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A Commentary on the Pulaski County Desegregation Litigation Case

Posted By Michele Linch, PhD, Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I am sad.

· I am sad for children raised in Pulaski County over the past 25 years. Instead of districts aligning desegregation funds to build a sustainable, desegregated, world class education, tax payer money has all too often been used to pay attorneys, promote and hire mediocre and incompetent leadership, negotiate with unions, create positions with inflated salaries, and purchase programs and services that have no chance of making a difference in districts where foundations are fundamentally flawed. You may feel you received a quality education. Please understand that for every child who did not, you have been hurt, we all have.

· I am sad for the children of Arkansas. Over one billion dollars of tax payer money has been poured into districts at the expense of other children around the state. During this time most of what we have learned can be compiled into one huge "What Not To Do” list. And most items on the list, we really already knew. Unfortunately, most of us helplessly or carelessly watched it happen year after year.

· I am sad for the many teachers, administrators and other education professionals who seem so trapped in a cycle of excuses, dysfunction and mediocrity that they’ve lost sight of the potential for excellence. Unfortunately, too many in education leadership, from districts to state agencies to higher education institutions, were mediocre themselves and/or have never experienced excellence or effectiveness with struggling student populations. At best, it’s theory to them, worst, they don’t care. Having taught and led in very high performing urban settings, I do not understand the excuses our education and neighborhood communities accept. When I complained to my principal about the home lives of my students and associated problems, she looked at me and said, "If you think their home lives are the problem, I suggest you find a way to make your classroom a home.” I did just that and became obsessed with learning all I could about serving, supporting and teaching children, especially those who tend to struggle in our society. I have dedicated a career to learning, supporting, communicating and teaching what I’ve learned.

· I am sad about the threat to our magnet schools and school choice. Arkansas has amazing examples (e.g. Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Bauxite School Districts) of traditional public school choice and magnet school systems. These exist because capable student-centered administrations, personnel policy committees, communities and school boards choose to selflessly and competently align the fair share of resources provided them.

· I am sad for parents. Many have no choice in where their children attend school. Those who do exercise choice are often labeled and judged for doing what they think is best for their own children.

· I am sad for our community. We have amazing resources, a rich history and huge potential, yet we’ve become the Land of Excuses instead of the Land of Opportunity.

· I am sad for our economy. Quality effective systems of education drive economic development. The potential is endless, but after over 25 years and one billion dollars it remains just that, potential.

· I am sad for patrons who have been manipulated by those who benefit from dragging out this court case. They have been lied to, manipulated and denied the quality education systems they and their children deserve. They are diverse in race, ethnicity, income and education. Several years ago I sat in a community meeting in the company of several lovely African American women, obvious matriarchs in their families and churches. They truly believed that only an African American teacher could effectively teach an African American child. As I told my story of teaching in a high performing urban setting, one lady turned to her friend and said, "Do you hear this? I didn’t think a white person could really teach a black kid.” They were surprised by the academic performance and lack of discipline issues of the poor minority children where I taught. They honestly didn’t believe it was possible unless everything was perfect. A "perfection” defined for them by the agenda and excuse driven "professionals” and "experts” whose lead they had followed for decades.

· I am sad for the districts that have negotiated themselves into dependency on funds that were never meant to be permanent and policies that go against what we know from research are best for kids. School boards, administrations and teacher unions have not served our children or teachers well with reckless spending and negotiating practices. However, recent forward movement and new leadership provide a sense of hope.

· I am sad for the taxpayers of Arkansas. For over 25 years Arkansas taxpayers from Manila to Marion, Pine Bluff to Pottsville, Gentry to Gosnell, have handed over more than ONE BILLION dollars to Pulaski County schools with little accountability or expectation for excellence. Most legislators, thanks to term limits and lack of accountability and transparency, have a shallow understanding of the case. Politicians and concerned patrons are often fearful of being labeled and politically or relationally damaged if they push back, even when they know they are being fed lies, manipulations and half truths. I apologize because, while I’ve had my courageous moments, I too have sat silent in too many meetings without speaking out for fear of retribution or professional abandonment.

But most of all, I am sad for our children…ALL of them. You deserved better and we failed you. For over one billion dollars you deserved more than a few pockets of excellence only available to the lucky ones. You deserve systems of excellence available to all. Hopefully this new day in Pulaski County education will prompt us all to care, speak up, face our fears and act courageously on behalf of ALL children. This is the least we can do for you.

Michele Ballentine-Linch, PhD grew up in North Little Rock, AR and now resides in Little Rock, AR. Her children have attended traditional public, public charter and private schools in Little Rock. Dr. Linch’s education career began as a science teacher. While serving as the director of the Arkansas Leadership Academy’s Teacher Leadership Institute for ten years, she held positions of college professor and dean. She has served as a Governor’s appointee to the Legislative Desegregation Litigation Oversight Committee since 2005. Currently she is the Executive Director of the nonunion, nonpartisan Arkansas State Teachers Association, the fastest growing education professional association for educators in Arkansas.

Tags:  Desegregation  John Walker  Little Rock School District  North Little Rock School District  Pulaski County  Settlement 

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