Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Election Day - The Final Countdown

It's finally here!  Today is November 1, 2011, and in Ward 4 of Humboldt, it is election day. 
I feel like I have been campaigning forever.  It has taken so much time and so much energy, I am truly relieved it is finally here.  I have met a lot of people and have had so many conversations about our schools, and I have to say the experience has been rewarding regardless of the outcome.  But of course, it will be so much more rewarding with a victory!

So today, I give you the final installment of The Final Countdown of reasons to vote for me.

Number 1 - Change

Change.  It's something that is necessary, exciting, and scary all at once.  Not all change is good, and change for the sake of change is not anything I advocate.  In this case, in talking about the leadership on the School Board in Humboldt, I think a change would do us good. 

I came across a statement from one of the greatest orators and statesmen of the 20th Century.  I think it sums up perfectly the choice we have.  Winston Churchill once said, "there is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction."  There is something to be said for experience, and there is a certain degree of comfort in keeping things the way they are.  But there is a lot to be said for making the right changes when the opportunity presents itself, too. 

I've said all along I don't have all the answers and I am only one person, but I truly believe I bring the right kind of experience, education, and enthusiasm we need on the School Board in Humboldt.  I hope you agree, and I sincerely ask for your vote today.  For my children, for your children, for our future...vote for Lee Williams.

Monday, October 31, 2011

2 Days Left - The Final Countdown

The title is a little misleading, since it's actually only about 8 hours until the polls open.  But in keeping with the theme, I bring you the next to last installment of the Final Countdown of reasons to vote for me.

Number 2 - Enthusiasm

I want to be on the School Board; that's apparent.  There is a difference, however, between doing something because you're passionate about it and doing something because others want you to do it.  It's that passion for making a difference and that passion for public education that makes me truly enthusiastic about this opportunity.

I'm enthusiastic about being on the School Board because I believe there are things the Board can do to really make a positive difference.  I have lots of ideas and never stop looking for ideas that can move us forward, and it's exciting to think about being in a position to cultivate policies and programs that can give those ideas life.

What is really most exciting for me, though, is the opportunity to get on the School Board now, while my children are still so young, so I can have a chance to shape the education they will receive in the coming years.  I can't think of any better motivation or anything that could make me more enthusiastic about being on the School Board in Humboldt.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

3 Days Left - The Final Countdown

We're down to the last three days of the election journey.  So far in this countdown, I've made my case for being on the School Board for my vested interest and commitment to our schools.  Today, it's about ideas.

Number 3 - Ideas

I don't have all the answers; nobody does.  What I do have is the ability to come up with ideas to make our system better.  I am an engineer, and engineers are people that find workable solutions to solve problems.  We start by identifying the problem, developing possible solutions, testing those proposed solutions to see if they're feasible, then applying those solutions in ways that will solve the problem.

Over the last 15 months I've been honored to be Chairman of the Education Committee for the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce, and in that role I have led several initiatives designed to attack some of the problems in our schools.  Our schools have a lot of good things going, and our committee only exists as a means to foster ideas and work collaboratively to bring about improvement. 

Our committee planted the seed and jump started the formation of the HHS Alumni Association.  We are working on a market research project that is designed to find out what factors parents use to choose schools and how they view Humboldt as an education option.  The committee is also tackling our school system's online image and developed an alliance between students at HHS and the school district website administrator.  These students will be involved in the development and maintenance of information on the websites, giving them great real-world experience that helps their school.

We don't have to reinvent the wheel.  We just need to have people on the Board that are willing and capable of finding ideas that work and figuring out a way to bring them to Humboldt.  That's what I bring to the table, and that's another reason to vote for me for School Board.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

4 Days Left - The Final Countdown

Ok, so it's a little late in the day to post this, but it's the first chance I've gotten to write.  It is Saturday, the weather was nice, and I walked 3.5 miles today going door-to-door in the neighborhood.

So, in keeping the Final Countdown theme, I give you reason number 4 you should vote for me for School Board.

Number 4 - Commitment

Yesterday I talked about having a vested interest in the schools, both from the perspective of a parent and a citizen of Humboldt.  Today it's about my commitment to this community and its future.

We all have choices in where we live.  Some have more flexibility than others, but for the most part, we choose to live where we live.  The reasons for choosing Humboldt vary, but whether we're here because of family, jobs, cost of living, or whatever reason, we are all here and should all care what happens to our community.

I chose to live here, just like the previous five generations of my family, and I am committed to doing whatever I can to ensure Humboldt's longevity and sustainability.  There are a lot of facets to a community's quality of life, but almost without question, a community rises and falls on the quality of its schools.  For Humboldt to prosper and progress, our schools must be a source of pride for our residents and must be valued as an asset rather than a liability. 

I am committed to our schools, and that commitment does not end at the school building doors, either.  I have said this all along, but after talking with some neighbors today, it seems as though it needs repeating.  We live in Humboldt, we believe in public schools, and we believe our children can receive a quality education in Humboldt City Schools.  So yes, we are going to send them here, no matter how many of our own citizens and even elected officials try to tell us otherwise.

Friday, October 28, 2011

5 Days Left - The Final Countdown

Now that I have that song stuck in your head...
We're down to the last five days before the big day.  It's been a long journey and an interesting journey, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't ready for it to be over.  It's taken a lot of time and a lot of money to campaign for this position, but it has been worth every minute and every dollar.

For these last five days, I want to take the opportunity to count down the five most important reasons to vote for me to be your Ward 4 representative on the School Board in Humboldt.

Number 5 - Vested Interest

What do I mean by that?  We all have a vested interest in the success of our schools, whether or not we have children in the system.  The schools affect home values, industry recruitment, and so many facets of our quality of life.  For those of us with school-aged children or young children that will be going to school in Humboldt, we have the most important interest to look after.  We are responsible for the education of our children. 

I'm not saying everybody on the School Board should necessarily have children in the system to be qualified.  However, a person that is a capable leader AND a parent of young children is an ideal candidate for this position.  I think that's pretty intuitive, and from what I am hearing from the community, I'm not the only one that feels this way.  I hope you consider the fact that no member of the current School Board has school-aged children, and I hope you will vote for me so I can work for the betterment of the education for all children.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Bother?

It's a question I've been asked, both directly and indirectly, since I started this campaign.  Why bother?  Why would you want to be on the School Board?  My friends have asked.  My family has asked.  And at this point in the campaign, even I have to ask.  Why do I want to put myself through this?

I have it pretty good right now.  I am doing some good work on the Chamber of Commerce Education Committee.  I guided the restart of the HHS Alumni Association and am conducting a pretty comprehensive and innovative survey/market research project on our school system, which are two of the things I've wanted to see happen for a long time.  I can work toward progress in our schools from the outside and not have to go through the trouble of getting elected to the School Board.

I could be spending my evenings playing with the kids before they go to bed, or working on the old house we just bought that we are trying fixing up.  I could have spent the hundreds of dollars on a mini-vacation or on Christmas gifts for my beautiful wife, rather than on yard signs and brochures.

I could have taken the easy route and just continued trying to work for change through the Education Committee and the Alumni Association.  But that's not good enough.  I feel, and so many people I have talked to feel, that we need a change in leadership on this School Board.  We need new ideas.  We need more than just a board that approves regular business and occasionally hires a superintendent.  We need people that aren't just on the board because some people are afraid of change.  We don't need people that only know how to ask, "Why?"  We need people that only know how to ask, "Why not?"  And we need people that want to be members of the Humboldt Board of Education because they are making the most important investment of their lives in our schools: their own children's education.

That's why I bother.  That's why I spend every waking minute thinking about how I can convince people in Ward 4 that I am the right man for the job or thinking about ways I can bring about improvement once I'm on there.  That's why I get out there and knock on doors when I really want to be at home watching Veggie Tales with my daughter.  I'm not doing this because I have some political ambition, and I'm not doing this for some sort of prestige or power trip.  This is School Board, by and large the most thankless and dead-end political position out there. 

I say this a lot, but I think it's important to point out again, that I decided to run for this office over a year ago.  I have been attending School Board meetings for a couple of years, and I knew this was something I wanted to do long before petitions were picked up in May.  I never knew it would be this difficult, largely because I was assured until May that I would not have to run against the incumbent.  But even when he changed his mind and decided to run for another term, there was never a question of whether I was still going to run.  Even then I thought, "too many people in this town are fed up with our schools to re-elect the same person again." 

I've run across some sentiment that I shouldn't run against Mr. Lewis because he's a nice guy and it's not a very nice thing to do.  These local elections are tough because they inevitably pit neighbors and friends against each other, and that's what keeps many good candidates from putting their name in the hat.  Well, I say that is exactly what is wrong with local government a lot of times.  We shouldn't have people running unopposed election after election because we don't want to hurt any one's feelings.  We shouldn't vote for people because we go to church together or drink coffee together in the mornings.  This is too important to be a popularity contest. 

If this wasn't important to me, if I didn't have a burning desire to do some good for my alma mater and my children's future schools, I certainly wouldn't subject myself to this.  It's difficult to see the other guy's sign in the yard of someone I thought supported me.  It's difficult to try to unseat the 30-year incumbent when I have to first let people know who I am before I can even get to the point of asking them to vote for me.  But if this was a cake walk, everybody would do it. 

I am not afraid of defeat.  I know that if I lose this election, there are still ways I can work for improvement.  I know that the School Board will remain largely the same as it is now.  If I lose I will simply be disappointed that we weren't ready to embrace change.  Change for the sake of change is not what we need, but I don't think many people in Humboldt are content with declining enrollment, apathy in the community, below-average test scores, and horrible reputation.  I think we're all tired of being the butt of jokes and having our property values perpetually stagnant or worse, declining, because of the perception of our schools.  I'm not running for School Board because I think I can snap my fingers and change all that overnight.  I am running for School Board because I know things will never change until we get people in there that are willing to think outside the box and come up with ideas to start the long, uphill climb toward success. 

Humboldt Schools are not what they used to be, but I still believe in what they can be.  That's why I bother.  Let's all bother to trust our schools to the next generation of leadership, to someone that has a long-term vested interest in their success.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Getting Closer

It's getting closer and closer to the big day.  November 1 is only 5 weeks from Tuesday, and I am ready!  It's been a long process getting to this point, from thinking about running, making the decision to take the plunge, getting the nominating signatures, campaigning, and now to the final stretch before election day. 

I've done everything I know to do to convince people they are making a good decision in voting for me for School Board, and I feel confident I am the right candidate for the job.  Henry Lewis has decades of experience on the Board of Education, and I've said all along that I respect that experience.  I made a decision last year to run for this position.  I had hoped I wouldn't have to run against Henry, but no matter who put their name in the hat, I knew I had to do this.

I am running for School Board because I know things can be better in Humboldt City Schools.  Change is an unsettling prospect for most people.  There is an element of fear in the unknown, and I understand that apprehension people may feel in voting for a newcomer over the known incumbent.  I may not have experience on the Humboldt Board of Education, but I've worked tirelessly in the last couple of years trying to affect change in our schools.  I am not content to sit on the sidelines and wait for others to bring our schools forward.  That's why I have committed so much of my time and energy into the work I have done on the Chamber's Education Committee.

I just ask the voters of Humboldt's Ward 4 to vote for something new.  Let me bring my ideas, effort, enthusiasm, and passion to a board that needs a parent of young children as a member.  At the end of the day, what better motivation is there than to be working for the betterment of the schools your children will be enrolling in a few short years?  That's what drives me, more than anything, to be involved.  Ella and Virginia Williams deserve a school system that meets their needs and delivers a quality education experience they can take out into the world.

 I ask you to take Ella's advice on November 1 and "Vote for Daddy."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

No campaign is complete without...

Yard signs! 

The yard signs and stands came in and I wasted no time putting them out in the neighborhood.  I think they look really good and they will remind people every day that I am running for school board.  The truth is, with no other elections happening this fall in Humboldt, it's going to be just as important to remind people there is an election as it is to put my name out there as a candidate.  We have a little over 1,000 active registered voters in Ward 4, and I want them all to remember there is an important election November 1.

I placed about 20 in strategic locations last night, mostly at intersections where people come to a stop.  Now I want anyone that wouldn't mind a sign in their yard to let me know so I can put one up! 

Now I just need to figure out a way to finance a billboard or something with these pictures.  Ella was so cute standing by my sign saying, "Vote for Daddy!"  Or, in her language, "Boat bor Daddy!"  Virginia was saying the same thing with her expression, I'm sure.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

School Survey

I mentioned in my last post that you would be hearing about a school survey in the near future.  Well, after nearly a year of planning and fine-tuning, the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce Education Committee launched its Survey of School Choice and Humboldt City Schools. 

The Education Committee is comprised of members of the Chamber and administrators in the City Schools.  Our objective is to improve education in Humboldt by focusing on the 3 Rs: Researching our market, Re-engaging our community with the schools, and building a Reputation as a premier school system.  This is a committee I chair and I am very proud of the work we are doing.

This survey is designed to identify the factors parents use to choose schools for their children and people's perception of the education offered in Humboldt.  It's part of a larger market research project.  We want everyone in the Humboldt area to give us feedback so we can get good information that can be used to focus improvement.  Please take just a few minutes of your time and take our survey, then pass it along to your friends and neighbors.  You can take the survey by clicking the following link...

I want you voters in Ward 4 to know that this is what I bring to the table when you elect me to School Board.  I have been wanting to do some kind of market research on Humboldt City Schools for years, because I want to have real, honest, and documented feedback on what exactly people see in our schools so we know what needs to be improved and what people see as strengths.

Thanks for taking the time to help us in this effort!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

And then there were two...

The deadline for filing qualifying petitions to be placed on the ballot has passed, and a challenger has emerged.  I am on the ballot running against the long-time incumbent Henry Lewis for the Ward 4 School Board seat.

I respect Henry and I think he has been an asset to the board for many years.  But when I decided I was going to run for School Board in Humboldt, I was prepared to run regardless of anybody else that might put his name in the hat.  I am running for School Board because I bring a passion for education, a new energy to the position, a vested interest in that I have two young children that will be students here, a willingness to work hard and do more than the minimum required for the job, and an ability to think outside the box and find ideas that will improve education in Humboldt.

I think anybody that has paid attention to the work I have been doing on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Chamber's Education Committee, and the HHS Alumni Association would agree that I am willing to work and dedicated to our city schools.

I will posting more in the coming months about things I want to focus on and things I am already involved in with education.  You're actually going to start hearing about our Market Research project in the next few weeks, which is something I have been thinking about since I was working on my MBA and planning for since last year.  It's an effort of the Education Committee to do research on the factors parents use in school choice and how people view Humboldt on those factors.  It's designed to give us honest feedback on where we stand in the eyes of parents making decisions on school and gives us a starting point to assess where we are and where we might need to focus.

I am excited about running for School Board and  I can't wait to get to work!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Some thoughts on TCAP scores

By now you may have seen the partial results of last year's TCAP scores.  The state has released the actual achievement levels for grades 3-8 for each district, the change over last year's scores, and the list of High Priority schools and districts in Tennessee based on Adequate Yearly Progress.

I'll start by saying that nobody should be satisfied with the scores of Humboldt City Schools.  As the Humboldt Chronicle pointed out in last week's newspaper, Humboldt was the bottom among the five districts in Gibson County, and among the lowest scoring districts in the state in the percentage of students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels.  Nobody wants to see their school district in this list, and I am certainly among those frustrated that our students aren't scoring as high as most other districts in the state.

Now, with that said, I think it is imperative we look a little deeper into the numbers and get a more accurate assessment of where we are.  There are stark differences in the socioeconomic backgrounds of the students in districts like Humboldt compared to others.  There are also stark differences nationwide in the achievement levels of students considered Economically Disadvantaged (ED) compared to others.

Looking at district scores through this lens, it is easy to see the correlation between the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch and the achievement scores.  The five districts across the state that scored the highest on TCAP tests were Williamson County, Maryville, Franklin, Johnson City, and Newport.  The percentage of ED students in these districts ranged from 11% in Williamson to 55% in Newport and Johnson City.  The five districts scoring the lowest on TCAP tests were Memphis, Haywood County, Fayette County, Humboldt, and Lake County.  Their percentage of ED students ranged from 76% in Lake County to 89% in Memphis.  Humboldt comes in at 87% of students Economically Disadvantaged.

I don't think there is any denying the fact that districts with higher percentages of Economically Disadvantaged students are going to show lower overall test scores.  It's not as simple as saying poorer students can't learn as well as richer ones; that's not the explanation.  The explanation is most likely that those kids, as a whole, aren't getting the quality daycare before Kindergarten, are dealing with more unstable home environments, and are living in a culture that doesn't value education as much as middle and higher income households.  Those are broad statements, and certainly are not the rule for all of these kids, but even the governor of Tennessee recently recognized the disparity in educational achievement between different demographic groups of children.

State education commissioner Kevin Huffman called the achievement gaps between poor and more affluent children and between African-American and white children "astounding and unacceptable" in Tennessee.  Governor Haslam followed, saying: "I'll go further than that: Those gaps are immoral, and if we want to change our state, that's what we have to change."

This is the piece of the puzzle that should make us proud of Humboldt City Schools and the work they are doing.  In the last few weeks since TCAP scores were released, Superintendent Steve Bayko has received several letters commending him for the gains Humboldt made in closing this achievement gap.  Commissioner Huffman sent him an e-mail praising the "impressive" gains in achievement and set up a phone conversation to discuss the measures Humboldt has taken to register this improvement. 

Making the grade is certainly paramount, but making progress toward the state achievement goals is very important under the No Child Left Behind law.  Schools must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in order to be considered in good standing with the state.  Of the five districts in Gibson County, two elementary schools are on the state's High Priority list for not making AYP.  Trenton has not made AYP two consecutive years, and Milan has not made AYP for the third year in a row.  Humboldt is not on this list.

Let me reiterate that I am not condoning underachievement and am not trying to spin the numbers to make it look better for Humboldt.  I just think there is more to the story than just simply taking a district-level snapshot of the test scores.  We have a long way to go in Humboldt, but it's clear that the district is making progress toward closing that achievement gap.  And I think we'll see when the full Report Card is released that when you break it down into economic and demographic subgroups, Humboldt's children are probably performing at about the same level as our neighbors.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Unofficially Official

The deadline for filing nominating petitions for School Board is August 18.  I turned in my completed petition about two weeks ago, and found out last week that I had more than enough signatures to get my name on the ballot.

So, while it's not technically official until the Election Commission places my name on the ballot, I have met all the requirements and will be officially running for School Board in a few weeks.

Thanks so much to all of you that signed!  Now let's start looking toward November 1!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What are you actually going to do?

If you get on the School Board, what are you actually going to do?

It’s an important question that I’m sure you’re asking yourself.  I’ve talked about why I think I’m qualified to be your representative on the School Board.  I talked about why I want to be on there and the vested interest I have in the success of our city schools.  But, I haven’t really answered the question of what I actually plan to do as a member of the Board of Education.

Now, I’m not going to fall into that trap of making a bunch of promises I can’t keep.  I’m not going to be na├»ve and tell you I’ll fix everything in a couple of years, or that I’ll propose this certain plan to accomplish this certain outcome.  That’s not honest and not practical, and there’s no way to know what I can actually do until I get in there and assess the situation.

So, what can I say about what I plan to do as a School Board member?  The most important thing I can say is that I plan to do something.  There is so much more to being an effective Board member than showing up to a meeting once a month.  There are a lot of positive things going on in our schools, but there is a lot of room for improvement.  Here are the areas of concern I plan to focus on:

It’s no secret the enrollment in Humboldt City Schools has been declining for a long time.  In fact, we have lost more than 1000 kids over the last 20 years.  That’s nearly half of our student population!  This trend must stop, because it is obviously not sustainable for the long-term.

So, how do we stop declining enrollment?  I don’t think there is a silver bullet.  There is probably not one single thing we can do to stop the decline; it will be a package of policies, initiatives, and improvements that will work in concert to reverse the trend. 

We have to start by getting to the root of the problem.  We have to find out first, what parents base school choice on, and second, how they rate Humboldt on those factors.  When we do the research and get some definitive insight into the true perceptions of Humboldt and the real reasons people shun our schools, then we can work toward addressing those problems that can be addressed.

Along with addressing problems, we also must recruit!  It may seem like a ridiculous prospect to have to recruit for public schools, but in urban schools districts, this has become very much the norm.  With our proximity to Jackson’s private schools and our border with the burgeoning Medina school zone, we can’t just sit by and wait for parents to choose Humboldt.  All they hear is what their friends tell them about our schools, and most of the time it’s not very flattering.  We have to target those parents that are willing to consider Humboldt, and actively recruit them to enroll their children here.

People that know me know that I talk a lot about our schools’ image.  Obviously, the most important thing we can do in public schools is provide a quality education.  But, we absolutely have to focus on the image we project, because a lot of people might see a run-down building or an unorganized website first, and never see that we have great technology and teachers in the classroom.  We have to take a close look at what parents see in Humboldt City Schools, and focus on always projecting an image of quality.  This is not to say we should put lipstick on a pig.  But there is no reason we should allow people’s first impression to be skewed by things that are in our control.

I think some progress is being made on our online image, but when I am elected to the school board, I will focus on the first impression people have when they check out Humboldt City Schools online.  This is something I have been making progress on in my role with the Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, and I plan to carry that work forward to the School Board.  I will also look at the school facilities and see if there are improvements we can make to clean up our image.  The school board alone can’t get capital improvements done, but we can at least ensure we have spotless facilities and take care of our assets.

This goes along with image, but I will take this school board position seriously.  You won’t catch me missing meetings, showing up late, being unprepared, or taking board meetings off on tangents.   What you will see from me is a commitment to do the research and propose initiatives to try to actively improve our schools. 

The School Board is responsible for policy and big-picture direction of the school system.  It is the job of the superintendent we hire to handle operation of the schools according to our policy.  So, I won’t be meddling in the day-to-day operations of the schools, unless they conflict with the larger direction of the entire system.  I will focus on policy and ideas that will move the entire district forward.

I am a problem-solver – by nature and by trade.  It’s always been my nature to find solutions to problems, and I guess that’s what led me to a career in engineering.  Engineers are people that take a problem or a need, and come up with a feasible way of addressing it. 

I do a lot of thinking and research about ways to improve our schools.  My process of problem-solving is to think about the ultimate goal, propose a solution, then see if there is a way to make it happen with the limitations we have.  I don’t start by thinking about our restraints and limiting the possible solutions.

 In my role as Chair of the Chamber’s Education Committee, I have brought new ideas that are being carried forward and will be beneficial to our schools.  Our mission on that committee is Research our city schools’ market, Re-engage people in our schools, and build our Reputation as a premier school system.  The ideas I brought to the table to fulfill this mission included starting the HHS Alumni Association, conducting a market research study on our schools, and working on our online image.  The results are that the Alumni Association is up and running, an opinion survey is going to be published this fall to gather information for the market research project, and one of the computer classes at HHS will be getting real-world experience in online media this fall by maintaining the school’s website.

The bottom line is that I am willing to work for a better school system, and I think I have proven that I have what it takes to get the wheels of progress turning. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Some Inspiration from Memphis

Why am I about to post something about Memphis City Schools, you ask?  Unfortunately we suffer from some of the same perceptions and misconceptions about our schools that so many people have about Memphis.  My wife and I went to school at The University of Memphis and lived there for a total of about 5 years before moving to Jackson.  Memphis is a great city, and I still keep up with the news there every day.

This article was published in the Commercial Appeal back in December, and every time I read it, it's just as inspiring and resonates just as much as the first time.  Anybody that has young children in Humboldt inevitably has been or will be asked the same question parents in Memphis are asked.  "Where are you sending your kids to school?  Because public schools obviously aren't an option." Well, this couple decided that their options weren't limited to private schools or moving to a "better" district.  It's long, but completely worth the read.  If you don't read anything else, at least read the last paragraph.

Not long after Mandy and Robert Grisham moved to Midtown five years ago to start a church, they began hearing about The Decision they were going to face as their son Adam got closer to school age.

Stay in Midtown, get in line for private schools, and spend tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours in a car over the next 13 to 15 years. Or move to the suburbs. 

The Grishams didn't want to move. They loved the diversity and urban amenities of Midtown. It reminded them of the San Francisco Bay Area, where they lived while Robert attended Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

They also loved the convenience of Midtown. In Northern California, they lived in one county, Robert worked in another, and Mandy, a teacher, worked in still another. Even if they could find a way to pay for private schools, they didn't want to live their lives in a car.

The couple knew there was a public school in their neighborhood. Peabody Elementary near the corner of Cooper and Young was within walking distance from their home.
They wondered why there wasn't a third option.

They also wondered why the children coming and going to Peabody were black, while nearly all of the children in the neighborhood around them were white.

"We couldn't find anyone in Cooper-Young who was sending their child to Peabody," Mandy said. "We thought it was a quality issue, but we investigated. It's a very good school. That wasn't the issue. It was a perception thing."

Robert grew up in Tipton County. Mandy was a pastor's kid who grew up in rural areas of Texas and Missouri. They met at Union University, a Baptist college in Jackson, Tenn.

Since then, they have been very intentional about where they live and why.

They moved to Northern California so Robert could attend a Southern Baptist seminary outside the Bible Belt. "We wanted a different experience, a different evangelical perspective," he said.

They moved to an inner-city area of Oakland, Calif., so Mandy could live in the same neighborhood as the children she taught in a public school. "I had some anxiety about it, but the children won my heart," she said.

They moved to Memphis because they liked urban life, but they also wanted to live in a community steeped in faith. "Church is important there, but it's a way of life here," Robert said.

They moved to Cooper-Young because it seemed to be such a thriving urban neighborhood filled with people who were actively involved in the community. It had a strong community association, a small but cool business district, a big annual arts festival, even its own neighborhood newspaper, The LampLighter.

They started a church in their home with one other couple and called it The Mustard Seed Project, hoping their tiny congregation of five would grow into a Christian community actively involved in its neighborhood, not just located there.

About two years ago, they moved into the chapel at Union Avenue Baptist Church. They renamed their community of faith The Neighborhood Church.

They still had hopes for a neighborhood school.

"We want to raise our children in faith and diversity," Robert said. "Racial diversity. Socioeconomic diversity. God's diversity."

When the Grishams moved to Cooper-Young in 2006, Adam was 6 months old. Mandy was a new mother in a new city. They both needed friends, so Mandy decided to host a Halloween party. She put a notice in the LampLighter. About 40 adults and children showed up.

That was the beginning of the Cooper-Young Parents Network, a way for families to share information about everything from play dates to pediatricians to plumbers. The parent-to-parent e-mail group became a Yahoo Group, and a Facebook page.

Through CYPN, Grisham met dozens of Cooper-Young parents with small children. None was considering sending their child to Peabody.

Why were folks so connected to their neighborhood so disconnected from their neighborhood public school?

Mandy met with Kongsouly Jones, Peabody's principal. She joined the school's advisory board so she could learn more about the school. She talked to teachers and parents and students.

She found out that Peabody offers an enriched academic program in international studies. Students in each grade study a different country each year. The school's 333 students even receive 30 minutes of Russian language instruction every day.

The school provides a full-time counselor, CLUE classes for gifted students, Orff music, art and phys ed. Teachers use SmartBoard technology in every classroom. The school has mobile laptop labs and wireless Internet. Students can join clubs for dance, digital photography, chess, science, arts and crafts.

Nearly half of the students at Peabody are transfers from other districts.

"You could see why so many parents were choosing Peabody," Mandy said. "The principal was great. The teachers were passionate and creative. We saw parents involved during and after school. The students were happy and well-behaved. It was exactly the kind of neighborhood school we wanted for our children."

Mandy organized meetings with Peabody's educators. She arranged open houses and tours of the school. The CYPN helped the school replace its 30-year-old playground equipment with donations from Cooper-Young residents and a hundred neighborhood volunteers.

"I became an evangelist for Peabody School," she said.

Two of her converts were Ginger and Josh Spickler. From the day their son Walt was born, the Spicklers assumed they would send him to private schools.

"I certainly never intended to send my kids to Peabody," Ginger Spickler said.

"It's quite a leap to send your kid to the neighborhood school that isn't actually educating any (or at least many) of the neighborhood kids, has so-so test scores, and where he'll be in the extreme minority. And if we hadn't felt so confident in Peabody's leadership, I'm not sure we'd be having this conversation."

"Ultimately, it did come down to making a leap of faith. After making what we felt was the best decision for our family, we had to trust that God loves our child even more than we do and would take care of him if we'd screwed up. Honestly, we probably went into it feeling that we would be making some sacrifices by sending him there, but at least so far, I would say it has been one of the best parenting decisions we've made. I can't imagine feeling as positive about any school as I do about Peabody."

Lurene Cachola Kelley, a University of Memphis professor, and her husband, Chris, also are converts. They lived in Cooper-Young. Lurene's parents live right across the street from Peabody. But they were planning to send their son Maddox to Campus School, near Kelley's office.

"Our experience with Peabody has made me question even more all the negative things I've heard about Memphis City Schools," Kelley said.

"I know there are serious problems, and more so in certain schools, but I know there are so many amazing teachers and students throughout the system. ... There is a certain amount of your future that you have to put in the hands of a higher being to override the concerns, distrust and fear surrounding public schools today."

This past August, Adam, Walt and Maddox entered kindergarten at Peabody Elementary, along with five other Cooper-Young children. The Grishams say there are at least eight Cooper-Young families who are considering sending their 4-year-olds to Peabody next year.

"By sharing her positive experiences with other parents and community members, Mrs. Grisham, along with other CYPN members, continues to change the negative perception about public education," principal Jones said. "Her involvement has dramatically increased the level of family and neighborhood engagement at Peabody Elementary School."

Forty years ago, nearly half of the 150,000 students in city schools were white. Today, there are about 7,000 white students in city schools, despite the presence of about 40,000 white school-age children in Memphis.

The Grishams are aware of some of the legal, political, social and cultural forces behind the abandonment of city schools by so many parents.

They are more concerned with the spiritual forces bringing Cooper-Young families together to support their community and its children.

"It's a God thing," Mandy said. "No one wants to do this alone. We couldn't do this alone. We all want to be part of the change in Memphis."

The Neighborhood Church has grown to about 30 adults and 15 children, including the Spicklers.
The neighborhood school is growing, too. 
"We're not going to sacrifice our son to a movement," Mandy said. "He's our baby. We're going to do what's best for him. But what's best for his neighborhood and community is best for him, too."
I couldn't have said it better myself.   This is what it's all about.  With great faculty and the right programs, our schools will sell themselves as long as parents are willing to give us a chance.  As a school board member, I won’t be able to force parents to send their kids to Humboldt.  But I can make sure we are doing absolutely everything as best as we can with the resources we have, so the only thing we will be fighting is leftover perceptions.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Me?

Why should you support me for School Board? In a nutshell, I am committed to Humboldt City Schools, I am capable of doing the job, and I care about the future of our schools.

I am Committed...
  • I am committed to this community.
  • I grew up in Humboldt and graduated from HHS in 1999.
  • I moved back to Humboldt in 2007.
  • My wife and I bought and restored the old family home (Bonds House) and had it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • I am the father of two girls.
  • I am committed to being involved in the community and continually making it better for my family.

I am Capable...

  • Humboldt High School - Class of 1999
  • The University of Memphis - Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering - 2003
  • The University of Tennessee - Master of Science (Civil Engineering) - 2007
  • The University of Tennessee-Martin - Master of Business Administration - 2008
Career Experience
  • Tennessee Department of Transportation
    • Roadway Design - 2003-2010
    • Project Management - 2010-Present
  • Licensed Professional Engineer
Leadership Experience
  • TDOT Executive Leadership Academy - 2007
  • Humboldt Chamber of Commerce
    • Board of Directors - 2010-2012
    • Chair-Education Committee - 2010-Present
    • Vice President (President-Elect) - 2011-2012
  • Gibson County Leadership - 2011
  • Humboldt High School Alumni Association - Vice President - 2010-2011
I Care...
  • I care about public education.
  • I care about Humboldt City Schools.
  • I believe our schools are assets - not liabilities.
  • I have been involved in Humboldt City Schools since moving back.
    • Volunteered to chair the Education Committee
    • Started the Humboldt High School Alumni Association
    • Am leading a market research project on Humboldt City Schools
  • I am proud to say I am from Humboldt and proud my children will be fifth-generation HHS alumni.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Starting Line

For years I have been planning to run for School Board in Humboldt. I have always been passionate about education, and I am committed to getting involved in our public schools to make them better.

The time has finally come for me to throw my hat into the race and run for School Board representative for Ward 4 in Humboldt! It's something I take really seriously. I am committed and capable, and I truly care about the job I am campaigning to win.

I have picked up my petition and am in the process of obtaining the necessary 25 signatures of registered voters in my ward so my name will be placed on the ballot. If you care about our community and our schools, and want to see progress happen on our school board, sign my petition. This petition is due at the courthouse by August 18.

Then, of course, vote for me November 1.

I look forward to meeting you and working to make Humboldt City Schools even better for all our children!