Michael Mason, a member of the Little Rock School District Community Advisory Board, which provides recommendations on the state-controlled district, has written an open letter in response to criticism of his votes on school attendance zones at a meeting last week.
Mason, an equal opportunity specialist at the Housing and Urban Development Department, was appointed to the board in 2018 to fill a vacancy for Zone 7, covering southwest Little Rock. He addressed his letter to parents, students, teachers, staff and taxpayers.
By Michael Mason
As a citizen of Little Rock, Arkansas for over 56 years and voting since 1976, I have and will continue to serve my state, city and community. My citizenship in this community includes being a member of the LRSD Community Advisory Board (CAB). During the Community Advisory board meeting of December 5, 2019 several patrons asked me to resign. I emphatically refused to resign my position.
In 1963, I attended Rightsell Elementary. My father, the late Jesse Mason, Sr., was good friends with Harvey C. Ray (father of Gloria Ray of the Little Rock Nine) and the Ray family. My father and Mr. Ray both worked in the field of agriculture and separately attended historic Tuskegee Institute. During that time, we rented their home at 2111 Cross Street, Little Rock, Arkansas. Because of these strong ties to the civil rights movement in Little Rock as well as the fact that the majority of my family are trained educators – I wholeheartedly believe in public education.
In 1972, I was in the 7th grade and being bused from Little Rock’s Sunset Addition (Roosevelt & Battery) to Southwest Junior High School (located just west of University Avenue). This was at the beginning of the district’s first real attempt to desegregate the schools by busing and my classmates and I were among the first group of LRSD students. I was on the football and basketball team and often had practice after school, so my friend and I would have to take the late bus. However, sometimes the school district bus driver would pick us up to take us home and sometimes he would not. We didn’t know whether that was done on purpose or just bad work habits. The bus driver did not look like the students he was dropping off in Sunset Addition. As a result, my classmate, Carlee Johnson, and I would walk almost three miles down the busy streets of Asher Avenue and Roosevelt Road past Coleman Dairy, Richard’s Honda and Arkansas State Police Office (Troop A) back to our homes in the Sunset Addition. My wife Sarah grew up in the Sunset Addition. She was bused to Otter Creek Elementary over 14 miles from her home.
While I was a LRSD student, my school attendance zones changed at least four times. This resulted in a divided high school household with my brother Darryl Mason attending Parkview High School and me attending Little Rock Central High School from which I graduated in the Class of 1976.
My four children have also survived many attendance zones changes. They experienced changing schools from year to year as a result of rezoning. They ultimately graduated from LR Central High, Parkview High School, McClellan High School and JA Fair High school.
In 2015, my wife and I were volunteering at one of the basketball games at McClellan High School. After the game, two female students began fighting while a male student was filming the fight with his mobile device. I broke up the fight and explained to those students that they were better than this fighting and placing their fight on social media. The CAB board this year passed policies in the student handbook about placing those type of video postings on social media. In my short tenure, I believe that the CAB has made a difference and made progress in this trying situation under state of Arkansas control. We, the CAB, all believe in our students and teachers.
I believe in public education because of its universal mission to make education free, available for all children and as a means to promote more unification in our diverse culture. In the state of Arkansas, there is a high number of the population with disabilities and over 90% of the children attending school with disabilities are educated in the public schools. We know that students who receive a good public education become productive citizens and contribute to society which repeats itself with more productive citizens.
Now that we are coming to the end of the 2010 decade, it’s time more than ever to change some the old ways of education. The old lesson plans that have been used for years must be infused and/or redesigned with new techniques to invigorate the classrooms. This will produce an excitement for education that is very much needed by our children in Little Rock. My son Lamont, a graduate of McClellan High, is a senior computer engineering major at the University of Central Arkansas who recently designed and produced an electric engine. He told me that toward the end of this next decade there will be fewer combustion engines (gas and diesel) and more electric. We have to be proactive and not reactive to the needs of educating our children.
My three grandchildren, nieces and nephews are entering the LRSD and that’s my only agenda – to help set up a positive learning environment for them and all the students like them – to be successful. This will make LRSD attractive for other parents and grandparents to send their children to our schools.
So, when you asked me to resign, YOU INSULTED ME, my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my late father, my mother, Mr. Harvey C. Ray, my nieces, my nephews, my LRCH Class of 1976, (as well as the 1976 classes of Hall and Parkview), my neighbors who are teachers and my neighbors and students at Otter Creek Elementary, McClellan and JA Fair.
I support Public Schools! I support the Little Rock School District! I support Local Control!
But I also support a newer, safer school system with the proposed K-8 programs. I support making Rockefeller Elementary an exclusive Birth to Pre-K building. I support eliminating waste of resources by repurposing buildings that are over 30 years old and are not structurally accessible for persons (children) with disabilities which could create hazardous conditions and include environmental problems like corroded plumbing and black mold in the crawl spaces above and below. I support paying good teachers. I support diversity. I support making LRSD attractive to students within and without our boundaries. I support repurposing Metropolitan School and making it a complete community school where vocational training is exclusive from 6th grade through 12th grades. I support my remaining time on the CAB.