Weekly Column by Sen. Alexander: "Work Well Together"

Posted on December 9, 2011

There’s a lesson Washington, DC, can learn from my hometown, Maryville, Tenn. – a lesson most of us learned in kindergarten and I learned in my mother's kindergarten class. It’s three words: "Work well together."

The latest example was all over Maryville’s sports pages on Sunday, December 4th. One headline read: "Historic Championship: Maryville Wins the 13th State Title – Most Ever."

Our football team has learned to work well together.

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 only 13 in his career – the most state titles of any school in Tennessee’s history. Maryville has averaged 30 or more points in 12 of its 13 seasons under coach Quarles and the quarterback, Patton Robinette, who has scholarship offers from good schools everywhere, was named the Gatorade Tennessee Football Player of the Year, part of which has to do with his academic credentials: a straight A-plus average.

This leads me to the second thing they work well together on in Maryville, whose district was named the best overall school district in the state 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."

The football team and the students clearly have learned to work well together, academically and athletically, at Maryville High School.

How did this all happen? Well, I know a little bit about this. I am a proud graduate of Maryville High School. It is not the richest town in the state by a long shot. Most families in Maryville would describe themselves as middle income.

One reason 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 have a library card. It is a place where if you get in trouble at school, you get in trouble at home. There is none of this business about parents blaming the teacher and the principal for what the child does.

But the school principal, Greg Roach, who is new to the town, said it best. I watched the game on statewide television and saw when he was asked during  a halftime interview, “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.”

They showed up for the football game, but they also show up at the annual academic awards banquets. I have been to those, and over the last several years it’s become more like a sporting contest, with students getting the same honors, awards, scholarships and pats on the back that football players get.

I used to talk about the Maryville schools and the community of Maryville when I ran for president, and my friend, former education secretary and talk-radio host Bill Bennett, who was chairman of my campaign, would say, “Lamar, not every community in America is Maryville.” And I know that – but I think a lot more could be. There are a lot of theories about what makes a good school, but Principal Roach may have it right: It is a town school, and when something happens, everybody shows up.

When everybody in a community shows up, when people work well together, good things happen. Working well together is not the end goal, just as working well together was not the goal of the football team: they wanted the championship. Working well together was not the goal of the students: they wanted scholarships. But they knew they had to work well together to get a result.

Perhaps that is a lesson for Washington, DC, as we seek to take the 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.

We should celebrate the success of the championship football team of Maryville High School and the “championship” school district of Maryville and suggest that their lesson on working well together (in Washington, it’s “bipartisanship”) might be a good lesson for us.