A DAY OF RECKONING

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“There’s something happening here, I know it. It’s right in front of my face, but I just can’t see it.”
Elmore Leonard, Unknown Man #8And time is buy an essensce

Encased upon the wall
That brings our day of reckoning-
Much closer to us all. – Paul Weller, There is No Drinking After You Are Dead

The end of September is almost upon us and that means one more month until it’s time for another election. I know y’all have had about enough of elections in Nashville and I can’t say I blame you. This one coming up in November though, it is the big one.

Tennesseans will pick their Governor, between Bill Lee and Karl Dean. As much as it pains me, I have to lean towards Dean. They’ll also chose who will represent them in the U.S. Senate, between Phil Bredesen and Marsha Blackburn. Begrudgingly again, I’m leaning Bredesen. I wish I had a little more enthusiasm for either candidate in these races, but it is what it is. There is one candidate I believe in whole-heartedly.

Bob Freeman is running to replace Beth Harwell in representing District 56 in the Tennessee State House of Representatives. Many of you may recognize the last name, and yes he is the son of former mayoral candidate Bill Freeman. To be honest as much as I admire Bill, I’m loathe to draw the connection between father and son because Bob truly is his own man.

Bob and I got to know each other during his father’s run for mayor and became friends. Campaign’s are often the springboards to relationships of convenience, that was never true with Bob. After the election ended he was just as assessable and intellectually inquisitive as he was during the campaign. Over the years he’s reached out often, either with questions or looking for clarity on educational issues. In that time he’s shown me to be deeply committed to public education and helping teachers and families.

You’ll never see Bob Freeman walking around with an “I love teachers” button, instead you’ll see him expressing that sentiment through his actions. In my eyes a refreshing change. You’ll witness him taking time to listen to teachers, researching their issues, and advocating for more funding for our public schools. Beth Harwell used to like to tell people how committed she was to education, Bob Freeman won’t do that. But you won’t need him to, because you’ll be able to see it in his actions.

I always say, “Don’t tell me how honest you are, just be honest. I’ll be able to figure it out.” With Bob Freeman, I’ve figured it out.

If you live in District 56, I’m asking you to cast a vote for Bob Freeman. We need him in the statehouse. Don’t worry, I’ll probably remind you a couple of times.

PRIORITY SCHOOL LIST

Today is going to mark the beginning of a very interesting conversation for Metro Nashville Public Schools, Today the state of Tennessee released the list of schools to be included on the so-called “priority schools” list. Priority schools as designated by the state are those in Tennessee’s bottom 5 percent, the threshold for determining state investments such as extra money — and interventions as harsh as takeover and even closure. It’s not a list one wants to be on. Unfortunately MNPS has lots of representation.

Before we get into the meat of the issue, I’ve include the above video from a board meeting on 10/11/16 in which Dr. Joseph addressed the subject of the current schools on the priority school list to wet your whistle. At that time there were 11 priority schools. The discussion begins around the 32:30 minute mark.

“All of us around this board table can agree that we have no time to lose in making gains in our lowest performing schools” is how Dr. Joseph began a presentation on the strategies he planned to employ to help our lowest performing schools. A strategy that clearly has not worked. A strategy that employed a plank of re-branding these school as “innovation schools”. A plank Dr. Joseph is still clinging to, as an item on next week’s school board meeting, under directors report, calls for a discussion of “innovation schools.” The state calls them priority schools.

Interestingly enough, if you watch the video, several board members – Pinkston and Gentry included – warned Joseph about not studying past reports and not throwing out strategies that were having an impact. Advice, that I think it’s safe to say, that was ignored, and therefore here we are.

The priority list comes out every three years. The state was kind enough to provide a “Cusp list” to schools back in the fall of 2017. Efforts were made to give districts ample time to make adjustments and implement strategies.

Calculating this year’s list is not without its challenges. Per Chalkbeat TN,

Because technical problems marred Tennessee’s return to online testing this spring, state lawmakers passed legislation ordering that the most recent scores can’t be used to place new schools on the priority list or move them into the state’s Achievement School District for assignment to charter networks. Instead, the newest priority schools are based mostly on student achievement from the two prior school years. However, a school on the 2014 list could potentially come off the new roster if its scores were good this year.

Some schools that have previously been on the list – Whitsitt ES and Inglewood ES – scored high enough on this year’s testing to come off the list. I’m also proud to say that my kid’s schools Tusculum ES, perennially on the cusp, improved significantly enough that they exited the bottom 10%. Those are causes for celebration.

Here’s the list of schools that have been designated as priority schools.

  • Alex Green Elementary
  • Amqui Elementary
  • Antioch Middle
  • McKissack Middle
  • Belshire ES
  • Caldwell ES
  • Cumberland ES (Home of the highest paid ES principal who hails from PGCS)
  • Gra-Mar Middle
  • Haynes (State managed to spell it correctly)
  • Jere Baxter MP
  • Joelton Middle
  • Robert E Lilliard ES
  • Maplewood HS
  • McMurray Middle Prep
  • Rosebank ES
  • Madison Middle
  • Tom Joy ES
  • Warner ES
  • Whites Creek HS
  • Wright Middle
  • The Cohn Learning Center

That’s a whole lot of innovation taking place. 23 names. Add Buena Vista and Robert Churchwell as getting comprehensive supports. I would argue that McMurray deserves a bit of a break because those kids have been going to class at a construction site for the last 18 months.

I’m sure that Dr. Joseph will tell us that TNReady is a flawed test and that it’s results do line up with our internal data which shows great progress being made. Maybe he’ll point to the letter that Mr. Pinkston wrote, and he signed, calling for a halt to TNReady. None of those arguments will change the fact that MNPS has 23 schools that have consistently scored among the lowest 5% in the district. None of that will change the fact that the number of schools on his “innovation” list have doubled under his watch.

Dr. Joseph makes the argument that being on the priority list has a negative connotation attached to those schools, but there is also a benefit. Landing on the list means extra resources, and his administration has identified an aggressive four-part plan to help move schools off the priority list. In Joseph’s words, “Whether or not these schools were on a state list, they were on my list for schools that need to improve.” Hmmm…does that not beg a question?

In 2014, when the priority school list had 14 names on it, board member Will Pinkston picked up his poison pen and wrote an Op-Ed to the Tennessean,

The evidence is clear. In two years, MNPS has more than doubled its number of low-performing schools on the state of Tennessee’s “priority” list, which identifies the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state. Our school system went from having six schools on the list in 2012 to, as of last week, 14 schools. Put differently: The number of students in exceedingly low-performing schools has risen from 2,260 to 6,272, according to enrollment data in the state’s Report Card.

The Metro school board should act decisively to confront this crisis.

I’m ashamed to admit that, during the past two years, the school board has not had a single conversation about persistently failing schools and how to turn them around. The reality is: Schools Director Jesse Register has been setting the agenda, and failing schools do not fit in management’s glossy narrative. It’s overdue time for the elected board to assert authority on behalf of students, parents and taxpayers.

Funny how your words come back to haunt you. I wonder if Pinkston will bring the same sense of urgency to the table when the board discusses Joseph’s innovation at next week’s board meeting or whether since it no longer suits his political agenda, he’ll allow the good doctor to spin a fanciful yarn on the merits of his strategies over the last two years.

In looking over the list, I find it appalling that if you are in the White’s Creek cluster there is only one school option that is not on the priority school list, Joelton ES. Think about that, as a parent of limited means you have no option but t send your child, no matter what age to a school on the priority school list. That should be unacceptable to everyone.

Interestingly enough, none of the priority schools are located on the West side of town, nor do they fall into any of the wealthier neighborhoods. So how much of the list is a result of socio-economic factors and how much is a factor of poor schooling? That is a question that bears asking.

In contrast, here’s the “good” list, the reward schools list.

  • Andrew Jackson Elementary
  • Cameron College Preparatory
  • Charlotte Park Elementary
  • Crieve Hall Elementary
  • Dan Mills Elementary
  • Eakin Elementary
  • Glendale Elementary
  • Gower Elementary
  • Head Middle
  • Hume – Fogg High
  • Intrepid College Preparatory Charter School
  • KIPP Academy Nashville
  • Lockeland Elementary
  • Martin Luther King Jr School
  • Meigs Middle
  • Neely’s Bend Elementary
  • Purpose Prep
  • Rocketship United
  • Shwab Elementary
  • Smithson Craighead Academy
  • Valor Flagship Academy
  • Valor Voyager Academy

Reward schools are generally those that are improving in terms of achievement and growth for students. A school cannot achieve reward status if any student group performs in the bottom five percent in the state for that group or if it’s in need of Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) or Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) Note the neighborhoods most of those are found in.

Mayor Briley, who seems oblivious to the socio-economic challenges facing Nashvillians, offered his own insight into the released lists. In his statement, he fails to acknowledge the role Nashville’s city government may play into the creating of these lists. Policy’s that promote a better way of life for some Nashvillians while ignoring the challenges to others.

Amazingly Briley, Board Chair Sharon Gentry, Shawn Joseph and newly elected vice-mayor Jim Shulman found the time to pen their own op-ed piece that urges Nashvillians to stop bickering over our schools, and get to following them,

Debating matters about how to improve our schools is productive, but only when it is grounded in mutual respect, and an appreciation for joint creativity.  When it comes to investing in the future of the City’s youth, we believe that our signing this guest column is an important signal to Nashville — a signal that we are prepared to be supportive of one another in pursuit of our schools being safe places where students flourish.

In other words, we know best and instead of LISTENING to the administrators, teachers, and families of MNPS as they call out for help and warn of a school system that is in crisis, they are going to double down on the failed policies of the last two years.

This is my favorite quote from the piece,

“Our work on the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success is the envy of and a model for school districts nationwide; we now must build on that model more broadly.”

In the immortal words of Horton Hears an Owl, “Who, who, who”. Please supply me a list of names and contact information of the envious ones. I’d like to talk with them.

My fear is that parents, teachers, and administrators will stop bickering, and resort to protesting with their feet. In other words we will see increased disengagement and people leaving, the end result being a school district that only serves those that have no other options. The amount of central office employees and teachers that already left should be enough of a warning siren of a pending crisis for anybody paying attention. If you think we are under funded now, just wait 5 years if nothing changes. Costs will increase as resources decrease, leaving a cratered school system dependent on charter schools and private schools to educate it’s more affluent students. Kinda like Prince George County Schools is currently, which makes one wonder if that hasn’t been the goal all along.

For those who didn’t read the press release too closely, there is additional bad news in there, the state has also assigned MNPS the designation of a “school district in need of improvement.” That’s not just a friendly reminder of shortcomings, it’s a warning that the district either gets their shit together or the state will repeat their 2009 action, district takeover.

I find Briley’s signing of this op-ed piece particularly disturbing in light of his recent attacks on Council Member Bob Mendes for disagreeing with the his assertion that Nashville does not have an affordable housing crisis. Per the mayor,

“For people to think that we’re in some sort of fiscal crisis is either just a fundamental lack of understanding of how our budget works or some sort of political grandstanding, and it needs to come to an end,”

He went on to accuse Mendes of “rooting against city”. When Briley got elected I believed he was a mayor that was dedicated to finding solutions to mounting problems facing Nashville. Solutions that served all Nashvillians. I never suspected that he would believe good policy was based on “rooting” for or against the city. The wrong leadership can not be overcome by placating and leading cheers. It requires decisive action, action that I’m beginning to doubt Briley is capable of.

I find the tone of his rebuttal deeply disturbing when taken in line with his co-signed op-ed. One time is an instance, twice is a trend. A disturbing and disappointing trend. In my opinion, further evidence that Nashville suffers from a leadership crisis. When leadership fails to see things clearly we all suffer.

One thing that should be clear to all, is that we can’t ask our teachers to work any harder or care anymore. In fact I would argue that we have already tied their hands enough through our implementation of bad policy and scripted lesson plans. I know, the district is not utilizing “scripted” lesson plans, yet somehow when I talk to teachers that is the perception that they convey. Maybe if we depended more on the people doing the actual work, the outcomes would be a little different. Now that would be some innovation.

On Monday MNPS will hold a press event to unveil their plans. Joseph has made it mandatory that principals of those schools on the priority list stand on the podium with him. Once again, failing to take responsibility for his own failings and continually looking for someone else to shift blame to. Hey Sharon Gentry will be there as well, maybe Schulman and Briley can jump on stage as well and sing “Kumbaya” while the district still continues to practice bad policy. And then we can give a “5…6…7…8…who do we appreciate” cheer and everything will miraculously improve. More likely it will be “That all right, it’s ok, you will work for us someday.”

Before wrapping things up, I’d like to return to Pinkston’s op-ed from 2014 in which he closes thus,

Our goal should be: no MNPS schools on the state’s priority list by the time it’s released again in 2016. We need to deal with this crisis on behalf of the 6,272 students in these 14 schools. They deserve the very best chance in life, and the school board should feel obligated to act with urgency.

QUICK HITS

The state’s portfolio model of evaluation continues to be fraught with problems. Luckily for teachers there is help out there.

Pre K or K teachers, if you received a 1 on your portfolio last year and it wasn’t reviewed or it was a submission error, please email Mary Campbell with TEA mcampbell@tnea.org She will help you go over your options and it only takes about 10 minutes.

Some of you have stopped caring what number you have been given and that is understandable. However, can you hear the State saying that this really wasn’t a big deal because no one did anything? Mary will come out to your school or meet you before/after school to go over options and what will work best for you. Take advantage of the resource.

We often hear how education policy should be rooted in research. Unfortunately all research is not created equal. Blogger Peter Greene writes an excellent piece on what to look for when evaluating education research.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) announced that 11 Metro Nashville Public Schools students are semifinalists in the 64th annual National Merit Scholarship Program. Congratulations to,

  • Ella D. Halbert, Hume-Fogg Academic High School
  • Christine L. Li, Hume-Fogg Academic High School
  • Elizabeth G. Riddle, Hume-Fogg Academic High School
  • Sarah T. Sheppard, Hume-Fogg Academic High School
  • Julia An, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Joseph M. Friedman, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Maya R. Johnson, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Boone Kinney, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Katherine G. Reed, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Bryce Troia, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Quinn J. Troia, MLK Jr. Magnet High School

Lorenzo Carrion and Brandon Majors, both 2018 graduates of Cane Ridge High School, were awarded the inaugural Butch McCord Legacy Scholarship by Major League Baseball’s Nashville RBI program on Sept. 19. Hats off to them!

Last week I wrote about the use of clubs during RTI time at Tusculum ES. In my over zealousness to report good news, I failed to make it clear that all kids were being included in clubs. Inadvertently, I gave the impression that some kids were being excluded from participating. That was wrong and I owe a huge apology to the schools AP Mr. Holmes. There is no school more inclusive that Tusculum. I need to remember that good news needs to be vetted as thoroughly as bad news. It’s important to hold myself to the same standard I expect from others. Please forgive my error. I

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon.

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A TEACHER’S THOUGHTS AT 2AM: AN AFFIRMATION OF THE WORK IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

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Five years ago when I started this blog, I thought, “Hey, this could be a fun little hobby.” Unfortunately, and fortunately, it has turned into so much more. There are times that I absolutely do not want to write another word about how we underfund, under support, and underestimate our public schools. It’s heartbreaking to continually hear the stories of sacrifice that teachers make only to be under cut by self-serving administrators and politicians who just don’t take the time to learn the truth.

The fortunate part is that in creating this blog, a platform in which to share some of the truly beautiful thoughts and experiences of teachers has also been created. If I didn’t believe in magic before, after hearing their words and witnessing their works, its existence has become undeniable.

I share here, with permission, the words of middle school teacher Cori Anderson-Lais. Cori is a long-time family friend and a tremendous teacher. She is also a wife and the mother of two wonderful small children. Those roles often combine to create insomnia. Meaning that one finds themselves awake and unable to sleep at 2AM.

Fortunately for us, Cori used her insomnia in a much more productive manner than this writer. Whereas I would just watch Tin Cup for the 3,456th time, she used her time to produce a beautiful essay that I consider a must-read for all parents. Well, hell, not just parents, but everybody.

Thank you, Cori, for sharing your experiences and reminding us why what we all do is so important. I urge you to have some tissues handy before reading this one.

 

Parents of preschool aged children love to ask me some variation of the the same question as soon as they find out I’m a teacher. “So… tell me about the schools. Are the schools around here any *good*? I looked up the ratings online/ watched some terrible news story, and I’m wondering if we should move before he/she enters school.”

Enter internal monologue after this question is received. Apologies for the cursing, but #realtalk🤷🏼‍♀️: Shit. Shit. Shit. Why did you open your loud-ass mouth and tell this well-meaning person enjoying a lovely day at the park/library/zoo/other-kid-friendly-establishment you were an eff-ing teacher? You could have just said you work at Target. Gawd, I really wish I just worked at Target. It’s so clean and organized. You get a discount. Surely the managers make more than I do. Focus. Or nothing. You could have just said nothing. Why can’t you EVER just say nothing, Cori? Great, I’m about to make this person wish they never talked to me. Oh well, I have enough friends, and I’m too tired for any more. Sorry Anxious Mom, I’m about to wear you out.

*************************************

This post is going to come from a place of admitted emotion, heart and passion about the kids and families to whom I have devoted my entire adult life. It’s lengthy and should probably live on a blog, but you know, time.

Disclaimers: Other than visiting them during trainings, I know almost nothing about Williamson County Schools. The following post’s purpose is not to speak about Williamson County Schools. Metro Nashville Public School System is massive, and I have spent all 11 years of my teaching in the Southwest and Southeast quadrant. I cannot speak on behalf of anything else. I grew up in suburban Minnesota inside of a working-class family that was intertwined with layers of dysfunction. However, the schools I attended looked, operated, and felt much more Williamson County than MNPS. It would be a lie to say that I don’t have any feelings left over about being the kid who felt misplaced in the environment where I grew up.

You want me to tell you about the schools, Anxious Mom? Here we go:

Here’s the reality Anxious Mom,
If you participate in White Flight, you hurt families of color and under-resourced families. “But But But I, volunteer/donate/go on mission trips/do x,y,z noble thing for poor people.” No. Own it. Sit in it. Feel the feelings even if one of them is shame, and say it out loud: If I participate in White Flight inside of the public school system, my actions hurt families of color and under-resourced families. The whole family. Not just the kids. Period. Stop talking about how good of a person you are aside from the whole White Flight thing. We all get to make choices. I can’t make them for you. I didn’t say it was easy, or perfect, or without risk-whether that risk is perceived or factual-I’ll tell you more about that later.

You need to ask yourself some tough questions:

What do I really mean when I say I want “the best” for my kid?

What can “the best” look like?

What do I mean when I say *a good school*? Is there underlying racial or socioeconomic bias in my thoughts about *good schools*?
*************************************
Inside these dreaded conversations, comes more questioning from the Anxious Mom that boils down to, “But won’t MY – smart, high-achieving, already knows her numbers, letters, colors, long division, astrophysics, half of the Japanese logographs, yoga poses, etc. be adversely affected by THOSE – under – resourced poor, low-achieving, misbehaving, Immigrant, EL, EE, Black, Brown, etc.- kids?”

Insert another internal monologue: Cori, remember that parents typically come from a place of love and good intentions. They have not been inside the schools. Your classroom babies are not their babies. They don’t know their stories. They read shit ratings online that paint an ugly, misinformed picture of our schools. I’ll readily admit that the Higher Ups need to get it together, but isn’t that the case in just about every government system in America? Be an educator. Educate this person, don’t judge this person. Quell rage, fix your face, use a kind voice.

I know, it’s a complicated picture, Anxious Mom, but here’s the thing. Your kid will be fine. More than fine. Like ultra, super-duper fine. There is scads of research that supports that fact. Yes, fact. You want scholarly articles about it? I’ll send them your way. Your kid will. be. fine. Probably better off and kinder. I work with incredible teachers. The families are great. We offer advanced academics-in fact, I teach those courses. We differentiate for all types of learners – that’s our job.

Anxious Mom emits more anxiety: But my calculus solving 4-year-old won’t do well in a disruptive environment. She won’t be able to reach her full potential unless she is around other kids like her. What if my kid doesn’t get enough attention if lower performing students are getting all of it? I’ve also heard there are a lot of immigrant kids around here, and if they can’t speak English, won’t my kid fall behind?

More internal monologue: There’s this thing about working with all types of people. They’re called coping skills, Lady, and it sounds like your kid is going to need to learn some stat if this is the kind of pressure you’re putting her under. Deep breath. Turn your judgment down, Self. Educate.

Again, it is our job to accommodate all learners. That’s why we chose to teach public school. Even if your kid misses out on some part of academics that may more easily be received in a more homogeneous environment, the social, emotional, and life learning that will occur inside our schools will far outweigh any gaps in instruction. In fact, those academic skills can be acquired indefinitely throughout adulthood. Remember how smart you said your kid was? She’ll make it. I promise. And probably be better for being ignored occasionally. And fun fact: Once Immigrant children reach English proficiency-something your *genius* kid could help them do, they actually out perform their English-speaking peers in academics and post-secondary schooling. Your little precious actually might do well to become bffs with the ELL kid because she might learn something about work ethic. And maybe, bonus, another language. 🤷🏼‍♀️

Things I have learned from my students: patience, tolerance, the ability to recognize and actively fight against my own biases, compassion, more about the world and other cultures than I even knew was possible, greetings in other languages, how to take care of others, hospitality, how to think on my feet, the fact that there is more than one “right” way to live, the ability to respect varying cultural and religious viewpoints, and most significantly: way more than I’ve ever taught them.

Anxious Mom, hear me: Your kid can learn from *those* kids, teach/help/BEFRIEND those kids, build a better world WITH those kids. Because as much as you, “Barely have time to process everything about YOUR kids, how in the world am I supposed to have concern about other people’s kids,” you have to know that YOUR kid’s world WILL be affected by those kids, and you might be able to help those effects be positive by being a part of our schools.

I won’t lie to you. In my eleven years, I’ve had classes where I did way more behavior management than I did teaching. But you know what I also did in those classes? I learned. I learned how to help kids manage their emotions. I learned that you can’t teach a kid academic content until they trust you. I learned how to de-escalate potent, anger filled situations. I learned that we all come to the table with layers, and even with those layers, we still deserve a chance. And a kid not performing well on a standardized test doesn’t show you shit about his/her intellect or capabilities. There are lots of kinds of smart. Isn’t that what life is all about?

I’ll leave you with a final anecdote, Anxious Mom. Let me tell you about my friend Max.

The last two years, I’ve taught only advanced academics courses (try not to monitor grammatical errors in this composition-I wrote it on my phone in the midst of insomnia) at the MNPS school closest to the Williamson County line. It’s probably a little more colorful than a WC school, but it’s the most homogeneous group I’ve ever taught.

Last year, another teacher was struggling with Max being in his class. Max’s behavior is pretty intense, and he already had a quite a few vibrant personalities in the room. Max, despite his quirks, scores in the 94th percentile and above on standardized assessments. He’s fricken brilliant and bored out of his ever-loving skull. We moved him into the advanced classes.

The first couple weeks were a mess. He jumped on chairs, interjected every thought that crossed his mind into the room in a screeching voice, bothered his peers, and created a cacophony of chortles throughout the room on a daily basis.

I tried talking to him, positive praise, negative attention, yelling at him, sending him into the hall, calling his mom. All the things. One day, the exchange went something like this, “Out Max! I’ll meet you out there in a second. The rest of you better get busy and not say a word. I’m listening with my Mom Ears. I hear everything.”

– in the hall –

“Max, what. is. happening? This doesn’t work for any of us.”

“I don’t know. *tears start to come* The other kids think I’m funny but they don’t actually want to be my friends. They’re mean, but they’re sneaky, and I get in trouble because I’m loud.”

Inner thoughts abound again – Shit, this kid is perceptive AF. And right. He’s right. I need to do better. I need to teach the other kids to do better.

“Max, I’m sorry. You’re right. They do things they shouldn’t too. Just because they’re quieter doesn’t make it okay. I’m going to pay more attention to that. I do need you to chill out though. Not everyone catches onto concepts as quickly as you do, and they need quiet to think. Want to go in and try again?”

I looped with those kids this year meaning I have them all again, including Max. If you came into our class, you’d probably see Max standing on the table at the back of the room. Go ahead, clutch your pearls, yes, standing on the table. Max now has a box of puzzles and sensory toys for when he finishes his work early. He uses a white board to write things down that he wants to blurt out. Sometimes, he still blurts out. Sometimes, I still lose my patience with him. We got him into the Day of Discovery program with Vanderbilt, and on Tuesdays he gets to go do super cool things like examine bugs outside.

Anxious Mom – But is that fair? Won’t all the kids start standing on their desks? Why does he get toys and they don’t?

Friend, fair is not always equal. Another great lesson for kids to learn. No, the other kids don’t stand on their desks because they don’t *need* to stand on their desks. They also need more time to do their work. They also recognize that it’s socially inappropriate to stand on a desk, and they don’t want to stand out by having extra toys. In reality, we could all learn something from Max about giving no 🤐. And most significantly, they have figured out how to work with Max and how bright he is. They are kinder to him. Stand up for him sometimes.

Even More Anxious Mom – So, you’re going to send your girls to school here? Even the big, scary high school? I heard such and such happened there.

Well, it probably did, and I’m sure if you knew the full story it wouldn’t shock you nearly as much as it did when someone hyperbolized it. Yes, my kids will go to these schools. I’m excited for them to attend these schools. Remember the high school I mentioned that I attended? Kids there had the time and money to do all the things you’re afraid your kid is going to be influenced to do. *Those* kid’s-at the *scary* schools – they’re mostly working and helping to take care of their families.

Those kids are MY kids. Just as much my kids as Jovie and Eira. They were my first babies. They invited me to their family parties and their family sporting events, brought me incredible food, threw me a baby shower, visited me in the hospital after I had my babies, babysat my children and refused to take payment, they hug me when they see me in public, and are currently achieving fantastic things. One more fun fact: their parents never emailed me things that made my eyes roll. They respected my profession. SO, if you’re going to try to talk to me about how your kid deserves more or better than my kids, you’re going to hear about my feelings. I’m sorry the smiley-faced Nordic-looking girl in the MN Twins hat didn’t affirm your internalized bias, but I hope you’ll consider staying in our neighborhood. You won’t regret it. ✌🏼

#FACEPALM

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“I’m really gonna miss you picking fights
And me falling for it screaming that I’m right
And you would hide away and find your peace of mind
With some indie record that’s much cooler than mine” – Taylor Swift, Never Getting Back Together

“Just cause you got the monkey off your back, doesn’t mean the circus has left town.” – George Carlin

Before we get engrossed in circus talk, I wanted to share a little observation about Nashville the city as a whole with you. Back in the 90’s, I spent a great deal of time at the corner of the bar at Friday’s on Elliston Place. It was an area populated by bookies and philosophers and those who trafficked in their services. In short, it was a good place to enjoy a drink.

In the days leading up to the arrival of the NFL in Music City, there was a lot of talk about what the experience and the team would look like. Much of the talk centered on the cost of attendance and concessions at an NFL football game. There was a point raised that the stadium was built with tax payer money and therefore an effort should be made to keep it affordable for the average Nashvillian. One man scoffed and then uttered one of those truism that have remained with me since, “If you can’t afford to drop a bill, they don’t want your broke ass in there.”

As time has marched on, and Nashville has seen an unprecedented amount of growth, I can’t help but reflect back on that statement. Everyday it feels more and more like that saying has been played out and is now applicable to our entire city. Some great things have happened to Nashville over the past decade, but how many of those things can policeman, fireman, teachers, and such take advantage of? The growth has been great for business owners and corporations, but has the quality of life really improved for the average resident of Nashville?

During his campaign, Mayor Briley touted the growth in dining out options, but how many of us can actually partake of these enhanced dining options? Sure there are a lot more entertainment options, but try taking a family of four to any of them without blowing the monthly budget in one night. Property values have exploded, but if you sell your house, where are you going to move? And God forbid you try to stay in the house that’s been in your family for years – taxes are going to catch you. Try getting anywhere in town without a reliable automobile; it’s impossible. It short, the cost of living has gone up and wages haven’t.

As a result, Nashville has become more focused on making the city more attractive to newcomers and tourists instead of the people who actually reside here. People that made the city an attractive place to live in the first place. People that added character. Characters can’t afford to live here any more.

Sure, in a lot of ways Nashville is booming, but for many it truly has become the city where “If you can’t drop a bill, they don’t want your broke ass in here.”

MAYOR’S LATEST HEAD SCRATCHER

Mayor Briley is a huge anomaly for me. I don’t know of a singular politician that I’ve wanted to support as much as I do him, who in turn works as hard to make it as impossible to do so as he does. It seems like he almost deliberately tries to keep the bar low. This isn’t some new sensation either; I’ve supported him since 2005, only to be disappointed at every turn. This latest move, though, may be the deal breaker.

As part of the Friday news dump, it was announced that Mayor Briley had appointed a new education advisor to the mayor. Since both school board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering have long been supporters of his, I thought it would be a safe bet to assume that he would tag a long time Nashville educator for the position. You know, somebody with deep institutional knowledge of events over the last decade.

Since Mayor Briley was also touting education and supporting teachers as a primary focus of his, surely his choice would be someone with a long history of classroom experience. After all, everyone loves teachers and has pledged to be their champions. This would be a prime opportunity to demonstrate he was serious about providing that support.

Furthermore, it’s been widely recognized that one of the chief failings of MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph was his to recognize the depth of talent here in Nashville. What better way to rectify that misperception then to pluck one of Nashville’s very own long-term educators. Not like we don’t have a half a bushel to pick from.

Nope. Instead, in a move that defies logic, Briley chose Indira Dammu to be his Advisor to the Mayor for Education Policy. Now before anybody gets too worked up, let me just say I have no reason to believe that Dammu is anything but a wonderful human being. It’s her resume I’m questioning and the once again slighting of our local talent.

She got into the education world in 2009 via Teach For America and working for the Children’s Charter Middle School. They went out of business around 2011. CCMS, not TFA, unfortunately. She taught one more year at Achievement First in New Haven. That’s it for the classroom, as she headed to North Carolina as a policy advisor for North Carolina New Schools. Mind you, North Carolina is one of a handful of states that decided Tennessee’s Achievement District was so wonderful they had to have one of their own. That should say it all. In 2015 NCNS shut its doors for financial reasons.

Next stop was in 2015 in Tennessee and our good friends at SCORE. If there is a single organization that has been more wrong on education policy in Tennessee than SCORE, I’m hard pressed to name them. Charter Schools, testing, teacher prep, teacher evaluation, take your pick… SCORE has been on the wrong side of almost every educational issue over the last decade. The latest being the Governor’s listening not listening tour. A tweet from this weekend sums it up best: “SCORE exists to protect TN Ready, charter schools and Jamie’s $350k salary and unlimited vacation days.”

I’m not saying that Ms. Dammu ain’t wicked smart, but I am saying her experiences are rather… limited. She has absolutely no experience in a traditional school.

In case her experiences don’t excite you enough, she’s also a supporter of competency-based education. “Compency-based education” is another one of those phrases that sound really cool until you dig in and then you realize that it’s the reducing of education to individual components that are deemed essential. Which, for a subject like math, has merit. For a subject like causes of the French/Indian War, not so much. In other words, it appears that the Mayor has hired himself a dyed-in-the-wool education reformer despite the opposition to said policies by the majority of his supporters. Thanks for listening.

This comes at a time when Nashville teachers are really starting to reach a breaking point. They are taking home less money this year than last. They are being asked to work and sacrifice more than ever before. They feel as if they have no voice in instruction and policy. As a result we are hemorrhaging teachers. Amanda Kail gave a fine state of the union address at this week’s board meeting. But was anyone listening? Certainly not Mayor Briley.

Why is it so hard to show respect to teachers and their craft? If you needed a SCORE person, why not get Cicely Woodard? She was last year’s state teacher of the year and between her and her husband Ron, has as much institutional knowledge and classroom experience as anybody. Literacy is a big deal? Why not hire Jarred Amato and let him take Project Lit city wide? What about any one of MNPS’s long-term principals? Think they might know something about education policy? These are just a few suggestions, but instead, the mayor choses a newcomer to the city with no experience in traditional schools. Bravo… excellent… well done… #facepalm

The mayor’s appointment concerns me in another way as it adds to a growing list of disturbing indicators. We have a director of schools that seems intent on emulating 2005 and former director of schools Pedro Garcia and a chief academic officer who is hooked on phonics. Add to that new board member Gini Pupo-Walker voting for Dr. Gentry as chair because she has “philosophical differences” with Amy Frogge, not to mention Dr. Gentry’s chair status itself, and it starts to feel like we are jumping in the wayback time machine and opening discussion anew on things we’ve already been through. Despite all my rage, am I really just a rat in a cage?

At a time when we have a school district that is in crisis, we don’t need to become distracted by rehashing the charter school wars and the reading wars of the aughts and the nineties. We’ve got to fix our current situation before we start looking for things in our past to start rehashing again. Let’s stay focused for a little bit, please.

QUICK HITS

This past week has seen a fair amount of talking out of both sides of their mouth by public officials. First you had former board chair Anna Shepherd being shocked that Russ Pulley thought constituents weren’t smart enough to understand city governance, only to later confirm that she felt that same way about her constituents and school issues.

In a “hold my beer moment,” Teresa Wagner, VP of MNEA, decided she could match Shepherd’s bar. Early in the week, she admonished board members to make sure that their social media posts were factual. She closed the week by attacking newly-elected board member Fran Bush on social media.

Wagner was an adamant supporter of former incumbent board member Tyese Hunter. As such, she campaigned heavily for the MNEA-endorsed candidate. Unfortunately for her, that candidate lost. I would think that as a representative of MNEA, Wagner would realize the importance of being gracious in defeat and switch her support to Bush as the duly elected school board representative. Seeing as teacher compensation packages will be voted on later this year.

In her postings, Wagner claims to have seen Bush commit election law violations, but fails to identify what they were. Of course she also fails to acknowledge that Hunter has yet to file campaign disclosures. In light of her personal feelings, one has to wonder if Wagner can be effective as a union representative. Especially in light of the growing alliance Bush has with Frogge and Speering, two long-term, ardent supporters of teachers. Perhaps it is time for Wagner to eat a little crow.

There are some really good people at MNEA who are working hard to improve compensation and conditions for MNPS teachers. I would hate to see their work undone because Wagner is incapable of abandoning her personal agenda.

Couple quick thoughts on the Bush situation. I find it curious that a parent involved in a financial dispute was suddenly able to “discover” financial info that went uncovered by the press during the election. A press that was able to give full coverage to past digressions by both myself and district 6 candidate Aaron McGee.

Speaking of McGee, according to Dr. Joseph’s schedule, he and the good doctor had breakfast together last week. Now I’m not accusing McGee of anything, during the campaign I found him too be an especially stand up guy, but the doc’s got to know that having breakfast with a fellow challenger before you’ve dined with the new board member in the same week that a “crisis” blows up ain’t going to present good optics. Especially in light of Joseph’s past history of election meddling.

This morning, NPR Nashville aired an interesting story on the resegregation of an East Nashville School. The story raises a lot of interesting points, and I strongly recommend it, but to me this was the most intriguing point:

“In an email, David Kovach, the Metro Schools representative who attended the meeting, said that “while we value choice and diversity, MNPS does not target any specific race to attend any specific school.”  

My question is why was Kovach, an EDSSI, the district representative instead of the Community Superintendent? It seems to me that this is just the kind of situation that community superintendent was created for. Instead it’s the executive principal doing the heavy lifting. #facepalm

The article cites Lockland Design Center ES as the fourth best in the district, yet fails to give the criteria that ranking is based on. I’m assuming it is test scores because that’s the way we roll.

“But the area was already beginning to gentrify, and as Lockeland’s test scores rose and word spread of this hidden East Nashville gem, people — mainly white people — flocked to its priority zone, boosting their chances of winning the school’s lottery.”

That’s the rub. We already know that standardized tests reflect more on socio-economic status than on learning. So if you are going to use tests to rank schools, are you really surprised when diversity goes out the window? And why are we talking about this school when there are several schools with numbers that are equally as segregated, both towards black and white students?

Here’s a solution. Stop acting like education is a football game or competition. Stop ranking schools and giving a false sense that one is infinitely better than another because of achievement scores. Support all schools and work to make sure experiences across the board are equitable. Something that is virtually impossible when you divide the district into quadrants, there by destroying tier alignment. Create government policy that addresses housing and wage inequities. Or we can just do more of the same and feign horror when we read these stories.

Rumors are swirling that there has been another change in the communications department. No confirmation on who yet, but I’ll let you know. Based on these tweets, I’m betting it’s the proofreader. (I know, I’ve got no room to talk. But I couldn’t resist.)

POLL RESULTS

What an incredible response we received to this week’s poll questions. The question on board members received over 240 responses.

I’m shocked that there are that many of you even willing to answer survey questions anymore. It seems that every time there is an issue in education, both at the state and local level, the go to reaction is another poll, focus group, or listening tour. It seems like parents and teachers endlessly participate, yet never see results that look like the answers shared via the polls, focus groups, or listening sessions. There is always a feeling of participating in a pre-ordained event. One that the results can’t be revealed until the semblance of input is received. Just once I’d like to see policy derived right from a poll, focus group, or listening session.

But enough of my ranting, let’s look at results.

The first question asked for the MNPS School Board member you have the most faith in. Amy Frogge is the winner here with 109 votes, but Jill Speering isn’t far behind at 104. The big takeaway for me on this one isn’t the votes given, but rather the ones not given. Newly elected Board Chair Sharon Gentry failed to secure a single vote. I understand that a lot of my readers probably fall into the Frogge/Speering camp, but are you telling me that out of 245 people who wander into a room, not a single person does so by accident and says, “Oh, while I’m here let me vote for Gentry?”

For the most part, people have been very civil with the write-in comments. Every once in a while, I get one that I have to think about before publishing. I always share them because that is what I do. It’s an open forum uncensored by me. This was one of those weeks, and as always, I’m sharing, but making it clear that these are readers’ thoughts and opinions, not necessarily mine.

Amy and Jill 1
None 1
Faith in A.F. ability and intentions 1
Amy & Jill 1
Gentry-heard she won because she slept w/Dr. Joseph 1
Frogge, Speering, Bush 1
none 1
Speering AND Frogge 1
tie between Amy and Jill 1
They couldn’t get teachers a 1% raise, so none. 1
Jackson Miller, oh wait…

Question two asked for your opinion on Advanced Literacy. This one got 195 responses with the winner being, “Just a made up term to make it sound like we are doing something great” with 63 responses. The next two were “What the hell is it?” and “More smoke to go with the mirrors we just ordered.” Only 9 people said they loved it, and 2 “guessed it was all right.” Here are the write-ins:

I don’t have any knowledge of this term so I cannot make a judgement. 1
We can start with mastery of everyday literacy 1
Advanced is great once your reading… what’s the plan for those that aren’t? 1
That means nothing to me 1
Wordy wordsmith wannabes weaving worthless webs 1
Better than literacy solely built on TLA and guided reading 1
I’m a metro teacher, never heard of it. 1
How about we just advance literacy 1
It’s like literacy, but more advanced

The last question asked for your thoughts on the use of clubs. Out of 192 responses, 63 of you loved the idea, and another 47 expressed that they were essential and needed to be held during school time. A lot of write-ins on this one with many of you expressing concern for tier 2 and 3 kids.

Fine when not allowed to go overboard. Way too many offerings dilutes quality! 1
Available to ALL students. Tier 2 & 3 students need experiences, too. 1
We can’t pay teachers for 7.5, how are we gonna pay them for 9.5? 1
Dan Mills has them, all after school. It’s a good thing! 1
Wonder how Tier 2 and 3 students feel not having the opportunity to participate 1
Clubs during day is not new or this AP’s brainchild. Happens all over MNPS 1
Currently running two after school clubs- paid for neither 1
The district needs to actually fund them. 1
Not the purpose of RTI. Feel bad 4 kids in tier2/3 1
Great way to cultivate multiple intelligences 1
Teachers will have to purchase supplies out of pocket. Been there, done that! 1
Enrichment for all kids 1
All kids should have access. 1
Love the club idea, and lets fully fund RTI, so it runs as intended. 1
They are great, as long as teachers aren’t expected to lead them 1
They should be for everyone, not just tier one. 1
High poverty schools do not have the resources. 1
Hunters Lane does it right.

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon. Peace out.

 

A BRIEF DISPATCH FROM THE FRONT LINES

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“Sometimes they write what I say, not what I mean.” – 1981 World Series MVP Pedro Guerrero

“Almost nobody made it out of the game in one piece, and almost everybody thought they would be the exception.”
Richard Price, Clockers

This week heaven gained a soul that is cooler than the other side of the pillow. Roderick Johnson was not just a security guard at Bransford Ave. He was the authentic smile and kind word to everyone who walked through the front door needing assistance at MNPS. His passion for making everyone around him feel welcomed and positive was contagious. His work ethic was matchless.

He believed that the best things in life are simple. A kiss, your child’s laugh, the perfect song, & Mama’s homemade food. Nail any of these and it’s much more satisfying than any possession. Because life is about experiences and the memory thereof. Rest in Peace, Rod. You are already missed greatly. 

After having spent multiple years as a parent of children in a high-needs school, I’ve come to the conclusion that inequities spring more from experiences than they do from resources. We can throw money at schools all day, but unless that translates into real experiences for kids, the equity gap will remain.

How many children in high-need schools attend dance classes? Or get to learn chess? How about learn about museums? If my kids want to become an attorney, I call up a friend who is an attorney, and we go visit. They’ll learn what to study, where to go to school, what to expect from the career. EL kids and our kids in poverty don’t have that experience available to them.

In our less needy schools, kids have access to clubs to learn about all kinds of different experiences that will help them as adults. I think Eakin ES offers over 50 different clubs. These clubs usually take place after school and are headed up by parents and community members. Our poorer schools, for various reasons, can’t offer after school clubs, and so kids don’t get an opportunity to be exposed to a plethora of interests.

Tusculum ES is trying a different approach this year. They are making clubs available at the end of the day during RTI time to Tier 1 kids. Tier 2 and 3 kids still get their needed enrichment, but Tier 1 kids have the opportunity to try something different. Clubs include safety patrol, chess, karaoke, creative writing, mindfulness, and art. All of them have connections with math and reading/writing.

The response has been incredible. Kids love the opportunity to participate in these various activities. My own daughter has come home on several occasions bursting with excitement about the project they are working on in her creative writing club.

The idea was the brain child of AP Chris Holmes, but everybody on the Tusculum staff deserves credit for making it happen. Very cool and typical for this school.

One of the primary tools utilized by citizens to monitor the actions of government is provided by open record laws. Open record requests allow citizens access to government documents in order to ensure they are operating in a legal and beneficial manner. All kinds of political downfalls have started with a simple open records request. Government entities don’t care much for the process, but unfortunately for them it’s the law.

MNPS is especially not fond of these requests, but has done their best to comply. Over the years, I’ve filed dozens of them with MNPS. Up until recently, I got them back in a pretty timely manner. Sure, occasionally they’ve taken a little longer than expected, but for the most part, MNPS has been begrudgingly compliant.

About 6 months ago, things changed. MNPS started charging for requests, something the law allows them to do within reason. Charging for materials is something government entities try to do to dampen the flow of requests, but it seldom is a successful strategy. But that doesn’t stop them from trying.

Since the summer, the flow of information has just stopped. Requests go weeks unacknowledged and it often takes a month or more for their fulfillment. They claim that the volume has reached such a level that it is impossible for them to keep up. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do know the district keeps moving in the wrong direction when it comes to transparency.

Today, newly elected MNPS school board member Fran Bush got a taste of what happens when you take a shot at the king. At Tuesday’s board meeting, Bush was highly critical of MNPS head Dr. Joseph, and by the end of the week she found herself on the receiving end of a personal attack on social media. The story in Scoop: Nashville is not a pretty one. It is not supposed to be.

The sole purpose of the story is to humiliate and remind Bush of her place. It makes no effort to tell her side of the story or offer context. Its source could be from a multitude of places – Dr. Joseph, Tyese Hunter, Will Pinkston, or even just a disgruntled parent from her day care. But I doubt the timing is coincidence. Why was none of this “discovered” prior to the campaign?

Interestingly enough, Bush is not the first school board member to be sued over financial matters. The previous seat holder also was the subject of lawsuits. Yep, question the status quo and you get a house dropped on you. Like I’ve always said, if you only know one way how to practice politics, you only practice politics one way.

This, too, shall pass. I suspect Bush will remain unbowed and will continue to apply pressure to the MNPS administration. Like the rest of us, she will pay her financial obligations where she can, and make arrangements where necessary. Personally I find her quite refreshing and am glad to finally have somebody on the board willing to take the way Antioch schools have been treated over the last two personally. It’s way past time. As Dr. Joseph likes to say, you have to tune out the noise.

Many of you by now should be familiar with the name Sharon Pertiller. Pertiller is the number 2 in HR whose actions have been at the root of every one of the recent lawsuits aimed at MNPS. Now, she has her own HR complaint. Yep, someone has filed a retaliation complaint against Ms Pertiller. As of today, Ms. Pertiller has not been placed on administrative leave while the complaint is investigated.

Oh by the way… if you see the head of HR Deborah Story… welcome her back from her 3-week vacation.

The release of the state priority school list continues to draw closer. The latest I’m hearing is that there are a lot more schools on the list than anticipated. Do you know how many people we have overseeing these schools? Take a look at the organizational chart to the left and tell me if you think that’s enough.

WIDA is a test given nationally to students that receive English Learner services. Students take the test annually and it’s used to monitor both student and district progress. Over the last couple of years, MNPS has done exceptionally well on the test.

Apparently something has changed though. Despite it being September, scores from last year’s test are still embargoed. Schools have their individual results, but not the district numbers. For some reason, those numbers are not being shared. Even on a need-to-know basis.

Those who have seen the numbers tell me they are not very good. Hmmmm… so what has changed from past years? Why the sudden down turn? Maybe we’ll know by November.

Speaking of the EL Department, apparently that is where Executive Director of Equity and Diversity Maritza Gonzalez’s office now resides. Previously she had been in the central office building. Some folks take exception to me singling out Gonzalez for attention, but when you are the spouse of the number two guy, among the top 20 highest paid employees in the district, and nobody can describe your work… well, it comes with the territory.

MNPS has revealed more of its Comprehensive Literacy Plan, or at least the shiny objects meant to distract from the lack of meat. While I admit that it looks pretty, it still seems to me devoid of any real action steps. Perhaps I’m dazzled by its simplicity and am missing something.

The plan appears to be heavily reliant on something called “Advanced Literacy.” I tried a Google search of that term and failed to find a definition, though I did find several books and studies that could be purchased. So I’m still not exactly clear on what’s being focused on. Oh well, I guess it’s better than focusing on Remedial Literacy.

In response to recent problems with progress reports, MNPS middle school teachers received a lengthy email from the MNPS grading team this week. It’s all useful information but raises several questions for me. First, what teacher, 8 weeks into the school year, is going to read all that information?

Teachers are up to their eyeballs in work, and when you send out an email of that length you imply that they have time to sit, read, eat a few bonbons, dissect, and implement. It reveals that you are out of touch with what a teacher’s day actually looks like. Effective communication would be several short bullet points outlining the most important fixes, with a link to the whole document for later inspection or for those so inclined to read the whole document.

My other question is, if you have to write a document that extensive to “fix” a problem 8 weeks into the school year, how broken is the process? I’m thinking pretty broke.

McKissack Middle School teacher Thomas Francis was named AMEND YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee Teacher of the Year! His dedication to students as a role model and mentor garnered him this prestigious award. Way to go, Thomas!

Andy Spears takes another look at teacher salaries in Tennessee. Spoiler alert: It’s not good news.

This week MNPS board member Amy Frogge renewed her practice of posting her writing on Facebook. She’s been quiet for a while, allowing all communication to come through the district out of respect for Dr. Joseph. But now, times have changed.

I urge Dr. Joseph to take a look at what she wrote and then count the number of comments the post generated. Then go to all the other pages of board members and count the number of comments received by their latest post. I’ll even let you throw in comments from MNPS’s Facebook page. Add it all together, and the number is significantly lower than the number of comments on Frogge’s one post.

The bottom line is, she’s well liked and well-respected. You know that old saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy”? No disrespect to Frogge, but Joseph might want to take note and adjust his strategy. He ain’t going to win a popularity contest against Frogge.

Nearly-as-popular fellow board member Jill Speering has plenty to say as well, and should be equally noted.

Happening today is the  Homecoming Tailgate. Then, join ’em for some great Firebird football. Avoid the lines. Get your tickets online now @

Wrapping things up a little quickly today because it’s Americana Music Week, and I got to try to earn a buck. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon.

 

 

I WAS WRONG

16

“Psychopaths… people who know the differences between right and wrong, but don’t give a shit. That’s what most of my characters are like.”
Elmore Leonard

I was wrong. It pains me to write those words. Like anybody else, I don’t like to admit when I’ve made a bad decision or came to the wrong conclusion. I like to cling to the belief that I’m omniscient and seldom get things wrong. However, in this case, I drunk-sexted the bee. I Eiffel-towered the Hippo.

There is no way around it, and today I come to you humbled and apologetic.

You see, all the way up to yesterday’s vote for MNPS school board chair, I argued that board member Will Pinkston would vote for fellow board member – and long time ally – Amy Frogge for chair. There are few people I find more morally reprehensible than Pinkston, but I was still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it came to his loyalty to something, or somebody, besides himself. Based on history, it was a logical thought that Amy Frogge and Jill Speering would be those embodiments.

All three board members were elected together six years ago and had formed a coalition of defenders of public education. Both Speering and Frogge have supported Pinkston no matter how far he got out of line, even when he took it upon himself to single-handedly remove the previous Director of Schools. As far as she has gone with Dr. Joseph, Speering has yet to take it to the levels that Pinkston employed back then.

Both board members have lent him their unequivocal support, despite his widely being recognized as a bully. One who was never afraid to lash out at fellow board members. No matter how difficult it got, nor how much heat they took, neither Frogge nor Speering ever wavered in their support for Pinkston. Going as far as to give him money when his re-election campaign had none.

Teachers and union members have also long considered Pinkston a champion and welcomed his defense of their interests. Sadly, those interests were only viable when advancing them would prove beneficial to his own interests. In neither of the last two years could Pinkston’s voice be heard among those demanding raises for teachers or support staff. Still, both entities remained loyal to him.

Yesterday’s board chair election was viewed by many as an opportunity to have the board finally demand some accountability from the Director of Schools. Amy Frogge has long championed the interests of families and teachers. It was widely recognized that she was the best chance to right a ship that has blown dramatically off course. She offered transparency, accountability, and leadership. Exactly what MNPS needs at the moment.

The other option was Dr. Sharon Gentry. There is ample evidence of what Dr. Gentry’s leadership looks like, as she had been board chair for two tumultuous years prior to the outgoing chair Anna Shepherd. So we’ve all seen the movie. Expecting her current tenure to end any differently than her previous one is like going to see Avenger: Infinity War and expecting everybody to survive at the end. No matter how many times you see the movie, it ends the same – in tragedy.

Leading up to last night’s vote, well over 100 parents emailed board members and implored them to heed their pleas and vote for Frogge. In my mind, it did not compute that Pinkston, with teachers and union members in the room, would throw years of demonstrated loyalty aside and vote for Gentry. No matter how low my opinion of Pinkston is, that was a scenario I could not wrap my head around. I was convinced he was playing chicken with Frogge by saying he wouldn’t vote for her. He wasn’t.

That was the first shoe to drop. The second was newly-elected board member Gini Pupo-Walker. Walker and I have significant philosophical differences when it comes to testing, charter schools, and TFA. However, she has been an employee in MNPS for 20-plus years and forged many of the same relationships as I have. She has heard the same pleas for help that I have. She has heard the same questions raised about the board’s perceived lack of concern for MNPS’s professional educators and neediest students as I have.

Pupo-Walker witnessed firsthand the devastating reign of former Director of Schools Pedro Garcia and, as such, understands better than most just how difficult rebuilding is and how much damage the wrong director can do. Surely she could see the similarities between the two administrations.

It was my belief that the voices pleading for help would resonate with her, and she would signal right from the beginning of her term that she was ready to fight for those who lacked champions and that change was coming. Her vote did neither.

Despite our philosophical disagreements, in talking with Pupo-Walker I felt that she recognized the issues facing the district and was committed to righting them as quickly as possible. I was wrong, and I was guilty of what I caution others against: perceiving people based on their words instead of their actions.

Personally, I believe Pupo-Walker has made a grave mistake by casting her lot with Gentry, and as such, has missed a prime opportunity. In a speech she read on the board floor last night, and has since posted on her Facebook page, she closes with the following: “I will remain focused on helping my fellow board members succeed, and do what I can to increase our effectiveness, and do my part to build a culture of mutual respect and collaboration, so that our children and our staff can excel, and our city can thrive.”

A more astute board member would have surveyed the land, recounted the manner in which Gentry led in the past, and then voted in a manner that would put them in a position to carry out the aforementioned. They would have realized how far down the road the opposition had gone and recognized the opportunity to shape the conversation going forward. As it stands, that opportunity is lost. Instead, she will be left holding the bag while Gentry and Pinkston try to shove the cats in.

Those cats – Frogge, Speering, and Bush – are not going to suddenly come to the conclusion that all their research, all their conversations, all the experiences they have had, have led them to the wrong conclusions. Whether people are publicly ready to admit it or not, the Joseph tenure is done, gone, toast, fried, over, and out. Despite all the initial promises, Dr. Joseph has failed to exceed expectations through his own inability to lead.

The only things remaining in question are a) How long is this going to limp on?, and b) How ugly is it going to get? Gentry’s election yesterday made possible the exceeding of expectations on both of those counts.

Hell, we didn’t even get through last night’s board meeting without a preview of what to expect. Gentry seconded her own nomination as chair and then moved for the passing of a contract for a company she’s employed by. Luckily, Speering pointed out to her that instead of leading the motion, she should be recusing herself from the vote. There will be plenty more of that in the future.

My prayer is that teachers and families don’t read too much into last night’s vote and become disillusioned. Disillusionment leads to departure, and MNPS can’t take many more departures. We need each and every one of you and appreciate your dedication to the district.

Last night after the board meeting, on Twitter, I laid Pinkston’s bad behavior at the feet of his employer, gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen. Some people took exception to that. But I remain unapologetic.

Nobody is willing to hold Pinkston accountable, and therefore he operates on his agenda, unencumbered. Bredesen continues to employ him despite his lack of character and actions that are detrimental to the families of MNPS. I was always told that you judge a person by their actions and the company they keep. I’m just employing that lesson here.

Bredesen supporters argue that he is an honorable man, much different than Pinkston. They also argue that Bredesen’s opponent Marsha Blackburn is even more morally bankrupt than Pinkston, and that the people she employs make him look like a Boy Scout. They further claim that she considers poor people and people of color as lesser humans and worthy only of the charity of their choice rather than the guidance and assistance of government.

To those folks, I ask that you consider these counter arguments. If I have a neighbor who owns a vicious dog that gets out and bites my kids once a week, do I refer to him as a great neighbor because he waves at me in the morning and occasionally shares his beer with me?

Do I say he’s a great neighbor because the guy who almost moved in had a dog that got out and bit my kids twice a week? After all, everybody knows getting bit once a week is better than getting bit twice a week. But how about not getting bit at all? That would be a good neighbor.

I agree that Blackburn’s views on diversity are very dissimilar from mine, but what is this current administration in MNPS doing for children of color? In her Facebook post, Pupo-Walker says, “I believe that our focus and priority should be on student achievement and success, and that all other facets of the operation of this district, whether they are the creation of a budget, of our HR practices, or our operational functions or curricular decisions, or the evaluation of our Director of Schools, should always be judged by how they will impact student success.”

That’s exactly what I’m doing, and her vote, along with Pinkston’s, is supporting the giving of cover to an administration that routinely pushes policy that hurts student achievement, specifically that of children of color. The ending of the literacy partnership with Lipscomb, the promoting of unqualified leadership to the number two position in the EL department, the discontinuation of the use of the multi-screener for gifted children, the discontinuation of reading clinics and Reading Recovery sans a viable alternative, the increased use of scripted curriculum, and the near elimination of the district’s payment of testing fees for advanced academics are all examples of policies that negatively impact student achievement for children of color.

Going back to Bredesen, based on his operative’s actions and policy supports, what evidence do I have that he would do right by poor and minority families? Perhaps he could demonstrate his intent by holding his employees to the same high standard that I expect from him. Why is that an unreasonable demand?

As previously stated, the only one who can hold Pinkston accountable is Bredesen. The only means I have to pressure Bredesen to hold Pinkston accountable is my vote. If everybody does the right thing, it’s not a problem. Or should I go to the families of those children who MNPS is chronically underserving and say just wait until Bredesen gets elected and things will get better? After that, Pinkston will put his focus back on your schools and Bredesen will help you out?

We keep making allowances for the “greater good,” but that greater good never shows up. We give away private land to corporations, housing costs continue to rise, wages remain stagnant, and our education system continues to disintegrate. When is the greater good showing up? Sometimes you just have to put up your hands and fight using what you have available.

It’s also been pointed out by charter school parents that charter school families have been in the same position as the parents who petitioned for Dr. Joseph’s removal. They, too, fought hard to be heard and respected. I can’t disagree, and perhaps it is time for the board to honor that tenet for all parents. Three years into Dr. Joseph’s tenure and only 3 out of 12 clusters have parent advisory committees up and running. Not exactly an indication of priority, is it?

One more apology I need to hand out. I owe it to Rachael Anne Elrod. My belief that she would be unduly influenced by Pinkston proved to be unfounded. For that, I apologize.

I ran for school board based on a belief that we are a district in crisis, and I believe that today more than ever. Change is coming, no matter how painful it may be. Those board members who voted for Gentry – Pinkston, Walker, Shepherd, and Buggs – will undoubtedly find themselves on the wrong side of history and will have to carry their actions as the brunt of their legacy. Leadership is not just judged by the actions they take, but also the ones they failed to take.

Below is a picture of the recently demolished old Tusculum Elementary School building. I pass it every day and say a silent prayer that champions for MNPS families, teachers, and students will step forward before this becomes a representation of the entire district. The decision is ours. Just how far gone are we going to let this thing go? It’s up to you. When nothing changes, nothing changes.

Nashville parent David Jones is currently helping parents, teachers, and community members organize their voices in helping to shape the discussion. If you have an opinion and are unsure of how to harness its power, I encourage you to reach out to him. His email is david.t.jones84@gmail.com.

 

 

IT’S ALL OVER BUT THE CRYING

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It’s all over but the crying
Fade to black, I’m sick of trying
Took too much and now I’m done – Garbage, It’s All Over But The Crying

The best prophet of the future is the past – Lord Byron

If you are an even marginal level sports fan, odds are that you’ve experienced this scenario before. You are watching the game as it’s heading into the last quarter, your team is way behind. You’ve known since about half time that there was little, or no chance of your team winning, but you love your team, so you haven’t abandoned them. You’ve kept watching, holding out hope that a miracle will transpire and somehow they will grasp victory from the jaws of defeat.

Throughout the game it’s been readily apparent were the fault lies for the scoring disparity, but somehow the coach and his staff fails to adjust. If it is football we are talking, it may be a failure to switch out the running back to the secondary guy that can break things outside. Maybe if they tried a little more play action, instead of just handing the ball off and running it up the middle. Maybe if they’d work in some screen passes. But the changes never happen, and your team just keeps running the same play, with the same outcomes, and continues to fall further behind.

Sure, there may be a few bright spots and maybe a touchdown or two gets scored, which serves no purpose other than to get you hopeful again for a moment or two, before the march to the inevitable defeat continues. You know your team is not going to win and the only question that remains is, “How ugly is it going to get before it is over?”

That’s pretty much where we are with Metro Nashville Public Schools right now. Between failing to report discipline actions to the state as required by law, multiple lawsuits involving sexual misconduct by district employees, progress reports being delayed again, lack of real academic progress, a disastrous budget season, an inconclusive Metro Nashville audit, and the soon to be released priority schools list…it’s becoming increasingly clear even to the most casual observer that MNPS is not marching to victory. It is way past half time and Dr. Joseph has no Music City Miracle up his sleeve.

In response his dwindling list of supporters trot out the trope that Dr. Joseph never had a chance and that the hater’s where out to get him from the beginning. First of all that trope is more than a little disingenuous. Few Superintendents have walked into the job with more universal support. The Chamber of Commerce, the school board, the Mayor, Council, Public Education Foundations, and local universities all gave him unilateral support. Anybody who raised questions about any actions by Dr. Joseph was immediately exorcised from the conversation. Trust me I know, I’ve got the scars to prove it. Dr. Joseph burned his substantial political capital through his own actions, or lack there of.

Second of all, in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Part of the job description for any leader is handling critics and the opposition. Just like in sports, how you adjust your game plan correlates to the outcome of the game. Bill Belichick did not win all those Super Bowls by trotting out a game plan and not adjusting. No, he wins because of how he reacts to what’s happening on the field and adjusts accordingly. Some would argue that he lost this years Super Bowl because of a failure to adjust.

Joseph never adjusted. He never owned any of the mistakes, adjusted to opposition, nor even responded criticism. Instead he refused to have transparent conversations about policy and continued running the same plays that failed to instill public trust and were not producing better outcomes. Questions involving lead in the water, district spending, and lack of academic progress never made it to the board floor. Dr. Joseph arrived in Nashville with a reputation as a calming influence. As he refused to answer community questions, that reputation for calmness was replaced with one of arrogance. The perception has become, rightly or wrongly, that he will do as he pleases and considers himself beyond reproach.

The director of schools has a little under two years left on his contract. Personally, I don’t believe the district can take another two years under this administration. We’ve already taken a tremendous hit when it comes to personnel and institutional knowledge. The literacy plan continues to go backwards and as more and more parents lose faith, they will begin to explore other options – relocating, private school, charter school, home school. As those parents with options leave, segregation – racial and economic – will set in and with it some very difficult challenges. If you think we are under budgeted now, just wait until numbers decrease.

In my opinion, the school board election that just transpired this summer is an indicator that much of Nashville is waking up to the challenges the school system faces. Out of 4 races, 3 newcomers were elected. None with a platform of continuing blind support of Dr. Joseph and his agenda.

Soon to be ex-board chair Anna Shepherd, an ardent supporter of Joseph, did not draw a challenger. That lack of a challenger could be interpreted as indicating that no one felt strong enough opposition to Dr. Joseph’s work to challenge her and therefore he was given a de facto endorsement by MNPS district 4. Be that as it may, that still leaves 3 districts looking for adjustments.

The first indication of what those adjustments will look like could come tomorrow. That’s when the MNPS school board will decide who will lead the board for the next year. The decision seems to be between former chair Dr. Sharon Gentry and Amy Frogge. It’s clearly a choice between more of the same, likely with the same outcomes, or trying a different approach to try to change the outcomes.

Dr. Gentry was the board chairman during the two-years preceding Dr. Joseph’s arrival and continuing up to his first couple of months of employment. As such she oversaw, both superintendent searches. One that ended in Dr. Looney choosing at the last-minute to remain with WCS and the one that ultimately lead to Dr. Joseph’s hire. Neither of which could be described as exemplary.

Her tenure was rife with procedural problems, including calling an “emergency meeting” at a time when then vice-chair Anna Shepherd had informed her she would not be available. A meeting that turned out to be a train wreck. Interestingly enough, that gaff produced a stern public rebuke from board member Will Pinkston, who is rumored to be considering supporting Gentry in her current push for Chair. That meeting was just one procedural fumble from Gentry, whom also during her time in leadership took it upon herself to commission an outside report to further vet the true cost of charter schools. A move that caused Pinkston to declare that any faith he’d had in Gentry’s leadership had evaporated. I guess it’s rained since then.

But we don’t have to rehash old news in order to make a case against Gentry’s leadership. This year she has served as vice-chair to Pinkston on the committee charged with overseeing the director’s evaluation. To date, not a single director evaluation has been completed. Some of you may wonder about the one conducted over the summer, and while board members turned in their evaluations, there still has been no discussion on the evaluations nor a summary evaluation completed. The director and board members have both indicated that the process is incomplete awaiting the scheduling of a review. Promoting Gentry after this lack of effort would be true personification of the Peter Principle.

On the other hand, Ms. Frogge has been chair of the Governance committee this year. The governance committee is responsible for the overseeing and revision of board policy. This past year has seen the complete revision of board policy that moves them away from the policy governance model and into one endorsed by the Tennessee Organization of State Superintendents (TOSS). This is sweeping reform that puts more oversight power back in the hands of the school board. Currently new policy in three out of five areas has been approved with the implementation process expected to be completed by the end of the year. It’s kind of big deal and Frogge has definitely done the heavy lifting on this initiative.

Personally I believe that the push to make Gentry Chair stems out of a desire to prevent open criticism of the director going forward. I could be wrong, as there have been several times in the past year, during retreats and at board meetings, that Dr. Gentry has offered a rebuke of the way Joseph has conducted business. During discussions about moving 5th grade students back to elementary school she urged him and team to focus on improving instruction and not to get lost in the weeds. Advise they have failed to heed.

The reality is that going forth, trying to control the discussion on Dr. Joseph will become akin to trying to stuff twenty cats in a bag. They aren’t going to stay in the bag and ultimately you are going to get clawed up.

I’m also hoping that race isn’t playing a role in this discussion. Some have voiced an opinion that only someone of color can effectively manage Dr. Joseph, less the appearance of racism raises its ugly head. I reject such an argument on both principle and practice. In fact I would consider anybody giving serious thought to that argument as suffering from their own racial biases. Now more than ever we need to demonstrate that we are capable of engaging in those difficult conversations that have proven elusive in the past.

It’s high time we start to turn an eye to the future and start to plan what that’s going to look like. Like the coach who puts in the young QB to use the losing effort see what he’s got or opens the offense up in an effort to explore other possibilities, we’ve got to start planning for the future. As sad and disappointing as it may be, there is going to be no hail-mary that wins the game in the waning moments. There is going to be no strong defensive play that turns the momentum and allows the quarterback to reverse the teams fortunes. There is only more of the same, unless we force the conversation to look to the future.

In his waning years, Brett Farve was often criticized because he refused to step aside when it was clear he no longer had to skills to allow his team to be competitive. The Packer’s had a young QB in Aaron Rodgers that was ready to take the lead. It was a hard choice to make because Favre was much beloved and had brought some winning moments to Lambeau Field. Alas, it was time to make changes and time to move on. That willingness to move on has allowed the Packer’s to have continual success. The success of the organization has to come before the success of the individual.

Nashville parent David Jones is currently helping parents, teachers, and community members organize their voices in helping to shape the discussion. If you have an opinion and are unsure of how to harness its power I encourage you to reach out to him. His email is david.t.jones84@gmail.com.

TRAUMA INFORMED SCHOOLS

There has been a lot of talk about “trauma informed schools” over the last couple of years. It’s a needed conversation but as always it comes with some caveats. Any time you get into social issues you have to guard against “paternalism“. Paternalism is something that runs rampant in the world of education. A recent blog post in Spoon Vision, the education blog of Aaron Baker, 8th grade U.S. History teacher in Del City, Oklahoma, points out some pit falls in the “trauma informed schools” initiative.

Baker argues that the two fold assertion of trauma informed schools is that 1. Students have trauma that they bring to school every day and 2. Educators can be equipped to teach students how to deal with that trauma. The first is essential to recognize, while the second is where paternalism enters the equation; that educators can be equipped to teach students how to modify the behavior resulting from the trauma they have experienced.

Baker makes a lot of great points in his piece, but it is his conclusion that truly resonates with me and should be a cornerstone of any discussion on helping students.

Schools, community partners, and social service organizations have the opportunity to cooperatively transform the systems that create the occasions for trauma. The appropriate response to trauma is to tear down systems of oppression, not to teach coping skills. The last thing students with high levels of adverse childhood experiences need is self-regulation. What high ACE students need is a robust education in class warfare and the opportunity to take back their power from their oppressors. Schools must look beyond merely being “trauma informed” to being “trauma transforming.”

QUICK HITS

If you are an elementary school teacher in MNPS and you’ve never utilized the power of the Traveling Trunk, you need to rectify that ASAP.  It’s a fantastic resource that’s available to everyone. Just call the Tennessee State Museum.

This morning, State Superintendent of Education Candice McQueen gave superintendents updates on the state’s strategic plan. It included a look at what data tells us is working, and where we will be if we continue on this path. Strangely, in looking at the picture, I feel like something’s missing. Not sure what it is, but I’m sure it’ll come to me.

Andy Spears has an update on the continuing quagmire that is the portfolio evaluation process. Once again the state continues to proceed in the wrong direction.

If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to read the exceptional article is this week NY Times on the power of libraries and why they need our support.

Libraries are the kinds of places where people with different backgrounds, passions and interests can take part in a living democratic culture. They are the kinds of places where the public, private and philanthropic sectors can work together to reach for something higher than the bottom line.

All I can say is, AMEN.

POLL RESULTS

Over the week-end we saw good returns to this week’s questions. Let’s take a look.

The first question asked for your opinion of the PASSAGE’s policy that would call for a halt to any suspending, expelling, or arresting of children between K-4 unless it’s a level 500 offense. I think it goes without saying that everybody agrees that these are practices that should only be used in extreme situations. The question arises in trying to make a enforceable policy. Out of 120 respondents 47 of you indicated that you thought it could put students and teachers at risk. 22 of you supported the initiative with the caveat that we increase supports to schools. Only 4 of you indicated whole-hearted support. That would seem to be a harbinger for a wider conversation.

Here are the write-in votes,

I don’t even know what this is, and I’m a teacher. 1
behavior is out of control in ES schools. 1
It is dangerous to students and teachers. Very. 1
We don’t have enough support as it is to deal with behavior. 1
Too many letters they need to tighten up those acronyms make them snappier 1
I AM TERRIFIED!! 1
Teachers will leave by the masses! 1
everything depends on implementation, fullout institutional support; requires $ 1
Trauma informed schools 1
Terrible idea! Try being hit, cussed out, hit with books or a chair.

Question 2 asked how you felt about the delay in middle school progress reports. This one received 138 responses with 50% espousing the belief that, “MNPS could screw up a one car parade.” That doesn’t feel like an endorsement for parade planning. 20% of you questioned how this repeatedly keeps happening. Here are those write-in answers,

When it happened in elementary we had to do them by hand. 1
I’m on the inside. No surprise here. 1
UNACCEPTABLE!!! 1
Extremely troubling 1
no surprise; everyone shd understand progress report grades don’t mean anything 1
They should have listened earlier to their teachers who knew the problems! 1
Expected and unsurprising to anyone who uses Infinite Campus as a teacher 1
What’s the data to support change? Implementation failure 1
The whole thing is a mess and is awful for teachers and students. 1
Really they have the calendar 2 years in advance 1
Why does Central Office get paid? A teacher would be fired for incompetence 1
Does this mean middle schools push the term off fu 1
Everything is on the portal. Not a huge deal.

The last question asked how concerned you were with the upcoming state priority school list. Not surprisingly the number one answer, 58 out of 127 responses, was it’s a list generated by a distrusted test administered by a distrusted education department. 44 of you did express concern about what the districts corrective action would look like. Here are those write-ins,

Clutches Pearls! 1
Where is a plan??? 1
Concerned but not surprised – I blame it on poor leadership and toxic culture. 1
Whole system is missing the point of education. 1
It is a fake list. Fake test numbers determine it. Desperate to test & punish. 1
I’m concerned Joseph will try to find another “spin” 1
Meh.

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon.

LOVE IS AN ANGRY THING

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Love is an angry thing
It’ll tear your heart to pieces
And love is a crazy thing
It’ll tear you down when you least expect it a general rule -Anthony Hamilton, Love is an Angry Thing

When angry count four; when very angry, swear.
– Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

I try not to write angry, though I challenge you to watch the above video and not become angry yourself. Over the last 5 years, I have only had a couple of incidents were I banged something out while inflamed. Today is a little different. As evidenced by the video, there are a number of things transpiring that I take moral issue with. Things that make my blood boil and so if some of the passion spills over, I apologize in advance. Frankly though, I’m kind of impressed with myself that after 5 years, with all I’ve seen, I can still get pissed. That alone should be testament to my love for public education and MNPS.

There’s a lot going on so let’s dive in here without wasting time.

First up, it is progress report day in MNPS. Well, for some it is. In case there was any doubt, let me clarify, I hate the Elementary School progress report, and doubt I will find any more pleasure or satisfaction in the middle school reports. The over dependence on the standards makes me absolutely nuts.  Let me be equally clear that none of what follows is meant to be a reflection on the performance of my children’s teachers, or really any of MNPS’s teachers. It is pure and simply a condemnation of a system created by people who don’t spend enough time with teachers or families.

That said, looking at the progress report. I see that my son, who is in third grade, has a 75% in ELA. Whoa…that’s not good. Looking closer I see that there is only one assessment tied to one standard…

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using an effective technique, such as descriptive details and clear event sequences.

So he actually doesn’t have a 75 or a C in ELA, he has a 75 on that one standard based on one assessment. Is that one standard all they did during the first 5 weeks? No, we all know that there was all kinds of orienting and assessing transpiring. Looking at the assessment itself I see that he got 9 out of 12 questions right, doesn’t sound bad, but it is a 75%.

Last year I didn’t pay as much attention because my daughter always got 90’s and above, and I really didn’t understand the progress report, so I just shrugged and moved on. Now that I’ve spent some time diving into this Frankenstein monster version of grading to standards, I’ve become deeply frustrated. I don’t feel that I get an accurate picture of my son’s learning based on his performance on one standard tied to one assessment. Granted he will get a chance to retake that test and improve, but it’s still not an accurate reflection of where he is in his learning.

To complicate things even more, we as his parents are very excited because through limit libraries he has been bitten by the reading bug as of late. He loves picking his books out every week and for the first time ever he is reading while riding in the car of his own volition. This morning he read to me about the Denver Broncos. To me that is much more indicative of where he is academically than that he got 9 out of 12 on one writing assessment tied to one standard, but that is not reflected anywhere on his progress report.

If I did not understand grading to the standards, I would see that 75% and think, “Holy shit! He’s struggling.” Than I would see the district’s fear mongering stat about kids not reading on grade level by third grade and I would think, “Oh no! He’s doomed to a life of destitution and poverty. I must do something!” When the reality is he’s got a 75% on one ELA standard based on one assessment. I know I’m repeating myself, but I don’t think it can be repeated enough.

Who knows what was going on with him that one day the assessment was given? Perhaps that day he decided he was more interested in what he’d watched on TV the night before instead of writing a narrative to develop real or imagined experiences. Who knows if he would have taken it the next day and gotten 10 out of 12? Or 8 out of 12? How is that reflective of 5 weeks of work?

On Social Studies I see he got a 81.83%. I look and that score is based on one map test. A test that addressed 2 standards and he got 9-11 right on it. In this case he scores low on one test and he gets double dinged. Huh?

Again, this is no fault of our teachers. It’s the system that’s been put in place. They are doing what they can to navigate it but then parents are left to their own devices to navigate it from the other side. Individual schools may have conducted informational sessions, but there has been no district wide initiative to educate parents on what these progress reports actually mean. Remember that equity gap? Yea, another one of those phrases we like to repeat but seldom take steps to combat.

The other thing that gets me is these damn SEL standards. These are listed out in the portal and 4 or 5 random ones are picked and kids receive a score of “DR” or “DO” on the progress report, which I think means “demonstrates regularly” and “demonstrates occasionally”. Or it could mean “demonstrates often”. I don’t know, I can’t find a key, but I’m going with “demonstrates occasionally”.

Peter got a “DO” in “responsible decision-making”. WTF does that mean?!? It could probably be argued that if you followed his old man around for 5 weeks you’d give him a similar grade.

Here’s another scenario, and again I’m not putting this on his teacher. Peter has been doing back flips off of heights lately. Last week he did one-off of the play group equipment and almost got himself banned from the play ground. I think it is safe to say, that a reasonable person would describe that at as irresponsible decision-making. But…my wife and I have instilled in our kids since they were old enough to walk, that all decisions come with consequences. And as long as you understand those consequences and willingly accept them, you are making responsible decisions. As a result my kids take calculated risks. I would argue this is the definition of responsible decision-making.

This is the root of my biggest argument with SEL, what do you do when a definition at school conflicts with the definition at home? Which gives?

Now I’m sure that he didn’t earn his grade based on one incident and I’m sure at times he does make irresponsible decisions. There is also a part of me that is fine with that, some times bad decisions lead to better decisions and perhaps we’d be better served if we helped kids navigate that process as opposed to grading them and encouraging them to only make responsible decisions. After all, some may argue that our very nation was founded on a series of irresponsible decisions.

I guess I should be pleased that my kids are even getting progress reports today. Middle school parents were greeted this morning with a message from MNPS informing them that progress reports wouldn’t be coming home until the end of September, about report card time. So think about the irony here, our superintendent sends a letter to the TNDOE about the failings of TNReady while the district has repeatedly failed to deliver progress reports in a timely manner. Facepalm. You have one job.

MAP TESTING

I had an interesting conversation last night with a parent who has been doing her own digging into MAP testing. She is the mother of a dyslexic child and found out by accident that her child would not be getting the testing accommodations, that are in their IEP, on the MAP test. Keep in mind that these accommodations are built-in to the MAP testing, so there is no issue with technology here. The people who make the test clearly understand the validity of the accommodations that MNPS is saying students can’t have.

Needless to say this parent wasn’t satisfied with a rote answer and pushed back. Eventually they were told that MAP was being used as a screener and that’s why the accommodations couldn’t be given. She then picked up the phone and called NWEA, the people who make the MAP test. She got a nice young man on the phone who explained to her that there are two versions of MAP, one can be used as a screener, and one shows growth, but neither does both. Of course she made him repeat that a couple of times and he reaffirmed his statement. For the record, we administer the growth model.

Apparently though, MNPS has a special version that does everything. It screens for learning disabilities, it shows growth, it justifies policy, it can be used for magnet school entry criteria, and it can screen for gifted. Pretty cool huh?

No, it’s not. Not only are we using a potentially valuable tool in a manner it was never designed for, as a formative assessment meant to guide instruction, but we are shooting it up with steroids and completely bastardizing it. It’s unconscionable that we would use something that was intended to facilitate kid’s learning and hijack it to use as a tool to justify adult decisions on policy. That move may not be illegal, but it is certainly morally bankrupt.

Here’s my last rub on it. Paul Changus, director of assessments for MNPS, stood up at the last board meeting at proclaimed that nobody puts words in his mouth, yet he says nothing when we continually use an assessment tool in a manner that does not best serve kids. Inexcusable.

QUICK HITS

There is a board meeting coming up next Tuesday and the agenda is a doozy. We’ve been repeatedly told that the district has no money. Numerous trainings have been canceled and principals in schools whose enrolments were under projected are having to fight for money. Yet, we’ve got an extra $350K to give to Arbinger, “For the provision of monthly engagements with Central Office leaders and staff, and quarterly support for the Board to deepen understandings and skills related to shifting mindset and behavior of the District resulting in visible changes in practices and improved District culture as reflected in culture survey data and performance metrics.” This despite the survey taken this summer showing that only 3% of central office employees feel they work in a trusting environment.

Raise your hand if you knew that Dr. Sharon Gentry does work for the Arbinger Institute. I wonder if she’ll recuse herself from the vote on this one.

We’ve got $300k to give to Conexión Américas, “For the provision of a full-time Youth Development Specialist (YDS) at John Overton High School to provide support services to newly arrived immigrant students.” Taking nothing away from Conexion, they do fabulous work, but is this really something that needs to be outsourced? Should a hispanic focused non-profit be the vehicle used for this service when large swaths of our new comer population comes from Asia and the Middle East? On this one, new board member Gini Pupo-Walker works for Conexion, so same question as above applies.

Per board member Pupo-Walker Walker….The Conexion contract is for $60,000 for up to 5 yrs to work with 100+ unaccompanied minors who have enrolled in Overton in the last year. They are mostly teen males from Central America, and Overton has struggled to help them. Overton chose to put out an RFP to get additional help providing tiered interventions for them and we submitted a proposal. We were awarded the contract after a review process. We will provide one full time staff member to be housed at Overton to work with the students on academics, support, social adjustments, trauma, conflict mediation, staff training, and much more. It’s an honor to be awarded the contract and we are humbled to have the opportunity to help these students.

I still stand by the questioning and I’m sure it is not the last time the question will arise as Conexion works closely with MNPS. I have no doubt that Gini Pupo-Walker will answer future questions in an equally transparent manner. Thanks for the quick response.

Why stop with those two new contracts though? We have three million for Plant the Seed, “For the provision of garden-based learning curriculum and support, including but not limited to, design and construction of the program, delivery of the lessons and provision of the educational supplies, on site assistance in maintaining the program, professional development for the teachers, and availability to participate in family or MNPS engagements. Contract can be utilized by any MNPS school or charter school.”

Again, probably a wonderful organization and curriculum that provides some wonderful opportunities, but at $3 million dollars? I’ve done quite a few community gardens in the past. Everybody loves them in April. $3 million is a lot of money for an underfunded school system.

PASSAGE Committees proposed policy to end suspensions, arrests, and expulsions for Nashville’s youngest students (pre-K – 4) will be considered by the MNPS Board of Education’s Policy Governance Committee before the board meeting at 4:00 pm.

I would urge caution with this one. Why are we taking a tool out of principals tool box with out replacing it with another tool? According to the graphic, there were only 4 expulsions last year, which I would argue is pretty good. What were the infractions that led to those expulsions? Were they level 500 violations?What’s the plan of action for those kids left in the classroom? Are we going to bring back in-school suspension?

Obviously no one supports suspending or arresting small kids. But again the devil is in the details. why were these kids arrested? What’s the plan to get them the supports they need. How are we going to ensure the safety of all kids and teachers?

Since all we seem to do as a district is run in circles, of course we are now poised to once again have Sharon Gentry as board chair. Last time was so much fun and productive, why not do it again?

On the good news front, MNPS has chosen to opt out of the portfolio process for Fine Arts teachers. The process was fraught with problems and so MNPS elected not to proceed 2018-2019. Now if only the same could be said about the kindergarten and first grade portfolios.

The Tennessee Board of Education will be reviewing the cases of teacher misconduct that Director Shawn Joseph failed to report to the state. This will be new territory for them to get into, as seldom have they had cause to discipline a superintendent. New legislation passed this summer give them the tools to do so. If the state board does find cause to punish Joseph, they could choose to reprimand, suspend, revoke or refuse to issue Joseph’s teaching license. So it’s kinda a big deal. One that should probably be discussed at a board meeting.

The district is continuing to try to place the blame for the failure to report on a former HR specialist, as spokeswoman Dawn Rutledge claims, “The responsibility to generate the paperwork necessary for the director to report any such final actions to the state lay with an individual who is no longer employed” by the district.

The problem with this defense is two-fold. First of all only Dr. Joseph knows what the final punishment is and only Dr. Joseph can sign the paperwork. So the process begins and ends with Dr. Joseph. That is the HR portion of the issue, and the state has no interest in that part. The issue that the state is concerned with is the licensure portion and in that area the law is clear, the superintendent must report the infractions to the state. Period. This one could stretch out to the beginning of 2019 before resolved. Maybe the board will send Joseph’s discipline letter to Chalkbeat instead of directly to him. Sorry couldn’t resist.

On Tuesday board chair Anna Shepherd tweeted the following in response to a tweet by Joey Garrison referencing a comment made by CM Russ Pulley during a council meeting on the pending legislation over a proposed soccer stadium.

Two days ago an email campaign began asking board members to consider terminating Dr. Joseph’s contract. The emails are coming from MNPS parents and community members that are concerned about the issues facing our schools. I think it’s safe to say they are versed in those issues.

Here’s Christiane Buggs response to one of those parents. Hmmm…do you notice any commonality?

Apparently we are shocked that CM’s don’t think community members are smart enough to understand council issues, but parents need to be empowered to begin to understand school issues. Which I don’t even understand what that word means in this context, so I’m going to chalk it up to the early morning hour in which the response was made.

Here’s another one that baffles me. We are so concerned that criticizing the director of schools could be construed as racism that we are willing to engage in racist behavior. How else would classify the belief that the black community is incapable in participating in a conversation about the superintendent’s performance without turning it into a racial issue? That’s a little offensive isn’t it? I’ve engaged with quite a few member’s of the black community about Dr. Joseph’s performance and while their opinions are somewhat varied, all can separate performance from the color of his skin. May be we should all stop being so afraid and step up to the plate.

Things are getting interesting with the priority school list. According to Chalkbeat, there will be 3 lists this year. One list — Tennessee’s highly anticipated roster of “priority schools,” which perform in the bottom 5 percent — will exclude scores from last school year’s beleaguered TNReady assessment. Issued every three years, this roster will serve as the basis for determining state interventions and supports for at least the next year.

To satisfy federal law, a new CSI list, which stands for Comprehensive Support and Improvement, will identify the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools based on test results from all three years. This roster will determine opportunities for additional federal funding through several school improvement grants.

The other new accountability list, called ATSI for Additional Targeted Support and Improvement, will be based solely on last school year’s TNReady data. This list will identify schools with the lowest performance across student groups such as black, Hispanic, or Native Americans, or those who are economically disadvantaged, English learners, or have disabilities. ATSI replaces, for now, the state’s previously planned “focus school” list under its original ESSA plan.

Complex enough for you? Make sure you read the whole article.

That about does it for the week. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon.

THE RETURN OF CARNAC THE MAGNIFICENT

5

“There’s no fool like a fool who thinks he’s charming. On”
James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

“Life is a fight, but not everyone’s a fighter. Otherwise, bullies would be an endangered species.”
Andrew Vachss, Terminal

I hope y’all had a wonderful Labor Day. The summer is now officially over and our thoughts turns to those of autumn. As hard as they may be when temperature outside still range in the mid-nineties.

Those of you old enough to remember the tonight show with Johnny Carson might also remember a popular skit of his featuring Carnac the Magnificent. Carnac was a turban wearing fortune-teller. He would take a sealed envelope, place it to his forehead, and attempt to read what was in the envelope.

Today I would like to channel my inner Carnac and make some predictions for the upcoming fall. Let’s see how many predictions come true.

Let’s start by looking at the soon to be released priority school list. It’s supposed to make its way to schools this week, but will remain embargoed until the 23rd of the month. I love how school districts are given ample time by the TNDOE in order to get their narratives written.

Word on the street is that the list is going to include 21 MNPS schools. That’s a significant jump from the current 12. And should be of concern to people.

Some of you might be scratching your heads right now, and thinking, “Wait a minute. I thought there wasn’t going to be a list this year. I thought state legislators passed legislation that prevents schools from being hurt by results.”

Ah, but you forget, when one is as welded to the accountability philosophy as the TNDOE you find a way around silly legislation. Can’t rate schools A-F? Well how about 1-4? Can’t use last years scores? Well the ones from 2 years ago will suffice, unless you did well…then this years can help you get off the list.

Think about that logic for a minute. The tests are considered invalid unless you did well, i.e. the incompetence held you, then they suddenly become valid. In what world does that add up? The tests are either valid, or invalid, period. But I’m quibbling, and it’s time to get on with the predictions.

So holding the envelope to my head, I predict that when the list is released MNPS will have 20 plus schools on the list. This will be met with great concern by members of the community whose kids attend those schools and they will look to the director of schools for a corrective plan, little knowing he has already begun the implementation of his plan, entailing another massive smokescreen.

I predict that several days after the release of the list, Dr. Joseph will stride to the podium and boldly state, “Now you know why I signed Will Pinkston’s letter. We believe TNReady to be an unreliable test that serves to mis-label our children and our schools as failing. These results do not correlate with the results from our internal assessments. Our kids are out growing kids in the rest of the country at a rate of 54%. This is a grave injustice that is being done to our children and why I believe we must, in the name of equity, halt TNReady for this year.”

A cheer will go up from the anti-testing crowd as they grab their pitchforks and fall in behind the superintendent. Parents and community members who want to discuss what is being done to improve their individual schools will shoved to the back while a conversation on the merits of testing rages. If luck holds out, that argument will last until winter MAP test results are available.

Here comes the second envelope. I predict that the Winter MAP tests will show phenomenal growth. Students will out perform their peers across the country by large margins.

Why you ask? Because of the way we are administrating the test. Kid’s were tested the second and third week of school this year with minimal prepping. Accommodations included in IEP’s were not given for many children in the name of establishing benchmarks.

That will not be the case come the winter test. No, younger kid’s will write letters to older kids on the importance of doing well. Notes will go home to parents informing them of the importance of their child getting the proper rest the night before the test. Pep rallies will be held to ensure that kids are fully aware of what’s at stake. And that’s how you amplify any real growth taking place.

Now I’m not saying kids won’t do well this fall. Nor am I saying that MAP is not a worthwhile tool. Students will definitely learn as teachers have deftly demonstrated over the last two-year that they are capable of overcoming almost any obstacle thrown in their way. I do believe that the current system is set up so that some schools will do better than other though, thus growing the inequity gap, but that is another story for another day.

MAP is a very useful tool for educators if used as intended. It can identify gaps in student learning, help differentiate students, and help guide instruction. It is not meant to be used to justify policy or act as an accountability tool. Which is how the district is using it.

Those predictions should suffice for a bit. Meanwhile what I can’t discern, or predict, is what we are doing for our priority schools. Call me when you see an actual plan and an actual commitment.

STANDARDS, STANDARDS, GET YOUR STANDARDS

I continue to try to get my head around the districts move to standards based grading in Middle School. The more teacher’s I talk to, the more questions arise. Questions about the weighting of certain standards over others. Questions about why all the standards are not listed in the grade book? How is a final grade arrived at? How are teachers going to communicate the reasoning behind a students grade to their parents? How are parents going to even understand what the standard is asking for?

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve read a standard to my wife and complained because I thought it was ridiculous, only to be told, “All that means is can they count to 100 by 5’s.” But if I don’t have somebody telling me what it all means, or how it all fit’s together, how am I supposed to know as a parent? By not acknowledging that I might not understand the standards, or even indicating that it’s important that I understand, an implied message is once again sent that parental input is important for public relations reasons only.

The more I talk to teachers the more I get the creeping feeling that this grading move, through its close alignment with the Tennessee Blueprint and by de facto TNReady,  is a move to further narrow curriculum and to get teachers to focus solely on teaching the standards. That is an argument separate from implementation and starts to get into philosophy. My wife likes to tell me this is where my idealism runs counter to realism in education.

There are some very good teachers that teach the standards but don’t just limit their instruction to the standards. They let kid’s interests guide things a little bit more. How do we balance that out. I’ve heard the saying that what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get taught. I subscribe to the belief that just because you can measure something, doesn’t mean you should. How do those two thoughts live together?  This opens the door to a whole deeper conversation, and as a parent, one I think should receive more parental input before such a large philosophical shift is made.

Grades have different meanings in different families. Some families subscribe to a philosophy of anything less than an A is considered unacceptable. To others, as long as you are doing your best, B’s and C’s are fine. One thought that runs consistent is the need to understand how grades are arrived and that there is a sense of fairness at play. Expectations are clearly communicated and there is a clear understanding of how those expectations turn into measurements. It important that parents and students believe in how the grades are arrived at, and to do that teachers need a clear understanding of that process. I would argue, that understanding is minimized because we are tinkering without clear purpose to the grading system.

It’s one thing to tinker around with elementary school grades, which for the most part have little real consequences. Parents may look at them, and brag on them, but for the most part they don’t have real deep implications. Middle school is a whole lot different. Grades impact a students academic pathway. Entry into advanced academic programs and magnet schools hinge on grades. Families are starting to think about what post secondary options may look like. It is the time to make corrections and adjustments in a students work ethic and study habits, corrections based on grades being earned. In my opinion, this is not the time to be getting experimental or making large philosophical shifts without ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page.

I have to reiterate, that through my deep dive into the shift in grading director of C & I David Williams has been incredibly open to feedback. Several teachers have reached out to him. And while they weren’t necessarily satisfied of the answers they were getting, his efforts were appreciated.

The interesting twist on this policy discussion is the number of teachers who have said to me, “I’m not backing down on this one.” It’s interesting because teachers make compromises all day long. They make do with less than optimal discipline policies, testing policies, attendance policies, all without drawing a line in the sand. When something pops up that draws a line in sand response, it makes me listen all the more closer. Hopefully leadership will do the same.

QUICK HITS

First the Jersey Shore crew made a return to MTV. Then Rosanne was back on the air. This fall Magnum PI is back on the air. It seems like retro fever is in the air and the MNPS literacy department is the latest to catch it. Word out of a recent Literacy Coaches meeting has it that the district is doubling down on its focus on phonics. In other words, a new front in the Reading Wars has been opened. I jokingly remarked, “Uh oh, when are nonsense words coming back?” Only to be informed that they have already returned after being sent into exile only 3 or 4 years ago. I want to know when Language X is coming back.

The Tennessee State  Board of Education is taking a closer look at some of MNPS’s human resources investigations to ensure that they followed regulations. For their part, MNPS is placing the blame on the shoulders of an employee they ran out because they didn’t like the way he ran an HR investigation earlier in the year. I guess they didn’t realize that you can only throw a person under the bus one time for maximum effect. Oh well, what’s one more potential lawsuit?

Sarah Becker is a parent in Houston whose kids attend a so-called “Failing School”. In her eyes, that is not an accurate portrayal of her children’s school. It’s worth reading.

If you’ll remember back in June there was a discussion about a contract involving TNTP. At the time, it was presented as one not being utilized by district, but needed to be renewed it order to remain an option. What wasn’t said, was that said contract needed to be renewed in order that two other contracts with TNTP, involving the implementation of CKLA, could be activated unecumbered. There is always an angle. The Notebook has a deeper look at the workings of TNTP and surprise, there is a Prince George County School connection.

Does anybody know anything about WIDA results? I’ve yet to hear anything this year and I’m kinda confused as to why?

I spent a fair amount of time examining and thinking about this new ad from Nike. We often hold out the importance of standing for a cause but when it comes right done to it we more often turn into Peter after the garden. Like him, don’t like him, agree or disagree, Colin has put his beliefs where his money is. Maybe he signed a multi-million ad campaign with Nike, but when he started first took his stance he had no way of knowing that. Locally I can think of some others that have striven to live the words in the ad.

Coming on the heels of a Labor Day is a country where neither could have existed with those who were not willing to ascribe to the belief voiced in the ad, we should recognize the courage taking such an action demands. Recognition of courage does not equal endorsement of ideas, though in this case I tend to agree with the ideas, I understand that some may not. That’s fine because we don’t all have to agree. However I would suggest that instead of cutting up your socks you tip your hat to a long engrained American ideal. And while you are looking at Colin’s picture remember that there are serviceman, police, and others that also personify that very ideal. All are worthy of respect.

And by the way, as a rule of thumb, if Clay Travis is opposing, then I’m embracing. Sports has always been rooted in politics – Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Billy Jean King, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Know your history.

POLLS

Responses to the poll questions were down this week, but let’s look at the results.

The first question asked for your opinion on schools adhering to the recently signed MOU in regard to Friday’s professional day. The good news is that it seem that there was wide-spread adherence. 39% of you voiced that there were no issues. Only 20% of you raised red flags, I think that is pretty good based on the less than optimal manner in which it was communicated to principals. Here are the write in votes,

ncompetence at the school level – wouldn’t a principal want to read the MOU? 1
I was allowed to attend content-specific PD outside of my building 1
Nothing in the first 3 weeks aligned with the MOU 1
How do Maritza still have a job? 1
Yes 1
Yep… Cobbs stuck to the MOU! 1
Almost, we got 2 hours 1
School counselors forced to travel to almost Williamson County instead of school 1
No many teachers did not work today 1
Good question.

The second question asked who you were voting for as vice mayor. Indications are that this is going to be a close race. Jim Shulman in the end best Sheri Weiner by only 4 votes, 41-37. A little concerning were the 22 votes collected by “Who? What?” Not many write in votes for this one.

Mickey Mouse 1
Any one else

The last question asked for your opinion of homework. As expected most of you, 37%, have mixed emotions. However, at 31%, “Hate it” wasn’t far behind. I loved the write in votes on this one. A lot of fodder for thought.

No research to support it! 1
Ineffective – more for parents of elementary sets than the sets themselves 1
A small amount is fine. 1
Reading each evening is the best homework 1
An EXTREMELY useful tool for all students when not overdone! 1
Very useful for students when done properly. 1
Worthless. Let kids be kids 1
It has its benefits and can be used appropriately 1
Reading every day = good, worksheets/busywork = bad 1
ok if brief and purposeful 1
Needed in high school math. Maybe not needed elsewhere as world moves toward GC. 1
I have students finish what they didn’t finish in class that day-twice so far 1
Math facts -+×÷ 1
We need to invest more time in real experiences for kids.

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon.

TELL ME WHY

4

Tell me why Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache Tell me why Ain’t nothin but a mistake – Tell Me Why, Backstreet Boys

“In that moment, when watches and clocks misbehave and you feel a cold vapor wrap itself around your heart, you unconsciously draw a line at the bottom of a long column of numbers and come up with a sum. Perhaps it’s one that fills you with contentment and endows you with a level of courage and an acceptance that you didn’t know you possessed.Or maybe not.” – James Lee Burke, “The Glass Rainbow: A Dave Robicheaux Novel”

I must admit that I compose today’s column with a tint of green. Yesterday Education blogger Zack Barnes hit one of those proverbial home runs. A recent new report from Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams detailed discipline issues with Overton coach Arnet Bodenhamer. Zack did some digging and discovered that the story doesn’t end there.

Turns out, MNPS failed to report the suspended coach to the State Board of Education for review. An action that must take place within 30 days of the district handing out disciplinary action. Tennessean reporter Jason Gonzales decided to follow up even further and inquire about how many other cases haven’t been reported to the state. The answer is nothing short of appalling.

Remember yesterday when I talked about the upcoming HR audits and the danger of leaving leadership in place that already exposed the district to financial and legal risk? This is more of what I am talking about. According to Gonzales,

The list details 89 complaints, and 47 of those were against teachers. The other complaints are against principals and support staff, including bus drivers and educational assistants.

The allegations of teacher misconduct include reports of altercations with students, inappropriate conduct toward students and notifications to the district of police investigations.

In most cases, employees were placed under administrative leave and then returned to work — those cases also weren’t reported to the state by Joseph.

That’s a lot of missed reporting.

Ironically, reporting laws were strengthened this past year based on a USA report showing lackadaisical reporting of misconduct by local districts. Instead of trying to manipulate headlines, perhaps the district leadership’s time would be better spent reading the actual articles.

In the Tennessean article  soon to be ex-board chair Anna Shepherd is quoted as saying the district is undergoing a human resources audit approved by the board early this week and that the lack of reporting of the cases is one reason why the review is needed.

“We take our responsibilities seriously,” Shepherd said. “We have to follow state law, there’s no other option.”

I have to point out here though, that at this week’s board meeting Director of Schools Shawn Joseph emphatically pointed out that the district was not hiring Bone, McCallester, Norton to do an investigation, but rather to ensure that the district’s HR department was following proper protocols and employing best practices. Let me save the district $99999.00, you are not.

It should be appalling that the HR department is incapable of conducting rudimentary day to day business, which I would argue is what reporting to the state falls under, while paying the executive director and the director a combined salary in excess of $300k. While on top of that, they still need to pay another entity another possible $100k to ensure that they know what they are doing. That dull thudding noise you hear is the sound of me banging my head against the desk. Can an adult please step up to the plate?

Some of you may be familiar with Zack Barnes, while to others his may be a new name. Zack has been at this education blogging game for a little longer than I have. He was one of the founders of the TNEd Report, along with Andy Spears. Zack and Andy split awhile back and so Zack hasn’t had an outlet for his muse until recently reviving his Tip Sheet. I see I’m going to have to work a lot harder if I’m going to keep up with him. Kudo’s to you Zack!

RANDOM THOUGHTS

I’d like to spend the rest of this column clearing off the desk. Here’s a plethora of thoughts, articles, rumination that I’ve been turning over of late.

If you haven’t watched this week’s board meeting, I would encourage you to do so. The conversation on the budget that transpires near the beginning of the meeting is one of the best conversations I’ve seen this board engage in. Understanding the way the budget works for a large urban school district is a very difficult proposition. Truthfully, I didn’t fully grasp that the board creates an expense budget, while metro council and the mayor create a revenue budget. I was under the impression that MNPS presented a budget, the council reviewed it and decided how much revenue they were going to supply, and then the board amended the budget based on the amount of revenue awarded.

Apparently that is not how it works. To paraphrase board member Christiane Buggs, metro council actually awards a revenue amount and then offers permission to go into the districts saving account, fund balance, for the remainder. Board member Sharon Gentry offers some additional valuable insight. It’s worth watching.

You can hear board member Will Pinkston’s “underfunded school district” speech in its entirety. Admittedly Pinkston raises some good points, but those are undercut by the fact that he is gone from the meeting before the conversation is completed on the budget and he is absent for the entirety of the discussion on the audit. So while his commentary is somewhat astute, Jason Gonzales is already supplying that service. What’s needed is another hand on deck.

If you can stomach it, I would also advise watching the conversation on the Metro Audit. I’m not sure when people became aware of the fact that head of the audit department Mark Swann wouldn’t be in attendance, but it’s clear that this was a conversation that was never intended to take place despite being on the agenda. Shepherd does her best to curtail conversation, but to their credit Speering and Frogge proceed undeterred.

I fail to understand why when something of this magnitude is on the agenda, so few answers are prepared and so little preparation is done in advance. You would think that every board member, and the director would have marked up copies of the audit in front of them. You would think that some effort would have been put into anticipating what the individual questions would be. Nah…it’s not that important. Culture baby, culture, it’s everything.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Peter Drucker, Management Guru

Rumors are starting to circulate that the new priority school list is coming soon and it is not going to be pretty for MNPS. I’m hearing that up to 20 Nashville schools could be included.

Andy Spears continues to stay on top of the fiasco that is the state’s new portfolio evaluation process. Looks like districts are starting to opt out. Will MNPS follow suit? Time will tell.

As many of you know, I am the father of a fourth grader and a third grader. As such, they often have homework. I am not a believer in homework and therefore the extent of my involvement is periodically asking, “Did you do your homework?” They understand that for me, doing their homework rest solely on their shoulders. Their mother, being a teacher herself,  is better about it then I am and often helps them. I feel confident in my position because research continually mounts that homework in younger grades has no real benefit.

I’m a fan of the letter that Texas second grade teacher sent home to her parents in 2016,

“There will be no formally assigned homework this year… rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success,” she wrote. “Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early.”

Two years later she stands behind that edict. Though she readily admits that there has been a learning curve. Some students actually do want homework. Some students need additional supports, supports that may not be readily available at home and therefore need delivery in a different manner and at a different time. She does say that her core belief has only been re-enforced, that teaching is about relationships.

“I want my students to know that I care about them at every second,” she said. “I want parents to trust me and let me into their family. I want open communication lines between us so that I can better understand their children and help them succeed.”

By now many of you have been impacted by MNPS raising the prices on buses. PTO’s began planning for and raising funds for trips back in the spring under the impression that costs wouldn’t change and they would just need to raise say, $2500. Only to find out that over the summer prices had been raised and that the same trip would now cost $5K. That’s an oversimplification, but will have to suffice for our purposes today.

A Hunter’s Lane parent took this information and decided to start making phone calls to raise additional funds for the band. Long story short, they hooked up with the producers for the Pickler and Ben show. Said producers proceeded to invite the band on the show this past Wednesday. By all accounts, a large time was had by everyone. A shout out to Band mom Ms. Pulley for advocating so hard for their Human Boom Box!

Here’s a fun came to play. Name all the literacy coach leaders that have over 5 years experience teaching in the classroom. Take your time, I can wait.

When I first started this blog I was seeped in the privatization vs non-privatization battle. Over the years I’ve become a little less partisan. I find myself asking myself, if you get rid of TFA, charter schools, and all that comes with it, then what? Will local superintendents suddenly become more transparent? Will districts suddenly give EL kids and those in poverty the supports they’ve been arbitrarily taking away for years? Will teachers suddenly start getting the pay, respect, and autonomy they deserve?

As I’ve seen similar egregious acts play out from actors on both sides, I’ve become a little more cynical. Is this war against privatization really where our efforts should be directed? Luckily there are people like Peter Greene out there to remind us why these fights are important.

As he points out,

We’ve heard it over and over in the modern ed reform movement– schools should be run more like businesses. Yes, that means watching the money side of things, but it also consistently means, “I want to be able to run this school like my own personal private business. I don’t want the government to tell me there are rules I have to follow. I don’t want unions telling me what I can or can’t do. I just want to exert my will, unfettered and unrestrained, like I would over any personal, private operation I owned.”

He goes on to offer some sound advice on how we should proceed and the important questions to ask,

Resistance to privatization can’t just be about asking, “So who will make money on this deal.” We also need to be asking, “So, once this has happened, who will be the decider? Who will decide who gets treated at the hospital? Who will decide who and what get taught at the school? Who will decide when the roads are plowed and paved? And what can I do if I don’t like their decision?” The pitch will always be, “Well, the government decides that stuff now and they do a lousy job, amiright?” That may be true, but it doesn’t answer the question. Get an answer to the question, because we’re seeing the answer demonstrated right now in the White House– “I’ll decide. I’m the only one that matters. I’ll decide, and if you don’t like it, tough, and if you complain, I’ll find some way to use my personal power to punish you.”

Speaking of Teach for America, it looks like they’ve made the move into supplying pre-school teachers. I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing or not.

Out on the campaign trail this summer I often spoke of the need to create more robust teacher compensation packages. It can’t be just about giving teachers more money. In a meeting with Scarlett Foundation head Tara Scarlett I laid out some of these ideas and how the Scarlett Foundation could have a real impact upon educational outcomes if they were to spearhead such an initiative. To her credit, she seemed intrigue.

Turns out Detroit is already writing up the blue print for what such an initiative can look like. According to Chalkbeat,

Now a citywide initiative funded by Detroit philanthropies and businesses is bringing education leaders together around the idea that a bigger pool of teachers will lessen the pressure on every school in the city. Teach 313, announced Thursday morning by a who’s who of Detroit leaders, will mount a nationwide recruitment campaign to find new teachers while offering discounted cars and home loans to educators who already teach in the city.

Two new sweeteners were announced Thursday by executives from General Motors and Quicken Loans as part of the announcement:

  • A discount on a new GM vehicle, which Detroit teachers can add to any other discount. They’re also eligible for a free two-year subscription to GM’s OnStar, a service that can connect cars to a call center in an emergency.
  • A discount of $1,500 on a home loan or home refinancing from Quicken Loans.

Tara are you listening? Tara are you listening?

I’ve been meaning to share some of Overton HS parent Teri Watson’s pictures of Overton students for a while now. They really are fantastic and capture the magic that takes place in our schools.

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) is a volunteer program we designed to engage elementary classrooms with role models in the community. It’s only five visits throughout the school year. Want to volunteer? Sign up for training:

Want to help girls in Metro Nashville Public Schools who don’t have feminine products and miss school? You can! Follow the link to donate:

That about does it for the week. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. Have a great Labor Day Weekend. We’ll be back on Tuesday.

 
 

 

 

LAND OF CONFUSION

4

Now this is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make it a place worth fighting for. – Land Of Confusion, Genesis

Things keep getting more and more interesting around here. So much so, I felt like I had to write a little bonus post today. Though I doubt it will turn out to be so little.

Tuesday was the last official board meeting for Tyese Hunter, Mary Pierce, and JoAnne Brandon. It’s important to take a minute and say thank you for your service. This was also the last meeting that Anna Shepherd would preside over as chair.

Of note on the consent agenda was a renewal of the contract for Imagine Learning. While Imagine Learning is a computer based learning tool, I’ve seen it effectively used with EL teachers pairing students together and having them work as a team using english to communicate among themselves. It is a program that gets high marks from teachers and has produced results, but was unfortunately discontinued at the beginning of the year. Luckily wiser heads prevailed and it is being brought back.

That’s all fine and good except there seems to be a disturbing trend taking root, one of cutting supports to non-tested elementary school grades. Reading clinics, Literacy Partnership, Imagine Learning, and yes Reading Recovery, all on the chopping block. Which begs questions of the “programs that are replacing Reading Recovery and other… what are they and where is the support data? As schools lose supports without new ones ready to go, it gives the appearance that we seem to be moving into the realm of correction vs prevention.

You should not be able to remove a proven plan with having equally proven plan ready. To do so screams politics over policy.

The next thing on the agenda was the recently completed audit by Metro Nashville Government. The general consensus by those who have actually read the audit is that there is very little analysis and therefore the whole thing is inconclusive at best. Mark Swann, who over sees the Metropolitan Audit Division, could not be in attendance at Tuesday’s school board meeting but he sent internal auditor Mary Cole in his stead. Outgoing board chair Anna Shepherd tried to use Swann’s absence as grounds to avoid having a public discussion on the audits results. Instructing board members to write down their questions and she’ll get them answers. WTF?!?

Where is that stipulated in board policy? Where does it say that the board chair gets the privilege of filtering commentary? Discussion of the audit was on the agenda, why in god’s name did Shepherd feel that she is somehow empowered in her role as chair to limit conversation. Fortunately, board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering were not buying it. Frogge going as far to point out that all of Nashville was talking about the audit, so why wasn’t the board.

“This has obviously been a huge issue. An entire city is talking about it. Now that we have an opportunity, we are saying, well, you know, hey, just send something in writing and we or may not put it out publicly.”

Speering ignored Shepherd’s direction and proceeded to open discussion. As Speering began her questions and observations, board member Sharon Gentry could be heard talking. While it’s unclear who she was talking to, it appeared as if she was talking to herself. Either way Speering was undeterred.

Using the data included in the audit, Speering and Frogge, drew attention to several areas of concern,

“In 2018, when there was a freeze on teachers and administrators, the director went over his own travel budget by 283 percent. This reflects poorly about us living within our budget,” Speering said.

She also drilled into some departments that have been consistently over or under budget in recent years.

“I’m wondering,” she said, “why we are not adjusting?”

Another board member, Amy Frogge, zeroed in on a handful of vendor contracts over $100,000 that she said should have come to the board for review.

Answers were not forthcoming and I have little faith that they will be in the future either. MNPS administrators seem to be challenged by reality as evidenced by a press release, released on Wednesday, in which Dr. Joseph proclaims,

“This rigorous third-party audit process shows Metro Schools demonstrates strong, legal stewardship of taxpayer dollars relative to the education of our more than 85,000 students,”

It does nothing of the sort and to assert such is disingenuous. But MNPS is content to just make up stuff for themselves, they want other news organizations to help perpetrate their myths. MNPS continually pressures local news outlets to report stories in a matter that is flattering to the district. An example would be their recent success in getting The Tennessean to change a headline that proclaimed the audit inconclusive. Unfortunately the Tennessean gave in.

When the initial announcement of the audit was made, Joseph took umbrage and often told associates that when the audit came up clean he would be expecting apologies from everybody. Now the audit has, in his words now come up clean, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. Why? One would think that if the results were reaffirming as he is trying to portray them he would be shouting them from the mountain top. Instead, it’s the opposite that is happening, as leadership strives to limit conversation as much as possible. It truly begs the question of what tale do those numbers truly tell?

Despite the limited discussion, it did arise that the audit department was working on two additional investigations involving…wait for it…the Human Resources department. Joseph claimed that he had no knowledge of these yet to be concluded audits and but chose to focus on a commissioned  audit by Bone, McCallester, and Norton PLLC that had been approved during the consent agenda and would cost upwards of $100k,

“We are not doing an investigation,” Joseph said. “We are looking at processes … We are looking at cases completed — if they were done appropriately, the best practices and a look over policies.”

Anybody want to bet me on how that “investigation” is going to turn out?

Board Member Will Pinkston stayed for the discussion just long enough to utter his current catch phrase, “We are an underfunded school district” as he scooted out the door. Let me be blunt here, we have 2 audits and a separate $100k expenditure necessitated by the actions of the current leadership of HR. Today there has been no accountability applied to either of these administrators. One was allowed to leave on a 3 week vacation and another was elevated to leading the division in her absence. Does that speak to good management of financial resources?

To add to the equation, there are several lawsuits out there waiting to be filled in response to actions, again, by HR leadership. Why would you leave them in power, to potentially cost the district more money, while 3 investigations are on going?

I don’t understand why it’s such a hard concept to understand that if you want more funding, and we need it, the public has to perceive that you are a good steward. If Pinkston want’s to solve the problem of underfunding, perhaps he should apply his considerable talents to making sure that the public believes MNPS is using resources wisely. Maybe, Phil Bredesen could give him a few days off the campaign trail so he could do the job that he was elected to.

If Pinkston doesn’t want to do the job, which includes talking to people, asking hard questions, and pushing an agenda other than his own, he needs to resign and let someone step in that will do the work. Someone that will ensure that our schools get the funding they need and that they follow good policy. Frogge and Speering, previously allies of his, are getting help in Fran Bush. But they cannot be the only ones. It’s way past time for others to step up.

TNReady results were also briefly discussed with one excuse being offered that kids’ did not try because they knew results were not going to count and thus, they scored lower on the High School tests. Really? Is that where we are at? I can’t even dive further into that one.

WHAT’S AN MOU?

At the end of last year MNPS and MNEA concluded the collaborative conferencing process and agreed upon several conditions that would define expectations for teachers. For the first time in years teacher’s went to work with a memorandum of understanding(MOU).A lot of good people put a lot of back-breaking work into getting the MOU passed and their efforts deserve recognition. Unfortunately we are now in the enforcement phase of the process and that’s where things get interesting.

At the beginning of the year, director of HR Sharon Pertiller -yes, that Sharon Pertiller  – did a perfunctory presentation at a principal’s meeting that did little but piss off and confuse principals. By all accounts Pertiller didn’t understand the MOU, nor did she attach much importance to it. As a result, many teacher themselves were quite upset when it was communicated to them that a new attendance policy, that was part of the MOU meant they could be docked professionalism points if they used all of their professional days. An interpretation reportedly different from what was negotiated.

MNEA head Erick Huth has indicated that he arrived late at the principal’s meeting and therefore Pertiller was allowed to communicate a policy different then the one that was negotiated. Either way, things were off to an auspicious start.

Friday marks the first professional day and per page two of the MOU the day cannot be longer then 7 hours, include a one hour lunch which can be taken off campus, and three hours of individual planning. Shockingly – ok, not really – many teachers across the district received planning day agendas from individual schools that were not compliant with the MOU. This is where things get a little tricky, because who enforces the MOU? Many teacher’s will be hesitant to step forward in a manner that risks getting them labeled as troublemakers.

To their credit, MNEA leadership has stepped up and tried to address as many of the individual cases as possible. Hopefully, most principals will comply and the MOU will be adhered to. Once again, if you had a competent HR department, this wouldn’t be an issue. Planning day agendas would have been approved as being in compliance long before they made it into teachers hands and principals would have a deep understanding of what the expectations are.

JUST LISTEN TO THEM

The families that make up Eakin ES are finding themselves in a strange predicament these days. Eakin has a reputation as being one of the better elementary schools in the city and one were parent input was valued. Things have started to shift. It started two years ago when the community supported a different choice for principal then the district proposed. Things didn’t work out as planned for the district’s choice and at the end of last year the school found itself once again in search of a leader. Once again, the community made their preference known and again that preference was ignored. Hopefully this time things work out better than they did last time.

Back during budget season the community also took exception to the enrollment projections by the district. It was argued that the district numbers were too low. Again parents of Eakin, whom historically have had a good handle on the needs of their school, were overruled. This underestimation means that not enough kindergarten teachers were hired and as a result existing classes were over populated. This has been a pain point for parents since the start of school.

This week, the district conceded that the community was right and approved the hiring of a new kindergarten teacher. Great, but I have a few questions. Where will this high quality teacher be found? I don’t believe that there is a surplus of quality educators out of work in September. Which kids will get to be placed in the new teachers classroom while she becomes acclimated? As a Kindergarten parent I would be hesitant to have my child separated from a teacher they had already adapted to, but that’s just me.

Once again, a problem has arisen because district leadership just does not listen to anybody but the voices in their head. How many problems could have been avoided over the last couple of years if someone in the inner circle had just listened to someone else?

Furthermore, isn’t this the kind of situation in which the position of Community Superintendent was created for? There was a lot of lip service paid to knowing exactly what the supports the new principal needed, how was student population not caught earlier then this? In order for Community Supes to be effective they have to know their “Community” inside and out, hence the name.

One more side note, in sending a note home with kids, you might want to include staff in the distribution list. They never enjoy hearing news about their school from a loud mouth blogger. just saying.

Hopefully a new teacher will be quickly hired and they acclimate equally as quickly. But perhaps, just perhaps, leadership could learn something from this incident and maybe listen in the future.

That does it for this special edition. Make sure you tune in tomorrow when I’ll include the next round of poll questions. I leave you with a shot of what used to be Tusculum ES. A shot that took way to long to produce.