School inequity was the main topic in the Tuesday evening debate between candidates for the Hamilton County School Board District 5 seat.
Incumbent Karitsa Mosley Jones took on challenger Ann Pierre, a longtime community organizer and former chief executive officer of the Church Koinonia Federal Credit Union before its merger with the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union.
With inequity at the forefront, Mosley Jones again addressed controversial statements made earlier this month by school board members Joe Smith, of District 3, and Rhonda Thurman, of District 1. The duo caused a stir when they spoke out against the racial and socioeconomic integration called for in UnifiEd's Action Plan for Educational Excellence project report.
Mosley Jones first addressed the statements at last week's school board meeting when Thurman pressed her for answers.
"Tell us what the inequities are," Thurman said. "... OK, Karitsa, what school is in Hamilton County that kids can't go to if they want to go to?"
At the time, Mosley Jones said she wasn't going to answer Thurman's questions because they had been specifically directed to her.
At the debate, however, she gave a longer response.
"I am the only person [on the board] that represents people of color," she said. "And there are a lot of days that I fight back and push back with my peers about things that they just don't get because they just don't look like me or come from communities that I have lived in. ... And I will continue to fight that fight."
Pierre said she would fight the pushback of integration by talking to those opposed in a way she thinks they may understand and discuss what the true meaning of equity is.
"The issue that we have in Hamilton County, and had for a number of years, is that if you do not have the same amount of money as someone else, you're considered to not be able to learn as well," she said. "That's not true."
She also suggested looking at the county's student population and requesting that studies be prepared in order to better know how to address the socioeconomic disparity between schools. She added that allowing such disparity between schools is not conducive to a progressive and growing community.
Mosley Jones said that, while a lot of initiatives have already recently been put in place in order to fully address inequity, one must look at how to "truly integrate schools."
"It's not going to be through busing, it's not going to be through forced choice, it's going to be that we have to integrate our neighborhoods and our communities," she said.
She also pointed to the need to get parents involved, and if they're not willing or able, to get community members involved.
"I believe in the village concept," she said.
"It takes all of us. It is a matter of the community not saying, 'Oh, those kids,'" she said. "'Those kids' are our kids. ... So instead of saying, 'Those kids,' take the time and get one of 'those kids' and make them your kid. ... All they want is someone."
Pierre agreed, and suggested having stronger parent-teacher associations and to engage parents in discussions about what it is that's impeding them from being involved with their child.
"They need to talk about it, work it out. Talk about what's going on," she said. "If you want this community to move ahead, then you must attack, bring about change and do those things that are necessary. Because it's not just parents. It's the community."
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