Time To Stop The Montgomery Circus: Part Two

How do you tell how much a community cares about its public schools?  Looking in their pocketbook is an excellent way to start.

Do this and you discover that Montgomery apparently cares less than places like Bullock County, Butler County, Dallas County, Lowndes County and Macon County.  Because they all devote a greater percent of property tax to education than does Montgomery.

It is common knowledge that the “over the mountain” communities of Homewood, Mountain Brook, Hoover and Vestavia in Jefferson County have a much higher rate of taxes for education than Montgomery goes.

But this is also the case for such “not so over the mountain” places like Bessemer, Fairfield and Midfield.

Obviously, there is much more to education than just dollars, but last time I checked it is hard to add new teachers and reduce class size, or keep buildings properly maintained, without some money in the bank.

Which is one reason the school board has deferred spending $75 million needed right now to properly maintain facilities.  Students at Highland Avenue elementary are in a building that is 100 years old.

Yet, have you heard anyone lately take up the cause of calling for more financial support for Montgomery schools?  The mayor, the county commission chairman, the education foundation, the folks running the state takeover?

We’ve all heard, “put your money where your mouth is.”

But not from anyone in Montgomery wringing their hands and damning our public schools.

Instead, we hear about “student achievement,” whatever it is.  I have asked people to define it.  No one has.  How is it determined?  Do all students achieve at the same rate?  Does environment have any impact on student achievement?  Are all students alike?

Apparently, most folks think achievement is simply scores on another standardized test.

Well, students are not just numbers.  Their talents and challenges cannot be so neatly quantified.

By and large test scores are just symptoms of a larger problem.  Why did a child do poorly on a test?  Was it the teacher’s fault as so many want to believe?  Or did he have a tooth ache and has never been to a dentist?  Has anyone checked his eyesight?  Is his classroom the only safe haven he knows?  Is the lady in the lunchroom the only person who ever smiles at him?  Does he have running water at home?  (Not all students do.)

A few days ago I toured Carver elementary in Montgomery.  Part of this school is a magnet fine arts program.  I saw young people studying art, ballet, piano, guitar and other disciplines.

I couldn’t miss one student of perhaps 10 in the piano class.  His face glowed with excitement and joy.  He hung on the instructor’s every word.  He was extremely engaged.

In another class sat a young man, strumming the guitar across his lap.  He looked like I would think a young B. B. King must’ve once looked like on a Mississippi front porch long ago.

How does a standardized test quantify the achievement of these two students?

So instead of being mesmerized by numbers on a page, let’s closely examine all our schools and see firsthand what is working and what is not.

Spend time with teachers and principals talking about their students and what is impacting each life.

The principal at one of the schools the education foundation wants to change to a charter told me that probably 90 percent of her students come from a single parent home.

And calling this school a charter and keeping the same students will change this fact?

Instead of continuing on the same path we are now on we should call “time out” and immediately do two things.

The Montgomery Education Foundation could lead both efforts.

#1

  • Call a meeting of all the public school education “players” in Montgomery and get them around the same table.  The school board, the mayor, city council, county commission, education foundation, state department, county PTA council, the state department of education, black preachers, etc.
  • Then put all agendas on the table.  Be transparent.  Not a single MPS board member seems to know the mission of the education foundation.  Most principals I have asked are clueless as to what they do.  This is crazy.
  • Who is running the show?  Who is in charge of what?  There are too many agendas and too little talk among all parties.
  • Conversation is a hell of a lot better than pointing fingers and blaming others.

#2

  • Get people to spend significant time in high poverty classrooms. We have too many folks coming up with what they believe are solutions when they don’t have first-hand knowledge of conditions in schools.
  • Insist that every person sitting around that big table spend at least half of one day as a classroom aide.  Let them see firsthand what challenges teachers and principals face.  Sure, lots of people drop by a school to read a book on Dr. Seuss Day.  But that is only a drive-by shooting.

I spent a day in a classroom at George Hall elementary in Mobile seven years ago.  I will never forget it.  It was a pre-K classroom.  I still remember Teawrie and Mathew and Cooper.  In fact, I will be in Mobile this coming week and will stop by to see Teawrie at Dunbar magnet where she is now in the sixth grade.

Nor will I ever forget the day at George Hall when the principal told me she needed a shower because lots of her kids came from homes where the water had been turned off.

Thanks to a lot of my friends, they have had a shower for six years.

It is way past time to stop the circus in Montgomery.  It is time for rational people to show some honest-to-God leadership instead of playing the blame game.

Because when that happens, there are no winners.  Just losers.