By Larry Lee
Distrust is a cancer that can destroy anything it infects. A marriage, a football team, a church, a business—or in the case of Montgomery–a school system.
One simply has to look at the mess we’re in and all the people pointing fingers and blaming everyone but themselves. Most want the public to think they have all the answers—yet they have precious little experience or track record with public schools.
The general public has little trust in the local school board. I hear it over and over. The school board does not trust the mayor, the chamber of commerce or the Montgomery Education Foundation.
They do not trust the State Department of Education because in their takeover of the system numbers are tossed around casually without context. For instance, we have heard repeatedly that MPS lost 800 students from the 2016-17 school year to 2017-18.
But no one mentions that in addition to MPS, 82 other systems lost students during this period, among them Mobile, Jefferson, Lee and Madison counties and Birmingham and Mountain Brook.
We see charts comparing scores at Lamp with Lee. But comparing a school with a poverty rate of 4.9 percent (LAMP) to one with a rate of 67.3 percent (Lanier) is comparing apples to oranges.
Nor do school principals trust the staff at the MPS central office because they believe they have too many overpaid bureaucrats.
It is a recipe for disaster—not only for the 29,000 students in our public school system—but for the community as a whole.
EDUCATION IS EVERYONE’S BUSINESS. Whether you have a child or grandchild, niece or nephew, in a Montgomery public school or not, you have a vested interest in what happens in them.
But instead of linking arms and working together, we have too many separate agendas.
Take the Montgomery Education Foundation for example. I have yet to find an MPS school board member who knows what this group does.
On their web page they show their MISSION, CORE VALUES, and VISION. Yet, no where in these statements does it speak of working specifically with MPS. Nor do I see anyone connected with MPS on their board of directors.
There are a number of education foundations in Alabama. I am familiar with many. The director of the one for the Jefferson County school system is housed at the central office. She is considered part of the staff.
By contrast, the Montgomery Advertiser had an article on March 19 about the local education foundation applying to the state wanting to convert five MPS schools to charter schools.
It is ironic that in the same article, the executive director of the foundation says, “There are tremendous amounts of distrust but I understand that.”
So why is this group pushing a project that the school board does not support, instead of asking MPS what they need?
Their charter school plan is nebulous at best. They want to convert Lanier high, Bellingrath middle and Nixon, Floyd and Davis elementary to charter schools in the hope that they will suddenly blossom into bastions of academic achievement.
In other words, they think you can turn water into wine.
We are told the student bodies at each school will remain the same. Poverty is the greatest single indicator of school performance. Research has shown this over and over.
The poverty rate at Lanier is 67.3 percent. It is above 83 percent at the other four schools. In comparison, the poverty rate at LAMP is 4.9 percent, at Baldwin it is 13.8 percent, while Bear elementary is 12.9 percent and Forest Avenue is 10.6 percent.
(Children of poverty can certainly excel academically. I led a research study looking at 10 of them. I have visited many others that do well.)
But none of these were charter schools. They were traditional public schools with great principals and hard-working teachers.
Simply changing the name to a charter school and perhaps hiring some management group to run it is not a silver bullet. This is akin to thinking that if you gave the Huntingdon football team the uniforms the University of Alabama wore when they won the national championship in January they would suddenly morph into national champions in their own right.
Actions such as this are simply deepening the distrust among all parties who claim they want to help our schools.
What we need is everyone at the same table. The mayor, city council, county commission, education foundation, MPS board and the state department of education.
Put all the cards on the table. Bring any hidden agenda into the daylight. Act like grown-ups.
Because anything less is harming 29,000 students.