Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cleveland Park notes: Highland Heights charter school building was not at risk of being torn down

Compare and contrast.

Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr in July:

[The historic Highland Heights school building] on Douglas Avenue just off Dickerson Pike, is partially occupied by KIPP Academy, a growing, successful charter school. But a plan [that is, Mayor Karl Dean's plan] to spend $9.54 million to renovate the building, part of which went up in 1930, may cost more and require another allocation from city coffers. The building is in horrible shape. Recommendations will be made by November or so on whether it can be saved, scrapped or some of both.

From the August Cleveland Park association meeting minutes:

Gracie Porter from Metro Schools
-Learned that the Highland Heights school was to be demolished from
the newspaper
Majel Carr from Metro Gov’t
-Building belongs to General Services
-10 Mil came out of Council and the mayors office
-Estimates more spent on the Highland Heights building in repairs than
Metro schools in the last year

Final Word: There is a plan to go forward and RENOVATE this building.
There was never a plan to demolish and build new.

So, Kerr seemed to be incorrect in saying that the building could be scrapped and insinuating that its "survival" was at stake.

Two other things to note in the minutes. First, consistent with criticism I have heard from other elected officials, news of Karl Dean's big plans tend to be conveyed first in Tennessean talking points rather than directly to officials. Second, after November Metro could spend more on a charter school facility than they spent on public school facilities last year.

HT: Mike Peden


  1. When Dean was a kid, he was the one who always hid behind the tree during a snowball fight. When everyone else ran out of snowballs, he'd come and start throwing.

    The Tennessean and his PR team are the tree.

  2. A common strategy used by those who have been elected to office is the concept of "trial balloons."

    You get someone else to toss out your idea. Then you play "wait and see," on public and political response so that you can adjust the message, tweak the legislation or work on pulling in other actors and allies who you think can push through your agenda.

    In party politics, this "someone else" is almost ALWAYS someone who is PART of your administration or political party.

    For example, a U.S. Senator who is tight with the President of the U.S. will toss out an idea for new legislation. The Senator is willing to take a small bullet on behalf of the leader. This legislation is generally part of an agenda.

    Dean's fault (and this is a major fault of his administration), is the fact that they almost always use MEDIA pawns like Gail Kerr or Colby Sledge to float such trial balloons, rather than a member of the city administration.

    Dean does NOT use folks from his administration or even council members who are generally considered part of the "team" to float new ideas.

    He pretty much always pushes his trail balloons via the media.

    The fact that this administration can not find members of it's own "family" to take such bullets tells me they are either all chicken-shits or absolutely out of sorts when it comes to getting something done via real, city politics (rolling up your sleeves).

  3. I'm confused. What news related to this was conveyed to the Tennessean before officials?

    In terms of the expense, that is exactly why the city took over the building. The Metro Schools budget was not going to cover a renovation of this school.

    Why do you have to turn this into a bad thing? An impoverished neighborhood is getting a renovated school building. A charter school LEASES the building. It is still a city building. It is still a public school.

  4. Carol--

    The issue of charters and the ties of venture philanthropy vs. a more community-based/democratic model of public education is a discussion I tried to engage with you a long time ago at your blog and you invited me out of the discussion.

    I respected your wish and dropped our chats on this.

    I'm not sure why you feel the need to start the debate up again here, but your characterization of my concerns is not consistent with the fact that you and I start from fundamentally different places on the questions of public education and privatization.

    I acknowledge that you rely on charters for your children's education and that my comments on your blog were unwelcome. That does not mean that because I continue to be a watchdog about these problems on my blog that I am turning your experience into a bad thing.

    I value preservation in transitional neighborhoods. It is also fair for me to ask why this Mayor commits so much capital budget money to private enterprise over the public good.

  5. My son doesn't go to a charter. He goes to a regular school (Dan Mills -- with which we are very happy) that had open enrollment outside of my neighborhood. Please, tell me how that is more acceptable than a charter. The distinction is lost on me.

    Also, I did not invite you out of the chat. I indicated that I wanted you to become more familiar with KIPP, particularly the local one, before you lectured us about our choices. I know you have familiarized yourself with the national KIPP based on some of your posts. I still have seen zero indication that you know anything about our local school. They buck many of the trends that you have talked about (for example, retention).

    Finally, you didn't answer my question. You noted two things in the last paragraph of this post. It is unclear to me what the Tennessean knew before officials. What are you talking about?

  6. Carol--

    I have not revisited that long past discussion, so I may be incorrectly remembering that you were considering charter schools for your kids. One thing I believe I am correct on is the distinct impression that since I did not live in your neighborhood, my concerns about the undemocratic system being set up through venture philanthropy and charter schools with code words like "innovation" were unwelcome. If I had felt welcome to the discussion I would have returned.

    IMO, all kinds of problematic systems can be set up with ends-justifies-means logic, so I'm not persuaded that because charter schools bring good things to one segment, they are systemically positive for all. Private foundation money leverages public funds away from public institutions for unfettered private institutions. If Metro's proposal were to spend $10 million on a public school in East Nashville, you and I would not be debating right now.

    As I read the meeting minutes I posted above, Gracie Porter first read of the potential for demo of the building in the Tennessean.

  7. The Highland Heights building wasn't on the school boards radar for any capital improvement fund as of 2004 for another 7-10 years, yet the building (owned by Metro General Services)is housing K.I.P.P. Academy where children enter daily during the school year. Demolition plans were never unvailed, charter schools are public schools, the building hasn't been improved to acceptable standards and K.I.P.P. has a tenant landlord relationship with Metro General Services. This is good for this community which when I last checked was in Metro Davidson County. Not a bad thing.

    Ben Jordan

  8. K.I.P.P. Academy is a charter school which is also a public school. K.I.P.P. Academy has a tenant landlord relationship with Metro General Services where they are the tenants. The Highland Heights building is a Metro property that in 2004 was not projected in the school boards budget for capital improvement for 7-10 years. Children have attended school in the building in poor condition since 2005 (not good). Let's not say the K.I.P.P. is getting$10 million dollars, instead let's Nashville is getting $10 million dollars of capital improvments. Highland Heights was never made a target for demolition.

    Ben Jordan

  9. I had forgotten that I took my blog down from google search for a little while (my co-blogger decided to scrub his online profile, which meant deleting his posts from the blog and getting it out of search engines for a bit). I apologize that you weren't able to refer to the discussion. It was only a little more than a year ago, when Dean made his announcement about the Highland Heights building. Here is the post: http://occasional-muse.blogspot.com/2010/05/mayor-dean-proposes-amazing-change-in.html

    It seems odd to me that the Tennessean reported something inaccurately and you are saying the official learned about it from the Tennessean first. It was never slated for demolition. Really.

    It is my guess that there was some misunderstanding based on the fact that not all of it can be saved. Some of it is too mold and asbestos ridden. Fortunately, it is my understanding that this part of the building is an addition and thus "less historic". The architect is working with Tim Walker on this, the neighborhood has been vigilant about it, and there has been a focus on preservation for some time.

    With regard to the following from you above:
    "IMO, all kinds of problematic systems can be set up with ends-justifies-means logic, so I'm not persuaded that because charter schools bring good things to one segment, they are systemically positive for all. Private foundation money leverages public funds away from public institutions for unfettered private institutions. If Metro's proposal were to spend $10 million on a public school in East Nashville, you and I would not be debating right now."

    You are correct. This paragraph from you sums up why we are having this argument.
    2. It is a school that is performing better than its nearby middle school peers (and it is retaining the students better, too)
    [I scribbled a bunch of notes on this but managed to leave that at the office. I will send you the stats]
    3. As far as I can tell, you are not persuaded by ANY arguments when it comes to charter schools. You have an agenda as much as Karl Dean has an agenda on this topic. I don't think charter schools are "the answer" because I don't believe there is one answer. But I don't summarily dismiss them either. They represent one approach to the morass that is education reform. And whether you like it or not, they are going to be a fact of life in Nashville based on the ways the political winds are blowing at all levels of government.

    What I find interesting is the lessons we can learn from charter schools. In the case of KIPP, they don't have to wade through bureaucracy or conform to the rest on MNPS in order to have longer school days, a balanced calendar, greater demands for parental accountability, etc. They just implement it. I think our local schools need more freedom to work with families and implement desired changes. I think, over time, charter schools will help push MNPS to be more flexible with this regard. I don't think that is a bad thing.

    4. What is lost in all of this is that we have a bunch of kids currently going to school in a mold-infested building that has been decaying for years. This plan helps those kids.

    Unfortunately, it isn't the only one. I would be defending this just as vigorously (and probably more so) if we were talking about Shwab elementary school, just down the street from KIPP. They also have mold issues and deserve changes. But I'm not going to get into a game of which school deserves this more.