Nashville Mayor David Briley blasted the Metro School Board in a speech given at Napier Elementary School on Friday morning.
Briley said he is so displeased that his administration will do all it can to direct the actions of the board.
Briley made bold claims on Friday, saying Metro Schools’ biggest issue is racial inequality. His feelings about the Metro School board are clear.
“I wouldn’t be here today expressing these words about our city if I weren’t concerned that the fractured nature of the school board was creating a long-term consequence for our city,” Briley said.
Consequences that result in the board failing too many children, resulting in racial equality, according to Briley.
“Some of our school board members have not acknowledged why their actions area are seen through a racial lens,” said Briley. “They have failed to acknowledge the legacy of racism and the legacy of systemic racism in Nashville.”
He also blasted the board for social media disputes and name calling, saying he’s told the board chair to expect him to use all his legal authority to influence the direction of the board.
“My administration must and will be involved moving forward,” Briley said.
Briley said he doesn’t blame Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph for the district’s problems before he took the helm, but said he supports Joseph in his decision to leave at the end of his contract.
Briley said the school system is failing too many children and families, especially those of color.
“It can’t be about color. You can’t define yourself and say ‘Poor, poor me because I’m black.’ No,” said Briley.
School board member Fran Bush said race isn’t the issue, poor leadership by Joseph is.
“He has demeaned so many people and he’s covered this up by talking a good game,” said Bush.
While Briley didn’t criticize Joseph, he did blast the board for secret meetings and social media disputes.
He said he will not be at the forefront of Metro Schools, fully involved in human resources, finances and hiring a new director of schools.
Bush said the mayor doesn’t have that power.
“Unfortunately, you cannot do that, so I hate that he gave people false hope,” said Bush.
Bush fears that his speech just made the tension between the board and city worse.
“As a mayor your bridge those type of problems,” said Bush. “You bring people together. You bring the city together. Today he did not do that.”
Joseph recently announced he would not be seeking to renew his contract, which ends in 2020. On April 9 the school board will decide whether to terminate his contract sooner.
Below is the transcript of Briley's entire speech from Friday morning:
Good morning. I’ve just toured Napier Enhanced Option Elementary School, which is a powerful success story.
Napier used to be one of Metro’s most challenged schools. It was on the state’s priority schools list.
But thanks to a determined principal and community, that is no longer the story here. Napier has changed the narrative. And progress like Napier’s is happening in many schools across the district.
And yet we still have a huge issue hurting too many of our schools and holding our city back. That issue is racial inequality – and a related equity gap in Nashville’s schools.
But we haven’t been talking about our challenges the way we should be. So it’s time for all of us to have the courage to speak some hard truths about where we are and where we need to go.
The great majority of our third-graders cannot read on grade level. Far too many of our high school students are not prepared for post-secondary education. In too many neighborhoods, our teachers are under-supported. And many of our parents and their children are trapped in struggling schools.
That’s on us. That’s on me, on the school board, on the business community, on everyone who calls our city home.
As a community, we haven’t been living up to our values. There is no doubt that Nashvillians want education to be the Number 1 priority of this city, and our budget – with more than 40 cents of every dollar going to schools – says that it is.
And yet we’re not getting the results we need. We are failing too many of our children and families, especially people of color.
A lot of that comes down to leadership. Leaders, whether they’re elected or appointed, have to lead. When I took office around this time last year, I had to stabilize the city’s budget pretty quickly, and that required some hard choices – choices that not everyone agreed with but that were in the best interest of the city.
Leadership also means working to build consensus, if not unanimous approval. And it means being willing to accept when you’ve been on the losing side, and being willing to move on, so that all sides can move forward together for the sake of bigger goals.
We haven’t seen enough of that from our elected school board members.
Instead, this is a fractured group that too often deliberates in secret; that can be quicker to tweet and post to Facebook than lead; and that cannot consistently honor its policy that requires – requires – all board members to get behind any majority decision they make.
There’s no harder job in Nashville than the schools director. And no one’s going to do that job perfectly.
I may be out on a limb here, but I think Dr. Joseph, too, would say with the benefit of hindsight that he would have done a few things differently.
But we also need to praise Dr. Joseph for challenging the city to make equity in our schools a priority. That focus is going to be one of the keys to Nashville’s success.
It’s also true that sometimes the resources haven’t matched up to Dr. Joseph’s vision. Dr. Joseph is right that we need to stop criminalizing students who act out in the classroom. But we also need to make sure teachers have the support they need to manage classrooms so they can keep the teaching and learning on track.
Dr. Joseph also is right to prioritize social-emotional learning and to ensure that funding is reaching the most needy schools and children. And he has made literacy a focus since Day 1.
Going all the way back to when I enrolled in Metro Schools as a first-grader in 1971, we have not been able to reach a common understanding on race, and we continue to struggle with that issue.
Let me be clear: I am not calling anyone a racist. And I know that most people in leadership have good intentions and good hearts.
But you can have a good heart and still fail to see the heart of the matter.
Some of our school board members have not acknowledged why their actions are seen through a racial lens. They’ve failed to acknowledge the legacy of racism and the legacy of systemic racism in Nashville, the legacy of inequality that this city is still trying to overcome today.
There’s a history here that we all need to understand. We can’t ignore it.
So what are we going to do? Or, you might ask, what am I, as mayor – as the city’s elected leader – going to do?
State law and the Metro Charter put some significant limitations on the mayor when it comes to education. I can recommend how much money the district should get, but I can’t say how it should be spent.
Despite these limitations, I will use all of my legal authority to influence the direction of the school board.
But I can use my voice and my ability to bring people together – and I assure you that I am going to be very, very involved in how our school district operates.
I have informed Dr. Sharon Gentry, the chair of the school board, that my administration must and will be involved moving forward in operations, finance and human resources, and certainly in how the board searches for a new schools director – first an interim director, and then a more permanent leader.
And there will be some strings attached to any new funding the district receives. The school board will have to follow open meetings laws and follow its own rules – and stop name-calling and fueling social media disputes.
The expectation will be growth, not grandstanding.
The school board is going to have to get its house in order, because when it is dysfunctional, it affects an entire city.
I’ve already gotten involved in working to help our priority schools improve, because the children in those schools don’t have any time to waste. Their future depends on quality schools. So I’ve assembled a group of teachers, administrators, advocates and parents to study the issues, look at the data and come up with some recommendations.
Dr. Watechia Lawless, the principal here at Napier, is a member of that group. Dr. Lawless has shown how to be an effective leader and turn around a school. And she’s done that by bringing the community together and increasing community investment.
Dr. Lawless, thank you for your work and for hosting us here today.
You’ll hear more from me in the coming weeks about my plans to help the school board and the district so they can achieve what we all want: schools that help all of Nashville’s children succeed. The Napier story can be repeated. Every school can deliver on the promise of a good education.
I know it can happen. I know what Nashville is capable of. I know we’re ready to do right by our kids. And I plan to use my position and my influence and this office to keep charting a path forward for our schools.
Every child in Nashville – every single child – deserves a school board with his or her best interests in mind; teachers who are supported and paid what they deserve; evidence-based teaching and social-emotional support; and a culture of trust and empowerment.
And when our hard-working teachers, principals, support staff and central office staff come to work every day because they believe in helping our children succeed, they deserve a strong, unified school board as well.
I believe this is the school board’s last chance to be a positive change agent that will make a difference in our children’s lives – their last chance to get it right.
The school board in the next few weeks will have an opportunity to answer this call to leadership. They’ll have a chance to find a way to do right by our children, our community and our city’s future by being a positive force for good.
The City of Nashville demands more from this board.
Briley's remarks stem from several days of explosive developments involving the school board and the school district.
Earlier this week, we learned school board member Will Pinkston was resigning. After that, Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph announced that he will not be trying to extend his contract, which ends next year. And then we learned there's an effort among board members to oust Joseph as early as next month.