Roy Exum: ‘’ Needs You Now

  • Friday, February 12, 2016
  • Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

A diverse yet powerful panel of community leaders in Nashville delivered a letter to the Metro Nashville Board of Education last week. It was signed by some top men and women who represent a wide-ranking cross section of Tennessee’s largest city and includes education, business, religious and diversity superstars. You need to understand the urgency behind the letter. Davidson County has just entered its eighth month without a school superintendent.

The well-written letter noted what strides had been made under Jesse Register, who resigned last June. While not directly mentioning the fact the first attempt by the school board to replace Register was botched, the most interesting note in an accompanying 192-page study of what Nashville most needs and desires for its schools included this:

“In September 2015 … (the Metro School Board) began discussing the best way to ‘reboot’ the search process for a new director of schools. Realizing the importance of bringing others into the search process more intentionally, (the school board) proactively reached out to newly-elected Mayor Megan Barry and the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF) to form a community advisory committee to help kick-start the search process. This group of 17 community leaders was announced in November, and we began our work in earnest in December.”

In short, the Metro board enlisted the community’s help in searching for the best possible candidate. Today the two biggest principals of the ‘Chattanooga 2.0’ education initiative have asked the Hamilton County Board of Education to consider the same thing. “We are not, nor will not, pick the next superintendent. The school board was elected to do that. But we want to use our resources to help find the best candidates and let our community become part of the discussion,” said Jared Bigham, Chattanooga 2.0 top executive. “What we want to do is everything we can to help.”

Just as importantly, Chamber of Commerce president Bill Kilbride is joining Dr. Bigham in this ‘First 100 Days’ of the initiative in an effort to actively and aggressively enlist a larger army in a massive movement to redeem Hamilton County public education. “I spoke to the United Way executive board earlier this week and the response was wonderful,” Dr. Bigham said. “I have never seen so many people who really want to actively get involved in helping the children of this community get a wonderful education.”

As a result, Chattanooga 2.0 is ready to build that army. They are asking for your help. You are badly mistaken if you think your voice is too insignificant to be heard. No, the more voices the greater the strength of the initiative by utilizing the new website,  We are each asked to share our individual input on both immediate and long term solutions, identify problems, and expose any gripes. Are you willing to offer your time, get personally involved? They are eager to hear and act on your beliefs on what can better education in Hamilton County.

Registering is easy to do. Once you confirm your intent on by return email, each person will get updates, be allowed to read what others think on a “stories” tab, and – most importantly -- add their own comments, thoughts and suggestions. After a person is registered, each can and should go to the “stories” tab and give your views and comments on our broken system and how we should try to fix what our public school has become.

You need to understand this: In the letter the Nashville leaders presented to the Metro Board of Education there was this unflinching belief: “There is a restlessness within the community about what about what comes next, about how to balance the need for greater urgency with the challenge of creating confidence and sustainability in a consistent direction for the school system.”

Stronger still -- “There is also a feeling of divisiveness and rancor that has come to characterize the debate about our schools, which many fear impedes our ability to move forward in the way Nashville historically has broached deep, complex challenges. This backdrop against which you must find and hire a new director of schools both makes the imperative of finding the right leader all the more tantamount and the recruitment effort complex and difficult.”

If that doesn’t sound familiar you haven’t been reading the tea leaves in Chattanooga’s cup. While Register left Nashville’s Department of Education on sound footing, the same cannot be said for Hamilton County and in the belief that “it takes a village to raise a child,” the ‘Chattanooga 2.0’ educational initiative is relying heavily on teachers, parents, grandparents, students, our pastors and rabbis, and anyone else willing to help in a quest to become “the smartest city in the South.”

“Chattanooga 2.0” is a collaborative effort of the Chamber of Commerce, the Benwood Foundation, the Public Education Foundation and the Hamilton County Department of Education to address the urgent and immediate need for a well-prepared work force as large companies have now joined our community. The report, issued in December, showed the need for vast improvement in our Department of Education is critical and an overhaul of the system is long past due. (An Executive Report of Chattanooga 2.0 is available on and those who subscribe for updates can download the entire report.)

Nashville’s advisory committee has been thrilled to be asked to work with members of the Metro board. “We (have) found that, while we represent very different community perspectives, we are remarkably united around a path forward.

“We believe this search could not only yield a strong, innovative leader who can take our schools forward on an accelerated path, but also turn the page to a new chapter in Nashville’s pursuit of a world-class public school system,” read the letter, exactly mirroring what an overwhelming public wants in Hamilton County.

“Done properly, the search could bring about greater urgency for improvement, stabilize the environment, better mobilize and organize the community behind the school improvement efforts, and bring about a more cohesive and less divisive relationship between all of the stakeholders in our community, including the School Board.

The Nashville advisory group understands in no way will it usurp the Metro School Board. “We are honored to have been asked to lend ideas and support to this process, and each of us remains committed to supporting the Board as you enter the more formal search and recruitment phase. Not only do we represent our respective organizations, but we have other deep, personal connections to our public schools.

“Many of us are graduates of public school. Several of us have children in the public schools or children who graduated from the public schools. Some of us have been public school teachers or have family members who have dedicated their lives to serving as public school educators.”

Are you kidding me? What a thrill it would be for community-minded and good-spirited Chattanooga leaders to stand behind the school board by providing resources the Hamilton County Board of Education could tap in no other way.

“What I am feeling everywhere I go, and from everybody I talk to, that this is far more than a school-board problem. It includes all of us, from the families in our best schools to, more urgently, the families in our poorly-performing schools,” said Dr. Bigham. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our public schools, it is unprecedented. I know I speak for every group and business we have met – it is time we join hands and create a better path to our future.

* * *



Benwood Foundation

Blue Cross Blue Shield



Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce

Chattanooga NAACP

Chattanooga State Community College


Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga

Creative Discovery Museum

Enterprise Center

Electric Power Board

Footprint Foundation

Girls, Inc.

Hamilton County Department of Education

Hamilton County Education Association

Hamilton County PTA Council

JP Morgan

Lamp Post Group

Lyndhurst Foundation

Maclellan Foundation

McKenzie Foundation

Public Education Foundation

Read 20

Tech Town

Tennessee Aquarium

Tenn. Valley Authority

United Way of Greater Chattanooga

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga



Urban League of Greater Chattanooga, Inc.


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Any businesses, organizations or groups that would like to join those on this list in support of the Chattanooga 2.0 public education initiative are urged to contact Dr. Jared Bigham at or through the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce at 423 756-2121.

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