Public schools build community; let’s keep ’em

Betty BeanKnox Scene

I spent my first 12 years counting the days until I could be a Bobcat. My father and his siblings were all Central High School graduates, and Central was the nerve center of Fountain City. I couldn’t wait to get there. I knew about football games and sock hops and Hassie K. Gresham and how my uncle was the editor of the school newspaper and my aunt was the prettiest girl in Fountain City. I was ready to rock the red and black.

Then my parents moved us out to the country.

Crushed, I consoled myself with the expectation that I’d be reunited with my friends in a couple of years, since the new place was also zoned for Central High. I could still be a Bobcat.

My hopes were crushed again when I got zoned to the new high school over on Chilhowee Drive. Holston, they called it. Warriors. Blue and gold. Meh. I gave it my best shot, but I never really got that “Be true to your school” tingle that Central commanded, and when Holston High was eventually converted to a middle school, nobody much seemed to miss it, including me.

Central, in truth, isn’t all that different from Halls High or Austin-East or Fulton, or any other high school that has strong ties to an identifiable community. Public schools build community. Officeholders who siphon tax dollars away from public schools hurt communities.

I’m thinking of Gov. Bill Lee when I say that.

Take the woman he has hired to run our public schools.


Commissioner of Education Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds came to Tennessee last spring when Lee tapped her to fill the shoes of outgoing Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn at an annual salary of $236,000.

TN Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds

Reynolds had a fairly quiet summer, but burst onto the public scene with spectacularly awful performances in the opening days of the legislative session when she was unable to explain the term “adequate growth” to legislators (adequate growth is a performance classification applied to third-grade students who barely miss making a passing score on their end-of-term TCAP test. These students get another chance to be promoted to the fourth grade if they attend a summer camp and then demonstrate sufficient improvement or “adequate growth” on another achievement test).

Here is Reynolds attempting to answer third grade retention questions at a session of the Senate Education Committee last week. Her responses were so muddled that ultra-conservative Mark Pody chastised her for her lack of clarity.

“I have been trying to get information from your department (about third grade retention) for weeks,” he said. “We’re building this plane as we’re flying it.”

Reynolds is a Texan with an undergraduate degree in political science, no advanced degrees and no teaching experience or training. She was a mid-level bureaucrat in the administration of then-Gov. George W. Bush in 2007 when she goosed up her career by ratting out the Texas Education Agency’s director of science curriculum for advocating the teaching of evolution. The educator was forced to resign, and Reynolds worked her way up to the No. 2 spot in the TEA under Bush’s successor, Rick Perry, and was then hired by the other school privatizing Bush brother, Jeb, in Florida.

State Rep. Gloria Johnson, a retired special education teacher, says the Reynolds hire is a slap in the face of every career educator. Even the Tennessee Conservative has criticized the choice.

“She’s known for one thing – privatizing public education for Jeb Bush. There couldn’t be a less qualified person than that woman.”

Johnson says probably the only person who could be worse is Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, to whom Gov. Lee has proposed to turn over large chunks of state education money to teach “traditional” versions of history and science.

“He hired someone who doesn’t even know what adequate growth is. That means he doesn’t care,” Johnson said.

“He hired somebody who has never taught in a classroom a day in their life. Somebody who doesn’t have an advanced degree in anything. Someone who can’t speak in front of a microphone. She hasn’t been able to answer a single relevant question. She’s got to bring somebody in to answer questions for her. She’s not ready for primetime but I think she might be pretty good on late night…

“If you interviewed that woman and thought that was a good hire, you have no business in leadership. …”

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for


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