Letter to the Editor: An open letter to Alan Coverstone

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 10:16am

Mr. Coverstone,

As the subject of this email suggests, my husband was one of your students. Graduating from MBA ('98) is to this day one of his greatest achievements and fondest memories. In his junior year, he was in your English Literature class. He has told me many times over the years how much you made him love Milton's "Paradise Lost," and also credits you with teaching all of the young men in your class how poetic rock music can be. He specifically talks about your lesson on Led Zepplin's "Gallows Pole." It must feel really good to have a thirty-three year old man be able to tell you exactly what he learned more than 15 years ago in one of your classes. He says you were one of the best.

A Harpeth Hall graduate myself, I am no stranger to people who love to teach, and students who love to learn. We were so very fortunate to have been exposed to such a challenging education. 100% of all graduating seniors from both of our classes went on to four year colleges. We were primed to succeed. We were so lucky.

Fast forward fifteen years, and here we are. Married, with three young girls. One of them is entering the first grade this fall at Julia Green, and the other two will follow suit. Julia Green is a wonderful school, filled with wonderful diversity, a supportive parent body...it is a wonderful community. Despite the ever-growing threat of massive overcrowding to our facility which is already functioning at 113% capacity, we have been extremely happy there. But what are we to do next? What are we supposed to do with them in 5th grade? The schools available to us after we leave Julia Green are not what we are looking for. I am sure you will agree...as your two children are currently attending private school at USN. The vast majority of West Nashville families are not fortunate enough to be able to foot the bill for private school for three children, which would cost roughly $60,000 per year.

The first Great Hearts Charter School informational meeting we attended in December 2011 was absolutely magical. It was our solution. A rigorous academic environment, without a $20,000 price tag. It was what we were so fortunate to have as children. And they were speaking our language. A curriculum based on the classics. An emphasis on Socratic dialogue. Student and parent accountability. And most importantly...GREAT TEACHERS. Teachers like you.

"Every parent wants to be in control of the educational choices their children have. Parents become discouraged and involvement suffers when they feel those choices are out of their hands. Students lose interest and drop out when they feel stuck in a situation where they have no control.

In Nashville, one thing is clear: Some families enjoy choices that others do not. We have to realize that only by investing in our public system and holding public school leaders accountable for offering strong educational opportunities for all can we make a difference in that situation."

Any chance you recognize that quote? I hope so, because those are your own words from your blog post on March 25, 2008 regarding your interest in running for the school board for district #9. Remember those days? Back when your heart was still in the right place? Back when you related to the thousands of us that have to depend on people like you to provide our children with choices in education? It isn't fair. You're right. In Nashville some families DO enjoy choices that others do not. You enjoy those choices. Most other families do not.

We were absolutely heart broken when we heard that you were recommending that the school board deny the Great Hearts' appeal, especially despite the charter review committee's recommendation for approval. Mr. Coverstone, there are hundreds of families like us. Supportive parents, who truly value education. To insinuate that because of where the school may locate its first facility also houses some of Nashville's wealthiest families and would therefore be lacking in diversity is beyond narrow-minded. Not everyone in West Nashville is rich. And certainly not everyone is racist. We absolutely love the diversity at Julia Green, and believe it truly adds to the education our child is receiving, making her a more worldly thinker, aware of the differences between all of us — but also that we are all the same.

I would like to believe you and I are the same, Mr. Coverstone. I would like to believe that unlike a majority of the members of the current MNPS school board, you do believe in providing the best education possible for the children of Nashville. That you understand that the quality of education should not be determined by one's income. I would like to believe that, but I don't.

In response to your concerns regarding transportation and diversity, Great Hearts Schools do require a lot from the parents of the student attending their school. It is this very requirement that is crucial to their success. You are remiss in your thinking that parents who fall below the poverty line are not willing to make a commitment to their children’s education. While certain socioeconomic factors may make this commitment harder for some families than others, you should rest assured that the commitment is there. Your assumption that socioeconomic status is a predictor of a parent's willingness to provide their children with the best opportunities available to them is insulting.
I want you to know that I read your report to the school board in its entirety.

Don't take the opportunity away from this city because you are trying to cover your bases in regards to diversity within the student population. Let the families of Metro Nashville choose what they want. You are denying ALL of us the opportunity for choice.

You have to know, in your heart of hearts, that for the families that stay awake at night, trying to figure out how to prime their children for success, Great Hearts would be a godsend.

Please, believe in the forgotten middle class. Believe in the people who want more than anything to do what's best for their families. Believe in the people who want to show their children that you don't have to be rich to get a great education. You can be exactly what you want to be as long as someone believes in you. This is NOT what is happening right now in the Hillsboro Cluster, which is evident in the overwhelming number of families of who desperately apply for the lotteries to Meigs Magnet, Hume Fogg, or MLK, in hopes of getting their children out of this wretched system (none of which provide transportation, and none of which have any issues with diversity).

Please, Mr. Coverstone, think about families like us. We deserve a choice in educating our children. We deserve to give them the love of learning that we were lucky enough to get from teachers like you. Think about what Great Hearts could BRING to our city, rather than what it lacks. Or, if you prefer to think of what it lacks, then compare it to what our current MNPS schools lack. Great Hearts is providing academic achievement at its finest. Kids who love to learn. Results like theirs cannot even be compared to our best private schools, because our private schools have admissions requirements. Any child can excel in the classroom, Mr. Coverstone. Any child. All they need is the opportunity.

The bottom line is, it just shouldn't be this hard to make a positive change. Why you are standing in the way is beyond me. The citizens of Nashville are very smart people, Mr. Coverstone, and we know that if we make enough noise, we can make change. If you think that we are going to just drop the idea of bringing this type of charter to our city you are sorely mistaken. The underground movement has started, and everyone is rallying behind the once impossible notion that a private school quality education IS POSSIBLE — and it is possible for everyone. You may create a few road blocks, but we will keep driving. The corrupt nature of our school system assumes that if you just keep knocking people to the ground, eventually they will stop trying to get up. DON'T COUNT ON IT.

"I work on behalf of public schools because I want to see every school in Nashville offer a high quality and particular education so that all parents have real choices that they can exercise on the basis of their own understanding of their children's needs."

Yep, you again. March 2008. I assure you, Mr. Coverstone, that the more 3,000 parents who have put their support behind Great Hearts will not surrender quietly. We will be at the meeting tomorrow night. Hopefully you will be able to answer our many questions in the parking lot following the meeting. We will be there. Waiting for YOU to give us the choices that YOU are wealthy enough to afford.

Haley Dale

Average Great Hearts ACT score: 27.9
Average MNPS ACT score from 2010-2011 school year: 18.1

% of Great Hearts students who attend a 4-year college: 95%
% of MNPS students who attend a 4-year college: Less than half attend a 2 or 4 year college, and about 25% receive a degree within 6 years. (www.nashville.gov)


15 Comments on this post:

By: Rasputin72 on 6/26/12 at 9:11

An intelectual bleeding heart with no money has spoken.

By: aky on 6/26/12 at 9:49

Bravo! Brilliant letter.

By: Toosmart4owngood on 6/26/12 at 10:17

The author making this personal is wrong. Some people choose to spend their money on private schools, the author of this letter is welcome to do the same. Asking the public to support a "private" school under the umbrella of charters is her wanting to steal from the poor to help the middle class have the advantages of the rich. Ms. Dale sounds like she is a caring parent. She should stay in public schools and help be part of the solution rather than finding a loophole for the "chosen" people who because of their birthright, experience, or luck comprise the middle class and not the "have nots" she so desperately wants her children separated from.

By: mm80 on 6/26/12 at 10:45

Just curious, Toosmart4owngood--

what, in your opinion, is the solution? Surely you aren't saying that a private school caliber education should only be available to people who can pay for it, and everyone else has to settle for mediocre? That is a very old fashioned view, and thousands of people around the country are enjoying this type of education with great results.

How would this charter be "private"? It has the exact same enrollment process as Meigs Magnet, MLK and Hume Fogg, only without the admissions requirements.

Sounds to me like you are a rich guy who wants to preserve his precious investment into somewhere like ensworth, MBA or Harpeth Hall. To suggest that other people are "welcome" to do the same shows exactly how far removed you are from this debate.

Bravo, Mrs. Dale. No matter how much money you have or don't have, education is for everyone. Not just the poorest of the poor and not just the richest of the rich. I hope the school board votes in your favor tonight. For all of us who have our kids in public school and refuse to settle for "fine."

By: puddycat on 6/26/12 at 10:54


You need to change your name because you're not that.

Please read the entire letter again and cite her remarks that support your final conclusion: "She should stay in public schools and help be part of the solution rather than finding a loophole for the "chosen" people who because of their birthright, experience, or luck comprise the middle class and not the "have nots" she so desperately wants her children separated from."

I believe you will have a hard time finding them.

By: MNPSParent on 6/26/12 at 11:32

Ms. Dale, why is your frustration not directed at Great Hearts itself for refusing to make any adjustments to its application or any commitments regarding diversity? Why would the Great Hearts formula unravel if those adjustments were made? If the strength of Great Hearts is in its curriculum and program, why would that be diminished if it had school buses?

By: Toosmart4owngood on 6/26/12 at 11:53

Mm80....people buy what they value. Many people sacrifice to send kids to private school. I don't. My kids go to public school. We are part of the solution. Join us!

By: mm80 on 6/26/12 at 12:06

wow toosmart4owngood--

people buy what they value? your kids sure are lucky to have you as a parent...since you are obviously saying in no uncertain terms that because you don't pay for education, you don't value it.

if in fact you are part of the solution, then we should all be sprinting in the other direction. would hate to see what you actually do value.

I seriously cannot even believe you typed that on a public forum.

By: Toosmart4owngood on 6/26/12 at 12:20

Why make it personal? Some people sacrifice to send their kids to private schools. My kids are being well served in public schools. If yours aren't then think how you can help. Notice my response had no insults or personal attacks at you. This is how to have a civilized debate.

By: RebeccaDS on 6/26/12 at 1:43

I so identify with the writer's frustration about the double standards and injustices in Nashville's approach to public education. The fact is the system has a huge, underfunded mandate from the state and federal government. Parents don't feel like they have any control over the volatile swings of educational trends..IB is in..IB is out..academies are the thing for now...zoning is always subject to change. All the while people around you, who have never crossed the threshhold of a public school, talk about "Metro" with a sneer. It is all hard. I have learned a few things over the past 8 years of being in the system.

1. To send your children to a MNPS school after elementary school requires a Teflon-thick skin. People will look at you as if you don't love your children, or as if you are to be pitied. They will throw out generalizations about public education that you never would dare utter about their child's private schools. You have to be ready to deal with that, but "they" are not offering to pay your private school tuition. Some of that kind of talk is the same competitive parenting that you hear in playgroups and at preschools.

2. Don't take what "they" say about your zoned schools as gospel. I am in a different cluster, but with the same elementary/middle school dynamic that Ms. Dale describes. My oldest child has never had a "lucky" lottery number, but he has had really good teachers.The buliding was shamefully old(funding) and there were not a lot of "frills"(funding again),but he scored realy well on his ISEE and on the SAT that he took through Duke Tip. There were extracurricular opportunities that I wish his school had provided him(funding yet again), but I believe he got the nuts and bolts of a strong education. When he was in 1st grade, I believed "them." I was just so certain that he would get into Meigs or MLK, that I backed into our zoned school. It was a positive experience for us.

3. With a lottery system, there is no guarantee. If GH has decided that it will admit based upon the lottery, there is a liklihood that well qualified students will still be forced to attend the zoned schools, referred to as "wretched." I would say we should all be careful about the language we use to describe schools we have no first- hand experience with. I think GH sounds like a great addition, but I am wondering if part of the resistence has been to negative,dismissive and condescending language. Right or wrong, there are many leaders in MNPS who are working hard, trying to make things better, and making SOME measurable gains. GH is going to get nowhere with them if they sweep in, echoing the anti-public education talking points. Would you try to sell something to a customer by putting down its employees or business plan? Even if the criticism is merited, that isn't a very savvy approach.

4. As a parent, it is beyond frustrating to not feel like you have any say in your child's education, and to feel like decisions are being made on the premise that you are a racist.

I hope that more options for students open up in our community, and GH gets a foot -hold here. I also hope that we are more careful about the generalizations and language we use to describe existing schools in Nashville. There are teachers,parents and students who are doing the best they can without much choice. They do not need to have hopeless fatalism dousing their attempts. Every year there are students who graduate from zoned schools in Metro who go on to good 4 year colleges. Every year there are students from private schools whose college destinations did not require their parents' 20,000 a year prep school investment. There are no guarantees in life or parenting.

By: MTM5005 on 6/26/12 at 6:27

I don't understand the indignation on the part of the Great Hearts supporters -- the main issue seems to be that GH wants to be located in West Nashville and does not want to provide transportation. If those like Ms. Dale claim that GH is "magical" and "our solution," and sing the praises of its curriculum, teachers, etc., why aren't they willing to take their children outside West Nashville to get it??

By: rccomom on 6/26/12 at 8:33

Great Hearts - charter schools in general - should not be seen as an alternative to public schooling. Charter schools should BE public schooling. Public schools are failing, not just in Nashville, but across the country. It's not entirely because teachers aren't held accountable, or parental involvement is low, or facilities are shabby - although all of those do factor in. At the end of the day, it's just a broken system, period. And as Americans, we should understand inherently that sometimes, it's not about tinkering with the old - it's about pioneering ahead toward the new. We are a nation that loves to reinvent itself, and Great Hearts (charter schools in general) represents reinvention. Of course it, alone, won't be able to meet the needs of every single publicly schooled child in Nashville. But it can meet the needs of some. And that "some" won't be determined by zoning or meeting academic requirements. That "some" might just include your child. Indeed, if your child - or children - were guaranteed a place at Great Hearts, would you really turn it down? I highly doubt it. Let us champion Great Hearts not because it's the immediate, all-encompassing answer, but because it represents a turning point, a shift in the way we think of public education. Let it serve as the spark that sets an educational revolution ablaze! Consider your support of Great Hearts as a step toward academic excellence for all, not just the several hundred who would be educated within its walls. We can look to Houston, among other cities, as a beacon on a hill: every one of its public schools is now a charter school. Don't let your pride - whether for private schools or public ones - stand in the way of acknowledging that when we fall, we have to get up, to dust ourselves off, and to try again. We have to start over. And Nashville would be remiss not to eagerly embrace an opportunity to lead the way.

By: tomba1 on 6/27/12 at 10:34

Let's just shut down all of the private schools and throw thousands more kids into the public school system. But who would teach them and where? That would "level the playing field" as obama wants but what would dean do? If you didn't like the recent tax increase, you'd love the one this would create.

By: chakracon on 6/27/12 at 4:07

I think that TDOT should fund new public schools

By: Wonderlic on 6/29/12 at 6:33

Since Ms. Dale finds it necassary to make this so personal, I find it rude and offensive that she, as a member of the Belle Meade Country Club (where membership dues are not inexpensive), paints herself as middle class and claims to understand the sacrifices of families who truly do not have workable options (i.e. those not in the Hillsboro cluster) or families who scrimp and save to allow their children to attend private schools. I'm in the latter group, Ms. Dale, and there's no way I could afford to join the Belle Meade Club. Sure, it would be great if you had a free public option, but who needs it more -- you, or a family in Antioch who can't afford Sunday brunch at the Club.