Cancel your plans. Lie to your boss. Take an early lunch.
Any which way you can, get to 3074 Hickory Valley Road today by 11 a.m., when Hamilton County School Superintendent Rick Smith will give his open-to-the-public “State of the Schools” address.
It won’t be an Oscar performance. Jack Nicholson he’s not. But Smith knows his facts, won’t waste your time and will give an informative presentation about the one issue that may matter the most.
Our kids. Our schools.
There are great things happening in our public schools. However, questions remain. Big ones. That you, Mom and Dad, need to be asking. There is a question-and-answer period following his speech.
Superintendent: First question, you by the door.
Yes, I’ve read the recent gang assessment report cover to cover. More than one-third of the document focuses on schools, and the enormous role education can play in solving gang violence. What do you plan on doing about that?
Superintendent: Is that you, Boyd Patterson?
(Coughs). Maybe. What matters is realizing the gang problem can be addressed through our schools. Early intervention programs. Afterschool programs. More school resource officers. Teachers who have had training on gang issues. Literacy, literacy, literacy. Are you going to address this publicly?
Superintendent: Next question. You, the mom, who looks quite angry.
I am! There are huge achievement gaps in the county. A white student does 21 percent better than a black one. A disabled elementary student does 32 percent worse than an able-bodied one. A poor student reads 30 percent worse than her second-grade classmates who aren’t poor.
As my daughter says, Really? Really?!?
Superintendent: Your daughter is right. The gap is inexcusable. We’re working on it. Please help us. Read each night to your child. Next question.
Mr. Smith, in 2008, the state passed a law mandating that every K-8 student shall have regular music and art instruction. But the law only “encouraged” local school boards to implement funding that would make this happen. Which is kind of like requiring homework, but then only encouraging kids to do it.
I’ve heard that we’re the only major school district in the state that does not fully fund art and music. Some schools don’t have art teachers. My kid goes bananas over art and music. How do we fix this?
Superintendent: Call your school board representative. Then call your county commissioner. Then call again, every day for a month. They’ve got to fund them. And I wish they would. Next question. You, the woman holding seven stacks of ungraded papers. You’re a teacher, right?
Yes, Mr. Smith, I am. And I was hoping you would publicly make a stronger stand in favor of significant teacher raises. We teachers don’t go into this for the money, but it sure would be nice to make more than $49,000 after 20 years of work. Or $35,000 after one.
The refs in the NFL can walk out and America rallies behind them. Would they do the same for teachers? We’ve become uber-parents, dealing with 10,000 things, all before lunch. I know teachers who still don’t have enough textbooks. I’ve got to deal with new state standards, leagues of paperwork, childhood obesity, bullying, all while teaching “Lord of the Flies.”
Superintendent: What a beast. Like I said, call your school board and county commission. Last question, from the man in the back row.
Yeah. I just want to remind folks that politics have no place in education. The County Commission needs to stay out of education. Don’t forget that.
Superintendent: Who let Jim Scales in here?
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...