Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Maryville City Schools

Posted on December 6, 2011

Mr. ALEXANDER. Madam President, I wish to speak this afternoon about a lesson that Washington, DC can learn from Maryville, TN, which is my hometown. It is a lesson that most of us learned in kindergarten and I learned in my mother's kindergarten, which was in a converted garage in our backyard, and it was three words: "Work well together."

The latest example of that was all over the sports pages of my hometown on Sunday: "Historic Championship: Maryville Wins the 13th State Title -- Most Ever." Our football team has learned to work well together. They earned their second consecutive State championship, as the newspaper said. They beat Memphis Whitehaven.

I watched the game on statewide television. Their record this year was 15 and 0. It was their ninth State title and ninth perfect season under an extraordinary coach, George Quarles, who has won 179 games and lost 13 in his career. This is the most State titles of any school in Tennessee’s history. The team scored 35 or more points in 109 of Coach Quarles' first 191 games. Maryville has averaged 30 or more points in 12 of its 13 seasons under coach Quarles and its senior quarterback this year, Patton Robinette, who has scholarships from good schools everywhere, was named the Gatorade Tennessee Football Player of the Year, part of which has to do with his academic credentials. He has a straight A-plus average.

This leads me to the second thing they work well together on in Maryville, TN. The Maryville city schools were named the best overall school district in the State, based on their academic performance, by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. The Maryville city schools recently received all As on their State math, reading, social studies, science, and writing assessments.

According to the Tennessean, Maryville city schools have the second highest test scores in the State in reading and math. The high school was selected as one of three finalists in the prized category of high schools "based primarily on student achievement gains and progress over time." More than 80 percent of Maryville High School students were proficient or advanced in math, 88 percent in reading/language arts. More than 90 percent graduated in 2010 from the high school. Four seniors were National Merit semifinalists. 48 percent of Maryville High School students who took the ACT college prep test last year met all four benchmarks for college and career readiness -- English, math, reading, and science -- compared to 15 percent Statewide and 25 percent nationally. So the football team and the students have learned to work well together, academically and athletically, at Maryville High School.

How did this all happen? I know a little bit about this. I am a proud graduate, as the Presiding Officer may have suspected by now, of Maryville High School. I have wondered about this for a long time: How could it have had such success in so many things? It is not the richest town in the State by a long shot. Most families in Maryville would describe themselves as middle income.

One indicator of why they succeed and why they achieve so much excellence in so many ways in their schools is that the town devotes about 70 percent of its budget to its schools. It is in a county where about half the citizens – 50 percent of the citizens of 100,000 in Blount County -- have a library card. It is a place where -- at least it was when I was there -- if you get in trouble at school, you get in trouble at home. I can remember being called to the principal's office and administered pretty stern discipline when I was in the eighth grade, and I received the same treatment when I got home, even though my father was chairman of the school board. So there was none of this business about parents blaming the teacher and the principal for what the child had done.

But I think the school principal, who is new to the town -- Greg Roach -- said it best. I saw him being interviewed at half time during the football game last Saturday night.

He was asked: How did this happen? How did you have this champion football team more than any other school in the State and then you are named the best school district in the State? How can you do that all at once?

He said: Well, it is a town school and when something happens, everybody shows up.

Well, they showed up at Tennessee Tech for the football game last Saturday night, but they also show up at the annual academic awards banquets. I have been to those, and over the last several years it is more like a sporting contest, with this student winning the Spanish championship and this one doing well in Latin and getting the same kinds of honors, awards, scholarships and pats on the back that football players do.

This emphasis on excellence in education and athletics is not something new to Maryville, TN. My grandfather sold his farm in the county to move into town so that my father could go to school, and my aunt said my father felt as though he had died and gone to heaven when he had that opportunity. My father, who was an elementary school principal after World War II, ran for the city school board with four other men and women and they stayed on the board as a ticket. They were elected every year as a ticket. They stayed there for 25 years, with the whole objective of improving the quality of the education in the Maryville city school system.

While all that was going on, my mother taught in the preschool program -- really the only one in our county at that time, although I think Mrs. Pesterfield also had a preschool program. But Mrs. Alexander's -- I used to call it lower institution of learning -- had 25 3- and 4-year-olds and 25 5-year-olds in the afternoon. She was lobbying the whole time to the school board on which my father served to put her out of business and start a public kindergarten, which they eventually did in our State.

I used to talk about the Maryville schools and the community of Maryville when I was running for President 20 years ago, and my friend, Bill Bennet, who was also a U.S. Education Secretary, was chairman of my campaign. He would say to me: Lamar, not every community in America is Maryville, TN, and I know that. I know that. But I think a lot more could be. There are a lot of theories about what makes a good school, but I think Principal Roach may have it about right. It is a town school, and when something happens, everybody shows up.

I think our new speaker of the house in Tennessee, Beth Harwell, had it right too when she observed that our State legislature finished work early. They had some disagreements but worked well together, got some results, and she said they learned in kindergarten to work well together, and that maybe that would be a good lesson for Washington, DC.

Well, I think Speaker Harwell is right. The example of the Maryville football team and the Maryville students is also right. When everybody shows up when something is going on, and when people work well together, good things happen. Working well together -- in our case, bipartisanship -- is not a goal, just as working well together was not the goal of the football team. They wanted the championship. It was not the goal of the students. They wanted the scholarship. But they knew they had to work well together as a community to get a result.

They got a championship football team. They got the best school district in the State. Perhaps that is a lesson for the Senate as we seek to take the very difficult responsibilities we have and earn the respect of the men and women of this country who hired us and sent us here to solve problems.

That is why today I would like to celebrate the success of the championship football team of Maryville High School and the championship school district of Maryville, TN, and suggest their lesson of working well together might be a good lesson for us.

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