01/01/2012 05:45 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2012

Ain't No Love In The Heart of the City

Growing up, one of the lessons my grandmother imparted upon me was to, "not talk too much because your mouth can get you into more trouble than you asked for." For the most part, I follow my grandmother's instructions but not always. Sometimes I would say things that weren't nice and had no need to be said, like the time I asked my teacher if she was a virgin in the 6th grade. Other times, I would say things that weren't nice but were the truth and needed to be said, like when I indirectly called out the superintendent and board of trustees' chairperson of my school for overreacting by hastily exiting students and instituting a "zero-tolerance" policy over a YouTube video and academic performance this time last year. These days, if I choose to piss someone off by putting "my foot in my mouth," it's usually a case of the latter, but tact is the key. Indeed there is a way to say the truth without being disrespectful, because the truth can be disrespectful in its own right.

Recently, a colleague of mine, who sits on the Camden City Board of Education, called educators to task over the state of Camden City schools. As of this moment, he's facing possible suspension from the school board for mentioning "local terrorists" in a Facebook wall post that linked to a photograph of Camden City School Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young on the district's website. This may not have been the smartest thing to do considering the school board president, who reported the comment to the DOE's attention, was a Facebook friend of my colleague. Nevertheless, the spirit of his comment is understood and is no less valid because of a possible suspension from duty.

If one were to take a look around at our nation's public school system, one would see that our schools are in trouble. If one were to zone in on urban school districts, one would see some students attempting to learn in chaotic environments while they'd see others taking part in the chaos; they would see some administrators and teachers scrambling for answers while others perpetuate the chaotic nature of their districts; they would witness parents who cared about the education of their children who either have the tools and knowhow to fight vehemently for their children's education or do not have it. They'll see schools surrounded by drug sets, congregations of the homeless, curbs lined with trash and drug paraphernalia, and they'll read the newspaper reporting murders and other violent crimes in the area. This is the landscape of many of our nation's urban school districts. Camden City, New Jersey is no different. Imagine if you had to send your child to school here.

The newspaper article reported on my colleague focused on the back and forth between he and the school board president but the issue is clear: Camden City students face serious challenges both inside and outside of the schoolhouse and the leadership of the Camden City school district needs to do a better job of both establishing a culture conducive for educating students and actually doing the job. One of the first ways you do that is by making sure schools are a safe haven for students. Many of the schools in Camden are not safe havens. During the 2010-2011 school year, Camden City police responded to 249 incidents of violence in Camden City schools, although the school district only reported 22 such incidents. Currently, the State of New Jersey is investigating the data and considering a takeover of the schools. With violence being a problem, let alone a distraction, it makes sense that 23 of the district's 26 schools are ranked among the state's lowest performing schools. Clearly, action needs to be taken to address this and other issues facing the district. Yet there is waning faith in a district whose superintendent is again unable to fulfill her duties due to personal issues of a medical nature.

As I said early, the truth can sometimes be disrespectful. Yes, my colleague must be more mindful of how he delivers the truth and who's watching, if for no other reason but to protect his ability to serve the children and families of Camden City in his capacity -- I am sure that he has learned his lesson. But more disrespectful than his comment about the superintendent is the truth that compelled the comment to be made in the first place. Name calling isn't constructive; thus I urge Camden City education officials to move pass this incident; rather than focusing on whether or not my colleague "should have received a harsher reprimand more like a kick in the rear," the attention by all should be on getting the Camden City school district in gear.