There Are Many Successes At Calvin Donaldson Despite The Challenges The Students Face - And Response (2)

Monday, January 13, 2020

I was appalled to read the article posted by Roy Exum on school rezoning. I understand, Roy, that your first amendment right under the constitution affords you the right to write or speak whatever you want, but I found your comments to be inappropriate and inaccurate.

First of all, I am a teacher at Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy and I assure you there are no “bottom sluggards” as you refer to in your article. The children we serve at Calvin Donaldson are full of potential. They, unfortunately, have to deal with many hard things that most people may not ever have to deal with. Violence in their neighborhood is a key example. Over Christmas break a child was shot in his home and while this child did not attend our school, the street where he lives is in our zone. That type of stress can make it difficult to focus on school sometimes.

The students  are predominantly black and Hispanic, that much is true. What you like to skip over or devalue are the successes being made at our school. Just because you think TVAAS was determined by a  “meaningless test that shows meaningless potential” doesn’t mean that anyone at the district or state level, who actually has a say in education, agrees with you. TVAAS measures student growth and our school is making gains. Despite children in our zone coming to school with trauma and despite people like you publicly stating that they don’t belong with affluent white children. Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” was written over sixty years ago and as far as we’ve come in civil rights and race relations since then, there are still people like you who will proudly and very publicly post an article that says, “Nope. No poor kids up here with us mountain folk. You don’t belong. You might bring our test scores down.”

You pretend to take the race equation out of it, but then hammer on the fact that we have a lot of kids who live in poverty. Roy, poor people are human and if their school gets rezoned, they would be just fine with any children regardless of  race or  socioeconomic backgrounds. You know why? Because just like you said, children in elementary schools love each other. It’s not until they overhear conversations of others who are exclusive and use words like “ they don’t belong” and “you are just simply not meant to be here”. Are we going back to segregation, Roy?

Here’s some bullet points you missed:

*Calvin Donaldson scored a level 5 in TVAAS-A REAL measure of student academic growth

*The children at Calvin Donaldson love to learn and experiment with things, they love to play outside, explore (just like kids at Lookout Mountain School)

*They are loved at school (no matter their race, religion, or socioeconomic status)

*The staff and teachers are committed to training the children that we believe in them, they can be successful and accomplish goals. Finally, we teach them that that they DO belong, despite what people (like Roy Exum) keep telling them.

Finally, I was reminded of Theodore Roosevelt’s speech:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

The teachers, staff, and administrators are in the arena, Roy. You are on the outside, picking and choosing information to make your judgments. The people in the trenches giving their all every day should be respected, appreciated, and never made to feel less than...and neither should the children.

Courtney Smoker

* * * 

I am an educator at Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy, and I have a short rebuttal I would like to share with Roy Exum and those that support his recent article, “This Zoning Won’t Work.” 

It is very clear that many students at Calvin Donaldson come from historical poverty. However, dismissing their skin color effectively erases the context wherein their inherited poverty began.

Americans with darker skin suffered centuries of institutionalized discrimination and violence that keeps a large portion of the population cemented to the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy. And in my opinion, the ideas expressed by Roy Exum are prime examples of this continuing oppression.

Exum would argue that skin color has no effect on his opinion, and perhaps it does not. However, if that is the case, then his position certainly perpetuates a unique classism that dehumanizes and belittles those that were born at the bottom of the mountain, as opposed to the top (both literally and metaphorically). This is exemplified in his characterization of our students’ families. “Placating the bottom sluggards,” he says, insinuating that our families are lazy, sluggish, and hostile. This could not be farther from the truth, as our moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, work hard to provide for our students. For many, this job is far more challenging than many parents and guardians face on Lookout Mountain, and this ties directly back to institutionalized and historical racial discrimination.

Exum adamantly believes that individuals of all skin colors can come together and create “the greatest defensive collective ever seen in the history of the world,” so who is to say that individuals of all social classes, abilities, and heritage cannot do the same?

Children are not goats and sheep. Children are humans. They have feelings and desires and a yearning for acceptance and belonging. Our children have seen and experienced generational trauma that continues to threaten their ability to chase the “American Dream,” of which many wealthy individuals like Exum take advantage. But is the solution to this problem to insult those deemed as “lower class” and prevent them from occupying your “affluent” space? To segregate them from the “top dwellers?”

Public schools, of which Lookout Mountain Elementary is included, serve all students a free education, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status, or learning ability. It is the duty of teachers and staff to serve the students that walk through their doors -- whether or not Roy Exum believes it will work. Our students are compassionate, funny, caring, curious, and loving, just like the students at Lookout Mountain Elementary. Our students are shaped-- not defined-- by their socioeconomic status, and that is the beautiful part. We can continue to mold our students to lead successful and fulfilling lives by providing quality public education. And we can do that together.

The system is far from perfect, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Reaghan Gough

* * *

In response to Courtney Smoker who wrote,

*Calvin Donaldson scored a level 5 in TVAAS-A REAL measure of student academic growth

*The children at Calvin Donaldson love to learn and experiment with things, they love to play outside, explore (just like kids at Lookout Mountain School)

*They are loved at school (no matter their race, religion, or socioeconomic status)

*The staff and teachers are committed to training the children that we believe in them, they can be successful and accomplish goals. Finally, we teach them that that they DO belong, despite what people (like Roy Exum) keep telling them.”

I have a few questions from the state of Tennessee Report Card and other data sources.

Why is HCDE failing 66 percent of 3rd through 8th graders. The state report card cites that only 33.4 percent can read grade level, and only 46 percent can perform age appropriate math.  The HCDE has full control of these children an estimated 190 days per year, and HCDE is not teaching 66 percent to read? 

With such dismal academic outcomes at HCDE, don’t you think it is a dishonest to plaster 5 of 5 on schools that are failing 66 percent of the children they serve? 

This school year that taxpayers are spending $11,000 per child, the same, or close, tuition as moderate private schools in Hamilton County.  Don’t you think it is outrageous that the HCDE used tax dollars to lobby our local state legislator to ensure that vouchers were not made available to the 66 percent of children HCDE are chronically failing?

The average teacher pay without benefits was cited to be $52,000 plus extraordinary benefits.  Do you agree with that average?

I am more than disappointed that our Republican state senator exempted 66 percent of Hamilton County children that HCDE is failing miserably.  I care about children, and full parental choice is required to change educational outcomes for children.

We the taxpayers need to demand full parental choice in voucher opportunities, support the startup of more charter schools, and encourage legislation that will give financial support to home school networks in Hamilton County.

I would support a tax increase to fund these alternatives instead of a mandate of HCDE schools, as the only choice for parents. 

HCDE is currently peddling what they call school choice, consisting of magnet and the failing schools.  It is just more HCDE propaganda, there is no choice, it is HCDE or nothing.

It is time to downsize HCDE, for good cause.  If HCDE was about the children, they would also support new options, instead of counting children for money.

April Eidson


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