Hillsdale College’s Assistant Vice Provost Kathleen O’Toole Discusses Barney Charter School Initiative Coming to Three Counties in Tennessee

Hillsdale College’s Assistant Vice Provost Kathleen O’Toole Discusses Barney Charter School Initiative Coming to Three Counties in Tennessee


Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Assistant Vice Provost of Hillsdale College, Dr. Kathleen O’Toole, to the newsmaker line to talk about the Barney School Initiative that will be brining public charter schools to Tennessee’s Rutherford, Shelby, and Madison counties.

Leahy: We are joined now on our newsmaker line by Dr. Kathleen O’Toole, the Assistant Vice Provost at Hillsdale College. Welcome, Dr. O’Toole.

O’Toole: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Leahy: We are delighted to have you here. Very good news. I saw in Governor Bill Lee’s State of the State Address on Monday that he proposed a partnership with Hillsdale College to bring public charter schools to Tennessee that focus on classical curriculum.

Tell us a little bit about what Hillsdale College has done with charter schools. I think it’s called the Barney School Initiative you’ve been doing for I think about a decade. Tell us what that is and then tell us a little bit about how you’re going to be working with folks here in Tennessee.

O’Toole: Absolutely. Here at Hillsdale College, we are a 175-year-old institution, and we’ve been working with K-12 schools for over 30 years.

For the last 10 years, we’ve been working with public charter schools to bring classical education, which is the education that used to be commonplace in this country, to children across the country.

Through the Barney Charter School Initiative, we assist local groups of citizens in establishing public charter schools. We help them build these schools from the ground up, and we provide them with a rigorous liberal arts classical curriculum and teacher training because, after all, success in school is not just guaranteed by a rich curriculum, but you need excellent teachers who really know what they’re talking about and really know how to be effective in the classroom.

Leahy: For clarification, the name Barney Charter Schools – that’s not named after the cartoon dinosaur character. It’s named after a family named Barney?

O’Toole: (Chuckles) Yes. The initiative was made possible by a man named Steve Barney, who made a major gift about a decade ago that makes all of our work possible. Everything that we provide to these schools is given to them for free.

Everything we do is made possible by friends of the college who want to see a revival in American classical education and improvement in public education in this country. And so these schools apply to work with us.

If we accept their application we give them classical curriculum, teacher training, and teacher observations. And they come and attend conferences here in Hillsdale. And all of that is available to the schools at no cost to the schools themselves.

Leahy: Right now, how many Barney Charter Schools are there around the country?

O’Toole: We are working with 50-plus private and charter schools across the country. Some of those schools we have helped found through the Barney Charter School Initiative and some of them are schools that have come to us saying we want a more excellent curriculum – can you advise us?

And so it’s a nationwide effort. It serves students in every type of neighborhood in this country. And it’s a really exciting thing to see.

Leahy: One of the things I love about your curriculum – I’m very familiar with Barney Charter Schools – is your focus on civics, American history, and the Constitution. The curriculum in that is first-rate. Tell us why that is so important in the Barney Charter Schools curriculum.

O’Toole: Absolutely. In classical education, we study the liberal arts and sciences. Our goal is to help students understand about human nature and the natural world. And our study of the liberal arts and sciences does those two things.

If we’re interested in human nature, which we as human beings all are, we’re asking ourselves, “who are we and what should we be doing with our lives?” How do we make choices that will give us the thing that all human beings want, which is happiness?

And to answer that question, we need to know about history. History gives us a lens into what human life has been like beyond our own time. And especially the rich and rigorous study of American history is important because we live in a country that is unique.

Our founding is unique. As the Federalist Papers say, it’s the product of reflection and choice, not accident and force. In other words, a group of smart people got together and thought about how a government should be structured and what the relationship between the government and the citizens ought to be. And that yielded the United States of America.

That means that if we want to understand ourselves, we can do it by understanding our founding first and foremost. And so we studied those things in Hillsdale-affiliated schools.

Students emerge from their K-12 education with a deep knowledge of American history, economics, American government, and also moral and political philosophy. All of these things help us understand how to be great citizens.

Leahy: Let’s talk about Tennessee. How many Barney Charter Schools are we likely to see over the next couple of years? And secondly, if somebody listening to this program says, “hey, I’d like to start a Barney Charter School where I live in Tennessee,” what should they do? Those are our two questions for you.

O’Toole: Yes, great. We’ve applied through an organization called American Classical Education for three charter schools in Tennessee. And those applications are with the local districts right now.

Leahy: Where are those charter schools?

O’Toole: It shows in three counties in Tennessee and we think that there’s a lot of possibility in the state.

Leahy: Which of those three counties do you recall?

O’Toole: We’re in Rutherford County. Let me look them up for you. And we’re encouraged by the governor’s excitement about it.

Leahy: Yes, he was very excited about it. I think that’s great. Rutherford County is in our listening audience. We’ve tracked a lot of reports about Rutherford County. The school board actually has turned down another charter school application there.

As you know, in Tennessee, and I don’t know what the school board is going to do with your application, but then if they turn it down, it goes to another higher education statewide group that would almost certainly approve it. When did you file that application with Rutherford County and what’s the status of it?

O’Toole: It’s just recently filed. Just in the last week. The applications are with Rutherford, Madison and Montgomery County.

Leahy: Ah-ha! Those are really great choices and I’ll tell you why. Rutherford County is a suburban county here in the Metro Nashville area. Montgomery County is also on the sort of the Northwestern suburban area. I think that you would have good chances there.

And Madison County is in the Jackson, Tennessee, area which has had, if you look at the three worst performing counties education-wide in Tennessee, they are Shelby County, Memphis, Davidson County, Nashville and Madison County, Jackson. So, I think you’ll have good luck in Madison. That’s my guess.

O’Toole: We’re really hoping for the best. We’re excited to introduce this model of education to the citizens of Tennessee, and we’re encouraged by the performance of our schools all across the country.

Leahy: As well you should be, Dr. Kathleen O’Toole, Assistant Vice Provost at Hillsdale College. I’m going to invite you to a little project. We’ve got a nonprofit here that does the National Constitution Bee every year. And we give away educational scholarships. We’d invite every Barney Charter School in the country to send kids there. This will be our 6th National Constitution Bee, with $10,000 to the winner in an educational scholarship. How about that?

O’Toole: Wonderful.

Leahy: And we know Hillsdale has big programming and content and curriculum on the Constitution.

O’Toole: Absolutely.

Leahy: Will you, Dr. O’Toole, will you be coming down to Nashville soon?

O’Toole: At some point, yes.

Leahy: Let me invite you to come into the studio. When are you coming here?

O’Toole: Well, no plans right now. I’m having a baby at the end of April.

Leahy: Take care of that first. (O’Toole chuckles) Thanks for joining us and good luck with your baby in April.

O’Toole: Thank you so much.

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Kathleen O’Toole” by Hillsdale College. 















Rutherford County Mayoral Candidate Joe Carr, ‘We Are More Than Middle Tennessee’s Trash Can’

Rutherford County Mayoral Candidate Joe Carr, ‘We Are More Than Middle Tennessee’s Trash Can’


Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –host Leahy welcomed Joe Carr to discuss his run for Rutherford County Mayor and why he is the best candidate and his top priorities if elected.

Leahy: We are joined our newsmaker line now by our good friend, former State Representative Joe Carr, who’s now running for Rutherford County Mayor. Good morning, Joe Carr.

Carr: Good morning Michael, how are you today?

Leahy: I’m great. Joe, you and I have been friends for a long time. (Carr chuckles) I want to start out with this, in the words of Ronald Reagan, (Reagan’s voice) well, there you go again. You ran for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

You and I worked very closely at that time. I ran a little PAC called Beat Lamar, and we looked at a couple of candidates that would be worth endorsing. We looked at Kevin Coates and you, and Kevin, chose not to run.

Our group endorsed you and we had a group of kids that docked on doors and had a lot of fun. You did very well. You beat Lamar Alexander in 2014 soundly in Middle Tennessee, but you lost in East Tennessee and in West Tennessee.

You ended up coming very close. You lost 49 to 40. And that was, I think a lot of people would say the apex of your political career. Then in 2016, you challenged Diane Black. You got beat about two to one. In 2018, you ran for State Senate.

I don’t remember the exact numbers, but Shane Reeves defeated you handily then. Why, Joe, do you think it’s time for you to run again for office? And why are you choosing the Mayor of Rutherford County for that?

Carr: Well, first of all, you emitted a couple of things. First of all, in 2012, I was elected in the sixth congressional district as the only state Newt Gingrich delegate to the 2012 convention.

And then again in 2016, I was elected to the statewide convention as a convention delegate for Ted Cruz, getting more votes than anybody.

So what that illustrates, I think, is my desire to serve. And in every case, that you outlined, whether in victory or in defeat, as a state rep, as a delegate, as a candidate for U.S Senate, Congress, or State Senate, I’ve always been the underdog.

I’ve always been outspent, in some cases, 10 to one. And the reason that is is that I’m an outsider. I’ve always been an outsider. I’ve always been willing to take on the establishment. And the thought of losing doesn’t deter me from the task.

And the task is to do what’s right. And so while I hear what you’re saying and I hear it a lot, I’m not persuaded that it matters, especially when I am reminded of the words of Teddy Roosevelt in the Man in the Arena. And that gives me great comfort and encourages me.

And I would encourage your listeners to Google Man in the Arena by Teddy Roosevelt, because essentially what it’s saying is the victory is to those who try, not but to those who stand on the sidelines and critique having never tried.

And so I don’t want to be one of those who stand on the sidelines and critique having never tried. I’m proud to be in this race like the other races, but I feel strongly this is something I should do and I’m not going to be deterred from it.

Leahy: So tell us about the incumbent. Who your challenger there Bill Ketron, the Mayor of Rutherford County. Now Rutherford County, growing like crazy, bigger than Chattanooga now, I think. And why is he doing a bad job? We got one minute, but just do the highlights and we’ll come back after the break with more.

Carr: Real quickly. It all has to do with his leadership and leadership style, and his inability to be transparent, open, and honest. And more specifically, on how Rutherford County is going to move forward in dealing with the solid waste management at Middle Point Landfill.

He has an RFP process that their request for proposal doesn’t solve the core problem in Rutherford County about what we’re going to do with all the trash that’s coming in from other counties into Rutherford County. I’m going to solve that problem.

(Commercial break)

Leahy: Joe, when is the election going to be held?

Carr: The primary is May 4, 2022.

Leahy: May 4, 2022. So you’re running in the Republican primary against Bill Ketron. Is that right?

Carr: That’s correct. Always a Republican. (Inaudible talk)

Leahy: Are you the only announced challenger as of this moment?

Carr: As far as I know. Yeah, that’s correct.

Leahy: So make the case. Why will you do a better job as Mayor of Rutherford County than Bill Ketron, who’s had a series of difficulties, both in terms of his own insurance companies?

His daughter got in some trouble, significant trouble, actually. And then also some election law irregularities that have kind of haunted him. But why would you do a better job?

Carr: My candidacy is certainly not in response to the long list of challenges and problems that Mayor Ketron has had both personally and financially. I want to make that really clear.

This candidacy is not a response to that, but it is a reflection of his leadership style, where there seems to be a lack of transparency and honesty, and openness.

And I think it’s very, very important for our elective leaders, whether it’d be our governor or the members of Tennessee General Assembly or our local elected leaders, to be open, honest, and transparent.

And to that point, my whole campaign and candidacy is based around being more collaborative with regard to reaching out to the city mayors and reaching out to the constitutional officers that are elected in Rutherford County.

Reaching out to faith-based organizations, and getting stakeholders in the county at the table to solve our biggest challenges and problems.

At the top of that list is the Middle Point Landfill that receives seven of the trash that comes into that landfill, which is 4,500 tons a day from outside the county.

Leahy: Why is that? Why has Rutherford County become the depository for all the trash outside of Rutherford County?

Carr: Great question. Currently, we receive trash from 37 counties outside of Rutherford because in 1996, Democrat County Mayor Nancy Allen and the County Commission, of which Bill Ketron was a member, voted to allow at that time BFI the right to bring as much trash from wherever they want, whenever they want, and how much they want into Rutherford County.

In exchange for that, Rutherford County received no tipping fees. But what that has effectively done is that we now have the largest class one landfill in the entire state by far at Middle Point.

And that contract is binding. The Rutherford County government has no authority or control over how much trash is brought in, where it comes from, or what’s deposited in the landfill.

And so we need somebody who’s going to take that matter seriously. And if we can’t shut the landfill down, we can certainly do something about making a Rutherford County only waste center.

Leahy: Where is Middle Point in Rutherford County?

Carr: It’s in the Walter Hill Community just North of Murfreesboro on Highway 231. If you know where the Alvin York Veterans Facility is, it’s just North of the Alvin C. York Veterans Facility on Highway 231, going North toward Lebanon.

Leahy: Would it be fair to say then that your campaign theme might be some variation of throw the trash out?

Carr: (Laughs) Excellent. I hadn’t thought of that.

Leahy: You like that?

Carr: I’m not going to borrow it. I might just steal it.

Leahy: You can steal it if you want to.

Carr: That’s exactly right. Because we do have a serious problem. And I mentioned this at the end of the last part, we get 4,500 tons of trash into Middle Point every day. This is according to Republic. 3,000 to 3,500 tons of that comes from outside our county. And so we have a huge, huge problem.

Leahy: Do residents of Rutherford County consider the landfill issue the number one issue in the county right now?

Carr: Yes, that is the absolute number one issue. But as you move away from the landfill, especially if you get towards the Blackman Community in Rutherford County, the second issue is the urban sprawl and growth, as demonstrated by all the apartments that are going up, because the apartment construction in Rutherford County is not paying for the infrastructure that it needs to support it.

We are horribly out of balance with regard to the type of development that is going on. And the fact is it’s not paying for itself. Property owners are paying for the development of apartments and we need to recalibrate that.

Leahy: Isn’t Rutherford County going to be for the next decade, perhaps the fastest-growing county or one of the fastest-growing counties in all of the United States of America.

Carr: It is. And that is what is projected which is why we need a Mayor who takes a much more collaborative approach to solve the problems. And that Mayor needs to bring the stakeholders together, the city mayors, the constitutional officers, the organizations, the Chamber, those leaders in the community and say, let’s put a plan together about the vision of who we want to be.

We’re more than Middle Tennessee’s trashcan. (Leahy laughs) We’re more than a bunch of apartments going on. We’re more than urban sprawl and a suburb of Davidson County.

We’re much better than that. We’re greater than that. And I think somebody was a vision to bring those groups and people together that can help us to find that moving forward. We are at a critical point right now.

Leahy: Do you get a sense that among Rutherford County voters, they’re not happy with Bill Ketron’s leadership?

Carr: I think there is great disappointment in his leadership and his inability to cast that vision and work collaboratively and solve these problems that I’ve outlined, which is exactly why I’m running.

Leahy: So what are you going to be doing on your campaign? Do you have events scheduled? What’s your first event? Do you have a kickoff event?

Carr: We’re just getting started. And so we’re going to put all that together. And, of course, with your permission, I’d love to come back on from time to time and share those things with you and how the campaign is going.

And as issues arise, how we can address some of those through your microphone, because you have a very strong a loud voice here in Rutherford County. But we’re just now putting all that together.

We’re going to raise a good bit of money and we’re going to have obviously a strong volunteer grassroots ground game. You taught us that in 2014, Michael, how critical that is to be successful.

And I want to say that even though we lost in 2014, that was absolutely a monumental and wonderful experience for me personally, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything even though I was defeated, it was a wonderful experience.

Leahy: It’s interesting you talk about the ground game because, in 2014, it was very effective in your campaign against Lamar Alexander. But it’s interesting in 2020 with COVID, I mean, there was no ground game whatsoever. Do you see that changing in 2021?

Carr: Yes, we’ve already seen that change. As a matter of fact, last year, we saw that change in the summer of last year in August. As you probably know we did our T-Bones event, and we supported Manny Sethi.

And for the first time, our T-Bones and politics supported a single candidate. And in late July or early August, we had the largest crowd ever at a T-Bones event where we had over 900 people who attended.

Leahy: It was a big crowd. A very big crowd.

Carr: It was great. And so I think people are ready to get back out and return to normal. That old version of normal. The people aren’t interested in new normal if you know what I’m saying.

Leahy: I hate the new normal. I like the old normal.

Carr: (Laughs) I’m fine with the old normal. We’re going to be sensitive to people’s requests about door knocking and facial covering. We’re going to be respectful because you’re on their property and you want to be respectful of those rights. But I think we’re getting close to the old normal.

Leahy: Well, I think you’re probably right about that. I think people are very eager to get out and get back to doing things. So I think the face-to-face connection that has been traditionally part of the plan for political candidates is one that I think will be making you come back here. How do people get in touch with you, Joe? And how do they reach out if they’re interested?

Carr: Currently we have our website, which is Carrformayor.com  And then we’ve got our Facebook page, which is my personal page, Joe Carr, and also Joe Carr for Tennessee Facebook page.

There are multiple ways they can get in touch with me directly, and I will be glad to communicate with them directly. Again, I’m going to be out there myself, along with a lot of volunteers. But I grew up in this community.

My family goes back six generations in Rutherford County. I know the people here. I grew up here. I went to grade school, high school, and college here. This is my home, and I want to preserve it.

Leahy: Former state representative Joe Carr just announced he’s running for Rutherford County Mayor. Thanks for joining us. And come back again in studio, please, if you would.

Listen to the full second hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Background Photo “Rutherford County courthouse” by Pollinator. CC BY-SA 3.0.