In 1992 the movie, A Few Good Men, told the riveting story of a military court martial. The climatic moment being when the character played by Jack Nickolson says to the character Tom Cruise played, “You can’t handle the truth.”
That scene has gone through my mind over and over as I’ve watched the current hand-wringing about the MPS school board play out.
Because Montgomery and it’s “leadership” refuse to come face to face with reality in regards to our public school system.
Instead, we have press conferences, blame everyone else and raise money to fuel political campaigns based on deceit and deception.
And some good and well-intentioned people blindly follow those who say all our problems rest at the feet of our current school board.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
More than anything else, we have a COMMUNITY problem in Montgomery and all my friends who have written checks in support of the Expect More for Montgomery Public Schools campaign need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
What have YOU DONE to help our public schools? Do you belong to a public school PTA? Do you mentor a struggling student? When I was a surrogate dad at the Goodwyn Middle school “Dad and Daughter Dance” recently, I didn’t see any of you there.
And writing a check to hire a political consultant to come up with big post cards slamming our school system is hardly paying your debt to society.
I sat through several candidate forums leading up to the June 5 primary. I listened to good people share their ideas. Things like, “I went to Lanier and I don’t know why it can’t be like it used to be,” or, “I know how to fix things,” or my favorite, “all schools should be magnets.”
The one thing they all had in common is that they had evidently not spent enough time in schools talking to teachers and principals, especially those in high-poverty schools. As a result, they were all looking for band aides—instead of trying figure out why our schools are bleeding.
This includes the mayor, the chamber of commerce and the folks writing the checks to the political action committee.
We have a COMMUNITY problem and our schools are only a symptom.
Montgomery has three school systems. More than 35 private schools, eight magnet schools and 44 more traditional schools.
The differences in demographics in magnet and traditional schools is glaring. The poverty rate for magnets is only 14.6 percent but is 63.7 percent in traditional schools.
Since the greatest predictor of student and school performance is poverty, this nearly 50-point gap in poverty between magnets and traditional is very telling. And a strong message that any “turnaround” effort focused on just the school board or even classroom has a scant chance to move the needle.
Don’t think so? Then attend any PTA meeting at a magnet and non-magnet school. Bear elementary has more PTA members than they do students. It’s an entirely different story in traditional schools.
Which means comparing the home environment of students in these schools is apples and oranges. And wondering why all schools aren’t magnets makes as much sense as wondering why the football team at Huntingdon can not beat the one at the University of Alabama.
But instead of leadership trying to find common ground and unify Montgomery, we’re holding press conferences that divide us even more.
Until this community thinks of its public schools as “our” schools we’re kidding ourselves by thinking changing faces at the school board will make much difference. How can the school board by itself lower school poverty rates. A principal of a school with an 84 percent poverty rate told me probably 90 percent of her kids come from single parent homes. Can the school board round up dozens of daddies?
Ministers, both black and white, should be sitting down together to figure out how they can assist their neighborhood schools. The Montgomery Education Foundation should work WITH the MPS board, instead of being an adversary. Expect More for Montgomery Public Schools should be raising money to help teachers buy needed supplies, not stuffing mail boxes with fliers screaming “our school board and our school system are broken.”
Instead of talking about charter schools, the mayor should look at Washington D.C. that has perhaps the worst school system in the country—and a greater percentage of students in charter schools than anywhere else.
We need to attack our issues with community-centered schools that provide wraparound services. We need to engage the whole community in doing this. We had two community school pilots two years ago. Then the state intervention took away their funding.
The truth is that education is everyone’s business—not just the school board’s. And as long as we claim them as the scapegoat, while we let everyone else off the hook, we are not accepting the truth.