Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My response to the Rutherford County School Board

Below is the draft of what I plan to say during the open comment section of the RCSB meeting on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009. If anyone has any feedback for me, I would appreciate it.

Gentlemen of the Board, I find it very necessary to respond to your work session discussion regarding the CAMS admission policy upon which you plan to vote tonight. While some of your arguments have great merit, and while I agree with some of them, others are based upon flawed assumptions and information which I feel it necessary to address before you vote on this proposed admissions policy.

First, I think we are all in agreement that you were elected to this school board because you care about the children in Rutherford County. You were elected to represent each and every taxpayer and each and every child in this county. It is your duty as an elected official to ensure that each and every child has an equal and fair opportunity to obtain the best education to which he or she is entitled. I firmly believe each of you wants to do that. This magnet school will be a great means to that end, and I, along with the parents in this room, am delighted that this school will be available to our children. But if you vote for these admissions requirements as written, you will deny some children in this county the opportunity to obtain the very education this new school is meant to provide. You will, in effect, be violating your policies, which state under the Role of the Board of Education, "The Board will provide, within the ļ¬nancial limitations set by the community, the best educational opportunities possible for all children." A vote for this policy as written will violate that policy, clear and simple.

Dr. Mark Byrnes, you said at Tuesday's meeting that, and I quote, "One of the reasons government is not trusted is they keep going back on their commitment." Your quote implies a promise was made to McFadden students that they would have a magnet school education through the eighth grade. Yet, you also said no written guarantee was ever made. Your own attorney, Mr. Jeff Reed, told you at the work session, and again I quote, "There's been no contract. Zone lines can be changed at any time, admission standards can be changed at any time. That's all at the discretion of the board. There's been no written contract with parents of McFadden School, and you can't guarantee zone lines with admission to certain schools." Your own attorney has contradicted your argument that this board must honor its unwritten commitment. To quote a famous philospher, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." What is more important to this board: Ensuring a unwritten commitment to a small group of students, or the commitment you made to each and every student in this county when you ran for public office and were elected to this board?

Second, Mr. Donald Jernigan himself pointed out that even though he has a grandchild in first grade at McFadden, he's not certain this middle school will be appropriate for that child in five years. He agreed the child should have an opportunity to attend, but he questioned the need to grandfather in that child. How can anyone possibly say that a kindergartner, who by virtue of an interview is admitted into McFadden this fall, will be ready for a middle school and high school magnet environment in 2015? Even if that student meets the minimum enrollment requirements, is it fair to that student to place him or her in a school where he or she may be 10 points or more behind his or her peers who tested in exclusively on merit? Is it fair to the teachers? Is it fair to anyone?

Mr. Donald Jernigan went on to say, however, that current middle schoolers should be allowed in, even hinting that their scores shouldn't matter, that their self-esteem should be considered. However, Superintendent Harry Gill said this is to be a high-achieving school known for its academics throughout the state. If we are going to make exceptions for kids because we don't want their feelings hurt if they don't qualify, then what's the point of an admissions standard at all? Additionally, the concern was raised that we would be hurting these kids if they had to leave McFadden for one year, go to a new middle school for eighth grade, and then to a new high school for ninth grade. However, regardless of what happens with this admissions policy, that's still going to happen to this year's seventh graders at Central. Sacrifices will have to be made if this school is to achieve its fullest potential. The only way this school will achieve the respect and reputation you desire it to obtain is to ensure that it enrolls the best and brightest students in Rutherford County. Each and every student must meet the same admissions requirements. You can't create one policy for one group of students and a second policy for another group of students. Yet, that's exactly what your current policy sets forth.

Third, Mr. Rick Wise, you said this was the same issue as when the Discovery School moved from Bellwood to Reeves-Rogers, but it's not. That was, literally, just moving a school. The policies did not change. The admissions requirements did not change. The scope, breadth and mission of the school did not change. All of that changes with CAMS. This is not just moving a school from one building to another, as Mr. Terry Hodge himself said at the work session. This board voted, unanimously, I might add, on April 24, 2008, "to develop the magnet school around an academic focus for mathematics and science and a Career and Technical Education focus on engineering and health sciences." However, according to its own Web site, "students at McFadden School of Excellence are provided with a wide range of learning activities and experiences in all areas of written, oral, and visual communications." It's mission theme is "Communications through Technology." I don't know about you, but mathematics and science seem to be a completely new direction than written, oral and visual communications. The argument made by many people that you are simply moving one school to another here does not fit with your own mission statements for these schools. That must be considered. And, I argue, the admissions standards for this school should emphasize those test scores that directly apply to this new school's mission. If science and math are going to be the emphasis of this school, then it should be the science and math TCAP scores that have the greatest impact on admission. Not just any two, and certainly not minimum standards met by a student from a school with an entirely different educational focus.

Finally, and I can't emphasize this enough, there are far, far more areas regarding this new school on which we agree rather than disagree. We are all excited about this new school and the opportunities it will offer the children of this county through the 12th grade. It would be a travesty if this debate created a rift regarding this school between the parents and children who all want the same thing: an education that best fits our children's needs. I simply hope that each of you recognize for that to take place, this school must be equitably accessible to each and every child in the county.

Thank you for your time and your service.

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