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Is the MPS intervention another sham?

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

The first email from a Montgomery Public Schools principal landed in my inbox two weeks ago, and it was filled with depressing observations.

This principal had supported the Alabama State Department of Education’s intervention into MPS, had expressed hope that it would finally fix the ailing school system, that the promises of more resources and focused attention would come to fruition.

Then the ALSDE intervention team auditors showed up at his school. They spent about an hour there. They talked to him and his staff for 20 minutes. Then they were gone.

And he knew the score.

Others in the system did too. Over the last few weeks, I’ve received emails, calls and messages from principals, teachers, county school board members and parents.

Some are angry and confused. All are disappointed.

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Because they see it coming.

Another pat on the head, more window dressing, more empty promises behind good intentions.

With every passing day, that’s what this MPS intervention seems to be – a way to placate a community by doctoring a few symptoms instead of looking for cures to the underlying diseases.

That’s what Montgomery’s educators – the real ones, the ones who show up to work and still care and still want the best for this system – want to see out of this. They want some real help.

But what they’ve seen so far is another splashy effort to identify the problems we already know about.

Oh, a lack of parental involvement, behavior issues and technology shortages are a problem within MPS? That’s like telling the captain of the Titanic that it’s the hole causing the problem on his boat.

State superintendent Michael Sentance defended the reviews, which were guided by school improvement manager Jermall Wright.

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“They are very comprehensive reviews, and they’re the same reviews used to assess charter schools in other states – to determine if they remain open,” Sentance said. “Surely if it’s enough time to determine if you’re going to close a school, it’s enough time to determine how to help one.”

That’s a fine talking point, but it makes no practical sense.

Assessments of charter schools are mostly based on scores and a set of criteria, and the classrooms/leadership assessments are merely a small piece. And those are for one school, not an entire, intertwined system that’s plagued by decades of unfair and illegal actions, poor management and community indifference.

MPS is the latter. And then some.

You’re dealing with people who are trying to manage a school system that has watched nearly every white person with means remove their kids from that system. You’re dealing with people who have fought off meddling mayors and city councilmen with bad intentions. You’re dealing with people who have watched, in dismay and anger, as the white part of Montgomery has turned its back on educating black children.

To top it off, your own review proved what many had expected for years: more money and resources were being funneled away from the struggling, most desperate schools, and to the magnet schools, where some of the city’s well-to-do still send their children.

When you have those kinds of problems, and those problems persist for decades upon decades, distrust grows.

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And so, when these folks are promised a comprehensive intervention that will transform the MPS system, and instead they see questionable hires landing big-dollar contracts and their first real interaction with the state team is auditors hanging out for 30 minutes and writing about the superficial issues, they start to dismiss the whole thing.

That’s where you are right now with many in MPS.

And here’s the shame of that: So many MPS employees want so badly to help fix this system, to rid it of the worthless parasites that help drag it down and to implement the fundamental changes that will see it grow into a decent system.

They just want to be sure that’s what this intervention is about. And that it’s not one more attempt to mask the inadequate education of poor, black students so that rich, white parents feel a little better.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.