Little Rock, Arkansas
Sam kept sane by moving forward. He still saw Todd and Max for videogame and beer nights at their place. Todd didn’t like shoot ’em up games, so preferred Crash Team Racing while Max and Sam were partial, to the escapist violence of Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil.
Gaming was a great way to be together, while not getting into deep topics of discussion. He and Todd vented, about work at IBEW call center. Each sounding boards for each other.
Sam shied away from the painful topic of Curtis at Kilby or missing Eunice. The one time he and Todd spoke about it, felt odd. Sam got a sense Todd may have lied about being in New Orleans, at the time of the massacre.
Sam proceeded with his trip to Little Rock, that had to be rescheduled after the incident. He looked forward to a few days away. Tom Horsley had him staying at a Motel 6, off of I-30 at Baseline Road, just a mile from the school.
Since Sam last saw Tom Horsley at his awareness rally in Montgomery, Tom had won the Arkansas Teacher of the Year award and been promoted to principal. Now he could be Sam’s mentor and groom him for his VP interview.
Horsley was known by those in the public school system, as the Turnaround Principal since he’d done several special interest interviews for local Little Rock news. His school had previously been the lowest performing, until Horsley recruited and trained 22 new teachers in two months. He was kind and decent looking, which may have added to his local celebrity appeal.
After a day auditing classes, Sam had dinner with Horsley a Kelsey’s near the motel.
“Sam, I started as a middle school teacher. I joined the Teach for America program and signed up for a two-year stint, in a public school in Little Rock. At first I hated it. This tiny rural town felt more remote than an island. It seemed detached from time and reality. I couldn’t even describe it to my friends back home. It’s very real down here, was the best I could come up with,” Tom Horsley said.
“Look at the numbers coming out. No one is looking at the lowest scoring schools. The numbers are being touted as, See, I told you so! We can’t afford to play victim Sam. If nothing is done, it’ll go on for generations. Tell me what you thought? What was the most noticeable difference, to what you’re used to?” he asked.
“I saw the kids relating to the teacher, as a coach supporting them with pointers instead of as an army sarge. The kids got along with each other, there wasn’t the usual bullying and fighting. I don’t know how to describe it. More camaraderie I’d say,” Sam said.
“The concept is, we coach to our core values of family, leadership, empowerment, progress and the student. If we make decisions that don’t align with these five, we know we’re making a bad decision and the students will suffer,” Horsley said.
“I can see us using this back home,” Sam said, feeling overwhelmed by Principal Butler’s expectation of him. How was he going to remember all of this?
“The reason no attempts have been made is we wait for the government to solve our problems. The difference is a bottom up approach,” Horsley said.
“It sounds new but we really are just going back to basics. The new part, is not waiting for permission. People are afraid to act without permission,” Sam said, afraid of the risk he’d be taking at home.
“Exactly. Take the elements of your activism and the just do it Nike slogan,” Tom said.
“One challenge is getting more diversity in the teacher pool. For years, the trend has been for people of color to leave the South. Why stay in a place reminiscent of humiliation and second class treatment. Along with reminders like confederate flags and slave owner statues all over the place,” Tom said.
“I can see that it’ll take a ton of luck, for this to work back home. Say a prayer for the stars to align. I’ll definitely take what I’ve learned to Butler,” Sam said.
“I bet the teachers at your school are done and you’ll need buy-in from the existing staff. If this type of change isn’t taken well it can be an auto fail!” Horsley said.
“Yes true, it could end before it begins,” Sam said.
“I’ll make you a deal. I’ll get permission from the Arkansas board, to help you get your ducks in a row. Maybe we’ll lend you teachers on temporary assignment, who can lead by example and help get your staff up to speed. They will pay it forward, to make up for our questionable history of education,” Tom said.
“By that time we’re done, it won’t matter who runs the show because it’ll be a team effort!” Sam said, more convinced of the concept than before.