Roy Exum: Our 2.0 Embarrassment

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Let’s pretend you are coming to a new and exciting world. You are on the jolly good ship “Mayflower” when some Miles Standish-type of a guy (he was the Pilgrim’s first cop) calls you into is presence and says, “Within two hours we are expected to stand on Plymouth Rock. Please come up with ten primary goals we should have in our public schools.” I believe you could do it within 30 minutes.

I also believe this is the same ten items you’ll find in Charlotte, Dallas, Kalamazoo or San Diego today. Heck, this is the wish list for every school district in the civilized world today so answer me this: Why is it that my stomach churns when the Chattanooga 2.0 initiative acts like it just discovered “truth” in the same way I find written on a bartender’s shirt: “In chemistry, alcohol is the solution.”

Here is what the Chattanooga 2.0 leaders believe are our ten most URGENT priorities:

* * *

1. Strengthen and support families.

2. Provide early-learning networks to help parents ready their children for school.

3. Re-imagine learning to incorporate the 21st Century technology and the Gig into classrooms.

4. Make reading a priority.

5. Make great teaching a priority, and increase the number of highly effective teachers in classrooms.

6. Empower and support principals — with training, not just lip service.

7. Focus on equity in community schools to make all schools good schools.

8. Prepare all students for college and career.

9. Increase post-secondary completion.

10. Connect more residents to high-paying jobs

* * *

Surprised? I am so sorry to be such a cynic and master of impatience but I need a lot more sizzle when you serve my bacon after it has been cooking since last December. The original Chattanooga 2.0 report, issued back then, was a tremendous work that allowed the simple among us to recognize out Hamilton County Department of Education was grossly derelict in its duty to educate our young. This new list of urgent goals does little more than make the Chattanooga 2.0 initiative appear as though it is floundering so badly in the shallows of reality it now lacks air to breathe.

Seriously, can you imagine – after nine months, mind you – approaching any business leader in Chattanooga and saying proudly, “We have determined our urgent issues,” and presenting this list? I’ll guarantee you the ones I know would suggest a dose of adrenaline enhanced by oxygen. “Reading a priority?” “Prepare for college?” Really … where do we go from here?

At the school board meeting a couple of weeks ago another education foundation, UnifiED, laid such an disappointing egg in its presentation not one of the nine school board members answered it with as much as a single word. Each sat there and blinked. Even when its new director, Jonas Barriere, asked for questions, the lone response from board chairman Steve Highlander was, “Thanks for coming,” and the school board members are still blinking.

UnifiED’s presentation asked for “public interviews” with superintendent candidates, “public access” to candidate resumes, and “open forum” for community members. Hello? The school board has indicated they already plan that in due course. But then in the plea for a “community voice,” UnifiED asked for an “advisory council” and let me be the first to break this to those in further search of reality – that ain’t happening.

School board policy, already in place, assures “The Board shall invite the community … to participate in the process of selecting a director of schools …” but the only ones who will make any decisions of any kind are the nine school board members. They were elected by the people to do so – hang any foundation by its ear -- and anybody who thinks the CEO of some hospital, a Sessions Court judge, a girl’s volleyball coach or any other soul will have even the softest whisper is horribly disillusioned.

Now that you have tasted from “the apple of truth,” let’s address the real core of the problem. We’ve got all these foundations, and the Chamber of Commerce, the mayor’s office, the Benwood Foundation and goodness knows who else is lurking, that each promise they are now in place to “help the schools.” The school board doesn’t want any help. They have a plan and no one else has any skin in the game.

Is there anybody who can read the ten points of “urgency,” just released from Chattanooga 2.0, and believe it to be of any significant value whatsoever? I’m saying in Anchorage, Alaska, there are the same ten goals but why repeat them? For that matter, if you’ll go back and thumb through the original Chattanooga 2.0 report, you can find all ten. This isn’t serious detective work, believe me, nor is it welcome research. What it is, candidly, is a waste of time, if not direct proof our private schools may be enjoying success because not a one hardly tolerates such insipid nonsense.

So on behalf of 42,000 parents of just as many children in our public school system, the time for talking is over. No more church pastors for lunch. No more pizza in a pre-meeting circus at the school board. No more focus group with some well-paid snake-oil salesman from Yale who is out of here on the next bus. We all know the problems – what now is demanded is solutions that are already overdue. It is evermore time to fish or cut bait. Our children need bold ideas, new programs, better efforts, and promised changes today. Right now.

Let me fill you in on fact. The Chattanooga 2.0 crowd is toothless. UnifiED is questionable. The Public Education Foundation of Chattanooga is conspicuously absent. The public – parents who want their children ready for life -- wants the school board to demand that the HCDE do something right now – just show us a sign of life, for Pete’s sake. Our interim superintendent speaks of a five-pronged attack – could you give us just one prong so we can begin plowing on the field of opportunity?

Ten urgent goals … Are you kidding me? Our children deserve ten urgent solutions after, what, nine months of wandering in the dark wilderness? My heavens above -- this is actually embarrassing. Either play hard right now or ride the bench tomorrow because, as of today – right now – all we have seen is a list that could have been written on the Mayflower.


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