Newly appointed superintendent of Wake County Public Schools Anthony Tata faced a packed house at Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh for a public forum organized by NC HEAT and the Parent Advocacy Working Group (PAWG). Tata fielded a number of hard hitting questions from students, parents, and community members for more than an hour, with the line at the podium seeming to be constantly growing longer. Questions from the community covered a broad range of topics, from the neighborhood schools model being touted by the board majority, Tata’s commitment to creating equitable and diverse schools, the achievement gap, the school to prison pipeline, the budget crisis, and Tata’s background that qualified him to lead one of the nation’s largest school districts. Here’s a sample of some of the questions that were asked:
“…Mr. Tata, Do you think a sound basic education is a HUMAN RIGHT? If it is a human right, shouldn’t it take priority over neighborhood schools? What if, under neighborhood schools become racially and socio-economically isolated? What are your thoughts about research that shows that high minority and high poverty schools are typically low-performing because the best teachers don’t want to teach in those schools? Part of that research also shows that even with additional salary, high quality teachers can’t be coaxed into staying at those schools – like in Charlotte-Mecklenburg — so even pouring extra money into the schools (which doesn’t even exist), doesn’t work”.
“…Mr. Tata, there are huge achievement gaps in the Wake County School System – they are generally larger than the statewide gaps. Black and Latino students, students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and poor students all perform lower. What are your strategies to reduce those achievement gaps and which strategies will you prioritize in your first 6 months? Will you come up with a written plan to close the achievement gap and include us parents and students in writing it – and how will you make sure the issue doesn’t become lost”?
“…Mr. Tata, what do you think the purpose of school discipline is and what are your thoughts about school discipline and education?” Part of our Title 6 complaint to the Office of Civil Rights is about the unequal application of discipline for students of color – what will you do to ensure this stops? How will you make sure discipline is being applied fairly and in a therapeutic way? Are you familiar with the school to prison pipeline, especially with young men of color? And do you see a link between suspensions, expulsions, and students winding up in the criminal justice system? How do you think schools could work on cutting that link”?
Throughout the forum, Tata stated over and over again his commitment to diversity in schools and raising student achievement for all students. The new superintendent also stated that he wasn’t necessarily sold on the idea of neighborhood schools, but rather, wanted to create high achieving schools and ensure that no schools became high-poverty–which would be an inevitable result of the transition to neighborhood schools. However, Tata’s answers to most questions were generally vague and he avoided directly answering many of the more challenging questions that came his way.
Forums such as these are important to continue to hold Tata accountable and express the will of the community. And we must continue our organizing in our schools, our neighborhoods and communities, in our churches, and everywhere else to keep building a movement to hold Tata accountable not only to the promises he made at this forum, but to follow what our community wants, deserves, and needs from our public school system.
For news coverage of the forum, please see: