Friday, February 25, 2011

North End debate on public schools seemed resistant to a third way

Last week CM Erica Gilmore sponsored a community meeting in Hope Gardens, part of which focused on parent concerns about the zoned schools in the North End. School Board members Sharon Gentry and Ed Kindall were in attendance for that discussion. It resulted in what seemed to me to be a tale of two sides who were not willing to meet in the middle.

Hope Gardens residents were alarmed by a report of a knife attack at Buena Vista, the zoned elementary school in the North End. One neighborhood leader also expressed a sense of betrayal, given that some families had moved to the urban neighborhood under the expectation that the quid pro quo was a zoning for West Nashville's high-demand Eakin Elementary.

While Sharon Gentry expressed understanding for the nervousness of those in attendance, she basically conceded and committed to nothing. She told the group that the home she grew up in had its own set of challenges that she had to overcome in order to achieve her own academic accomplishments. Ms. Gentry turned the issue around and told parents present that North Nashville needed committed parents who stayed and volunteered to work to make the schools better. She told them nothing would get better in North Nashville if concerned families chose to move out rather than to stay and help improve the schools.

Ed Kendall did not offer that much more in his comments. He talked about how Buena Vista was considered a great school before it became zoned. He iterated that part of the problem is parents who do not invest themselves in public schools despite a number of social and volunteer events that school leaders organize for parents and neighbors to participate in. He promised the group that if they would organize and show up to school board meetings and make a case for his advocacy, he would advocate for them.

As a parent who supported his daughter through two years of a North Nashville public school and who is consistently present at that school, I came away feeling both sides were partly right and both were partly wrong. Neither side seemed willing to meet in the middle. Frustrated Hope Gardens residents seemed prepared to bail on schools rather than committing to work on them. Board members seemed willing to let them go rather than treat them as constituents to whom they were responsible (with the exception of Mr. Kindall's promise).

Even so, I empathize with the concerns of parents who are only willing to go so far in taking risks with their children for the good of the larger community. If I did not believe our public school was working well for my kid then I would be looking at other options.

At one point I came away with the impression that Ms. Gentry had no idea about the problems of schools in her own district. Or maybe she was just being cavalier about the problems. Either one would be consistent with the lack of response I got recently when I copied her on an e-mail I sent to Gracie Porter about iPads for students that were going mainly to West Nashville elementary students when North Nashville students are lucky to have a desktop that works.

Both sides were arguing to the other that they system is just too large for them to be able to make the changes each expected of the other. Is it really fair for school board members to ask parents to stick around and fight intractable problems that they themselves cannot overcome? Is it really fair for parents to ask school board members to focus more schools in their community when they have not invested in those schools themselves?

For my part, I will continue to invest myself in my daughter's public school because it is beneficial for her when I do. At the same time, I'm going to demand more accountability from my school board representative so that I do not have to face the decision to pursue other options. The only way things can improve is by a third way.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention that my participation in our public school extends back before the kid ever went there, when we worked with other neighborhood leaders to save it from being closed. I am an advocate of neighborhood involvement in schools even when neighbors do not have children attending them. By the same token, I believe that neighborhood schools should be neighborhood centers that serve larger community purposes beyond normal school hours.


  1. "Frustrated Hope Gardens residents seemed prepared to bail on schools rather than committing to work on them. "
    "Is it really fair for parents to ask school board members to focus more schools in their community when they have not invested in those schools themselves"

    Mike you seem to be making an assumption that Hope Gardens residents haven't invested in the schools or MNPS, but this is false. Before jumping to this conclusion and patting yourself on the back, you should get your facts straight.

    I do like your IPad point and good luck keeping Sharon Gentry in-check.

  2. These comment sections exists for details that I might have missed. Anonymous, how are you working with North End public schools to make them better?

  3. I was a parent in this zone at Churchwell Elementary. My son was constantly assaulted and bullied almost from his first day of school. As a very involved parent, I was in the school almost daily volunteering, checking on my son and offering support to teachers, administration and support staff. I reached out to Sharon Gentry in dire need because of the assaults and got NO RESPONSE to this day. She simply doesn't seem to have time or care about the needs of her constituents. I finally had to pull my son out of that school after he'd been choked, had his eye blacked three times, kicked in the stomach and pushed down stairs by other 4 grade students, boys and girls. Churchwell has all the means to be THE BEST elementary school in Nashville, TN if we can get the proper leadership at the School and Board levels. Even though I have removed my son for his own safety, I still support the efforts to make North Nashville schools safe and extraordinary places of learning! It has to work as that is the only opportunity most of those students have.