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Williams calls on board members to stand up, step up, speak up for public schools

Motoring the floor between rows of attendees at Monday afternoon, radio and TV personality Montel Williams provided an energizing close to NSBA’s 75th annual conference in Nashville.

Sporting a bright red “Stand Up 4 Public Schools” badge, Williams delivered – “shot gunned,” as he put it – his assertion that school board members must spread the word about issues such as how U.S. public schools graduated a record 82 percent of high school seniors last year, including more than 140,000 minorities.

“Right now, we’re at such a critical juncture in our democracy that it is time for you to start taking credit for what you are doing to make sure this democracy stays the way it is,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from in this country, it doesn’t matter your background, if you have two parents or one parent, or are black, white or Asian, education is the greatest equalizer the world has ever known. With that education, you cannot be denied.”

A 22-year U.S. Navy veteran who now owns three companies in the biotech food and advertising fields, Williams denounced uninformed critics of public schools and others who “want to steal our children” in order to access billions of dollars in public funds.

“I don’t care what you hear about the education systems in other nations doing two points or three points better in math. So what? Show me last year how many startups came out of Finland or Sweden. We have the most entrepreneurial population of citizens of any country on this planet, and we have them because of you,” he said.

“I stand before you today because of my public education. It is the reason I am the person I am, and the reason why this nation can live up to its potential,” Williams said.

An ardent advocate for arts in education, Williams urged leaders who champion science, technology, engineering, and math studies to ensure STEM attention adds back the ”A” to STEAM.

“Unfortunately, we’ve gotten caught up in an argument for the soul and the foundation of the United States of America. For the last 20 years, we’ve been putting out individuals who don’t have the ability to use a slide rule,” he said. “The highest paid hourly job in New York City is plumber or electrician. Why? Because we aren’t training kids to understand an elbow joint, to keep the infrastructure of this county going.”

Williams left his audience with a challenge.

“When you go back to your community, don’t just talk to another school board member or another teacher about what you learned,” he said. “If you do not tell someone about the power of this meeting within two days of going home, you are a failure. If you don’t do it, who will?”

Earlier in the session, incoming NSBA president John D. Tuttle of the Kellyville, Oklahoma, Board of Education assumed his duties and shared his desire to take NSBA’s Stand Up 4 Public Schools campaign to a new level.

“My message will be not only that we stand up but that we step up and speak up for public education as well,” Tuttle said. That campaign is designed to motivate us to action. We must be willing to step up for public education and be responsible for our children. It will take all of us to speak up for the many whose voices are not being heard.

“It is hard work…but folks we can do it. We can stand up, step up, speak up for public education because we are motivated, we are inspired, and we know that the future of our children is worth all of the work,” Tuttle said.

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