By Cash Michaels
(Published Jan. 13, 2011 in The Carolinian Newspaper)
When soon-to-be Wake Schools Supt. Anthony Tata met with leaders from Southeast Raleigh’s predominately black community last Saturday at St. Matthews A.M.E Church, he was asked about his support for neighborhood schools.
“I never said neighborhood schools are the way to go,” Tata replied, ironically while a nearby copy of The New and Observer’s front-page headline bellowed, “TATA BACKS NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS.”
Tata explained that in Washington, D.C., where he has been the chief operating officer for the DC Public Schools for the past 19 months, there are neighborhood schools, and that as a child he grew up attending neighborhood schools.
“So I have experience in that. I’m not in the [Wake superintendent] job yet, so I’m sitting here listening and learning.”
That is not, however, what the retired Us Army Brigadier General who is scheduled to take over the nation’s 18th largest public school system on January 31, said less than 24-hours earlier.
“It is possible to have good, strong neighborhood schools where you have good resourcing, and you are building that environment of pride and excellence,” Tata proudly said, using DC schools as an example, when asked by reporters what his standard for student achievement would be. “So, in my opinion from Washington, D.C. Public Schools is that neighborhood schools are working.
But Tata, who only has 19 months ever working in a school system, didn’t stop there.
Regarding Wake Public School’s past student socioeconomic diversity policy, Tata said that “studies” had shown that students may not have grown the way “we” would have liked for them to grow.
Tata did not name the studies in question, but with that statement, he seemed to jump onboard the Republican board majority’s consistent mantra that Wake’s past diversity policy was a failure.
Critics, charging that there is more than sufficient documentation to prove that Wake County Public Schools well earned its previous national reputation as a high achieving school system, call any claims to contrary “political posturing” for the purpose of changing the system.
Tata told reporters he’s interested more in student achievement than diversity, even though diversity had previously been touted as a key factor in the school system’s prior success.
Fast forward to Saturday morning, where at least fifty members of the Southeast Raleigh community came to St. Matthews, at the invitation of District 4 Board member Keith Sutton, to meet and hear the new superintendent. Not only did former school system officials like former Supt. Bob Bridges and former school board Chair Rosa Gill attend, but four current board members - Chairman Ron Margiotta, Vice Chair Debra Goldman, Dr. Anne McLaurin (with husband and school board critic Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker) and Dr. Carolyn Morrison - came as well.
Tata told the gathering that he “grew up” with the lessons of diversity, from childhood in Virginia, straight through his experience at West Point, and in the ranks as an enlisted man, and ultimately, a commander and general.
The word “diversity” spilled from his lips so frequently and generously during the course of his remarks and answers to questions, there wasn’t any doubt for someone hearing him for the first time that the man, through his own personal life and professional experiences, that diversity in education and the military has allowed all involved to function at their highest standard.
At least that’s the impression Tata drilled to people.
“What I’m trying to lay out for everyone here is that what you have with me is someone who absolutely values diversity,” Tata, 51, assured the St. Matthews A.M.E Church audience, many of whom were retired educators. “Diversity is a strength. Diversity for Tony Tata is one of the most important things about how I operate.”
But that “value,” as one audience member pointed out, seemed limited to his staff, which the retired general boasted of having not only throughout his military career, but also in his chief operations office in the D.C Public School System. She said until she sees students diversity maintained in Wake County classrooms and schools, she would not believe him.
Tata did assure that he would work hard for the best student achievement levels from every school, and will make sure that every school will have the resources that it needs, a tall order he can’t guarantee given the school system’s expected budget shortfall of at least $100 million shortfall for the coming school year, and the tremendous challenges the system faces to keep pace with grow and capacity.
Meanwhile, at presstime, The Washington Post reported this week that according to Education Week, a national education periodical, The District of Columbia’s public school system ranked “near the bottom with a grade of D-plus” in the most recent rankings of states with the best overall education policies and student performance.
The paper did note that because DC is not a state, it was difficult to compare, but it did rank just before last place Nebraska.
Tata is expected to leave the DC Public Schools in two weeks.