Nancy Donahue: Cole not “beholden”

Nancy Donahue, one of the organizers of The Studio School, sent this message to SIS:

I have had the opportunity to talk with Maya Cole twice in the past two weeks and I am convinced that she would be an excellent addition to our school board …someone who can see the big picture and incorporate it into a vision for our schools and our community. A change agent? Moreover, Maya is unfettered by the MTI machinery and political agenda so I can trust that her votes are guided by her own judgment. I am also supporting Rick Thomas for many of the same reasons.
I think that it is imperative that we make every effort to ensure that the people we elect are not “beholden” to any large organization to support their campaigns. MTI’s questionnaire flagrantly and publicly advertises that candidates must comply with the MTI agenda if they want MTI political support (which would be difficult to pass up). But the campaigns are just the beginning of an insidious political relationship. Along with MTI support comes the continual threat of repercussions (i.e., public criticism and withdrawal of support) if, once elected, a candidate should muster the personal integrity to cast a vote that runs counter to the MTI position. I prefer that our school board members feel free to cast votes based on information rather than intimidation.

I know that most SIS readers are well aware of this situation but I thought it deserved mentioning again…and again…and again. It probably goes deeper and reaches farther than people realize. Throughout the process of developing our proposal for The Studio School I had opportunities to talk and meet with MMSD teachers. I find it very interesting that early in the process they would come to planning meetings, meet with me in coffee shops, email me, and talk on the phone…but they never seemed to feel comfortable attending school board meetings or speaking out publicly in support of The Studio School. Why was this? Were they intimidated? I think they were. I did have a couple of conversations in which teachers expressed concern about going against MTI and/or the impact it would have with other teachers (i.e., coworkers). Is this really the kind of climate in which we want our teachers and children to spend their days? A climate where people are intimidated into silent complicity? I am also concerned that principals work in a similar climate. I thought that our country was rooted in freedom of thought and speech. Freedom to choose our own ideologies. I thought that Madison valued thoughtful, informed and independent thinking. I want my children to attend a school and to live in a community that supports personal integrity and responsibility. A safe place where they feel free to act and speak out in accordance with their convictions; without fear of intimidation, insult or injury from others…especially school or community leaders. Hmmm…isn’t this something we learned about in school?
And speaking of leaders, I still wonder why Johnny Winston, Jr., our school board leader, withdrew his support during the final few weeks before the BOE vote on our proposal. In late December, Mr. Winston assured me that he would “not vote no.” Yet, after consistently saying (privately and publicly) that he supported The Studio School, he suddenly had a change of heart and voted “no.” (By the way, he remains endorsed by MTI. ) Sparing the details, the net effect of Mr. Winston’s support was that it undermined our efforts – it certainly didn’t advance them. At best, I now question his leadership, reliability, and effectiveness in supporting an issue. At worst, I question the motives behind any vote he casts – especially if it involves an issue that could require standing up to the MMSD and MTI power structures.
Regarding The Studio School, we are continuing in our efforts to open The Studio School in the fall. So please check our website to follow developments.