Minority Caucus and resigning school board member call attacks on Nashville schools director racist

Last updated on April 4th, 2019 at 06:17 pm

Nashville Minority Caucus leader Scott Davis pledges support for Nashville Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph.

On Tuesday, the Nashville Metropolitan Minority caucus called a press meeting at the courthouse to address the actions of the Metro Nashville School Board and its Director of Schools.

In a release, the caucus said, “The Metro Council Minority Caucus champions effective, equitable governance. One of the critical responsibilities of the Metro Council is the funding of Metro Schools. The Minority Caucus must have confidence that Nashville’s tax dollars are not going to a dysfunctional MNPS Board plagued by institutional racism.”

Minority Caucus President, Councilman Scott Davis called Dr. Joseph, “A man who dedicated his life to education and improving the lives of not just some children but all the children at Metro Schools.  Despite others placing stumbling blocks in front of him, Joseph has continued to take the high road.”

Davis made it clear that he and his caucus support Dr. Joseph.

“We will not stand for the treatment of Dr. Joseph.  We will not deal with it, and more importantly we will not let the children in metro schools be treated this way and have their leader thrown out on the streets like some garbage.”

Council member Sharon Hurt criticized those members of the school board who would, “Try to destroy him (Joseph) professionally, when he is lauded nationwide and by other school systems,” adding that he has “great academic accomplishments and achievements” in Nashville.

“Our children are being hurt the most,” she said.  “We are so focused on stripping him of his dignity that we have failed our children.”

Hurt also stressed the importance of Joseph’s leadership and the importance of African-American authority figures in a school district “where 70% of the students look like him.”

“We know if we can see it, we can be it,” said Hurt.

Hurt called the treatment of Joseph a “stain upon the ‘It City’” and said that “the minority caucus will have an extremely difficult time supporting a budget for a school system that is obviously culturally insensitive.  We respectfully ask for an immediate meeting with the mayor and perhaps the school board to identify the next best course of action.”

Council lady Tanaka Vercher says Joseph was able to make progress with limited resources.

“I stand in solidarity with my caucus members and many of the families here,” said District 28 Council member Tanaka Vercher.

According to Vercher, Dr. Joseph inherited a huge challenge with expectations of making progress with limited resources.

“We have to be mindful that we took 15 million from his budget last year, and even with that Dr. Joseph and his administration were still able to move the district forward.”

The school district has seen increased ACT scores as well as increased proficiency, with more student participation in AP and dual enrollment programs than ever before.

Council member Brenda Haywood talked about her experience helping to integrate the Nashville school system.

“I was the first black student at the age of 12 to integrate [the school system] along with three younger students that came behind me,” said Haywood.  “I don’t see where the needle has moved, and I have been on the frontline fighting for equal rights and equality for a mighty long time.  I think this has to do with overt racism. We have to call the devil in the room just as he is. There are people of color that I called sellouts. That bothers me.”

Council member Ed Kindall echoed Haywood’s sentiments.

“In 1960 a bomb went off in the city at the home of Z. Alexander Looby,” he said.  “Today we have a bomb going off; a different kind of bomb which I think we will all be made ashamed of.  I served on the school board for almost 30 years. I saw the board give lip service to equity and disparity.  When I got on the board in 1985 there was a wide achievement gap – there was a wide range of disparity.  When I got off the board in 2012, it was still the same.”

Kindall acknowledged that Dr. Joseph, like many other superintendents before him, has made some mistakes.  But, he said, “The biggest mistake [Joseph] ever made was to come to the city with the guts, and some people would say with the gall, to really believe that this city is ready to close the achievement gap and to do away with disparities.”

“I ask the school board members to step back and rethink what they’re doing, change policies, ask for adequate resources, and give the man a damn chance,” said Kindall.

Council member Brenda Haywood, one of the first black students to integrate Nashville schools calls attacks on Nashville Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph racist.

The Minority Caucus was joined by Will Pinkston.  Pinkston, who is white, submitted his resignation from the school board in protest prior to the meeting.

Pinkston, who has served on the school board since 2012, tweeted, “Dr. J is persecuted by West Nashville parents, principals, teachers, & a board member who oppose equity investments in inner-city schools in North and East Nashville and high-% EL schools in South Nashville. I’m hoping historically disenfranchised voters can feel more empowered.”

Pinkston continued, “This loud echo by three board members … is a mistake and sends a terrible message not only to the African-American adult community but also to aspiring young black children who see Dr. Joseph as a positive role model.”

In his resignation letter, Pinkston stated:
“With minimal regret, I am resigning from the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education, effective April 12, 2019.  This year’s mind-numbingly irrational conversations about the Director’s contract, evaluation, and the FY2019-20 budget have led me to conclude that the board, in its current configuration, is impossibly inept.  From racially motivated attacks to the insistence on shifting the political onus for employee compensation to the Mayor and Metro Council – at a time when municipal revenue projections cannot remotely fund the size of the contemplated request – the board clearly is chronically ill in ways that will not be easily cured.

“The dishonest and unfair treatment of the first African-American superintendent in the history of Nashville should give the entire community pause. These actions by board members have left an indelible scar on our city, two decades after the end of federal court-ordered desegregation. I care deeply about our institution, but I can no longer serve on a board that is diminished by the worst of human nature. I am saddened that students in our majority-minority school system have seen what can happen when a leader of color pushes for change in an entrenched bureaucracy. If we were a large body like Congress, a handful of immoral voices could be easily marginalized. But in the school board’s case, we’re talking about at least one-third of the body, which paralyzes the rest of us from doing the work that’s required….

“Some poeple will view this letter as the indictment of an elected school board.  To the contrary; it’s merely an indictment of this elected board.  Sometimes democracy fails, as we see in Washington and in the Tennessee General Assembly.  I believe the school board can, and eventually will, do better.  But first it needs to be purged of the end of conspiracy theories and professional conflict of interest, and cleanse of culture void some board members believe it is accessible to try to incite Mast protest….”

The council’s declaration of support may have come too late, as Dr. Joseph on Tuesday confirmed that he is seeking to negotiate his departure with the school board.  “It is clear to me that we have been focusing on the adults, and I signed up to focus on our kids,” said Dr. Joseph.

Previously, Joseph had said that he would not seek renewal of his contract that expires in 2020.