District 23 Councilwoman Emily Evans wants you to know she knows a thing or two about syntax, spelling and writing good.
In a post titled "MNPS Kan't Read" published on her blog over the weekend, Evans takes Metro Nashville Public Schools to the woodshed for poor grammar and run-on sentences she discovered on the school district's website (and elsewhere):
In response to a discussion among some residents of Hillwood about MNPS academic standards and rigor, I was directed to a portion of the Hillwood High School website dedicated to their Academic Scholars Program. There on the program's home page is a list of requirements including the "Academic Scholar Couselor [sic] Report." Thinking this misspelling might be an aberration or worried it was not I took a look at the Academic Scholars Application Form. There, under the section dedicated to the commitment necessary to participate is a sentence that would make my high school English teacher arise from the grave and go looking for her red pen.
According to Pith's copy of the Necronomicon, post-mortem reanimation rarely occurs as a result of poor English skills; usually it involves invoking an nameless ancient god and/or animal sacrifice. Usually.
Evans continues her grammatically sound critique by expressing dismay that two weeks after she first brought the errors to MNPS's attention, they still hadn't been fixed:
The tortured grammar of the "Academics" section of the website remains intact. Humiliation and contrition have taken their leave from the Director, 6 Assistant Superintendents, 7 Lead Principals, 125 Principals and unknown number of Assistant Principals who in another era might have swiftly moved to correct. Resident no more is any sense that upper and middle management understand that their inability to sweat the small stuff is likely to translate into failure on much larger and more important efforts. The pursuit appears to be largely one of mediocrity.
This is what is known colloquially as a "burn," with each multisyllabic word a turn of the screw. Her crusade also uncovered a misspelling in Eakin Elementary School's changeable letter signage, to wit:
Ouch. With so many examples to prove her point, it does seem that MNPS has invited extra scrutiny at a time when charter schools are starting to dominate local education policy and discourse. By extrapolating these errors, Evans makes a case that the dry rot of public schools and their parent bureaucracies has crept onto the front lawns of schools across the city for all to see.
It's an important argument, to be sure. But at the same time Evans was prodding the sluggish district into action and correcting the offending mistakes, Pith hears that the councilwoman also irked a number of MNPS parents, who found her post condescending as well as a sorry reward for their volunteer efforts.
"There are no excuses here," says Meredith Libbey, MNPS communications director and the proud parent of an Eakin graduate. Libbey admits that mistakes were made and says the Eakin sign was corrected the day after Evans' post. But Libbey says that parents were upset by the councilwoman's remarks, particularly because they're often the ones picking up these tasks on behalf of their kids' cash-strapped public schools.
With a website as large as MNPS's boasting "tens of thousands of web pages" — and with the district able to afford only two full-time webmasters — Libbey says the job for adding and maintaining pages (ranging from sports scores to extracurricular events) falls on the shoulders of parents who have volunteered their spare time. In addition, MNPS parents and students also volunteer to maintain the letter boards.
"It’s not usually a school principal and a teacher [changing the signs] because they’re focused on instruction, of course," Libbey adds.
She says the district is close to implementing a program whereby employees with the knowhow and interest can receive a stipend for taking on extra responsibilities, such as web maintenance. In the meantime, though, the district depends upon legions of volunteers for their help in maintaining various thankless aspects of their schools.
"It’s not everybody’s favorite volunteer gig," Libbey says of the letter signs. "You go out in the dark, in snow and in the rain and fuss with little plastic letters. [Evans' post] kind of discouraged me, because I appreciate that someone was out there volunteering doing some work. ... The main thing that kind of concerned me was I just would not want anyone to be discouraged from getting involved in our schools."
Additionally, Libbey confirms that some of those parents learned or are learning English as a second language, and are simply trying to assist their kids' schools in any way they can. The same signs that show Evans a school system in disrepair may be seen by MNPS volunteers as proof of their willingness to pitch in and help. Who knew signs could be read so many different ways?