OF TAINTED WATER, A DEARTH OF QUALITY TEACHERS, AND A FRIDAY POLL

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This was a week. It ran the gambit from positive to negative and back again. As always, the positive was supplied by the hard working teachers, students, and administrators in every building. Y’all suit up and show up every week. This week was no different. Before we get started with today’s update, you might want to get yourself a cup of coffee and a snack. We are going to be here a bit longer than a New York minute. I recognize there is a lot of negativity in the beginning of the post, but unfortunately I think there are some negative issues that we ignore at our peril. Sometimes we have to do the heavy lifting.

REASONS FOR CONCERN

There were a number of things last week that crawled out of the woodwork that concern us. The week started off with Channel 5 News doing their 7th report on lead contamination in our school’s water here in MNPS. Apparently the age of the standardized test has led us to a place where simply testing is cause for celebration. There is no need to have a discernible action arise from the test, as we now consider testing itself a sufficient action. Hey, if the Tennessee Department of Education can go into the next school year before releasing test scores from the previous year, why should MNPS actually have to take action on bad water test results?

At Tuesday’s board meeting Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson spent 18 minutes explaining how great the administration was for testing the water – frequently mentioning that it was not required by law and that it was expensive. MNPS was even kind enough to issue a press release that I can only assume was aimed to counter concerns raised by DGW. Interestingly enough, the press release never lists the exact levels of lead from the water readings.

During his presentation, Henson made a couple of assertions that were questionable at best. He frequently referred to following EPA standards. Board members asked some good questions, most of which Henson danced around. The one question that nobody asked, and that Henson glossed over, was why the district didn’t adhere to the EPA’s public notification rule. The EPA is quite clear on what should transpire if water tests at a level potentially harmful to consumers. Perhaps MNPS thought the notice should come from Metro Water Services or some other entity. Whatever the case, at the very least, notification should have gone out within 30 days and included the following information taken from the EPA notification rule:

  • A description of the violation that occurred, including the contaminant(s) of concern, and the contaminant level(s);
  • When the violation or situation occurred;
  • The potential health effects (including standard required language);
  • The population at risk, including subpopulations vulnerable if exposed to the contaminant in their drinking water;
  • Whether alternate water supplies need to be used;
  • What the water system is doing to correct the problem;
  • Actions consumers can take;
  • When the system expects a resolution to the problem;
  • How to contact the water system for more information; and
  • Language encouraging broader distribution of the notice.

Henson referred to the process as a learning experience. Dr. Joseph told the school board that MNPS was like the “pioneers” in this process. Yeah, not so much. A simple Google search reveals that school districts across the country are tackling water issues, some better than others. Since Henson seems to have had trouble discerning proper protocols, allow me to offer a belated tutorial:

  • Once you get your test result report, Google “Lead in Water.” See that CDC site at the top of the list? It is a good place to start.
  • You see where they mention the EPA action level is 15 parts per billion? That means if your lead levels are higher than 15 ppb, you are putting people at risk. Here’s an example: a water fountain at Tusculum ES tested at 28 ppb. That is higher than 15 ppb. Therefore, you have a problem. Go ahead and read the rest of that site – there is a lot of useful information there.
  • Back to Google now. Google “School Districts tackle problems with lead in drinking water.” You’ll see that states from New Jersey to California are wrestling with the issue. Some are doing a better job than others. USA Today has an article from earlier this year that provides a good overview.
  • I would suggest looking closely at Bergen County, NJ, and San Diego, CA, schools to get an idea of a proactive response to the issue. I know it’s going to cost money and that might mean district leaders only get to take 3 trips each as opposed to the much higher amount they took last year. We might also have to trim a few consultants. But these are our kids.
  • Google “Portland Public Schools to Hire First Latino Superintendent” to get an overview of what happens when a district doesn’t act appropriately.

(Letter to Antioch HS Parents)

Now, moving on. Things continue to unravel at Antioch High School. This is a school that 2 years ago was a level 5 school. Last year the school lost 67 teachers. They’ve already lost 3 this year. Students last year staged a walkout in response to a number of issues directly related to leadership at the school. MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph defended principal Dr. Wiley, whom he brought in from Prince George’s County in Maryland, where she was an assistant principal. In his eyes, she’s been doing good work. This week, a letter went out to parents informing them that the school currently had teacher vacancies in the areas of Math, CTE, and Special Education. Students who are enrolled in classes that do not have qualified, Tennessee-licensed teachers will be enrolled in an online course called Edgenuity. A substitute teacher will monitor progress of the children enrolled in the virtual school. Now help me here… where does this fall under “Exceeding Expectations”?

Channel 5 did a story tonight on Antioch HS. The questions fell a little bit on the softball side and Community Superintendent Adrianne Battle really didn’t have any good answers. What also wasn’t mentioned is that Battle was recently a successful principal at Antioch HS. She knows that community and what it takes to be successful there. This situation needs to be fixed.

Recognizing a challenge in recruiting qualified teachers, MNPS announced this week a new initiative to fill open slots for the 2017-2018 year. According to the press release, joining MNPS right now could make a teacher eligible to receive a bonus of up to $6,000 per school year for high-quality instruction in these high-need subject areas:

  • Math (7-12)
  • Science (7-12)
  • Exceptional Education (K-12)
  • ESL (K-12)
  • Spanish

I’m wondering if anyone thought through how this would sit with teachers already employed by MNPS? Or how many high quality teachers were sitting at home unemployed during the second week of August? Or how this might sit with teachers new to the district this year who have already absorbed moving costs? Can’t see this contributing to a better MNPS culture, but to be fair, Chief of HR Deborah Story did tell me they were getting a lot of interest from out-of-state teachers. So if it does result in students not having to attend virtual school, it may be worth it in the end. MNEA has issued a statement opposed to the bonus plan. I would suggest that a good place to find new teachers would be to review those recently non-renewed and considered non-eligible. Perhaps all those teacher weren’t legitimately labeled as ineffective.

Both Hillsboro HS and Pearl Cohn HS have reported incidents involving guns on campus during the last two weeks. I don’t report this to instill fear, but rather to draw a spotlight on an issue that is plaguing Nashville currently and not receiving near enough attention. It seems like almost every other week, we hear a story about another young person who has lost their life to a gun. Last week, it was a Nashville DJ, 19 years old and full of promise, who was killed when a gun accidentally discharged. Former Maplewood HS principal and current Maury County Schools number 2, Dr. Ron Woodard, has continually stressed to me the need for us to do more on this issue, and I have to concur. We have to do more and immediately.

Update 8/18/2017 8:28: A member of the Hillsboro High community wrote with some kind words and some insight into the gun incident at their school. I want to share because I think they raise a very important observation and my point is not to make a community or school look bad but rather shine a light on something that is fast reaching crisis status. Anybody who knows me also knows that I am a fan of HHS principal Shuler Pelham. I think he consistently exhibits the kind of leadership this district need. Enough rambling on my part, here’s the words:

Yes, a gun was recovered on Hillsboro’s campus, and that reflected poorly on our community. However what isn’t being talked about is how it was recovered. A student stepped up and did exactly the right action when Hillsboro needed them to. They alerted the police and the administration. As soon as the car came on to school property that morning, it was detained and searched. While I hate the news that we had a gun on campus, I LOVE that we also have students of integrity who have shown time and again that for every troubled kid there are hundreds at our school who will do the right thing. As Mr. Rogers is so famously quoted as saying “Look for the helpers.” I’m proud of HHS kids and admin for how they handled this week. Its a shame that the helpers are lost in the news of a gun.

It’s important to remember good things can happen during horrible moments.

Quick note: in case you didn’t know, the MNPS school board has once again changed the calendar. The former teacher inservice day that was scheduled for September 1 is now a regularly scheduled school day. I’m sure this thrills parents to no end. Eclipsegate17, the gift that keeps on giving.

With all these issues, what do you think our school board is planning to discuss on the board floor in the coming weeks? According to the Tennessean, it’s that MNPS could be violating the Federal law governing student records by making health care, demographics, language, and other information for its 86,000 students available to dozens of officials who shouldn’t have such access. The article, one of the most lengthy I seen recently, goes on to describe the potential violations, none of which are supported by a legal opinion. The only legal opinion cited is that in May, the Metro Department of Law wrote a legal opinion about the disclosure of student data to charter schools. It said MNPS may share directory information if it believes a charter school has a “legitimate educational interest” in the data.

It doesn’t take long to figure out what the crux of the argument is and whose personal agenda it is. Last year, the State General Assembly passed a new law that says school districts must provide a charter school operating at least one school in the district or a chartering authority basic contact information within 30 days of receiving a request. That doesn’t sit well with everybody. Especially Board member Will Pinkston, who is planning to propose a new policy to ensure the district complies with FERPA.

I fully understand the importance of protecting student data. My public record on student privacy issues should speak for itself and if you want to have an overarching conversation about ways we can ensure that data is kept private, I’m all in. But let’s be clear, that’s not what this is about. Pinkston ain’t laying awake at night fretting because of potential breaches of student data. This is just one more salvo in his personal war with charter schools. A war that distracts from the very real issues we are facing. If you can tell me how the eradication of charter schools is going to fix lead in the water, the recruitment and retention of quality teachers, or the growing gun problem, I’ll jump it to the front of the line. Until then, I consider it a serious issue highjacked by one man’s personal agenda.

I have no desire to have another in an endless series of discussions about charter schools while we ignore issues that increase the attraction of them. If we fix the challenges that face our public schools then parents wouldn’t want options. Parents want quality not choice. Choice between two inferior options never made anyone happy. In most homes children are taught that they don’t make themselves look better by making others look bad. Perhaps that’s a lesson that needs to be revisited, and that goes for everybody. If you are a charter school educating all children in a transparent manner with quality results based upon multiple scales, you’ll probably be left alone. Same goes for public schools. Now can we focus?

SOME CLEANSING NEWS

I don’t want to head to the polls with all of that negativity, so let’s take a second to celebrate some positive news.

(Ribbon cutting at Tusculum ES)

Yesterday was the ribbon cutting for Tusculum Elementary School’s new building. Some of you might not have known that Tusculum has served Nashville for 106 years. All too many of those years in a building that was long overdue for demolition. The new building is beautiful and the ceremony brought tears to my eyes. Mayor Megan Barry showed why she’s the mayor. Her remarks were insightful and inspiring, a rare combination, and they were greatly appreciated. Thank you to City Council Member Davette Blalock for her kind words as well. Blalock was instrumental in seeing this building to completion. It was a very happy day for the Tusculum family.

(Hunter Hayes at Nashville School of the Arts)

The McGavock HS Chapter of the Future Farmers Of America (FFA) has been chosen as a finalist to compete for a 2017 National FFA Model of Excellence award from the National Organization of FFA. Good luck guys and keep it going!

The Nashville School of the Arts got a surprise visit from successful recording artist Hunter Hayes. That’s Nashville – you never know who will show up.

Now it’s time for my favorite story of the week.

This past Wednesday, I was in the car line at Croft MS to pick up a young man we take to Jiu Jitsu class a couple times a week. Principal Jeremy Lewis saw me and came over to exchange pleasantries. He glanced in the back seat and then remarked, “I see you have Bernadino. Hey Bernadino!” That little gesture spoke volumes to me about the commitment Lewis has to the students at Croft. Just 10 days into the school year, and he was already able to recognize and acknowledge by name a quiet, newly arrived 5th grader. That is an example of exceeding expectations.

POLL QUESTIONS

Time now for some questions. The first one relates to how the district has handled the situation of lead in the water. What grade do you give them? The next question is about what you think needs to be discussed on the school board floor. Pretend you are allowed to add one subject to the agenda for open discussion. What would it be? The last question is about your thoughts on the letter that went home to parents at Antioch HS. Is that an acceptable action? What do you think?

That’s it for today. Hope you have a great weekend. Due to the eclipse, I probably won’t have poll results until Tuesday. Please be safe and don’t gaze directly into the sun. As always, comments and criticisms are welcome. You can leave them here or email me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. For all you do, I thank you!

 

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SHOULDN’T KEEPING KIDS SAFE BE OUR NUMBER 1 PRIORITY?

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Monday night, Phil Williams of Channel 5 News Nashville ran a story on lead in the school district’s water that horrified me. I should have been prepared; after all, I was interviewed for the story. But for some reason, the depth of the report didn’t fully hit me until I watched the whole story unfold and saw the reactions of district leaders.

I’ve told you before that my children attend Tusculum ES and that my wife teaches there. Over the years, it’s been a lesson in what inequity looks like. Well, the lessons are far from complete.

According to Channel 5’s report, water in the school was tested during summer of 2016 and two fountains were found to have elevated levels of lead. The June tests showed the two fountains with lead content of 21.8 and 23.8 parts per billion. The “action level” recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency for public water systems is 15 parts per billion. The July test again showed lead levels of 16.8 and 23.2 parts per billion.

It can’t be said enough that the EPA number of 15 parts per billion is merely an action level. What that means is that if water tests above 15 ppb, action should be taken immediately. That action is either changing out pipes or disconnecting outlets. Most people fail to understand that 15 ppb was never designed to be a safety threshold.

When the Environmental Protection Agency established this action level for lead in drinking water decades ago, it was designed as an administrative tool for water districts to determine when to treat their water for corrosion control. It was never intended as a health-based standard for children. The truth is that research shows that even exposure to levels as low as 5 micrograms per decileter have been shown to have a negative effect on children’s IQ and development, as well as lead to higher rates of neurobehavioral disorders like ADHD.

So, I bet you are assuming that once the district received news in September 2016 from their consultant that two fountains were showing elevated numbers, and that at the very least a flushing program should be instituted, they hoped right to it. You would be wrong. They didn’t inform the principal until June 2017. And that was probably only because someone was clearing out their email and thought, “Oh look at that. I forgot to forward that. Let’s just do it now.”

Now you are probably thinking, “Boy, I bet the district feels bad.” Wrong again. Chief Operating Officer, and the only person on the leadership team who seems willing to flirt with accountability on district issues, Chris Henson, offered this defense: “In hindsight, would we do things differently? Would we communicate better? Probably, but we were learning as we went.” Now forgive me my ignorance, but don’t we take exception with charter schools for using our kids as test subjects? And if kids’ health is at risk, is 9 months really an acceptable time frame for learning?

Henson compounds the situation by claiming, “Once we determined how we were going to view those results, then we took action and immediately disconnected any water source that exceeded the threshhold.” Huh? Immediately? “As soon as that decision was made.”

That’s like me laying in the hospital with 3rd degree burns on 90% of my body asking you, “Why didn’t you pull me out of the fire right from the start, when you saw the building on fire, before I got burned? You saw I was trapped and knew what would happen.” Then you reply, “Well, we had to assess the situation and decide on the proper course of action. But once we did, we immediately went in and pulled you out.”

The proper course of action was clear from the beginning. Pull me out of the fire, call the fire company, and notify my family. Not hard. At the very least you could Google it and get a response in under 9 months.

I suspect that deciding how to view the results had more to do with adult concerns than kid’s safety. Concerns like how this was going to reflect on leadership. Where money would come from for corrective action. Lord knows we need every dime for our consultants and trips. Whatever the consideration, it meant that kids were exposed to dangerous levels of lead for almost a year.

When Henson was asked if he found this fact concerning, he said, “It’s concerning, and it’s something that we don’t take lightly. That’s the reason that we did this testing.” Henry Ford once said you can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do. It would not hurt this administration to mount that saying on plaques in everybody’s office. Testing without action is merely half the equation.

Testing without following through renders the action useless. It’s like the police saying, “Hey, we did a study and found you have a lot of burglaries in your neighborhood.”

“Did you up patrols?”

“No.”

“Notify homeowners?”

“No.”

“Not very helpful, are you?”

“Nope.”

I found it particularly ironic that the story on water showed up the same day that Director of Schools Shawn Joseph sent out a districtwide email on the horrific events of the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. In his message, Joseph stated:

“Nashville has a unique, uncompromising history of fighting for civil rights. We are a community that embraces the world’s children with open arms as our own, and we see our diversity as one of our greatest strengths. As we help our children understand the challenges that violence, bigotry, and hate pose to all of us as human beings, let us communicate our commitment and appreciation for diversity in all of its forms.”

Beautiful words, but apparently he doesn’t feel as strongly about protecting those very same kids from threats to their health and well being posed by their schools that he oversees. It wasn’t Joseph out there defending the district’s actions and inactions over the last year. It wasn’t Joseph on camera reaffirming to parents that the safety of their child was his first and foremost concern. For some reason, this Director seems incapable of saying “We made a mistake” or “I take accountability for this.” Yet his defenders still spin the defense that he is fixing the problems of his predecessors.

It’s important to note here that right before Dr. Joseph arrived in Nashville, his previous employer, Prince George’s County Public Schools, lost a 6.3 million dollar federal grant due to issues involving child safety. His defense at the time was the familiar, “I didn’t know. Wasn’t me.” He claims he didn’t know despite the responsible department being under his supervision.

The MNPS School Board has members who love to write eloquent prose highlighting the shortcomings of charter schools. Just this past Monday, board member Will Pinkston posted his latest recap of his ongoing attacks on LEAD Academy – I know the irony is overwhelming. He writes:

“Now, in a bald-faced attempt to cover up the facts, LEAD has engaged high-priced lawyers to slow-walk the charter chain’s response to my fact-finding open-records request. In an effort to resolve the situation, I have reached out to the State of Tennessee’s Office of Open Records Counsel. I’m not optimistic that we’ll get clear answers to what’s really happening at LEAD. If not, it may be time to consider systematically rescinding LEAD’s contracts with Metro Nashville Public Schools. Thousands of students and millions in taxpayer dollars are at stake, and it’s overdue time for MNPS to hold this bad actor accountable.”

I wonder if there is a letter to Dr. Joseph asking for clarification on the water policy. I wonder if there is a letter to the state exploring the possibility of emergency funds to help replace pipes. I wonder if there is a letter calling for a release of the location and lead levels of all water sources in question so that parents and schools administrators have the information to protect their charges. After all, thousands of students and millions in taxpayer dollars are at stake, and it’s overdue time for MNPS to hold themselves accountable.

Now to be fair, MNPS is not the only school district facing this dilemma. Districts across the country are struggling to find a way to address the health risks associated with high levels of lead in their water. What that means, though, is that there is an abundance of information available in regards to best practices for combating the issue. We just have to attach a priority to it and do the research. Something that, to date, has been lacking.

We refer to the crisis as involving lead in drinking water but we have to be careful here that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the danger comes only from water that children drink. The threat includes any water used to prepare lunches. If a school has a community garden, it would be inadvisable to eat vegetables from that garden. If teachers make coffee in the lounge, they could be at risk as well. The seriousness of this situation can not be overstated.

I watch situations like this unfold and the attitudes of district officials and it gives me cause to reflect upon the attacks on public education. I find myself wondering, who is responsible for the most egregious attacks? What hurts kids more, the proliferation of charter schools or the inability for us to keep our neediest kids safe? Look around the district right now – the abundance of schools in the midst of construction or serving kids in adequate facilities and where those schools exist – and ask yourself are we really supplying an equitable education experience for all kids?

I’ll be honest right now, I’m suffering from a crisis of faith. I believe from the bottom of my soul in the power of public education. But if a district administrator is willing to go on camera and offer cover to protect adults over kids, how is that living up to the ideals of public education? If a district allows my kids to be exposed to harmful levels of lead for over a year without regret, how is that the best choice for my family? If a school district proves itself incapable of keeping its neediest charges safe, why should it be preserved? Who does more damage to the public school system, charter school operators or district officials who don’t ascribe to transparency or accountability?

Years ago, after my father had given me a hard time for some shortcoming or another, I asked him why he was so hard on me. He never expected as much, nor was he as critical, of other kids as he was of me. He responded, “They are not my son. I don’t love them like I love you, and therefore I don’t have as high expectations for them as I do you.” When I think about MNPS, I try to remember those words.

This week, MNPS will hold a ribbon cutting for Tusculum Elementary School’s brand new building. I hope every city and school leader who steps to the podium looks out and realizes that those are the faces of the children who, through their inaction they put at risk for an entire year. And I hope they ask themselves if they are truly exceeding expectations or if those are just words on paper.

 

REFLECTIONS ON A CHILLING WEEKEND, THE FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL, AND A LOOK FORWARD

I, like many of you, spent a good portion of this past weekend following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. I recoiled in horror as the images and stories emerged from this little Virginia town invaded by groups of white nationalists. The purported reason for their presence was to oppose the removal of a statue of Civil War General Robert E. Lee. What transpired was an open display of our worst angels, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.

Heyer was a 32-year-old paralegal who chose to stand against these groups before she was struck by a car deliberately driven into the crowd by a young man with white nationalist sympathies. Her last post on Facebook ironically read, “If you are not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

I am not going to pretend for one minute to understand the romanticizing of the Civil War. You can argue all you want about what it really was fought for and what it symbolizes, but the bottom line for me has always been that it was an insurrection. Growing up a military brat lead me to a greater allegiance to the country versus the individual state we happened to reside in. To me, the Confederacy will ever remain a group of individuals fighting to create a separate union, which, at its core, promoted the buying and selling of human beings. A practice that has left a indelible stain on our great nation. One that continues to have repercussions today.

There have been charges leveled that those trying to remove memorials to Civil War generals are trying to erase history. My only response to that accusation is to call bullshit. Nobody is calling for the closing of museums nor the erasing of these stories from print. History can continue to live on sans the protecting of monuments and statues that reflect a time where many of our fellow Americans were treated as less than human.

Symbols matter. If you doubt that, I encourage you to read Joseph Campbell. Monuments and statues should exist to reflect our aspirations. When I look at a statue of a Civil War general, what is the moral standard that reflects my aspirations? Is it one of bravery? Perhaps, but I don’t build a statue to the man who rushes in to save children from a fire he started. Every heroic act committed by these generals during the Civil War ties back to the fact that had there been no desire to secede from the Union and no choice to defend the practice of slavery, there would be no need for the celebrated heroic acts. Heroic acts that resulted, at the very least, in the deaths of thousands of American citizens.

It wouldn’t hurt us as a nation to display a little more empathy.  We need to stop thinking that our life experience is the universal experience. It wouldn’t hurt if we also recognized that talking to one African American, one Muslim, or one Hispanic didn’t give us that race’s or religion’s universal story.

You may look at a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest and see a noble Southern gentleman defending his home. One African American looking at the same statue may see a man defending the policies that ripped his family apart and created a system where his forebearers were treated as second class citizens for decades after the Civil War. Another African American may look at that same statue and see nothing but an old man on a horse. The point is, we all need to take a second and realize ours is not the only interpretation, and if it’s something that’s offensive to a large percentage of our population perhaps it’s time to succumb to change.

Many of these Civil War monuments were created at times that would make one question their purpose. As an article in Atlantic Monthly points out:

timeline of the genesis of the Confederate sites shows two notable spikes. One comes around the turn of the 20th century, just after Plessy v. Ferguson, and just as many Southern states were establishing repressive race laws. The second runs from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s—the peak of the civil-rights movement. In other words, the erection of Confederate monuments has been a way to perform cultural resistance to black equality. 

Here’s my thought. I’ll help you preserve your Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee statues and monuments if you’ll help me construct a Santa Anna statue in downtown San Antonio and a General Sherman statue in downtown Atlanta. After all, it’s about preserving history, right?

I’d encourage you to read Vesia Hawkin’s blog and the words of Sheila Norton to get a deeper appreciation of this weekend’s events. Xian Franzinger Barrett has a piece on how teachers can incorporate the weekend’s events into their lessons. Many people this weekend lamented the swamping of social media feeds with discussions on the Civil War and race. I, on the other hand, don’t believe we’ve even begun to have the discussions needed.

GONZALES’ MUSINGS

In July, a new law went into effect in Tennessee stating that school districts must provide basic contact information of students within 30 days of receiving a request from a charter school operating at least one school in the district or a chartering authority. The basic information includes student names, ages, addresses, dates of attendance, and grade levels completed. Not surprisingly, districts are balking.

Charter operators use the lists to inform parents of their availability, what some of us refer to as marketing. You can see where this might lead to issues. Jason Gonzales of The Tennessean outlines those issues in Monday’s newspaper. This one will bear watching and will probably eventually involve the courts.

This past weekend, Gonzales also wrote a story announcing the new STEAM director for MNPS. Semi-buried in the story is this nugget about departing director Kris Elliot: “Elliott leaves the district for a job at Oregon State University but said in his resignation letter that he left due to the decreased opportunities for him to advance after the district began to require certain central office employees have administrative educator licenses.” Hmmmm…….

I’ve heard that several administrators who serve in support roles are facing similar requirements. Requirements that were not in place at the time of their hiring and require a significant investment of time and money from those designated educators. My question would be, who is making those demands? Sara Gast, spokeswoman for the TNDOE says, “We do not believe we made any recommendation on a position with the title of STEM director. The district may have made their own determination. The department has been providing some guidance to MNPS about the types of positions that should hold administrator licenses.”

Hop in the wayback machine with me and you’ll recall that in January, MNPS got a rebuke from TNDOE about administrator licensing. The majority of the licensing issues involved principals and administrators that new Director of Schools Shawn Joseph had imported. At the time, Gast was quoted as saying, “The state is requesting that the district clarify the roles for each of the new hires and how often they handle instruction.” She added that the district had made initial determinations of its staff, but the state would continue to review the roles.

Interestingly enough, if you search the TNDOE’s online license data base, it appears that two of the individuals mentioned specifically by the state as being in question, Charter Schools Director Dennis Queen and Executive Officer of Diversity and Equity Maritza Gonzalez, are still not licensed. Both come from Montgomery County, Maryland. In all fairness, the district argued back in January that neither met the threshold for licensure. It would be interesting to see written district policy depicting where that threshold falls.

QUICK HITS

By all accounts, Parent University was a big hit again this year. Kudos to all those involved for their hardwork.

(Parent University 2017)

Thursday is the ribbon cutting for the brand new Tusculum ES. Festivities are scheduled for 11AM. Please come see our jewel.

Antioch HS continues to be dysfunctional. While all students now have schedules, they don’t all have the right schedule. The school also is understaffed. MNPS leadership owes it to these kids to fix leadership issues. To date, they’ve shown no desire to do so. Two years ago, Antioch HS was a 5-star school. Since then they lost almost 70 teachers, and issues have risen to the point where students walked out last spring. To allow things to deteriorate to this level is inexcusable, and those families deserve better.

Tune in to Channel 5 tonight at 6 for another report on lead in our schools’ water. This will be the 7th such report that has lead to zero discussions on the School Board floor. I’ll have more this week as this one is personal.

Eclipsegate17 is apparently not over either. Tomorrow there will be a specially called board meeting to approve the proposed schedule changes. Hopefully at that point there will be some clarification on the PD day scheduled for the Friday before Labor Day. At this time there is no posted agenda for the meeting.

POLL RESULTS

Lots of folks had opinions to voice this week in response to our questions. As always I thank you for taking the time to participate. Let’s dive in to the results.

The first question asked for your opinion of the new schedule. This was the first week in years that MNPS started with a full day followed by a full week. Previously, school would start with a half day on a Wednesday, followed by a PD day, and then students would be back for a full day on Friday. This gave everybody a chance to sort things out before getting down to the serious business of learning.

Looking at the poll results could lead to the conclusion that this was not an overly popular change. The leading answer, with 30% of responses, was, “It would have been more manageable if I’d had more time to prepare.” The number 2 answer, at 27%, was, “It was awful. The kids and I are exhausted.” 17% of respondents embraced the change and thought it was great.

If the district decides to continue with this schedule, perhaps it will reconsider how it schedules districtwide PD and instead provide more time for teachers to get ready for the year. I have to point out again that every school I drove by this weekend had cars in the parking lot. I can only believe that they belonged to teachers and administrators using their own time to further prepare for the year. Thank you teachers and administrators, but that is not a sustainable demand that we can continue to make.

Here’s the write-in answers:

The school was completely unprepared 1
Schedule issues interrupted classes all week 1
A cluster ____! I went to bed at 7pm every night. 1
Prefer the previous schedule, but adapted. 1
The day off after the first day helps 1
I’m old school T.C. I don’t think middle school should start until 7th grade 1
Scheduling was a hot mess and not completed and refined

The second question asked for you to assign a grade to the first week of school. The majority of you, 42%, gave it a “C.” 32% gave it a “B.” Now while that’s not exactly exceeding expectations, I don’t think that’s too bad either. Last year was a “D” at best, so this shows improvement and it should be noted that there were no bus issues reported this year, which plagued last year’s first week. So while a victory lap probably isn’t in order, a thumbs up should be awarded.

Here’s the write-in answers:

Central office support was great. 1
E for Eclipse! 1
Great…sans loaded firearm found in parking lot!

The last question was asked a bit tongue-in-cheek. I had asked, “What other day should MNPS cancel because employees aren’t planning on showing up?” The number one answer was, “TSU Homecoming Friday” with 32%. I was shocked to find out last year that this was the largest absentee day of the year for district employees. While I’m very aware of the cultural significance of TSU and Homecoming festivities, I am unclear how it warrants a mass exodus that day. Hopefully plans are in place this year to address the situation without taking central office folks away from their responsibilities.

The number 2 answer was the Friday before Labor Day with 20% of the vote. I can only suppose that those respondents will be paying close attention to Tuesday’s special board meeting.

The write-in votes are once again where the fun comes in. A couple I had to edit, but I will explore further. Here they are:

1
Friday before spring break. It is a PD day. 1
None. Everyone needs to stop complaining about having to work on work days! 1
The 2nd day of school, if it’s a Tuesday 1
You are being too snarky for this to be a useful poll question. 1
1
SEC Tourney Championship 1
Will Pinkston retiring and moving to Guam. 1
TSU Homecoming and Day after Labor Day 1
Hoping for a federal disaster declaration. Then the day won’t count. Ha! 1
“Whenever someone disagrees with me.” — Will Pinkston 1
The day they do nothing to stop classroom interruptions. 1
That doesn’t sound very professional to me.

That’s all I got. For those of you who don’t know, my name is TC Weber and the views expressed here are for the most part my own. Any grammar or spelling mistakes are definitely all mine. I always welcome your feedback. If you don’t want to leave a comment here, email me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Peace out.

THE FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL COMES TO A CLOSE

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The first week of school is coming to a close in Nashville, and there is a temptation to call it a successful one. If you ignore the delay with the opening at Overton HS and a few other issues, you could make a strong argument for a smooth opening. But at what cost?

This is the first year in a long time that school opened with a full day followed by a full week. In talking to teachers and perusing social media, I get the impression that this has not made for an easy week for our teachers. Many of them have expressed being tired already. Teaching is not only a physically challenging job, but also has a mental component as well. Staying on top of and engaging children 7 hours a day is no easy feat.

Prior to the first week of school, teachers will get together and plan for the first couple of weeks of school. They’ll do this with only a basic knowledge of the students they’ll be responsible for. Then the first day comes and they assess the students in their classes. Sometimes lesson plans will match up, but other times they’ll have to be adjusted based on their students’ needs. Previously, the day after the first day of school was a day off for students and an inservice day for teachers.

That free day after the first day allowed time for those changes to be made as well any additional professional development that might be applicable. This year there was no inservice day, and therefore teachers had to adjust while still sorting through schedules, class assignments, and trying to deliver meaningful instruction. You ever try to work from home while the kids were there? Then you understand the challenge.

I look at teaching and the school year as akin to running a long distance race. When I start out on a run, I don’t sprint right out of the gate. I ease into it and make sure that I’m spreading out my effort in a manner that allows me to maintain a consistent pace for the whole distance. Run too fast at the beginning and I run the risk of pulling up lame before the end of the race.

Leaders have a responsibility to their charges to set them up for success. I’m not sure that this year’s school calendar meets that criteria. We must not lose sight that it’s not the beginning of the race that determines the winners but rather how they finish. Godspeed to you teachers and thank you for always rising for the bell. Your strength and dedication does not go unnoticed nor unappreciated.

Another quick note on teachers. Look at the current job listings for MNPS and it looks like the district is still short 150 certificated classroom employees. I’m also hearing of high schools with classes as big as 41 students. I’m not a teacher, nor do I play one on television, but to my ears that sounds more like crowd control than teaching.

It should be noted that it is really hard to keep track of exactly how many openings MNPS has when their online job listing site isn’t properly maintained. Positions often stay posted long after they’ve been filled. Then there are listings like the one shown here for an EL coordinator. Guess the candidate better brush up on their bus driving skills, or better yet, maybe HR needs to brush up on their cut and paste skills.

The two top positions in Human Resources are held by women whose background is in healthcare. They are sharp, hard working women, but if I was recruiting for a football team would I be utilizing chemists to help me find potential players? Or would I employ people with experience as players? People who have a deep understanding of the challenges and have access to networks of players and the ability to sell those players in a common language that could ease any concerns about joining my team.

Rumor has it that a number of positions in HR will soon be filled by former St. Thomas Hospital staffers. I say that’s great news if we are looking for doctors and nurses. But what do I know?

THINGS I DON’T WANT TO WRITE ABOUT

The top of the list of things I don’t want to write anymore about is Eclipsegate17. In case you weren’t paying attention, this week the school board voted to reverse a decision that reversed an earlier decision and close schools on August 21st. To be clear, at this point I think the decision to close schools was the only logical choice for the board. Especially in light of the head of MNPS’s STEAM initiative Kris Elliot’s imminent departure. But that it got to this point is mind boggling to me.

There is no reason that a decision couldn’t have been made and adhered to back in September 2016, when the 2017-2018 calendar was being created and approved. I have heard some people try to compare this to an inclement weather day. Nothing could be further from the truth. A weather day is an unpredictable occurrence. The solar eclipse was predicted about 100 years ago. There is no information available today that was not available at any time during the past nine months. So to compare it to a weather day is like comparing apples and limes.

One of the most concerning aspects of this incident to me is the ultimate reason why school that day was canceled. In a message to district employees, director of schools Dr. Joseph acknowledges that 400 teachers and 100 bus drivers would be out that day, so safety had become an issue and therefore we were canceling.

In other words, y’all weren’t coming, so we didn’t see any sense in holding classes. That’s a little alarming. Do not think that logic went unnoticed. I’ve already heard rumblings about what’s going to happen the Friday of TSU’s homecoming this year. Traditionally that is the district’s highest absentee day of the year for staff. Last year, the strategy was to employ central office folks to cover for absent classroom teachers. But that begs the question of who’s doing central office folk’s jobs that day? Unless of course….. well, you get the picture.

Nashville Blogger and Education Post contributor Vesia Hawkins has some additional thoughts on Eclispegate17 over at her blog Volume and Light. As a side note, many criticize Vesia because she’s a paid contributor to Education Post, but let me be clear, if anybody wants to pay me, I’m not necessarily opposed to it. The wife would be even more appreciative. Paid doesn’t equal bought. Don’t consider that an endorsement, though, because at the end of the day every individual has to answer that question for themselves.

QUOTES ON THE WALL

Some of you may know that I supplement my income by working as a bartender for special event. Yesterday I worked an event at a location where they were projecting various quotes on the wall. One really struck me though I failed to catch the name of the author: “Feedback is a form of respect. Without honesty there is no growth.”

I’m debating getting T-shirts made up for school board members with that saying embossed on the front. On the back I could print an Einstein quote: “You are what you do, not what you say you will do.” Too much, you think?

RANDOM ITEMS

Here’s a bit of free career advice. If you are the principal of a large high school that has seen teacher turnover above 65% in the last year, it’s probably not a good idea to go to a cigar bar and brag loudly about the number of people you’ve run off. Just saying. You also probably shouldn’t make the language as colorful either. Again, just saying.

A teacher at a local middle school has made the assertion that people don’t read anymore. Help me prove her wrong. If you are the parent of a 7th grader and your kid doesn’t have their immunization, in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, “Git ‘er done!”

Parent U is this weekend. This is a great opportunity for parents to learn more about what goes into their child’s education. If you think that you are a well informed parent and that there would be nothing here for you, think again. There are programs scheduled for all levels. It’s a good time and I urge you to put it on your calendar.

The lunch room has changed a lot since I was a kid. It just keeps getting better and better all the time. This year, MNPS’s Nutritional Services changed their employee schedules from a 6-hour day to a 7-hour day. This is a big deal because not only does it give them more prep time, but it also sends a message that they are valued employees. Wouldn’t hurt to have a lot more of that kind of affirmation going around. A salute to MNPS Nutritional Services.

Andy Spears over at the Tennessee Ed Report has an excellent post on the recently released poll of teachers statewide conducted by the TNDOE. Apparently teachers are warming to the state’s evaluation tool, but “Sixty-five percent of educators surveyed said standardized exams aren’t worth the investment of time and effort. The same percentage of teachers said the exams don’t help refine teaching practices.” Jason Gonzales of The Tennessean wrote the initial piece on the survey and it’s equally good.

If you see JT Moore Principal Gary Hughes… say Happy 50th!

If you see new Public Information Officer Michelle Michaud around, try to make her feel welcome. Rumor has it she may be a keeper.

Also kudos go out to former Rose Park Magnet Math and Science Middle Prep Principal Robert Blankenship. I say former, because he’s been named the new Director of STEAM initiatives for grades K-12. I know, you thought there was a policy in place to prevent these types of transitions during the school year and that some of you principals were actually following that policy. But by now, you should know that in MNPS we pride ourselves on building the airplane as we fly it. Congratulations Robert, no reason to believe you won’t do great work.

POLLS

A Friday post wouldn’t be complete without some questions. Today I would like to know what your impressions are of the first week of school. Did you like the new schedule or do you wish things would revert to the old schedule? Secondly, do you think things went smoothly or were there a lot of issues? The third and final question is meant in jest because well, I couldn’t resist. What other day do you think the administration should go ahead and cancel because teachers and bus drivers aren’t planning on showing up? Surely you have some suggestions.

The first week of school is now officially in the books. Onward and upward. As always, if you have thoughts you’d like to share, positive or negative, drop me a line at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Also be sure to check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page for lots of positive vibes. Like it if you can.

A GOOD FIRST DAY, BUT NOW THE WORK BEGINS.

Yesterday was the first day of school in Nashville and by all accounts things went remarkably smoothly. Well, minus a few construction issues, which we’ll discuss in a few minutes. MNPS teachers, principals, and district administrators all deserve a tip of the hat.

A PUBLIC EDUCATION CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR

Public education advocates in Tennessee got some good news this past week as State Representative Craig Fitzhugh announced that he would be running for governor. Fitzhugh has been a tireless fighter for public education during his tenure as a state representative, and so his entry into the race is well received. This means a contested Democratic primary this year, since former Mayor of Nashville Karl Dean is also running. I must say that 3 months ago, I didn’t give Dean much of a chance to secure the governorship, but in all honesty he’s been running a solid campaign which has caused me to rethink my position.

That said, my support is 100% behind Fitzhugh. Not only is he a true supporter of public education, but he is also the personification of a gentleman. When I cast my vote, character matters and Fitzhugh has it to spare.

MORE FAREWELLS TO TALENTED ADMINISTRATORS

Last week saw a couple more departures of MNPS district administrators. Director of STEAM Kristopher Elliot is leaving to take a job out in Portland, Oregon. Elliot has been instrumental in developing our strategy for converting middle schools into STEAM schools. He was also an integral part of attempting to plan out district policy in regards to the upcoming solar eclipse despite district leadership’s lack of foresight. I particularly liked Elliot because he was always willing to discuss my doubts on the STEAM philosophy in an open, non-defensive, non-condesending  manner. Co-workers often described him as brilliant, and he will be missed.

Longtime Manager of Employee Relations Frank Young has also decided to seek opportunities elsewhere. Young was described to me as a talented “ghostwriter.” When an incident took place at a school, he was the one who would write up the incident report. His skill and attention to detail served to protect the district from opening itself up to increased liability. By all accounts, he will also be missed.

There was a promotion from last week, when Dr. Shunn Turner was named as the new Executive Director of School Choice. She previously served as Coordinator of Gifted and Talented Education. Turner replaces Dr. Aimee Wyatt, who announced two weeks ago that she would be taking a leadership position with the Southern Region Education Board.

CONSTRUCTION ISSUES

(Hallway at Overton HS)

By now you should be aware of the delayed opening of Overton High School due to construction issues. Yesterday I joined the media to take a look at progress. Now I’m not a construction expert, nor do I play one on TV, but to my untrained eye, they need more time. An extra day or two to allow teachers to get a little more set, in my opinion, would pay off as a big benefit further down the road. To be fair, teacher comfort is a welcome expressed priority of Principal Jill Pittman. The big issue is that the state has a mandate on the number of days kids must attend school, and so therefore, all days missed must be made up. Hopefully somebody is trying to coordinate that with the state.

On Tuesday it was decided that school would be opening on Wednesday despite ongoing construction. I only hope that this decision is being made in the best interest of students and not the district. Doors open at 6:45 am. Classes start at 7:05 am. Good luck Bobcats!

CHARTER WARS, A NEW OFFENSIVE

One would think that between the multitude of issues facing the district, including three directors leaving only two weeks before the start of school, the school board would have its hands full with its own issues. Not so if you are self-described multi-tasker Will Pinkston. He decided that the first day of school was the perfect day to publicly attack a local charter chain over the recent departure of their Executive Officer Chris Reynolds. LEAD attempted to respond to Pinkston by going through Board Chair Anna Shepherd. That was unacceptable to Pinkston.

Personally I have issues with LEAD’s practices. However, families seem happy with their decision to attend LEAD. I would say a big part of that decision has to do with what is transpiring with MNPS in general. I love how Pinkston claims a “moral and legal obligation to safeguard the interests of these students” yet publicly fails to acknowledge the departure of three Executive Officers from MNPS, whose departures will impact more students than Reynold’s departure. Not only does he not publicly question the departures, but as chairman of the board’s committee on the director’s evaluation, he continues to slow walk the implementation of a meaningful evaluation for the director of schools.

Imagine if we were to announce that teachers and students would no longer be evaluated. We don’t feel that there is a fair evaluation process in place so therefore we are going to stop evaluating while we take a year to find an acceptable tool. While I may support that idea, I don’t think the general public would be supportive.

One further note on the recent departures. Those people leaving the district are people who have been extremely loyal to this district and to this board. I understand that we have a shiny new director with shiny new ideas, but the way we treat our longtime employees sends a message about how we value loyalty. You don’t get loyalty by not being loyal. Loyalty doesn’t mean blind trust, but it does mean acknowledging people’s contributions and watching their backs. Some things that seem to be in short supply right now.

TMZ TIME

Here’s a couple rumors to whet your appetite on a Monday morning.

Duval County Public Schools in Florida is looking for a new superintendent after their last one hightailed it off to Detroit. Rumor has it that this opening has hit the radar of a few MNPS executives.

There seems to be an increased number of sightings of those white MNPS company cars in surrounding counties. Perhaps this is a move to remind teachers and families who have left MNPS that they can still come back, or maybe it’s something else. Whatever the case, I’ve received reports of sightings in several neighboring counties over the past couple weeks.

POLL RESPONSES

Time now to dive into the responses for this week’s poll questions. We got a lot of responses this week, and I’m deeply appreciative of your willingness to play along.

The first question asked about your feelings on last week’s professional development training. Teachers districtwide were mandated to attend two days of training, which, for most, was outside of their school building. This was done at a time when most were trying to get their classrooms in order for the upcoming start of classes. This is a sentiment voiced by the majority of respondents. 31% responded that the time could have been better spent getting their classrooms together. The number two answer, at 26%, called the training a waste of time. Only 8% labeled it fantastic.

A wise veteran educator said to me a couple weeks ago that effective PD was as much about timing as it was content. Perhaps if the timing had been different the results would have been different. I describe effective communication in terms of an unimpeded flow of water. I deliver a message and you receive the message. Unfortunately, we often add impediments that, much like rocks in a stream, serve to divert and alter the flow. One big impediment is the assumption that my priorities supersede yours. Care needs to be given that both parties’ priorities are given equal weight. Unfortunately the district deemed their agenda more important than teachers’ need to be prepared for the first week of school, and therefore the message was diluted. This resulted in PD that was not as effective as it could have been.

Here’s the write in responses. There is some good feedback for the district within these answers.

ne day away fr bldg w/common content folks. Need planning day at school/room 1
I don’t recall a survey discussing teacher needs 1
Subs don’t get to attend PD. 1
Logistics were not considered. 1
Someone needs to give the district PD on how to make a master schedule 1
Good for new teachers, waste of time for veterans 1
It was good, but we only needed 1 day, not 2, for more time in classroom 1
I’m a parent -I can only hope PD was helpful

Question two asked for your biggest concern going into the new year. The overwhelming response, at 45%, was district leadership. Coming in second, at 21%, was school leadership. Perhaps that is something the school board might want to look at and dig deeper into. Another veteran educator, who was here during the Garcia years, recently remarked to me about how much these times resemble those days of past, “Everybody knew that we had issues, but nobody would speak up until the state did.” The state spoke up by taking over the district in 2008. You’d think we’d be a little more cognizant of recent history.

Here are the question 2 write ins.

“flash” new initiatives immediately implemented w/little explanation/training 1
Visea Hawkins 1
Student schedules/IC 1
We can only pick one??? 1
Hillsboro IB scores went through the roof! No love 1
Homework

The last question was about the upcoming race to be the next governor of Tennessee. When we did the poll back in May, the clear winner, despite having not declared at the time, was Craig Fitzhugh with 40% of the vote. Karl Dean only garnered 12% of the vote. This past weekend, Dean got 48% of vote and Fitzhugh received 32%. Now to be fair, there were fewer respondents this time, but one can’t help but wonder if Dean’s hard work wasn’t paying dividends. We’ll keep an eye on this. On a side note, it appears that DGW readers are overwhelmingly Democrats. Randy Boyd was the leading Republican with only 6% of the vote.

Here’s the write ins:

Anarchy, if we pick from this lot. 1
chris moth 1
Dean, but Dems gotta hold his feet to fire 1
TC Weber 1

That does it for today. I feel like I gave you a lot of meat to chew on. See you on Friday when I’m sure I’ll have more.

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

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The first day of school is akin to the first day of baseball season – hope springs eternal. It is a day filled with promise and anticipation. It is an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and lay the groundwork for new friendships. Families intermingle throughout the hallways with community members, elected officials, district administrators, and teachers. It’s a day that will grow your heart even if it is 10 sizes too small. To inject any negativity into the day feels sacrilegious, and so I won’t.

Today’s post will consist of nothing but pictures celebrating the first day of school. Tomorrow we will talk about poll results and news of the district. Today we will celebrate.

When you are walking through the halls of your child’s school and you see all the fantastically decorated rooms, please take a second and say thank you to the individuals who worked so hard to ensure that your child’s first experience in their classroom was a memorable one. Teachers have been sneaking into the buildings for the past two weeks on their own time to get things ready. They’ve been dipping into their own pockets to purchase those special extras that will make things magical. There is no mandate that says they have to do it. It’s because of their pride, dedication, and love of children that the halls are as magical as they are today. We are blessed to have them, and I for one am thankful.

It’s a big day for the Webers because this year, Tusculum Elementary School will be kicking off the year in a brand new building. And what a beautiful building it is! What an experience it was this morning seeing all the excited faces entering the new digs. In case you haven’t guessed, we love our school. It’s going to be a grand year!

I had the pleasure of walking the halls this morning with Metro Councilwoman Davette Blalock. Councilwoman Blalock has been a huge champion for the school over the last several years. Without her support, we might still be waiting for a new building. So, if you see her out and about, tell her thank you!

I was going to write captions for all these pictures, but then thought, nah, I’ll let you write your own in your mind. Today is a good day.

WHERE DO I START?

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Where do I start? That seems to be the question I face every Monday and Friday when I typically write new blog entries. It seems like there is a never ending flood of issues and sorting through and figuring out what should take priority can prove to be a daunting task. This week is no exception, so let’s get to it.

TENNESSEE AND ESSA

If you’ve been following national education news, you are probably aware that the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states with a unique opportunity to rewrite their education plans. Under ESSA states are required to submit their revised plans to the state for approval. Tennessee is among the first states to do so.

The evaluation of Tennessee’s plan has been mostly well received, save a few provisions. Tennessee’s plan includes the use of super-subgroups as an accountability tool. They are the only state to propose lumping black, Hispanic, and Native American students into one group when assessing schools. They are also the only state that plans to use a threshold of 30 students who are are underperforming and are poor, non-white, or have a disability to trigger intervention.

TNDOE justifies the use of super-subgroups with the argument that if black students are doing well in a school then it’s likely that Hispanics are as well. The higher threshold also prevents a small sub-group from tainting the picture of a large school that is doing well in all other areas. You decide if that’s an argument you want to buy.

This is one of the major issues I have with the way we treat data. We continue to act as if a poor kid is a poor kid is a poor kid and that all minorities are the same, and that’s just not true. The state is promising to do a deeper dive into the super-subgroup numbers, but again I’ll let you decide if you are buying that one as well. Keep in mind the state’s recent actions in regards to English Learners.

MNPS UPDATES

MNPS continues to morph into our own little version of the Trump White House minus the vitriolic rhetoric. I know that seems a little harsh, but there just seems to be an endless stream of half-baked and poorly communicated policy changes coupled with a leadership that seems to be deeply removed from what’s happening in the classroom and community.

Early this week, Channel 5 did a report on construction at Overton HS. As I mentioned previously, there were questions in the community about whether or not the school would be ready to open on time. Everybody from MNPS gave assurances that it would. Board member Will Pinkston even got a little testy with a long time Overton parent who dared question the timeline a week ago.

Guess what? It won’t be open on time. I know you are shocked. The semi-plan is that it will be ready by Wednesday but that’s another thing I’ll let you decide how much you want to believe. Color me a little skeptical.

MNPS should not be held accountable for the construction being behind schedule. It happens and there are a lot of factors that are beyond their control. By every account I’ve heard, David Proffitt is doing everything in his power to get this project completed. What MNPS should be held accountable for is not recognizing that construction would not be complete and then formulating and communicating a Plan B. There was no shortage of folks telling them not to believe the hype and that Overton would not be ready. It should also be pointed out that had the district kept to its traditional Wednesday half-day start of school with the following day off schedule, they might’ve had a little more flexibility in which to deal with these issues. The McMurray annex, Pennington ES, and several other schools are also facing construction issues.

This week also saw the district release new homework guidelines. A quick glance at the MNPS Facebook post announcing the guidelines makes it clear that this one isn’t going over well. Parents overwhelmingly oppose the proposed guidelines, and who can blame them when research done 14 years ago is offered as primary support. Once again, the district also thought they could release a study and nobody would read it. Parents did read the research and realized that the study contradicted the district’s proposed guidelines.

Personally, I’m not a fan of homework and really object to over 60 minutes a day no matter what the age. Think about a middle schooler who goes to school from 8:30am to 4pm and doesn’t get home until 4:30-5pm. If they have any extracurricular activities, it might be as late as 6pm before they get home. Dinner takes another hour. Then it’s homework and time for bed. That leaves little opportunity for family time or pursuit of individual interests.

I’ve heard the arguments about getting ahead and learning more, graduating early, getting scholarships, but where does it all lead? Once they are out of school, it’ll be the constant churn of trying to get to the top followed by the struggle to stay on top. I guess there is always retirement to look forward to. That is, if you don’t get hit by a bus or struck with cancer or some other medical condition.

I’ve long served under the blue collar flag. Nobody was going to get to work before me and nobody was going to leave after me. Sixty hour weeks have often been commonplace in my life. When I think back to all the things I’ve missed because of this relentless work ethic, I cringe. It’s not what I want for my kids. Hard work and dedication are valuable traits, but so is balance. Kids need to learn that lesson growing up because they won’t suddenly acquire it at a later age. Alright, I’ll step down from the soap box now.

Two years ago, Constance Hayes was the principal at Charlotte Park ES. Jocelyn Dinwiddie Adams was the AP. To call that situation a train wreck gives a bad name to train wrecks. Things were so bad that Hayes was removed 2 weeks before the end of school. Chew on that for a minute and then fast forward to 2017-2018 and Adams is now the new principal at Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet ES. Rumor has it that Hayes has been named the 120-day AP. Of course that couldn’t be true, right? Because district leaders do their homework, right?

The latest on Eclipsegate 2017 is that high school students and pre-school students will have a half day on August 21st. Of course that news thrills middle and elementary school teachers and administrators. Don’t worry, though, there is still plenty of time to alter plans again.

This morning local blogger Vesia Wilson-Hawkins posted a guest blog by Shani Jackson Dowell called Back to School Nashville: Parents Got 99 Problems…The Type of School Ain’t One. While I have qualms with a lot of Dowell’s arguments, I do agree with the sentiment. Members of our board are obsessed with the marketing efforts of charter schools when clearly there are bigger issues.

All of these missteps by the administration may all work out in the end, but if you don’t think they contribute to the perception of the quality of education in MNPS you’re fooling yourself. No parents ever received a flyer from a charter school and thought, “My school is safe, the district is acting in a transparent manner, I feel included in decisions about my child, there is no teacher and administrator churn… I think I’ll try this charter school.”

This inability to properly communicate, organize, and manage schools is going to end up having an irreversible affect on our district. Families will leave. Whether it’s private school, charter school, home school, or out of the district doesn’t matter; it all has the same consequences. I feel as if there is ample evidence that we are entering a crisis phase, but others would argue differently. What can’t be argued is that we are undercutting the hard work of our teachers. Their skills and dedication continue to mask the district’s gaping wounds, but for how long? As Steven Singer pointedly points out in a recent blog post, they are good, great, even, but they are not super heroes. At some point, somebody, somehow, has to get better at doing school.

I’d like to harken back to my restaurant days for a moment. When you manage a restaurant, all kinds of elements come into play on whether or not people will continue to frequent your establishment – cleanliness of bathrooms, quality of staff, decor, music selection, portion size of food, etc. If people stop coming, they rarely inform you why. They don’t come up and say, “You know your bathrooms aren’t that clean, your servers aren’t that informed, and the music kind of sucks.” They just stop coming and when you see them months later and ask them where they’ve been, usually they’ll offer a polite response, “We’ve been busy. We’ll be by soon.” But soon never seems to arrive.

GOOD NEWS, BECAUSE THERE HAS TO BE SOME

Congratulation to Allison Buzzard for winning the 2017 Nashville Emerging Leader award in the education category. Well done.

(Tennessean’s David Plaza)

Love this picture of the Tennessean’s David Plaza discussing librarians and journalists working together. Way to continue to be involved, David!

It appears that national education news magazine Chalkbeat recognizes good writing when they see it. Mary Jo Cramb’s recent Dad Gone Wild guest blog post has been selected for national circulation and we couldn’t be prouder. Way to rock it, Mary Jo!

(Parent U offerings)

MNPS parents, make sure you mark August 12th on your calendar and double circle it. That’s the date for this year’s Parent U. It’s from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Trevecca Nazarene University and there is something included for every parent.

Everybody’s favorite former principal has a brand new blog called Drinkwine at School. I encourage you to get on board for the ride.

POLLS

This week we are going to return to a more traditional format. with three poll questions, including one we’ve asked before.

The first question has to do with the recently completed MNPS districtwide professional development. I’ve already heard some feedback, but I wanted to get even more. So if you are an MNPS teacher, what did you think?

We did a poll last week and quite a few of you indicated that you have concerns heading into this new year. I wanted to dive in and try to get a handle on exactly what concerned you the most.

Last question is a repeat. Earlier in the year, we asked who you were leaning towards for the governor of Tennessee. Well, the field has clarified a bit and I thought we’d see if anything has changed.

That’s it. Enjoy this last weekend because come Monday, it’s game on in Nashville.

OF DISTRICT AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNER EXITS

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Monday’s installment had a couple of items that I think require some expanding upon. I gave you a little bit of a peek into what is going on but upon reflection, I think we need to fully open the window. Funny, because both stories are about exits: English language learners exiting ELL services and educators exiting MNPS.

When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed last year, it included provisions to more closely monitor EL students. Districts would be held more accountable for the progress these students made. The method of measurement used in Tennessee is the WIDA screener. The Tennessee Department of Education set the policy for students to be eligible for EL services as follows:

Students in grades one through twelve (1-12) who are screened using the WIDA screener and who score below 5.0 composite or 4.5 or below on any domain shall be entered into the ESL program.

Students take the test in the spring and it dictates where they will be classified for the following school year. This year, 1% of the students who took the WIDA test scored high enough to graduate from EL services. Last year, it was 14%. That’s quite a drop off and you would think people would be doing a deep dive into the data to figure out what changed.

The TDOE may be doing that, but first they brought a new policy for its first and final reading to the State Board of Education last Friday. This updated policy sets the exit strategy for EL students as follows:

English learners who participated in the 2016-17 administration of the WIDA ACCESS and scored 4.2 or higher for composite and 4.0 or higher for literacy may be exited from ESL direct services beginning in the 2017-18 school year. English learners who participate in the 2017-18 administration and subsequent administrations who score 5.0 or higher for both composite and literacy on the WIDA ACCESS may be exited from ESL direct service.

Anybody see a problem here? Well, I’ve got a few.

First of all, the state is setting high standards, then lowering them, and then raising them again. If my child scored a 4.5 on this past spring’s exam, they will be moved out of EL services despite the state’s definition of who qualifies for EL services. Confused yet?

Furthermore, the TDOE says that next spring the standard will go back up to 5.0. What if only 3% of kids hit a score of 5 next year? Will we lower the standard to hit the 15% again? What’s to prevent that from happening? How did we even arrive at that magical 15% number?

The state is using last year’s test fiasco as cover for this year’s EL test fiasco. They’re saying, Don’t worry. Next year we will have this year’s test to benchmark against and it will all be much clearer. But will it? What about this year’s kids? How are we going to determine who’s really ready to exit and who is not?

The state argues that we don’t want to leave these kids languishing in EL services any longer than necessary. Fair enough, but exiting them early could prove equally disastrous. The situation is not that much different than it would be with kids with learning disabilities. The major difference is that most special needs kids have parents who are capable of being formidable advocates. That’s seldom the case for EL kids.

This is an egregious situation that needs to be rectified as quickly as possible. The state needs to focus on why kids didn’t do as well this year and create a strategy to address that underperformance. In short, they need a policy that is good for kids, not the TDOE.

MNPS EXITS 

Back in the fall, at a principal’s meeting, Dr. Joseph told the group that change was coming and people had the choice to get on the bus or get run over by the bus. Well, it seems like a lot of folks decided to get on another bus and head on out of town.

Over the past year, MNPS has lost quite a bit of high quality talent. Ron Woodard, Lance Furman, Tim Drinkwine, Ryan Jackson, Nicole Cobb, Quincy Ingle, Aimee Wyatt, Frank Young, Joe Bass, Janel Lacy, Hank Clay, Katie Cour, Fred Carr, and Molly Sehring are just a few of the names of people who have left the district this year for various reasons. Those I’ve forgotten to mention please forgive me.

I understand that with change comes change. When a leader takes over, he or she usually finds three types of employees: Those who are underperforming and clearly unqualified, those who are doing superior work, and those who are doing mediocre work but with the right leadership could be doing superior work.

The first group needs to be removed quickly and efficiently. The second group needs to be recognized and extra effort made to help them transition. Time needs to be spent evaluating what it is that the last, and usually largest group, needs to elevate their game.

In my opinion, identifying, evaluating, and motivating talent is at the forefront of a leader’s responsibilities. It is certainly not an easy task, but that is probably one of the reasons why quality leaders command the level of pay they do. In the case of the director of schools, the pay is more than either the Mayor of Nashville or the Governor of Tennessee makes.

It is impossible for any leader to be successful if they do not surround themselves with talent. Nick Saban is Nick Saban not because of his brilliant offensive schemes, but rather because he has the ability to attract more talented players than the other coaches. Take away the talent and all you have is a brilliant mind and none of the success.

Arguably, it was time for some of the people who left to go. Change is sometimes good for everyone. The litmus test I would apply is this: what has been the outcome of those changes? Have those who left gone on to equal or better opportunities? A quick glance tells me that Ron Woodard is now the number two guy in Maury County. Nicole Cobb is going to work for Vanderbilt. Lance Furman has gone to a leadership role at Lipscomb University. Ryan Jackson is a principal in Maury County having huge success with a STEAM initiative. Joe Bass is leading the communications department at Pinnacle Bank. Let’s also not forget the number of high quality classroom teachers who are now plying their trade in surrounding counties.

It seems like the bus has dropped all of these folks off at some pretty good stops. I can’t really find anyone who’s been run over by the bus. In fact, a couple of them got calls from Dr. Joseph to come back over to his bus.

The jury is still out on the people who have replaced those who left. I’ll let you decide which additions have been an upgrade. I don’t mean any disrespect to the people who have filled those shoes. And it should be noted that some of these positions still remain open.

I believe we need to do a better job of valuing our talent as it is in high demand nationwide. MNPS Chief Human Resource Officer Deborah Story recently told the board, “There is a war for talent.” I believe that. I’m also a strong believer that a strong defense is the best offense. The best talent is often already on your team and keeping them from leaving is more beneficial than bringing in new talent.

On a closing note, to be fair, I think leadership has begun to make this a priority. They’ve begun to more aggressively address the need for improvement to culture. The thing to remember is that it takes more than words. I once worked with a guy who could pitch a management plan like Nolan Ryan could pitch a fastball. The problem was, that was the extent of his capabilities. He was never able to model the plan and his actions often ran counter to what he preached. Therefore, his plans never became more than plans. The importance of walking the walk cannot be overstated.

RANDOM NOTES

This week I received a list of all salaries of district employees along with the district organizational chart. I have yet to do a deep dive, but there are a few things that raise eyebrows and as I look into them I’ll share my observations. It should be noted, and since they won’t tell you I will, that Dr. Joseph and his Chiefs did not take the 3% raise despite being eligible for it. That is commendable.

Today starts two days of district professional development for teachers. I’ll be interested in your feedback, and we’ll be doing a poll question on the subject this weekend. A wise person once said to me that timing is an integral part of quality PD. I’ll leave it at that for now.

If you are in South Nashville and a Twitter user, I urge you to follow @CroftProjectLit. Big things are happening involving literacy and you’ll want to be a part.

Parent U is coming up on Saturday August 12th from 9am to 3 pm. Parents, this is a great opportunity to find out more information about elements of your children’s education.

Quick tip of the hat to MNPS’s Director of Facility Planning and Construction David Profitt. He’s had his hands full this summer facing the challenges of getting construction work done in an “IT” city. While people are rightfully frustrated, I’ve heard nothing but praise for him. I gave him a hard time last spring over the McMurray annex, but by every account he’s one of the good guys. Thank you for your hard work, sir!

If you are a teacher and you are wondering why you are suddenly seeing school administrators more in your planning meetings, relax. MNPS has issued an edict to school administrators that they spend more of their time focused on being instructional leaders. They want principals and assistant principals to spend 40% of their time focused on instructional duties. The goal is to create greater alignment in regards to instructional practices in schools. Now you know it’s not you, it’s them.

(Parking lot of Tusculum ES)

I wanted to share this picture of the parking lot at Tusculum Elementary School. This is what it looks the week before school starts on a day that teachers are not being paid to work. I could have taken this picture at any time in the last 2 weeks and it would have looked similar. This picture is also not an outlier. At schools all across the district, this is the scene that is being recreated. It is a reminder of our teachers’ dedication and professionalism. They are a force to be reckoned with and I want to acknowledge them. Thank you!

That does it for this extra update. We’ll see you Friday at the regularly scheduled time. Praise, criticism, and corrections are always welcome at norinrad10@yahoo.com.

A HEAVY HEART, ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS, AND POLL RESULTS

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There are times in life when events conspire to make words inadequate. This past weekend such an event occurred when Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and her husband Bruce lost their only child to an overdose. It is impossible to even imagine the depth of emotions that the Barry family is experiencing at this time. These are the moments that remind us how fleeting and precious life really is. Things can change in the blink of an eye. I am sure that this is not the way the Barry family envisioned the start of their week.

This is a time for us to take a moment, let go of an imagined, or even real, slight and cherish those in your heart. Hold your loved ones close and give a collective hug to Nashville’s first family. Please hold them in our prayers and our hearts. Hopefully the Megan and Bruce know that Nashville takes care of its own and we are right here if they need us.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

On Friday I talked about how low scores were on the WIDA tests this past year. In case you are not familiar, WIDA tests scores are used to determine if EL students are ready to exit ELL services. This year 1% of students who took the test scored high enough to exit. Last year it was 14%.

The problem apparently stems from WIDA adjusting the way they score the test and is not a problem just in Tennessee. There are 30 states that utilize WIDA. The change means that English-learners must demonstrate more sophisticated language skills in four domains—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—to achieve the same proficiency-level scores. Lower scores means fewer students exiting and translates to more students requiring more services.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he who controls the cut score controls the narrative. WIDA member states have the right to set the cut scores for their respective states. Tennessee plans to temporarily adjust its cut scores to avoid “unnecessarily” retaining students in ESL classes.

Deciding whether those classes are “unnecessary” is hugely important. Exit kids too early and they end up struggling for many years. Exit them too late and they run the risk of missing out on higher-level classes that would prepare them for college.

There is another elephant in the room. The state pays the district additional money for each student requiring ELL services. If students aren’t exiting and new ones are showing up, costs start piling up. The state has never been overly fond of doling out money to the districts so I can’t imagine that they are comfortable with this growing expense. Of course, only a jaded man would suggest that the cash has any bearing on how the state adjusts the cut scores.

MNPS NOTES

(Dr. Joseph reading to kids at Southeast Health Festival)

This picture of MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph appeared in my social media feed over the weekend. I felt compelled to share it on the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. The response it generated was both larger than usual and overwhelmingly positive. It might behoove the director to generate more of this type of image and less of the ones that have permeated the news over the past year.

We’d like to take a moment to bid a fond adieu to some long time Central Office employees that are moving on to other opportunities. Nicole Cobb is leaving her position as Executive Director of School Counseling to take a position with Vanderbilt University. Nicole is well respected through out Nashville for her work on Social Emotional Learning and will be missed.

Executive Director of School Choice Aimee Wyatt is leaving MNPS to work for the Southern Region Education Board. Aimee had been the Executive Director of High Schools for the last several years, and many of our principals have benefited from her knowledge and experience. She also will be missed.

Over in the Human Resources department, Quincy Ingle and Karen Lefkovitz have left to explore other options. Sources on the street tell me that Quincy was the one who kept an eye on licensing issues for the district and sing his praises in this area. Karen is equally well respected and will also be missed.

Taking a look at vacancies across the district and I see that there are approximately 200 positions still open. A few of our high schools have quite a few positions open. In all fairness, though, most of those positions are outside of core subject matters. The exception is Antioch HS, where they are still looking, according to the MNPS web site, for a CTE teacher of Business and Marketing, a CTE teacher of Human Services, 4 Exceptional Ed teachers, 5 math teachers, and an English teacher.

Many teachers across the district opened their paychecks last Friday expecting to see a raise only to be disappointed. Despair not, teacher contracts are based on the school calendar year and not the fiscal year. So despite many teachers getting paid 12 months of the year, they won’t see that raise until the first pay check of the new year.

On Friday, I talked about the situation with the facilities over at Overton High School. This week I found this FAQ in my social media feed. It goes a long way towards addressing concerns.

(Tom Joy ES SSA requirements)

The discussion around Standardized School Attire pops up around this time every year. The code is left up to the individual schools and some are definitely stricter than others. Tom Joy Elementary School’s SSA requirements raised my eyebrows a little bit. In their defense, my kids don’t go to school there, so I’m not sure of the back story. I can say the Weber kids would have a hard time adhering to this policy.

POLL RESPONSES

This weekend we only had two questions and a half-baked attempt at a “You are so MNPS if…” contest. The first question had to with the grading policy called Grading for Learning that MNPS implemented in 2013. To say it’s been controversial from the beginning would be an understatement, and the policy is currently under review by the district.

According to 35% of you, it is a review that is needed, as you indicated that it is the dumbest idea you’d ever heard of. A large part of the criticism stems from the tenet that the lowest grade a student can receive is a 50. Parents feel that not being able to give a student a zero leads to students not taking the work seriously. Students are also allowed to retake tests, which sometimes leads to them “taking the 50” by skipping a test, knowing they’ll have a chance to retake the test.

As a proponent of Grading for Learning, I would argue that many of the problems arise from implementation. I personally don’t understand the fixation with the “50 vs. 0” argument. To me, failing is failing whether you call it a 0 or a 50 or a 35. In a mathematical equation, a zero is extremely difficult to overcome with a limited number of assignments. With a 50, kids have a better opportunity to overcome that score and therefore not give up on the class. Whatever the number is, it’s an arbitrary number that indicates a lack of mastery, and mastery is what grades should be about.

The argument also makes me feel that people are arguing for a punitive element to grades, and that just doesn’t resonate with me. Grades should be reflective of what a student knows, not their effort, attendance, or ability to adhere to a homework policy. The number 2 answer with 18% of votes was that the policy needed better implementation.

I do realize that I’m glossing over a very complex subject here and will try to re-visit it more in-depth in the near future. Here are the write-in answers:

If it is standards based grading then it is simply teaching to the test and shou 1
Standards based grading is what it’s called and it’s great 1
mixed – parts I like- parts I don’t 1
I like the focus on standards, not the rest.

Question two attempted to get a read on people’s mindset with the impending approach of the first day of school. The good news was that 24% of you are excited about the coming school year. The bad news is that 19% of you are apprehensive. Another 13% of you have a mixture of anticipation and fear.  Those numbers fill me with a bit of apprehension.

Here are question 2’s write-in answers:

Frustrated. School board doesn’t listen. Treats charters teachers like scum 1
In the EU, summer started in July. But I have my first higher ed class, so all 1
Depressed 1
Dreading it. Why are they letting my principal stay another year? 1
Concerned

I did get two responses to my proposed “You are so MNPS if…” contest.

You are so MNPS if you insist that SSA is for safety yet continually use dress down days as a reward.

You are so MNPS if you post comments on Metro’s Facebook page about why there should or shouldn’t be a snow day while utilizing poor grammar and failing to use correct spelling.

I like them. That’s it for this edition. MNPS teachers have 2 days of district wide training starting on Wednesday. I know y’all would prefer doing that instead of getting your classrooms ready. Hopefully it all goes well and everything gets fully calibrated. See you Friday. If you feel the need to send me any feedback, norinrad10@yahoo.com is the address.

 

 

SUMMER COMING TO AN END

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Only 2 more weekends until school starts here in Nashville. I just don’t know where the time goes. Before we get rolling I do need to clarify a point from a previous post. I mentioned that MNPS’s EL coaches were in Florida for a conference. I’ve been informed that this is something the department sends people to every year because it’s proven to be an extremely effective training. In fact, I’ve been told that they’ll be sending people next year and the year after as well. They politely told me that in the future if I have any questions, perhaps I should ask someone. Anyone who knows me knows that I have mad love for our ELL department, so consider me properly rebuked.

In related EL news, it seems that this years WIDA test was a little more difficult then in previous years. For those who don’t know, the WIDA Consortium is a non-profit cooperative group whose purpose is to develop standards and assessments that meet and exceed the goals of No Child Left Behind and promote educational equity for English language learners. They developed the test that the state and the district use to evaluate whether kids are ready to exit EL services. This year very few EL students scored high enough to exit EL services across the state. If the word on the street is to be believed, the Tennessee Department of Education is taking a look at those scores and possibly re-evaluating the test. What that means is anyones’s guess but I’ll keep you up to date as I know more.

TALKING TESTS

Speaking of tests, yesterday the Tennessee Department of Education announced that high school students across the state saw their scores on end of year exams rise this year. While this is good news, it should be noted the growth was modest and there are a few things I’d like to point out. In looking at literacy scores, there was a growth in level 3 scores from 22% to 27.5% but the there was actually a decline in those who reached level 4. That number dropped from 8.3% to 6.9%. Level 3 is considered on track while level 4 is mastered.

Math scores continued to fall way short of state expectations. This year 17.7% scored at a level 3 as compared to last year’s 17.1%. Mastery rose from 3.7% to 3.8%. Anybody who has been around education for awhile can see the opening credits of this movie beginning to roll. How long do you think it will be until we are filling our buckets and rushing over to put out the math score’s fires?

The scores released this week are just the first of a series of releases. District- and school-level high school scores are out next in August, while results for students in grades 3-8 are due to be released  this fall. Am I the only one that questions the usefulness of scores that arrive well into the next school year?

In an interesting wrinkle. According to NPR radio, the Tennessee Department of Education is encouraging teachers to make their classroom tests look like TN Ready Tests. Assistant Education Superintendent Nakia Townes says her department will be holding “item writing workshops” to help teachers with this initiative. The benefit being, “It teaches our educators how to think about designing a task that measures the standards in the same way that students will see that on the state assessment,” Towns says. “They learn how to take that knowledge and that skill to say I’m going to write my own assessments this way. I’m going to think about the kinds of critical skills and knowledge I need to be measuring with students when I create my classroom quiz.” Strikes me as giving even more power to the test and less to the individual teacher. But what do I know?

NEW TEACHER ACADEMY

MNPS has a teacher attrition problem. One that is finally starting to be acknowledged and a few people are starting to try and address. One step in that direction was the creation of the new teacher academy last year by Executive Director of Talent Management Shannon Black and former Executive Director of Talent Strategy Katie Cour. Cour may be gone but Black ratcheted up the game this year. Over several days new teachers were exposed to what it means to be an MNPS teacher, challenges as well as opportunities. An added goal of the Academy was to help new teachers perhaps discover mentors. By all accounts the event was well executed and attendees found the information very useful. Props to Shannon and her team.

This is a start. Not to be a negative nelly, but there is still a lot of work to be done with existing teachers. There are schools in MNPS that continue to lose teachers hand over fist. Going into the new year, Antioch HS still shows 15 vacancies and recently lost a cite teacher and a newly hired dean. Five of those openings are for math teachers. Sylvain Park ES has lost five veteran teachers just this week. I hope somebody is taking a close look at leadership at these schools because no matter how spectacular Black and her department’s work is on the new teacher academy, you can not just keep adding water to a bucket with a hole in it and expect to make progress.

OVERTON

(Front of Overton HS)

If you are a parent at Overton HS and you’ve recently driven by the school, it’s understandable that you may have some concerns. Overton underwent an extensive remodel this summer with 78% of the building being gutted. Taking into account the current situation, it seems hard to envision them being ready to go come August 7th. This week I talked with district leaders and they ensured me that they are keeping close tabs on the situation, and the construction company has assured them things will be ready by the 7th. I know, I gave them the same skeptical look you are probably giving me right now. In response to that look, I was told there is a plan “B” being formulated and communication to parents would go out soon.

It’s that communication piece that always seems to be the hang up with MNPS. School board member’s get so caught up with charter school marketing materials that they fail to recognize the role of keeping parents and community members in the dark contributes to charter school attrition. It’s the age old rule of communication, the lack of a clear narrative leads to people creating their own narrative and it is invariably a negative one.

I will say, that the job of Community Superintendent seems like an overwhelming position. My early experiences with Southwest Superintendent Dottie Critchlow though have been extremely pleasant. She’s been responsive, open, and proactive in opening the lines of communication. It is very much appreciated. If you get a chance to reach out to her I encourage you to do so.

DISTRICT CHALLENGES

The Nashville Scene’s Amanda Haggard has a new piece out on the challenges facing Dr. Joseph and MNPS this year. It’s a good piece and a lot deeper then anything published recently by the Tennessean on MNPS. There are a couple areas that I think need further exploration.

Haggard names literacy as one of 4 primary challenges faced by Director of School’s Shawn Joseph. Literacy is the focus of the district and the shortcomings frequently get exposed. We’ve all heard the “2/3 of Nashville kid’s aren’t reading on grade level” statistic. But there is never any explanation of what measurement is being utilizing to arrive at that number. Most people assume it is based on state tests, but Tennessee Ready is not a reading test, it’s a literacy test that includes punctuation and spelling. Often those quoting the state default to an in house measurement that the general population doesn’t have access to. That should change this year, as last year the district began utilizing MAP testing. I don’t deny that there is a lot of room for improvement in reading skills across the district, but if we are going to quote statistics and increase awareness based on those stats, we need to be transparent about how we are measuring kids.

Haggard discusses the directors evaluation as well. Apparently, according to this article, Dr. Joseph will not be evaluated until mid-year despite a recently adopted board policy stating that the director is to be evaluated twice a year. I understand the need to have a quality evaluation tool but I still don’t understand the purpose of having a policy if it’s not going to be followed.

Lastly, board climate is discussed. Enough is enough. The board’s ability to work together is obviously important, but does it supersede the need to address teacher attrition or capital needs? At some point the elephant in the room needs to be addressed – there was no trust or buy in developed between leadership and teachers, administrators, and community members last year. Culture is as bad bad or worse then it has ever been. That should be the number one challenge. I am completely baffled how leadership plans to make their strategic plan concrete without buy in. In all fairness, I think there are some, including Dr. Joseph, who are beginning to recognize the reality on the ground and attempts were made to address the culture problem at last week’s principal meeting. I’m just not sure they recognize the depth or urgency of the situation.

I want to raise one last point on the subject of the board. Board Chairwoman Anna is quoted in the Scene article speaking on professional development for the board,“Dr. Joseph came in, and we were all honestly so hungry for it. We latched on, and we just haven’t let it go.” Ok, great, but aren’t we forgetting something? The board is Dr. Joseph’s boss. It’s not his role to make them better, it is their role to make him better. That’s where timely evaluations come in. They are a tool to facilitate improvement. They are not supposed to be punitive. As it stands, name me one tool the board is using to propel Dr. Joseph to improvement. Are we to assume that he is beyond the need for growth or that his self evaluation is sufficient? I’ll try that on my next job.

Please read the rest of Amanda’s piece. As I stated earlier, with apologies to Jason Gonzales,  it’s far superior to anything being written in the Tennessean these days. The Tennessean seems to have used up all their critical ink on Dr. Register.

QUICK HITS

(Project Lit Attendees)

I attended the summer meeting of Project Lit’s book club this past week and was quite impressed with the turnout. While there, I was afforded the opportunity to talk with several of the districts librarians and came away quite impressed. I believe that they are a under utilized resource in our district and we’d all benefit by talking with them more. It was informative hearing their thoughts and insights.

This fall Project Lit book club meetings will be expanding beyond Maplewood HS to other sites. Both Overton HS and Croft MP will be hosting meetings. Look for more information on that.

Expect a new update of Eclipse-gate 2017 in the next couple of days. All I can do is shake my head and pray nobody gets whiplash.

Nashville School of the Arts has a brand new newsletter this year. I encourage you to read and subscribe to it.

(Antioch Middle Prep faculty)

A shout out Antioch Middle Prep teachers and administrators. Once again they are on the bus dropping off welcome back letters and school supplies to their students at their homes. Gotta love how they get out in the community.

Over at Jere Baxter MP teachers are working hard at getting ready for the school year as well. It’s going to be a good year.

By the way, has anybody seen raises reflected in their paychecks?

(Jere Baxter MP prep work)

POLL QUESTIONS

This week I would like to get your opinion on where you are mentaly for the start of this school year. Are you excited? Apprehensive? Blasé? Inquiring minds want to know.

I hear rumblings that the district is looking at a new grading policy. That means Grading for Learning maybe out. Is that welcoming news or does it just need to be tweaked or kept the same. Inquiring minds want to know.

The last question is a take off on the Nashville Scene’s You Are So Nashville If…. contest. I would like your ideas for a You Are So MNPS if…. contest. So write them in. You can email them to me at norinrad10@yahoo.com or add them to the comment section. Whichever you are comfortable with.

That’s it for now. Enjoy the week-end.