A month after the election, the board voted to ask the Public Education Foundation to help frame the new system. The move was partly on the advice of educators in Knoxville, who faced a raft of problems after consolidating rapidly with Knox County eight years ago.
The foundation, one of the wealthiest local education foundations in the country, has worked closely with educators in both the city and county. Its president, Steven H. Prigohzy, is a dynamo with a clear vision of where he’d like to take education in the new system.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a county
of this size to rethink public education,” he says. “But it’s very difficult to make people understand that. What they invariably say is, ‘I’m delighted to hear there will be a new school system. Now, when the merger happens.’”The article goes on to talk about investments from the Annenberg Foundation and the Lyndhurst Foundation. Which could explain CUEE and the Chamber’s continuing insistence that foundations would invest after “unification”.
The word merger conjures up technical images: combining pension plans, equalizing salaries, choosing a transportation system, locating a central office. All legitimate issues, but not about children.
What Prigohzy–and the steering committee overseeing the plans for the new system–envision is on another level entirely. For starters, they are talking about a few simple, but powerful, benchmarks: insuring that students achieve a standard of literacy by 3rd grade that will enable them to succeed in school, making sure every student who finishes 8th grade is on track for postsecondary education, producing students who are able to enter college or the workplace without remedial coursework, and getting the public more involved with school reform.
The article says that investment was matched by “old money” from the Chattanooga area. So basically the old boys (or the “white fathers” to use Terry Jenkins’ term) used foundation money to leverage a buyout of the public school systems.
And they looked to Prigohzy to tell them what to do:
Planners of the new school system will draw some of their lessons from Chattanooga’s experience with its Paideia schools, organized around the principles of the philosopher Mortimer J. Adler. His influential 1982 manifesto, The Paideia Proposal, caught the Lyndhurst Foundation’s attention. In it, Adler argued that schools, the foundation of our democracy, must eliminate tracking to accommodate individual differences and respect children’s potential. Pedagogy, such as the Socratic questioning method, should be designed to engage students, he wrote.For an alleged proponent of the Socratic method, Prigohzy doesn’t know how to answer questions very well, does he? Well, better than his acolytes in our area, who either can’t answer simple questions or contradict each other.
Civic leaders convened by the foundation agreed to give the principles–considered radical at the time but which have since gained currency–a try. The Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, which opened 10 years ago with Prigohzy as its principal, showed people that high-quality programs would attract an integrated student body. Parents lined up to get their children into the magnet school, which has consistently produced well-educated students. Since the school opened, the city school system has created five more Paideia schools, including some neighborhood schools that don’t have the luxury of taking children from highly motivated families.
To be continued….