I don’t pay much attention to the Hamilton County School Board. Once the moon and the stars aligned behind Superintendent Rick Smith, you hear very little, if anything, from the nine-member council that oversees an annual budget of almost $400 million and employs 4,480 people. So chew this for a minute: approximately 2,000 of those people are not teachers. Yes, there are 78 principals but then what?
“Let’s just say this,” Oscar Brock told me the other day. “If any comparable company or corporation in the world was as top-heavy, they would soon go out of business. That’s a big reason I think it’s time to change the way the “Board of Directors” (School Board) does business and I want to help.”
Oscar, a longtime family friend and a very successful businessman, has been an ardent follower of education in Chattanooga for the last 30 years. “When my mom died (the beloved Muffet Brock), my brother Bill and I created a ‘Teacher of the Year’ Award at every school in mother’s memory. Our family charity, the Hand Foundation, was deeply involved in education.”
Now Oscar wants to get more deeply involved, using his business skills and organizational expertise as the District 6 representative in the August election. He is opposed by incumbent Joe Galloway, a former teacher and coach, and a relatively unknown newcomer, lawyer Ballard Scearce. Of the three, Oscar is the one who believes there is “no escape from the cycle of poverty except for education.”
He also believes – read this slowly – that we have created an educational system in Hamilton County “where the quality of a child’s education is completely dependent on the school zone in which they live.” As horrible and as scary as that sounds, Oscar Brock is a realist and I fear he’s right.
“Here’s a fact for you. A kindergarten student from a middle income family has a vocabulary of 4,000 words on the first day of school. A kindergarten student from a poverty area has a vocabulary of 400 words,” said Brock, “It is not a child’s fault – he has nothing to do with where he is born – but it should become our fault if a child later fails. There are ways good teachers can make the biggest difference in a child’s life and we must find them.”
His dream is to separate the wheat from the chaff in the burdensome administration offices and pay enough to get the best principals in the country. “In Chattanooga a teacher with a master’s degree and 15 years’ experience is paid somewhere around $55,000. A principal makes about $1,000 more a month. Would you do that? To many top candidates, the headache and the ridiculous hours of paperwork aren’t worth it,” he spoke candidly.
“I believe I could be a great asset on the school board. I am criticized that my child attended private schools but you must remember I am a daddy. I wanted the best for my kids, just like 22 percent of other people in Hamilton County do. But I can show you I’ve been deeply involved in the community all of my life and now I want to do something that other Dads will take pride in.
“I want to change the way the school board does some things. I appreciate teachers on the school board but maybe I can teach them to read a spreadsheet so we’ll spend money much more wisely. If we can get a nucleus to buy into some simple, basic changes, I believe a child’s success rate won’t be determined by the street that child lives on.”
Oscar mourns that “95 percent of the parents who have children in our schools have no idea who their school board representative is. Oh, they complain our public schools are bad but they don’t know who to call about it.
“Equally unbelievable is that fact we haven’t created two or three replicas of CSAS yet. CSAS is a living example of what parental involvement and a strong faculty can do to change the entire complexion of a school. Nationally 15 percent of our teachers quit every year and it's over 20 percent in troubled schools. We need to address that in the strongest way and, believe me, other cities have done this,” he promised.
“I’m excited about Chattanooga’s new jobs but I’ve learned 90 percent of those who are eventually hired have at least ‘some college.’ If we have a drop-out rate of 25 percent in Chattanooga, and if kids graduate who – in all honesty – can’t do the math or read like they should, how are we going to meet that demand?” he asked.
“The school board should accept the accountability. It should be totally transparent and somebody ought to demand to know why over 2,000 people are on the payroll if they don’t teach. Our teachers should be paid more and, yes, they ought to teach every day rather than serve as a robot trying to get ready for one big test every year.”
Asked about the volatile Common Core testing, Oscar said it was a good concept but “became a train wreck when outside companies got involved. It is too dysfunctional right now to continue but the idea isn’t all bad. I believe we’ve got many good teachers who are a little frustrated right now. The school board should address that and make it right for our employees.”
We talked on and Oscar Brock made a lot of Common Sense. He’s a smart guy from a notable family that has served Chattanooga for many generations. I believe he would be a huge asset where everybody already knows we need a wise man in an area that – let’s face it – appears to be lacking.