Yesterday, Mary and I went to an Education Town Hall Meeting hosted by Karl Dean. If this is an indication of things to come, then I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of a Dean administration. The event was held at the Ellington Agricultural Center, which seemed a slightly odd site for a discussion about education, but the auditorium actually worked well. And it was really about drawing on the community of Crieve Hall.
The audience included just about every type of stakeholder imaginable for public education: teachers, parents, grandparents, students, a school board member, a Chamber representative, a principal, several at-large candidates, the district councilman for the area, and concerned citizens like me.
Karl tried to get the party started by inviting discussion on truancy and drop-out rates, but people seemed keen to talk about a number of issues affecting (and often afflicting) MNPS. I had come in with a head full of questions, but I found myself responding ad lib to the discussions of middle school difficulties that arose early and asking about the historical reasons for creating aggregate schools. As an alumnus of Eakin, I remember watching many of my peers get chewed up by the transition to Moore, where kids came from all over the place, and many of them were bigger and intimidating, and whole social dynamics changed dramatically in the then 2-year boiler room. Meanwhile, I had become relatively safely ensconced at MBA, where my mom, a career language teacher, had just rejoined the faculty. Based on several instances of apparent success in our local private schools, I asked whether it would be possible to consider K-12 options in Metro. But the discussion moved on from there.
Karl eventually got some discussion about drop-out rates, although I didn’t get to raise publicly an important issue raised frequently by a good friend of mine who teaches at Stratford. A common lament he hears from his students is, “This is Stratford.” Which is basically a way of lamenting the stark inequalities that exist in our public school system. E.g., “Nothing positive will happen here; this is Stratford.” My friend is very aware that as a Title I school, Stratford does not have as many educational options as the system’s magnets (including the number of AP courses offered), and he’s correct to observe that the students are very aware of these issues, too.
One striking problem with the event was the lack of media attention. Stage a provocative event at an asphalt wasteland named for your opponent, and the media trip over themselves to show up. Host a substantive discussion relatively free of campaign rhetoric that involves ordinary citizens, and the media stay in bed. I’d rather spend my money on a paper that covered the latter, but maybe I’m in the minority. Or at least they think I am.
Overall, the town hall was a great give and take. It’s difficult to extract concrete public policy measures from such a petri dish, but the discussion was valuable. Passionate people dispassionately discussed a very important issue and seemed willing to work together toward improvement. I know that J.T. Moore’s principal got a new volunteer out of the deal. The event gave me confidence that there’s community support for public education. At least in Crieve Hall. I’d love to have a similar meeting in my neighborhood.