Community Voices

Busted!

Even if you’ve never seen the Busted! blog or paper, you couldn’t have missed the Worst of the Worst on the front page of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Many noticed the men were all black. I was struck more by their ages. Half of them were 20 somethings.

I noticed the ages because I’m an educator. A few years ago, some of those young men were in high school, but what went wrong had to have gone wrong long before. That reminded me of a story Jack Murrah told me. He was leading a parent seminar at CSAS, reading Romeo and Juliet, an assignment for students. When he asked parents to share their thoughts, one silenced the room momentarily with this comment: “All of the adults failed these children.” I don’t know the parent, but her words have haunted me for years, especially when I see the faces in Busted! I ask myself, how did we fail them as children?

I know that educators can’t assume responsibility for other people’s lives. Their parents and they are ultimately responsible. But I became a teacher because I thought that for a significant chunk of kids’ lives I might make a difference. I could teach them to read and write to give them a chance for a good life. I could inspire them to be more than the world around them suggested, and encourage them to be tough through the bad times, do the right things, and appreciate good times in their many different forms. Although I’ve retired from the school system, I still wake up every day on a mission to do something in service of not failing children.

Schools can’t do it all, but schools can do a lot. We have done a lot with help from our business and community partners. We have created successful schools in buildings where students failed for years. We have proven that we can move the lowest performing elementary schools in the state and continue to make progress. We have invested in middle school initiatives and high school initiatives, in building teacher leaders, strengthening the work of principals, and rallying parents as well as non-parents to ensure all children have a chance at a future.

And for our collective efforts we have garnered national recognition for innovations and progress at all levels. We have proven “We get what it takes” by being one of the first states in the nation to win a Race to the Top grant. We recently received national attention again as the only state with significant gains according to NAEP scores, a prestigious recognition because NAEP compares education apples to apples across the nation. So why are some Hamilton County schools still underperforming, and half of the Busted! list includes 20 years olds?

It’s because it is not enough to simply turn schools around. Many of you remember the movie Stand and Deliver about Jaime Escalante, the math teach who pushed underperforming Latino students in LA to take AP calculus and pass the state’s AP tests. When Escalante was at his school’s team meeting and others were commiserating about having done all they could do, Escalante’s response was, “I can do more. We can do more.” We must do more than simply turn schools around.

I’ve been asked to share a hope, dream, or challenge for the next five years. I’m choosing all three. My hope, my dream, my challenge is for us to do more. We are Chattanooga, the Can Do City. We’ve done the unbelievable repeatedly. I believe we can also do what may seem impossible. We can be the city where 100% of our students perform at grade level or higher, and we have no schools even close to underperforming.

Wishing and hoping won’t get this done. We are positioned to take the next bold steps. In the upcoming blogs I’ll share my humble observations about how we can do more and I am inviting you to add your voice to the conversation. Every great success story starts with an idea that becomes action. Let’s start there. With all the progress we have made to turn schools around and put them on a path for greatness, it would be criminal not to take the next bold steps to eliminate even the notion of underperformance in Hamilton County. If we are not willing to do that, to do more, when the next set of photos are posted in Busted! --our photos should be there, too.

“We must do more than simply turn schools around ”