Here’s the full text of the powerful public comment Charles Zook made before the State Board of Education Oct. 11. His dog Rufus won the Times Greatest Dog contest in 2018.
My name is Charles Zook and I am a K-12 product of the Little Rock School District. I’m also a former full-time and current substitute Secondary Ed teacher in LRSD. My wife works 80+ hours each week, week in and week out, teaching at Williams Elementary School. I’m a widower, in that sense.
2010-2011 was my first year of full-time teaching and was also the first year with my new service dog Rufus. Rufus and I taught Spanish in a portable building at Dunbar Middle School, a “low grade” school south of 630. I taught every sixth grader in the school Exploratory Spanish for nine weeks that year. Many of the students came from broken homes and extreme poverty that greatly hindered their readiness each day for school. Years later as an LRSD high school substitute teacher I got to watch them grow up before my very eyes. What a treat. Many of them still struggled with adversity outside of school. However, LRSD and LREA-backed teachers had always been a vital source of stability for them.
I attended both school graduations in 2017 and was blown away to see how far they all had come since those raucous days in the trailer with Rufus and Señor Zook. You cannot tell me this district failed those students. If you ask me, “school failure,” culturally-biased high stakes testing, and bogus school indexes are used against students like the ones I taught at Dunbar as pretexts for billionaire-backed systematic destruction of public education in order to break unions and usher in privatization.
So many of the people working to make this happen try hard to keep their connections out of the public eye. My father Randy Zook is the CEO of the State Chamber of Commerce and also sits on the board of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, a Walton Family Foundation-funded charter school advocate. His wife, Diane, sits before us as chair of your board today. Her nephew Gary Newton is a well-paid lobbyist at the Walton family Foundation.
I spoke with Jacob Kaufman of KUAR in 2015 soon after the state takeover about how this triangle seemed like a “suspect network of influence” to me. Almost immediately a relative of mine came to me and asked me to stop speaking out on this issue because it was “embarrassing the family.” I asked that relative what I should make of this blatant conflict of interest and was told with a smirk that that is just how things work in Arkansas. Duly noted. No matter how well-intentioned they may be and with all due respect, upon further reflection I would call that network of influence suspect-at-best.
But those three aren’t alone as it seems many of the roads around here lead to the Walton Family Foundation. As I stood before this board and said in May of 2016, the Walton Family Foundation wants to use their billions to break the unions and usher in a proliferation of charter schools across this country. If it’s left up to this board full of people who have proven themselves to be Walton Family Foundation friendlies then I fear they will succeed here, too.
It’ll be a crying shame unless y’all return LRSD to local control and start using state resources to support poor kids equitably rather than trying to sell them down the river so some charter outfits can make some money. That’s what the billionaires want and LRSD will suffer mightily if they get it. Just look at New Orleans.
I will leave you with a quote from a friend of mine who lived in New Orleans. She‘s a former Little Rock native. She said, “One of the reasons we left New Orleans was the school system. If your student isn’t lucky in the elementary lottery or academically highly motivated or artistically talented as an 8th grader, you are SOL. It is a convoluted, stressful, esteem-ravaging system.”
I implore you all. Do not force that upon Little Rock. Thank you.