January 18, 2013
Jim Ball reporting
Smokey Barn News
Who are “THEY”?
Dan Whitlow, Director Of Schools for Robertson County Tennessee
I was very disappointed as I read a news article several weeks ago reviewing the Robertson County School System’s presentation of the state’s System Report Card.
What began as a fair and factual article ended with a few paragraphs of quotes cited from the Springfield City Manager squarely placing a complete indictment on the School Board and the school system for every problem, concern and short-coming in the city and in the county. He repeatedly referred to THEY throughout his litany of problems and failures.
As Director, I have avoided over the last few years engaging in a word battle with individuals, organizations, or representatives. The half truths and rumors are generally known to be just that and responding would only give them credit and solicit more verbiage. But in this case, I must ask, “Who Are THEY”?
To suggest for a second that the School Board is solely responsible for the myriad of problems facing our county and its cities is ludicrous. To promote the possibility that the Board conspired or colluded in any way to systematically discriminate against or alienate the Springfield area is even more preposterous and borders on the ridiculous. I often feel those making these statements are mainly interested in pushing the blame away and perhaps conspiring or contriving in order to have a paper clipping to send to some Washington agency.
The School Board makes decisions as best it can based on data available at the time. This information is used to provide the best possible forecast of what the future holds. Of course, these predictions do not always hold true. The economic crash in early 2008 greatly changed what we were expecting in our district. Areas that had been growing at double digit rates suddenly dropped to almost nil. After being very flat in its growth for 6 plus years, Springfield schools enrollment suddenly grew by 15% in just 3 years. In addition to depending on available information, our planning also relies on funding that is not always available or approved.
“What If” is a statement that is blind in foresight and 20/20 in hindsight. I often laugh at sports announcers when statements are made such as, “if he had caught that ball, he would still be running” or “if he had made that three-pointer they would have won the game”. Well, If Springfield High had been built on the west side of town, students from Coopertown would not be traveling such a great distance to school every day. If decisions on the location of low income housing had been different, the high concentration of poverty would have been reduced. If drugs and crime could be significantly reduced, kids could sleep better, feel safer, and learn more.
While all of these statements are important to consider so that we learn from the past and avoid repeating our errors, spending our time pointing fingers and throwing stones is not productive and it is not what our children need to improve their achievement. There is no one person and no one organization that is solely responsible for the actions that have led to the challenges now faced in our Springfield schools and in the entire school system.
Many of the critical published statements we see deal with “disbursing the problem”. I have not heard about attacking the issue, solving the dilemma or working to make changes in the community that will effectively correct the concerns. What I absolutely have not heard from any accusers is anything about doing what is right for and best for children.
The bottom line is that our children need to learn more, need to be better prepared to start school, and need to be better prepared for careers and college after high school.
The headline grabbers have not presented a viable way to help children; it appears rather that they seek to mask reality and pressure officials into making decisions that will benefit their personal agendas rather than help children learn.
Mr. Hubbard actually comments regularly that this is a community problem. He provides the astute observation that we got here together, we must get out together. It is unfortunate that it is not his complaint that is being reviewed rather than the one tendered by Mr. Francis.
Charges have been leveled that the achievement challenge has been ignored by the school system. This is yet another uninformed statement.
The school system continuously reviews data, considers best practice and adjusts to address challenges and improve student achievement. Most years these efforts are successful. The battle of bringing scores up to the level we desire is not simple and it is not short term. Instead, it is continuous and it must involve professional, trained educators working together to help students learn. Uninformed, self serving schemes devised to cover-up the root problem do not consider the best interest of students, schools, or even communities.
As educators, we know we must attack this challenge student by student and skill by skill. Yes, we can do better. That is our goal every day, but the negativity of officials does not help us improve in the least.
This is a community issue and one that is not unique to Robertson County. Communities around the country with similar circumstances are experiencing the same challenges. Some have come together and made great strides in meeting the challenges. This must be our goal as a community – a goal of working together to build up rather than working separately to tear down. Until we stop pointing fingers and placing blame, true progress will not be made.
I began by relating to you the negative allegations from some that “THEY” had ignored Springfield schools. “THEY” have created the problems. “THEY” are the cause for all our inadequacies. I want to clarify –“THEY’” means all of us and until WE start working toward a common goal these challenges will not be resolved.
I am prepared at any time to sit down with any stakeholder for genuinely productive discussions that have our children’s best interest at heart.
Jim Ball reporting January 18, 2013