You knew something was up when the big charter bus pulled up to the Gordon Persons building, the home of the state department of education in Montgomery, the morning of May 9. The same day as a state board of education meeting. The bus brought nearly 60 people from Washington County. Others drove their own vehicles. Even Fox 10 News TV in Mobile showed up.
They came to let members of the state board, the state superintendent, the governor and members of the legislature know they are tired of being stonewalled and deceived by the state charter school commission that voted to allow a charter school in this rural county, in spite of widespread opposition to it.
They came to let the state superintendent, Eric Mackey, know that they are disappointed with his unwillingness to investigate this fiasco. They came to show the state school board they are fed up with them not directing Mackey to do something, instead of just talking. They came to let senators and house members know that enough is enough. That they will not longer tolerate being run roughshod over by Montgomery bureaucrats.
They wanted to be put on the agenda to speak to the board members and tell them their concerns. But they not allowed to speak.
“So we decided that if we could not be heard, we could certainly be seen,” said Betty Brackin, Federal programs director for the Washington County school system and one who has spent countless hours researching what has taken place to this point. And also the person who has had to listen as state department staff lawyers filled her ear full of platitudes about how they were helpless to do anything.
You see, Washington County educators understand something state department of education folks don’t seem to–the people in charge of Washington County schools DO NOT work for the state department. They know that folks in Montgomery are supposed to HELP local schools, not HINDER them with ever-increasing paperwork and jumping through more hoops.
And since state board members have rarely responded to emails sent from Washington County, the good folks there decided to come to Montgomery and look board members and the state superintendent in the eye. More than 60 showed up, including two school board members, all wearing a little flashing pin on a white shirt. They were certainly seen.
They buttonholed board members when they got the chance. Ella Bell, who represents Washington County, recognized the crowd and had them stand. Superintendent Mackey acknowledged them as well, said he knew why they were there but there was little he could say about the situation.
The meeting ended and off the good folks from south Alabama headed to the state house to see legislators. They had a good session with Rep. Terri Collins, who chairs the House education policy committee and Danny Garrett, vice-chair of the same committee. Collins was house sponsor of the charter bill passed in 2015. She told the group that she wanted the bill to work and if it needs to be fixed, she is all for doing so. She asked them to get her information about problems they have encountered.
All in all, it was not only a good day for Washington County, but also a good day for all public schools in the state. This little group of very tenacious folks have raised their voices and called attention to a bureaucracy that sometimes loses sight of what they should be about. Listening to local school systems and helping them do a better job any way they can.
THAT is the ONLY reason to have a state department of education, a state school board and a state superintendent. No doubt some in the Gordon Person building think Washington County should be only seen, but not heard. Thankfully, Washington County could not disagree more.