; 25 percent Hispanic; and four percent Asian. Others attend private schools.
Speaking with Rome at the forum were metro schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph and board Chair Dr. Sharon Gentry. She asked Councilman Ed Kindall to campaign for better school funding by the council.
Recently, a banker asked Tribune Publisher Rosetta Miller-Perry what he could do for the community. Support schools, she replied.
“We are trying to set up a program to have all of you get involved in Adopt-a-School,” Miller-Perry told nearly 150 people at the 90-minute program in Mt. Zion Baptist Church. The Tribune supports Dr. Joseph. More on Adopt-a-School was heard at the Oct. 30 question and answer session that started with positive news.
“For the first time, our students in grades 3-8 are growing faster [academically] than the state,” Dr. Joseph said. “That’s big because one of the missions the Board of Education had was to have the fastest growing students in the country. To do that, you have to be the fastest in the state.
“We have more students taking Advanced Placement Courses … more getting industry certification … we have fewer students getting suspended … and we’re pushing to make sure our kids are ready.”
Joseph joined with Nashville State Community College President Dr. Shanna Jackson to start a 9-12th grade early college this year so that in four years students may graduate with their high school diploma and their associates degree.
Tribune program moderator Belmont University journalism professor Dr. Sybil Brown asked audience questions and offered comments from her experience at WTVF.
“I look at the [TV] news,” Fisk’s president said, interjecting a point of his own, “and … hear someone talking about a driver [for the schools director] and I think … we have so many [other] things that we need to focus on in our school district …”
Councilman Kindall, a 27-year school board member, countered TV reports. “Dr. Joseph is using a bus driver to get him around … while he’s working… There was one director … who used an assistant director as his chauffeur …”
Panelists gave: advice for parents; explanations on educators’ advancement; and pointed to budget cuts.
Joseph had to “prioritize” spending. So, the system “declared war” on illiteracy because it’s basic to learning. “We want to double the amount of kids who are reading on grade level by 2025 … [and] do something about chronic absenteeisms … about suspensions … We need to put resources in place to make sure that students who are misbehaving get … mental health support.”
Gentry said, “We can either present a budget that we know is going to be approved and make people happy … or we can present a budget that’s reflective of what we know it takes to provide the kind of education our students deserve…
“We need help,” Gentry said. “Write to your council person and tell them you expect education to be a priority for this city, just as development has become a priority …”
Joseph interjected, “I want to give Mayor Briley a shout out. I met with him today … He said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can do to really make education a priority.’ I give him
credit for that, but we just have to keep encouraging him …” Gentry said, Joseph is an experienced leader who’s built relationships, can leverage them for the city, and that’s important.
“But when he leverages relationships, it’s favoritism,” she said. It’s an understatement to say “the lens through which this administration is being viewed is clouded.”
Rome said it’s nationwide. “It’s the attack we find … on people who look like us when they’re serving in positions that have been traditionally not been served by us … It’s just what we have to deal with …
“People may not like what you’re doing. They don’t want the changes, and they want to maintain the status quo as long as the status quo is keeping them in power,” Rome said.
Joseph leads a system with 11,000 employees and 86,000 students.
Moderator Brown questioned the designation of some schools as magnet schools, linking that to gentrification as home sales are often driven by parents’ search for schools nearby.
“From the 1800s, through the previous superintendent,” Miller-Perry said, “all those folks were not of color. But we bring [Joseph] in, and … white folks can’t … take an intelligent, educated black man. But … we’re working on them.”
The Tennessee Tribune’s List of Schools to Adopt Immediately
- Alex Green Elementary School
- Amqui Elementary School
- Antioch Middle School
- Bellshire Elementary
- Buena Vista Elementary
- Caldwell Elementary
- Cumberland Elementary
- Gra-Mar Middle School
- Haynes Middle School
- Jere Baxter Middle School
- Joelton Middle School
- Madison Middle School
- Maplewood High School
- McMurray Middle School
- Moses McKissack Middle School
- Robert Churchwell Elementary
- Robert E. Lillard Elementary School
- Rosebank Elementary School
- Tom Joy Elementary School
- Warner Elementary School
- Whites Creek High School
- Wright Middle School
- The Cohn Learning Center
This article originally appeared in The Atlanta Tribune.