State Rep. Parkinson urges Metro Council not to appoint John Little to school board

John Little on an April 20 podcast with the Powerful Parent Network, a movement of parents who say the education system is not working well for children in low-income communities of color and want more choice. (Photo: YouTube)
John Little on an April 20 podcast with the Powerful Parent Network, a movement of parents who say the education system is not working well for children in low-income communities of color and want more choice. (Photo: YouTube)

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson really doesn’t want Metro Council to appoint political organizer John Little to the Nashville school board.

Parkinson, D-Memphis, waded into the messy world of education reform politics with a letter to council members on Monday urging them to pass on Little for the appointment of a replacement to board member Anna Shepherd, who died unexpectedly last month.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

Little has been hired by education reform groups and helped launch a parent engagement group that was funded by proponents of education reform. Parkinson said Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools have a history of collaborating, citing Shepherd’s support for the districts refusing to share some student data with charter schools.

Parkinson said Little was on the other side of the issue in a blistering letter before council makes the appointment July 21.

“Ironically, a person who was at the center of the data controversy in Memphis and Nashville now is seeking the Metro Council’s appointment to potentially fill the remainder of Ms. Shepherd’s term on the Nashville school board,” Parkinson said in his letter. “John Little is a political operative who for years has been on the payroll of state and national charter- school special interests seeking to privatize public education in Memphis and Nashville.

“Among other activities, Little coordinated with the ASD to use student and family contact information against SCS in order to steer kids toward failing ASD charter schools. The situation became so dire that SCS denied the ASD’s data demands out of concern the information would be given to Little himself and other people inside of the organizations he was paid by, some of which had felony records and none of which had been vetted to have custody of such personal information. Despite evidence that the legislature actually did not intend for student and family contact information to be used for charter marketing and recruiting, the State Department of Education eventually went to court to compel its surrender.”

Parkinson went on to say that while working for the Tennessee Charter School Center, Little also backed a state initiative to strip local school boards of their ability to approve charter schools.

The litany of instances in which Little has worked against public education in Memphis and Nashville is too long to recount in this letter,” Parkinson said. “But if you need more information or would like to discuss the matter, please feel free to contact me.”

Tennessee Lookout forwarded the letter to Little.

“At this point in our nation’s history, I would expect more, but I understand the history that I have with Representative Parkinson,” said Little in response.  I” think it’s time we come together as one team — our director of schools, the school board, and our community — whose sole objective is service to our students. I remain hopeful that it is finally time to listen to Black men, to hear our ideas and dreams for our communities, to support our leadership, not to continue assassinating us, including in the press.” 

“District 4 needs strong leadership from the next board member, and by talking to over 100 parents, educators and stakeholders I realize that I need to focus on the voters in this district,” Little said.
In addition to Little, former educators Stephanie Bradford, Steve Chauncy and Nabaa McKinney are vying for the appointment to the board. The appointment will serve until November when there is a special election to complete Shepherd’s term, which expires in 2022.