Recently I began working with Senator Mark Norris—someone I have known for 25 years—on his position regarding the current Memphis City School Board’s actions and his duties as the Senate Majority Leader (R-Dist. 32). For the past week, our office has been fielding media calls and collecting questions for clarification, setting up interviews and generally helping him keep up with what folks need and want to know. As a parent with two children in the public school system (Shelby County) I am also personally interested in learning more about what we can do to collectively help our children in both the city and the county, do better. The first question we had to answer was this: Why the rush? This is complex and important and anything worth doing is worth doing right. That to me—is the whole point of Senator Norris’ stand. He has said repeatedly “Unification without unity is not unity at all.” He calls for a “measured and considered approach” to this possible combination and has been on record this week in Memphis media saying this.
Senator Norris believes this discussion warrants a clear vision, exceptional strategies and a collective effort by all. This includes both Mayors, City and County elected officials, the media and every stakeholder in our community. So we have received a lot of questions today and without further delay, here are the questions with some straight forward answers by Senator Norris:
An interview with Senator Mark Norris
Q: Simply stated, what is at the heart of this “surrender” effort?
A: The largest school system in Tennessee wants to quit and go out of business. What happens to our children when this happens suddenly, without a plan?
Q: What is the real question we should be addressing at large?
A: How does the City Schools’ action improve education? Period.
Q: Why is a surrender a bad idea?
A: It’s a bad idea for a number of reasons that starts with how a system of 47,000 (3,034 SCS teachers) students outside the City absorbs 106,000 (6,991 MCS teachers) additional students inside the City; It’s also a bad idea to rush something so vitally important not only to the children but to Memphis and the surrounding region. Bigger is not better in this case and our objectives should be strategic, clear and we need to know—not guess or hope—that the solutions we end up with will work. You can’t just push this through in a vote at a meeting.
Q: What are your objectives in this?
A: To protect the best of what our schools have to offer…to create new opportunities to improve education for every child in our region; To make education effective and affordable. To embrace this opportunity for a community-wide effort to find what works best. To minimize disruption and to give EVERYONE an opportunity to participate but we must UNDERSTAND first.
Q: How do we do what you are advocating we do?
A: Formulate a crystal clear, measurable strategy for restructuring that would include smaller schools, neighborhood schools, charter schools.
Q: What are the impediments?
A: Confusion, ignorance, fear, lack of time to understand, lack of facts, misstatements of the law, media bias, haste (which makes waste), City of Memphis’ effort to eliminate funding schools, Avoidance of a $57 million judgment, political agendas to name just a few.
Q: Does the current TN law on consolidation of schools allow both Memphis and those outside to vote?
Q: Can you clarify SB25?
A: SB25 clarifies that if there is to be consolidation, the planning and voting process set forth in the Education Code applies under a section 502 transfer like any other. It also provides for orderly planning and provision of information to cast an educated vote.
Q: Why are you involved?
A: It’s part of my responsibility…not only as Senate Majority Leader and a senator in Shelby County, but as a citizen. I encourage everyone to constructively engage. I previously served on the Shelby County Commission. I chaired the County’s education committee. I have chaired the County Commission and was heavily involved in funding of both City and County schools. I nominated and appointed the first African American Superintendent of the Shelby County Schools. I think it’s important for perspective for people to understand that I’m not just picking this issue for political reasons. It’s part of who I am and what I feel I have contributed and still want to contribute.
Q: Is there anything else you’d want people to know?
A: Yes. We have a “teachable moment” in time and we must take the time to learn. All of us—not just those in charge of policy. This outcome directly impacts every person who lives and works and learns in our region. We have never been at such an important crossroad and we must not rush through it.
Thank you Senator Norris. Feedback welcome!