It’s damn hard to admit that your baby is ugly. If you don’t think so, then you should have been at the Montgomery County school board meeting on Sept. 24 when this group voted to let the Montgomery Education Foundation turn two elementary schools and one junior high into charter schools.
By so doing, the MPS board came right out in plain sight and admitted that they just want to find some band aids–not try and figure out why they are bleeding. It’s a mistake made over and over by folks claiming to help school children.
Anyone worth their salt knows this: We don’t have failing schools, we have failing school communities.
The Auburn city school system is constantly held up as a beacon of hope. But those who do so only cite tests scores and such, they never acknowledge that the Auburn community totally embraces its public schools. In Auburn, folks talk about “our” schools. There is no “our” in Montgomery, only “theirs.”
So Montgomery chases another rabbit, this time a grand plan hatched by the education foundation to take three struggling schools, slap, “charter” on the front of the building cry “abracadabra” a few times and magically watch the same students now in these same schools turn into Rhodes scholars.
I am familiar with education foundations. Many school systems have them to provide additional funding for teachers, classrooms and schools. They work hand in glove with the system. The Jefferson County foundation is housed in the system’s central office and is basically considered an arm of the system.
This is not the case with the Montgomery Education Foundation. When I went on the Montgomery school board the first thing I did was ask the superintendent if we could have a workshop to learn what MEF did. This never happened. I have asked a number of Montgomery principals if the foundation has helped their school. No one has said “yes.”
I have given hundreds of dollars to Montgomery schools and teachers to help with projects. Each time I wondered why the foundation wasn’t doing the same. The tiny Demopolis city school system with about 2,500 students has a foundation with over one million dollars in an endowment. They have been extremely beneficial in supporting significant school improvements and teacher projects. The executive director of MEF told me they do not have an endowment.
No doubt those involved with MEF are well-intentioned. But why don’t they work with our schools, instead of cooking up some plan to be directed by high-priced consultants and take away tenure from experienced teachers?
The first effort of MEF at conversion charters was in 2018. They wanted to take over Lanier high school, Bellingrath junior and Davis and Nixon elementary schools. They had a meeting at Lanier in April 2018 to present their plan. Not a single person from the public spoke in favor of it.. This effort died when the MPS board would not approve it.
But you have to credit MEF for not giving up. So they dropped Lanier from their plan and came back to the table.
They again held a meeting. This was last Monday night at Bellingrath (the day before the board vote on it.). A nice young man made a presentation about how the conversion would work. The public could make comments–but not ask questions. How the heck is this dialogue? Would an editor send a reporter to see Nick Saban and tell him that he could not ask the coach any questions?
Again, no one from the public supported the plan. The presenter said he wanted to give the audience the “facts.” But they were only “facts” MEF put together. The public could not challenge anything they heard wirh questions.
One of the “facts” was a statement that the Montgomery school system loses 600 students a year, which costs the system money. This was taken totally out of context. What was not acknowledged is that numbers from the state department of education show enrollment statewide from 2009 to 2019 dropped by16,984. In fact, 95 school systems lost students.
The implication was that kids leave Montgomery to go to other systems. However, the surrounding systems of Autauga, Lowndes, Macon, Bullock, Crenshaw and Pike also lost students. Only Elmore gained and this was only 214 students. Of course, a new system at Pike Road came into being. But it is highly unlikely that many families from West Montgomery moved to Pike Road.
And when someone tickers with “facts” to support their agenda, I become very suspicious of everything else they say.
One of the first speakers during the public comments portion of the meeting was a young black preacher who first let everyone know he was video taping his remarks for his followers. In other words, this is about me, not about children and schools. His remarks were vintage racism, just delivered by a black, not a white. He ranted about “his people” on the west side of town and about how Montgomery will probably soon have its first black mayor.
It’s been 56 years since George Wallace stood in the school door in Tuscaloosa, but what the preacher said was classic George Wallace.
Shortly after the preacher put on his act, a very articulate and precocious student at Bellingrath spoke. Very impressive. But when she asked the question if her school was singled out because she is black, your heart sank and you realized the preacher’s message was being echoed by our young.
And herein is the crux of the over-riding issue in Montgomery. One that will not be fixed by MEF’s plan to convert schools to charters. Indeed, it will only exacerbate it because they are perceived as a largely white organization (which they are) trying to impose their will on a culture they do not understand.
Montgomery is a greatly divided community. We are paying for the sins of our fathers. I have serious reservations if it can really be fixed. But one thing I have no reservations about is that the path the school board voted to take Tuesday night will NEVER take us where we need to go.
Editor’s note: I visited one of the schools to be converted today. The mood was somber. More than anything, teachers were hurt and are not aware that anyone from the foundation has ever been in their school and its classrooms during a school day. This is a high-poverty school where faculty constantly go the extra mile to meet student needs. No one from MEF has ever volunteered to run the washer and dryer when dirty uniforms are being washed, they have not paid for extra uniforms or shoes for kids who can not afford them, they have not taken a student to get a haircut or volunteered to be a mentor.
They have not offered to partner with the school as local churches and businesses do. The school is hoping to put together a field trip to see the battleship Alabama, the foundation has not offered to help pay for this.
“Apparently this decision was based entirely on data,” someone told me. “But our students are not just data points. We are dealing with issues that have nothing to do with the classroom. When a parent is working two jobs, they can’t come to school for a meeting.”
Will any of these teachers stay at this school and give up their tenure when it becomes a charter? None will.
And years of experience and investment in a school and a community will be lost. All because people refuse to face reality.
(Next: what we should be thinking about doing.)