Sometimes it's possible to be absolutely right on the specifics of a thing and totally wrong about the big picture.
That's what can be said about the Madison school board's decision the other night to reject the proposal for the Madison Preparatory Academy. Board members were correct to be concerned that their support for the academy could have violated their contract with the Madison teachers union, and they were right to be concerned about lack of oversight over public funds.
But what the Urban League was saying about the big picture remains paramount:
- We recognize that education is the way out of poverty.
- Our kids are failing at an alarming rate.
- What the school district has done to try to correct the problem isn't working well enough or fast enough.
- We want to try something different, something that raises the bar, that challenges our kids, that teaches them discipline and responsibility, and that provides them with positive role models that they can relate to.
It seemed to me that everyone could have avoided Monday night's train wreck by just stepping back. They didn't have to vote this month or even for another couple of months. I'm convinced there's a solution out there.
Board member Ed Hughes made the most sense to me. He said he could vote for the school to begin in 2013 after the union contract expired. Maybe that's a start on a compromise.
On the other hand, rhetoric borne of frustration about lawsuits and electoral paybacks isn't the way to win friends and influence people either. I know all the school board members. It's a hard, thankless job and none of them are in it because they think it's a stepping stone to anything else.
But I'm afraid Hughes is correct when he says that anything Superintendent Dan Nerad, a good and decent man, comes up with in response to Madison Prep is likely to look like pretty thin soup to Prep proponents.
Let's not give up on this. Let's cool the rhetoric, acknowledge our failings as a community in regard to young people of color, honor the responsibility that the African American community wants to take upon itself to solve this problem, and figure out a way to come together as a city and make Madison Prep work.