A group of Stratford High School seniors received an effective lesson in civics Monday night, as Mayor Karl Dean visited the school for what was his final educational town hall meeting.
A common theme running through the evening was inequality of educational resources. The students — including Candace Moore, Frederick Allen, Johnathan Butler and Tiffany Pryor, all students in the same Advanced Placement (AP) English class at Stratford — said after the meeting that they are well aware of the differences between education of gifted students at, for example, Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet and Stratford.
But the students said they felt that East Nashville students and teachers were heard out last night. They said they felt engaged. And, they felt pride for their school.
“I could go to Hume-Fogg and blend in like everyone else, or I could stay at Stratford and be a positive influence,” Butler said.
The students’ teacher, Meghen Sanders, believes Nashville public schools are “separate but not equal.” Sanders taught at Hillwood High School, in the more affluent Bellevue and Belle Meade area, before coming to Stratford in East Nashville. Her Stratford students, she said, have far less access to computers at school than Hillwood kids, which is troubling considering that few of them have computers at home. The situation makes preparing her students for college challenging, Sanders said.
“I can’t require my AP students to type a paper,” Sanders said. “Our schools are separate but not equal.”
Comments at the town hall meeting reflected concerns similar to those of Sanders, with parents, teachers and neighbors voicing the need for more resources. Several spoke to a need for serious renovations at Isaac Litton Middle School, a facility described as being fettered with mold, rusty pipes, and air conditioning problems.
Parents and teachers protested the planned closing of Cora Howe Elementary School, which is home to the training center of a successful intensive reading program for elementary school students, Reading Recovery. But the school is under-attended — particularly after the district made changes to the assignment of students who are learning English — and Cora Howe is one of the schools earmarked for closing in a rezoning plan passed by the Board of Education over the summer.
“I would like to see us keep Cora Howe open,” said Marion Bowen, president of the Cora Howe PTO. “There are a lot of good programs there. I understand the programs will move, but they have a lot of good things going on there.”
Dean said after the meeting that the crowd was a good one. But the recurring thread, he said, was concern over disbursement of resources.
“It was pretty consistent,” Dean said.
The meeting was the last of the planned town hall meetings for public education — Dean has now held the gatherings in each cluster of Metro Nashville Public Schools. Another town hall series will be scheduled, Dean said, though the topic has not yet been decided.