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Chattanooga 2.0 Public Feedback

The people flowed in steadily Monday night.

It was a nice crowd, an energetic crowd, filled with questions, curiosity and, hopefully, answers.

At least, that's what Jared Bigham said he witnessed at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

Bigham is coordinator of the much-debated — and much-needed — Chattanooga 2.0.

Yes, you can kibble the bits about this detail or that, but what the Hamilton County public school system is now doing is not working for many children.

We hear the Board of Education members praising new ideas because they don't have better ones. We hear the need for a jolt of excitement and a vision and strategy that embrace the single biggest strength of the county Department of Education, and that's the passion of its educators.

Bigham is trying to take that message to the masses and more. Monday was Chattanooga 2.0's first open public forum, and at least four school board members were there. Schedules conflict, of course, and who knows what the rest of the board members had on their calendars, but here's hoping all nine attend at least one of these meetings.

The system's problems are clear, so potential answers must be given due consideration.

"I have been very appreciative of the support of the [Hamilton County Department of Education] leadership and the board," Bigham said. "In times of real uncertainty, they all have kept working through the unknown.

"From the teachers to the principals to the administration to the elected officials, the commitment and passion to trying to fix this have been amazing."

Let's not sugar-coat the issue. Our public school system is struggling — from test scores to student safety to facility needs and everything else in between. It's fair to question what is being done — and not done — and why.

Bigham and his crew are giving you that chance, and they are trying to make it happen when extra funds to address extra problems are not available in the eyes of the Hamilton County commissioners.

Monday was the first forum for those wanting to know more and wanting to be part of the solutions.

Bigham said more than 300 people signed in, which is a fine start, but in a county this size, it seems a little underwhelming.

These forums allow the public to offer feedback — good and bad — as well as possible solutions in three key areas.

Shouldn't this be exactly what we want?

The chance to help something that is A) obviously broken and B) vital to the continuing growth of our area. What could be better, right?

Bigham and his team are evaluating the feedback and suggestions from Monday night's session. In fact, if you want to see the first group's thoughts on what the school district does well, what it struggles with and some of the top suggestions, go to timesfreepress.com and click on this column.

Sadly, we are spending too much time battling the political agendas and the passive aggressiveness of far too many.

Those fighting Chattanooga 2.0 because of microscopic differences in nomenclature or the very modern political sin of not supporting an idea because it's not your own should be ashamed. Is 2.0 perfect? No, but what is?

If we are going to wait for perfect answers to all our public problems, well, be prepared to wait.

Bigham often finds himself in the crosshairs of that. It's a tough spot for a guy with a love for public education and a hardcore Southern drawl. (His accent is so clear, at least one political enemy accused the Polk County native of faking it to get in good with local folks. Obviously, that accuser has never been to Polk County.)

Question the plan. Question the system. Question anything you want, but don't do it from the bleachers. Get in the game.

And even if you disagree with Bigham and Chattanooga 2.0, your involvement is better than your indifference.

"I think everyone feels that sense of urgency," Bigham said. "I know I do.

"We want to make sure the community feels like they are a big part of this and bring hope. Our original report was very sobering for a lot of people. Now we need to be inspiring and bold and have a promise of what we can be."

Along those lines, Bigham was overflowing with praise for interim HCDE Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly, who has been involved, active and receptive to ideas and input.

For a lot of us who were less than thrilled about Kelly's promotion, that is promising news.

We have not yet come to a back-slapping moment; we are far from that.

But this at least feels like a potential connection between where we are and where we want to go.

And that, friends, is progress.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

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