RANDOM THOUGHTS ABOUT RANDOM THINGS

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”
Lester Bangs

“Some people see things that are and ask, Why?
Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not?
Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that.”
― George Carlin

When I first started writing this blog, I fretted that I would find enough to write about. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that there was more than enough to cover and in fact, there was no way that I could do the necessary research in order to do it all justice. As a result, some things fall by the wayside. That doesn’t mean that they are not important, just that I can’t gather enough information and understanding to do them justice, so I put them on the back-burner.

I figured the start of Fall break was as good a time as any to clear some of those items off the plate. As always, if anybody has more information and knowledge please feel free to comment, I’m always looking for more clarity. So without further adieu, here are the things on my mind these days.

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING NOTES

Last week’s MNPS school board meeting raised a lot of interesting questions. It was a meeting that probably had more presentations then should fit comfortably in a meeting, but that’s what you do when you are trying to hide the trees in the forest.

The first presentation was on MNPS’s pre-k programming. Whenever you talk about pre-K things get tricky. Nobody wants to be perceived as being against pre-K. Oh no, that’s like being against puppies and rainbows. I believe in pre-K, but as always the devil is in the details.

I do not believe in sacrificing play for “rigorous” instruction when it comes to pre-K. More and more play is being sacrificed in order to focus on instruction. This is in spite of research that shows the value of play in child development. What I’d like you to do is watch the presentation, it starts at approximately the 1:01 mark, and count the number of times you hear the word “play” versus the number of times you hear the words “test scores” or “data points.”

A lot of people tell me that we are doing really good work in our pre-k centers, but I continually see signs that we are moving further and further away from play centric-curriculum. That concerns me. The dedication to increased parental involvement though is very encouraging.

The head-shaking part for comes when they talk about aligning all pre-k’s across the district, public and private, in a curriculum. I just don’t see that happening. Why would a private pre-k modify what it does to fit with Metro’s strategy? As a family, we chose to send our kids to Tusculum Presbyterian for very specific reasons; exposure to religion at an early age is one. We worked with them to tailor instruction for my son based on a very specific goal set through working in tandem. Maybe I’m missing something but I just don’t see an alignment of all pre-k’s across the district being a realistic initiative, nor one that parents would really want.

Now fast forward the board meeting to the 1:36 mark. This is where the presentation on MAP testing begins. There is a lot of interesting information in here but the really important part begins at the 2:01 mark when board member Fran Bush asks Director of Assessment Paul Changus how many kids are reading on grade level. Changus responds that “there is not a common definition about what it means to be on grade level.”

Think about all the messages you’ve heard recently about how only one in three kids is reading on grade level, yet here we have the districts data guru telling us that there is not a common definition. It makes my head swim.

Changus goes on to explain how national norming actually works when it comes to MAP testing. This is something that is extremely important for parents to get their head around. That achievement score of 54 %, means MNPS kids are outperforming 53% percent of kids nationally. The natural assumption is that the majority of those kids that make up the 53% are passing the test, that would not be a correct assumption. There is nothing in that number that tells you how many kids are passing the test, or even where they are scoring.

In order to get a better idea of what a student’s achievement level is, you need what is called the RIT score. The RIT score is the actual achievement score. In order to get the true value of the growth numbers, you would have to have the average RIT score for each grade. If the RIT score is low, obviously outpacing 53% of the kids is not going to translate into meaningful progress. The lower the RIT score the higher the rate of growth needed to get caught up. Unless I’m missing something, I didn’t see any meaningful discussion of RIT scores in the presentation.

Another thing to remember is that not everybody takes MAP. The MAP test is a test created by a private company, NWEA. Look at their web page, scroll to the bottom and you’ll see the number for the sales department. That’s right, MAP testing is a program sold to individual school districts. So when they say, “nationally normed” that doesn’t mean every kid in the country like TNready says every kid in the state. What MNPS students are being normed with are students from other districts, nationally, who bought the MAP testing program. I think that is a pretty important caveat to keep in mind as well.

I can not say it enough, MAP is a very valuable tool, but only if it is used as intended; a formative assessment used to guide instruction. It’s not a screener, nor should it be used to justify policy. It should not be used to screen for disabilities, gifted students, EL services, nor as part of an entry qualification for magnet school admission either. Yet we are. If you have questions, I urge you to call NWEA at 877-469-3287. They’ve been extremely helpful every time I’ve called them.

The last presentation comes at around the 2:15 mark and is on teacher recruitment and retention. I could spend all day on this one, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll only hit a few points.

To the left, you’ll see the outcomes that presenter HR Director Pertiller thought were worthy of highlighting. I don’t know the significance of any of them, or if they even have significance. Without context, they are just meaningless numbers. Why highlight 3-5 years? What were percentage rates for other experience bands? Last year we celebrated the 1-3 year band, what were those numbers this year? Both bullet points one and two are hard to evaluate without the total number of teachers employed each year.

The sub fill rate number compares a year worth of data to 2 months of data. Really?!? I don’t think there is a high school statistics class out there that would allow students to make that comparison. It only stands to reason that as the year goes on, and people get worn down, sub fills become more difficult. Celebrating the 17/18 numbers right now is like chalking up a Titan’s win based on a first-quarter score. Got to play the whole game.

Pertiller is so proud of the number of vacancies on the first day of school that she gave it its own slide. One that you are supposed to look at and say, “Yep, 92.4 is less than 124. Great job!”

Nowhere does she mention the number of positions for both years, are we supposed to assume that both years the same number of teachers were employed by the district? There is no mention of the use of long-term subs to fill positions. What about classes that kids are taking through an online platform because a teacher couldn’t be hired? Are those positions counted as filled?

One more point, Pertiller goes on to list vacancies at the priority schools and then downplays those vacancies. After all, Joelton MS only has 2. That’s pretty low huh? Except when you consider that they are only budgeted for 13 positions. In other words, 13.3% of their positions are unfilled. Would you consider that acceptable?

Whites Creek HS was projected at 623 students. How many teaching positions do you think that equates to? Five is a number that should be very concerning. Instead, it’s just brushed aside.

Talk moves to retention. The presentation looks at data derived from exit surveys. This year even fewer exit surveys were collected as compared to last year; 105 vs 109. Of those 105, 56 cited personal reasons as the cause of leaving. Hmmm…does “I’ve had enough of this shit and I’m losing my mind” count as a personal reason?  Under the subject of what’s your next move, 31 said teaching in another district. In other words roughly 1/3. Yea…no problems here.

As part of the recruitment strategy, the district revealed their plans to recruit by quadrant. Am I the only one that sees this as a means to throw gasoline on the inequity fire? The likelihood of getting 4 equally qualified recruiters is slim, this means that naturally one quadrant is going to have a better recruiter then the others which will lead to…wait for it…increased inequity.

Once again board member Fran Bush gets the party kicked into high gear by asking why the numbers on teacher retention changed from when the board received the numbers to tonight’s presentation. Apparently, a business rule was enacted measuring numbers from September to September as opposed to previous August to May. I’m baffled by why you wouldn’t want to match up with the fiscal year and go July to July unless you are parameter shopping to put numbers in the best light.

Bush also brought up the subject of teacher morale, which apparently falls under the purview of Sito Narcisse. Good news, more surveys, and more focus groups. Last year’s focus groups started off with stated outcomes and rules of engagement. Those rules of engagement served to limit conversation and obviously failed to positively impact morale. Are there any teachers out there clamoring for more teacher voice sessions?

Interestingly enough, the surveys are considered so important that Narcisse had to defer to Changus, with others chiming in, to answer Bush’s question about how often surveys are administered. No one could answer the question with real confidence. Very indicative of the priority attached to securing input from teachers.

The most frustrating exchange for me comes when board member Walker asks Pertiller about whether they collect data on mid-year turnover. Pertiller, predictably, doesn’t have the numbers available and downplays it – “I don’t have that but we can get that for you” seems to have become the go-to move for district presenters. Pupo-Walker says that was her sense as well because teachers don’t like to “leave their kids mid-year”.

First of all, I suspect the numbers are much high than either is willing to concede. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear about teachers preparing to leave over break or just plain walking out. So yes, there is a high level of mid-term attrition.

Secondly, we need to stop playing on the benevolence of teachers. They may not like leaving their kids mid-year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do it if we push them to their limit and we are pushing them to their limit.

I’d also like to know the number of teachers who took early retirement and since none of the answers on the slide showing reasons for leaving included retirement, what’s the story there. The number of transfers would be useful information as well. Transferring is often a precursor to leaving the district, and as such should be closely monitored. Yet, it’s not even mentioned in Pertiller’s presentation.

Pupo-Walker goes on to raise the specter of Teach for America. I was shocked to find that TFA has raised their finder fee from 6500K to 10k annually per teacher. Yikes. In addition to philosophical differences I have with them, TFA is not a viable solution because they can’t supply the numbers needed. During the recession when top-flight students couldn’t find jobs, going into teaching for a couple of years was intriguing. Now that we have a robust economy…not so much. So let’s not run too far down that rabbit hole.

Besides, the goal is to make teachers feel more valued not to devalue their skills by saying anybody with 5 weeks of training can do their job. It never ceases to amaze me, we are in the business of education, which means we should all be active learners, but we never seem to learn anything. We just keep running around in the same circles.

In that light, the conversation on recruitment wraps up with talk about a teacher licensure process that would be run through the district. Participants would save money and time but would be required to stay with the district for a number of years. During this discussion, nobody brings up the current MNPS cohort currently having half of their tuition paid to earn their doctorate at Trevecca. None of whom were required to make an extended commitment to the district. SSShhhhh…we don’t talk about that.

Board chairman Gentry closes the presentation by praising the work of the HR department. Apparently, it is a big deal to ask teachers their opinion twice a year. Gentry is also of the opinion that the HR staff has been very creative, I concur, they have been very creative in the manner in which they present the data. Now if they could only apply some of that creativity to recruiting and retaining teachers we might get somewhere.

QUICK SHOTS

Word is starting to trickle out to me about changes coming to the MNPS enhanced schools. The “enhanced schools” grew out of an agreement in 1998 that allowed a Federal judge to declare MNPS unitary – a legal term meaning free of any vestiges of segregation. As part of the agreement, MNPS would provide certain elementary schools with primarily African-American and impoverished populations additional supports. Chief among those supports were extended school days. Enhanced option schools operate on a day that goes from 7:45 to 3:45, providing an extra hour of instruction.

In the past central office has paid the cost of the additional hours for the EO school’s teachers. According to reports, principals have been informed that starting next year that will no longer be the case. Schools must either pay the extra hours out of their individual school budgets or revert to the traditional times. The difference in cost is approximately $200k. This week, schools are in the process of deciding whether to cut 3 positions to make up the difference or change school schedules. There is some concern that the district is forcing this decision on individual schools in order to retain plausible deniability with the feds if schools choose to change hours. This bears watching.

Rumors are also swirling that there is a new communications chief in town. This makes what, 3, or 4, in the last 2 years? Word is MNPS is recruiting from the ranks of the Department of Child Services.  Because nothing says quality like the level of communication over the last few years from that government entity.

I often talk about the importance of knowing our history and how much we have forgotten in regard to the Nashville school system. Here is a fascinating read from the Nashville Scene circa 1998: How Separate, How Equal. It’s amazing how little progress we’ve made in 20 years.

Last week Mayor Briley attended the monthly meeting of ProjectLit. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this picture. The Mayor is clearly engaged and not just using ProjectLit as a photo-op. Way to go!

The Handle with Care Partnership between Metro Schools and Metro Nashville Police Department was recently named Innovative Domestic Violence Program of the Year. MNPS and MNPD received the award at the Meet the Bridge event hosted by the Nashville Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Kudos to those involved.

It’s just about time for Tennesseans to head to the polls and cast their vote for Governor. Chalkbeat TN outlines the differences on education policy between the two candidates, Bill Lee and Karl Dean.

Speaking of elections. Please remember to vote for Bob Freeman for State Representative. He’s a keeper.

Our ear to the ground tells us that everything went well with school board member Jill Speering’s medical work. She came through it with flying colors and is now busy recuperating. I’m sure she’ll be back in the fray before you know it.

Volunteers are still needed for the JTM Carnival on Saturday, October 27th! Parents and students, sign up here:

POLL RESULTS

We got a few replies to this past weekend. Let’s take a look at what you had to say.

The first question asked for your thoughts about MNPS’s current approach to charter schools. 38% of you indicated that charter schools were the least of your current worries. The number 2 answer was “I wish we were closing more” with 25% of the vote. Only 7% of you gave an indication that we needed to be opening more. I hope people will keep those numbers in mind as there seems to be a push to get us talking charter schools again. Here are the write-in votes.

Close Rocketship. They dump EE kids w/o proper IEPs after the Sept count. 1
Some excellent, some appalling. Unequal use of $$. 1
Likely the game plan for diviividng the district ; priority to charter!!! 1
priority concern is the sJoseph leadership vacuum 1
I don’t want anymore. 1
We don’t need more. 1
Let’s convert them to magnets and take control of their funding without closing 1
Charter schools will suck the life out of public schools – then what? 1
Charters & vouchers…the same…the difference is who makes decision… 1
Sick of resources being diverted from neighborhood schools. No $ for programs

Question two asked for your opinion on plans to increase the use of Teach for America. You weren’t shy about your opinions on this subject. Forty percent of you said, “Absolutely not!”. Eighteen percent of you admitted that we might need to use them, though you wished we didn’t. The number 2 answer to this one was actually the write-ins:

The T stands for “Trainwrecks”. Please, no more in our classrooms!!! 1
Just say NO! Underprepared and don’t last. 1
Hell to the no! 1
No, just absolutely no. 1
Use that $ to raise salary instead of give away…. 1
Compare that to university programs… let’s talk capacity…equal? 1
Hard no 1
I’ve worked with some incredible teachers From TFA. Just be careful. 1
Nope! Discredits the teaching profession. 1
Bad idea. TFA are rarely successful 1
Highest ranked prep program in TN again. More pls 1
Low quality, high energy, working loan forgiveness on the backs of kids. 1
Yes! They produce quality, hard working teachers 1
The teaching profession is dying – get some minimum wage factory workers 1
Raise salaries and it won’t be necessary 1
Why? TFA touts diversity applicants for hard to fill areas. It doesn’t do that 1
as long as the district is not sabotaging and demoralizing current teachers 1
Only if assigned seasoned mentor teachers 1
They won’t. Too costly and the return on investment in terms of retention is NIL 1
It’s a waste of time if they aren’t mentored well. 1
The devaluation of veteran teachers is astounding. Teaching as a career is dying

Question number 3 asked how much teachers were using MAP to guide instruction. Based on your answers, I think it’s safe to say, “Not as much as the board has been led to believe.” Fifty-one percent of you answered in a manner that indicated results were not being widely used. Eleven percent of you answered, “Not as often as you should, but you found them useful.” Only 6% of you indicated that they had become essential to instruction, which was ironically 2 percentage points behind “What’s MAP.” Here are the write-ins:

When it’s used properly, I’ll use info properly. Smh! 1
will use growth data, get immediate feedback 1
when I taught, did not use benchmark test results as they were useless 1
It’s a good tool for differentiation . 1
Worrying more about the second job I need to pay for my bills in Nashville. 1

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cha… chaaa… chaaaannnnggggges

7

“I have always had more dread of a pen, a bottle of ink, and a sheet of paper than of a sword or pistol.”
Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

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

Over the last 5 years, in writing this blog, there have been times where I’ve felt the necessity to write about things that ran the risk of putting me at cross purposes with people of whom I held in high esteem. It’s never been a comfortable position, nor one that I took lightly,  but despite the fact that I don’t get paid, or reap any rewards, nor am I held accountable by any but those who read my ramblings, I’ve always felt compelled to pursue these narratives with a journalistic integrity.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t sympathize with other’s agendas and concerns, I just try to cover all issues with the same focus: is it good for all kids? Sounds clichéd, but it is what it is. Have I always hit the mark? No, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that at times I give in to my emotions and at others, I place too high a value on my personal experiences. I adjust when I can, and continually strive to be better, always leading with the chin.

PRIORITY SCHOOLS

Yesterday, word began to leak out that a couple of MNPS schools would be getting new leadership in the near future. Warner ES principal Denise Jacano and Inglewood ES principal Tracy McPherson were leaving their respective positions. Jacano was brought in from Seaford County, Delaware, with Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. Word on the street is that she has struggled with the transition for the last couple of years.

Inglewood, and by de facto McPherson, is a rising jewel for the district. Three years ago, Inglewood found themselves on the state’s priority list and was faced with either state takeover or closure. Through incredible community involvement and the acumen of McPherson, Inglewood exited priority status this year. It is an amazing story, one that shows what is possible when the district, parents, and educators all jump in together.

The district is now attempting to recapture some of that magic by promoting McPherson to the role of MNPS Executive Director of School Support and Improvement for the School of Innovation (EDSSI). As an EDSSI, she will serve as essentially an executive principal to the priority schools. A role she is easily qualified for. But just because she is qualified doesn’t mean it is the right move.

One of the hallmarks of a successful school is stable leadership. It’s impossible to establish a winning culture without continuity. Sports offers ample examples to support that assertion. Who are the most successful NFL teams? Is it teams like the Steelers, who carefully select their head coach and then leave him in place for decades? Or teams like the Titans, who just kind of select whoever is available and then switch every three or four years?

As a major pillar of its recently-released “Priority School Plan,” MNPS cites teacher recruitment and retention as important. Hmmm… how does either happen without long-term stability in the leadership positions? This summer, MNPS moved the principal at Pearl-Cohn HS, another recent priority school list graduate, to the central office and reassigned the principal at Jere Baxter MS, currently on the priority school list, to another school. Those moves don’t help stabilize the schools those leaders are leaving.

To compound things for Inglewood, over the summer, their AP, Eric Hartfelder, was moved, over Eakin parents’ objections, to be principal of Eakin ES. Eakin parents had another candidate that they really wanted, but the district wasn’t having it.

This is where things get problematic. The district knew for several months which schools were going to end up on the priority list and which were going to exit. It should have been no surprise when the list was officially released in mid-September. If the district argues otherwise, they are either being disingenuous or it points to a serious lack of cohesion and communication with the state. The TNDOE isn’t playing gotcha with these lists.

Over the summer, MNPS should have realized that they wanted to increase the use of McPherson and pursued talks with Hartfelder to remain at Inglewood, as opposed to forcing him into the very difficult position of having to overcome parental objections in a high-profile school like Eakin. District leadership should have been prepping him for a successful continuation of the progress being made at Inglewood.

Furthermore, before making personnel moves, there should have been a close examination of the supports who are present at Inglewood, but not at other similarly sized soon-to-be priority schools. For example, Inglewood has an AP. Not every priority school of their size has that position. I believe at Inglewood the position is funded through a grant, so how do we get other small, high-needs schools access to grant money?

The district should have been looking at social supports at Inglewood as compared to other soon-to-be priority schools. Inglewood has one of the strongest Community Achieves programs in the city. Perhaps we should make sure that model is replicated in other at-risk schools.

Tusculum ES, previously in the bottom 10%, improved their student outcomes by improving teaching practices. Two years ago, Tusculum ES utilized a company called American Alliance for Innovative Systems. AAIS focuses on making teachers better, specializing in teachers in high-risk schools. Interestingly enough, both Whitsitt ES, another priority list graduate, and Inglewood ES have utilized the services of AAIS. Upon arrival, MNPS Chief of Instruction Monique Felder, before ever conducting an evaluation of their services, canceled the district’s endorsement of AAIS as a supported vendor.

Tusculum did not have the money in their school budget to continuing utilizing AAIS’s services but incorporated many of their prescribed practices. Whitsitt and Inglewood had grant money available and continued to utilize their services. Both schools exited the priority list this year… causation or correlation? I don’t know, but if I was MNPS, I’d sure want to find out. Remember that pillar about teacher recruitment and retention… yeah… it’s gotta be more than just words.

Those are just three quick looks at strategies that should have been explored first before making a leadership change. If it was decided that more central office support was indeed needed, why not shift current EDSSI David Kovach to priority schools? After all, he’s done this work before, and based on evidence, seems to be pretty good at it.

What about moving Community Superintendent Adrienne Battle to the head of Priority Schools? Sure, she’s been effective as a community superintendent, but overseeing priority schools takes a very unique skill set. A skill set that she’s proven to possess. Don’t Nashville’s most neediest kids deserve to benefit from those skills?

Instead of moving AP’s and principals from high need schools, why not look at our reward schools for talent? Maybe there is an AP or two who knows what a successful culture looks like, and you could get them to import that vision to a struggling school. The culture at a reward school is much more ingrained, and the leadership bench much deeper, and could probably more easily sustain the hit.

I get that you can’t dictate to people where they work, but you can negotiate and you can create a culture of being part of a team. Being a part of a team means being willing to play flex when you’d really prefer to be a QB. We all have to work together.

Moving AP’s from successful schools could also help with the equity issue. Replace those quality administrators that you move from successful schools with strong candidates of Hispanic, Asian, Middle-Eastern, and African-American backgrounds – yes, equity includes those of Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern backgrounds as well. Let those minority candidates learn from successful programs instead of throwing them to the wolves at a high-needs school right out of the box. The way we train our potential principals now is like teaching kids to swim by just throwing them into the pool after some basic instruction.

(I should interject a quick shout out to Sonia Stewart here. I’ve been hearing very good things about her work with APs.)

If it was me, and many are glad that it is not, I would pay attention to principal trees like the NFL pays attention to coaching trees. Look around the district and count the number of successful administrators that served under Kessler, Woodard, Pelham, Battle, and Shrader. That’s sellable and replicable. But I doubt that there is anyone on the executive leadership team that is fluent in that history, much to the detriment of the district.

In the long run, I think Inglewood is going to be fine; that community has shown that they are too committed to letting that school be anything but successful. They’ve set a bar, and if expectations are as important as many ascribe them to be, the next leader better be bringing their “A” game. I happen to know one that would be a great fit, would increase the number of Hispanic principals, and has a track record of leading a school to reward status, but I’ll be quiet.

McPherson may or may not be successful in her new role of impacting all priority schools. By all accounts, she is wicked smart and dedicated. But there is a huge difference between managing a school with 260 students and managing multiple high-needs schools, some with much larger populations. Nick Saban trying to make the jump from the NCAA to the NFL or Rick Pitino trying to go from the NCAA to NBA come to mind. You can’t treat the players the same way when you make the jump. I do wish her luck though. She’s earned the opportunity.

Dr. Joseph recently bristled when newly-elected board member Fran Bush challenged him to become more proactive instead of reactive. This switch of school leadership during the year is a prime example of being reactive and illustrates what she is talking about. We can debate all day whether these moves are the right moves or not, but what is undebatable is the timing and lack of foresight.

These changes should have been made over the summer, when they would have been less disruptive. There is no information that is available today that wasn’t available 4 months ago. That’s what Bush means by being proactive, Dr. J. Make the move in a timely manner; don’t let the time be dictated to you. Dr. Gentry, you and the board need to pay attention as well.

QUICK HITS

At the last board meeting, Dr. Gentry used the closing minutes of the chair report – at about the 54:51 minute mark – to reference a work by conflict resolution trainer Judy Ringer about considering your purpose when engaging in communication. I’m not going into detail here, but the basic premise is that before engaging in conversation, think about what you are going to say and what it is adding to the conversation.

Good advice, but my response to Gentry is, “Physician, heal thyself.”

My challenge to her is to watch the whole board meeting and listen to the snide comments and innuendos she makes throughout, and then ask herself, “For what purpose are you making those comments? Are you truly adding to the conversation by making them?” I’m pretty sure that based on Ringer’s template, she’ll find that she has some work to do. But then again, Gentry has always been a “do as I say and not as I do” kinda gal.

MNPS finally put out their interpretation on recent WIDA scores. In their eyes, the results are pretty good:

The percent of English Learner students meeting or exceeding growth standard results increased with 47 percent of MNPS students meeting or exceeding their expected growth. This was an improvement from 42.5 percent in 2017. The district also surpassed the 2018 Annual Measurable Objective, or target, of 46.1 percent that was established by the state for MNPS. This improvement of 4.5 percentage points is equivalent to the statewide progress for English proficiency. Further, MNPS saw 14.7 percent of EL students exit service, which is a slight change over 2017 when 14.5 percent exited.

I concur for the most part, with some caveats. It should be noted that this is the third year we’ve surpassed the Annual Measurable Objective. The exit number is a little low and growth in that area needs improvement. We should be around 16-18%. Our elementary schools are doing exceptional work, but more work is needed in the higher grades. That said, all in all, it’s pretty good news.

Last week, I mentioned the improvement of surrounding counties’ performance on WIDA. It was pointed out to me that much of that could be attributed to the number of former MNPS EL teachers who have relocated to those surrounding communities. Teachers who have benefited from our world-class PD. Like district HR Executive Sharon Pertiller said at this week’s board meeting, MNPS is proving to be a great recruiter for outside districts. That’s got to stop.

Speaking of surrounding counties benefiting from former MNPS employees, the one thing that is missing from MNPS’s statement on WIDA scores is an acknowledgement of the contributions of former Executive Director of EL, Kevin Stacy. I don’t really expect them to acknowledge his stellar leadership, but I certainly want to offer one last thank you. Stacy now plies his trade in Clarksville.

According to an article in the Tennessean, Williamson County Schools is considering a new lead testing policy for their water. Per the policy:

With the testing performed every two years, school officials will look for lead levels below 15 parts per billion. 

If the levels sit between 15 parts per billion and 20 parts per billion, the district will conduct testing on an annual basis until the issue is fixed, according to the policy. 

As written, district policy further stated that if lead levels were found above 20 parts per billion, the school would have to remove the water source from service.

I hope every parent in WCS read that statement and immediately started dialing school board members. 20 ppb is way too high and is 5 ppb over the EPA’s recommended action level. That’s an action level, not a safety level.

As much as I hate the Red Sox, I hope y’all are enjoying the Mookie Betts Story. Just remember he’s a product of Overton High School via Oliver MS who retains close ties with the community. Great things have come from our schools.

Over at Volume and Light, Vesia Hawkins has an exceptional read. One that reiterates many of my points from above.

Here’s a question for you, why do so many want to give me advice, yet few are willing to heed mine?

Word on the street is that Dr. Joseph’s driver has amassed roughly the equivalent of a starting teacher’s salary in overtime over the last two years. The problem with substantiating that comes from a purported lack of documentation on said overtime. I’ll keep you posted.

Word out of MNPS schools, after yesterday’s professional development day, is that quarter 2 is going to be heavily scripted. Oh boy!

Yesterday, School board member Jill Speering had heart surgery. The surgery was scheduled for 8:30 AM. At 6:30 AM, a message came across my computer screen, “You up?”

Speering wanted to talk MNPS for a minute before her surgery. That how dedicated this woman is. She never stops putting the teachers and kids of MNPS ahead of herself. Some like to paint her recent battles with Dr. Joseph as being purely a battle over her support of Reading Recovery and his lack of support.

That’s not an argument rooted in fact. Dr. Joseph canceled Reading Recovery on the eve of the board presenting the 2018/2019 budget to the mayor. An action that came shortly after Jill Speering, along with board member Amy Frogge, called for an audit of MNPS finances.

Speering has worked too hard for MNPS teachers and families to allow her opponents to paint her as beholden to one program. The reality is Dr. Joseph made a miscalculation in thinking that he could control Speering by denying something important to her. That was a serious miscalculation.

Get well soon, Jill, but we got this till you are back.

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.

 

 

 

 

TIME FOR A PALATE CLEANSER

Schools are about reading, writing, and arithmetic, but they are also about so much more. Public schools serve an essential role in our democracy and the building of community. They serve as a place where we can forget about our differences and focus on our commonality: a love for our children.

These days, as our society becomes more and more splintered, it becomes easy to lose that sense of community. We continually separate ourselves into smaller more rigid separate tribes – Democrat/Republican, Christian/Muslim, conservative/liberal, Vols Fan/Commodore Fan. We need to take the time to remind ourselves that we are all part of something much larger. We need to take time to reconnect with those who make up our children’s’ world.

I hear the stories from my eldest about her and her friends and tend to lump them into tales of a 9-year-old girl, but when I am provided an opportunity to really look at them, I realize just how different they are from each other. Yet they continually forget their differences to focus on what they share: a love of being around each other. Their joy in each other’s company is palpable and contagious. It’s a feeling I need to be reminded of.

Walk to School Day provides an opportunity to rekindle and share that joy. I look forward to it every year and never fail to leave with a sense of optimism about what is being created in our schools. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate every year.

Below are pictures from both Tusculum ES and McMurray MS Walk to School Days. May they bring you as much pleasure as participation brought me.

Love these schools, these teachers, these administrators, these kids, these families.

 

 

HOPE THE HIGH ROAD

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again – Jason Isbell, Hope the High Road

“You know, it was a revelation to me to learn that I don’t have to be comfortable. Nowhere is it written that I must be comfortable. I always thought if I felt nervous or anxious or unhappy I had to do something about it. But I learned that’s not true. Bad feelings won’t kill me. Alcohol will kill me, but my feelings won’t.”
Lawrence Block, Eight Million Ways to Die

Things with MNPS have now reached the Op-Ed writing stage. Friday, school board members Amy Frogge, Fran Bush, and Jill Speering wrote a piece for the Tennessean on why it was time for a change in leadership. Earlier in the week, Rosetta Miller Perry wrote a piece for the Tennessee Tribune about how the white women on the school board were once again picking on Dr. Joseph – more about that in a minute that’ll explain my flippancy. Not to be outdone, former MNPS board member Mary Pierce chimed in with her own piece over the weekend.

Let’s take a look at these dueling Op-Eds. Or I should say the two by Pierce and Perry. Seeing as I obviously agree with the school board members’ words, I’ll just quote their closing statement:

“Enough is enough. We are failing our children. As some of Joseph’s strongest supporters when he first arrived, we now believe that it is time for change.” 

Before we get started with Mary Pierce’s muse, let me just say one thing. I like Mary Pierce. She can be very thoughtful, she genuinely cares, and she often offers solid insight, but for the life of me I can not understand her insistence on being Lex Luthor to Amy Frogge’s Superman. Or if you prefer, Thor to Frogge’s Loki. It’s like one long-running sequel to Mean Girls. If Amy Frogge wrote a post declaring the sky blue, Pierce would return with one about how it only appears that way but in actuality, there is no color.

Pierce was among the first to recognize that there were shortcomings with Director of Schools Shawn Joseph’s leadership skills. Whether she will publicly admit it, or not, is irrelevant because behind the scenes she was raising concerns and trying to push Joseph in a more productive direction long before people were publicly speaking out. I don’t believe that Pierce will ever be a publicly vocal critic of Joseph, that’s just not how she’s wired, but by the same token using a public forum to give Dr. Joseph cover by continuing a long-term personal feud when you are well aware of the real issues is a little disappointing. Per Pierce:

A new director will not redirect this board if individual members continue to insist that the district be run his/her individual way. Until our board members come to the table with an authentic, student-centered posture and are willing to look at whatever works for children, our kids–and thus our city–will not move forward.

I find a number of errors in this closing statements that illustrate a large chunk of the problem for most board members. First off, there seems to be this strange reversal of roles that has transpired since the hiring of Dr. Joseph. It is not his job to redirect the board, per board policy 1.205:

The board shall be responsible for specifying its requirements and expectations of the director of schools and then holding the director accountable by evaluating how well those requirements and expectations have been met. In turn, the director shall be responsible for specifying requirements and expectations for all administrators who report to him/her and then holding each accountable by evaluating how well requirements and expectations have been met.

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? But like any policy or contract, it’s only good if it’s being enforced. And currently, that is questionable.

The second part of the Pierce quote is a head shaker for me as well. In a democracy, you run for office based on your individual perception of how the job should best be done. In others words, when I ran for school board, I ran based on a more active role for the board, more autonomy, and compensation for teachers, better facilities for schools, and increased services for English Learners. That’s how I thought schools should be run and if elected those are the things I would have fought for. Unfortunately, not enough people agreed with me, but that’s another story.

Frogge and Pierce have very different opinions on what’s best for students based on their own individual research. I could spend months tearing apart the merits of the research as conducted by both, but in the end, it’s irrelevant because they were both elected by their constituents based on the belief in their individual visions. Nobody cast a vote for either based on a perception of how they were going to modify their vision to best suit other board members.

I’ve always said I admired Pierce because the manner in which she served her constituents. Her views remained consistent with those she espoused while running, and therefore she represented those who elected her admirably. That should be recognized, noted, and applauded because it’s not always the case.

Frogge and Speering won their re-elections in 2014 handily. In other words, their visions resonated with people. Why would people elect someone whose vision for schools they agreed with and then not expect them to fight for that vision? In my opinion, this is what Pierce and the majority of the current board are missing. They were elected to their position based on a vision, so they need to fight for that vision. Frogge wasn’t elected because she shared a vision with Pierce – she had an opponent that did that and decisively defeated him. So why would you expect her to abandon that vision once elected?

For some reason, it seems to be lost in the shuffle that Speering is a career educator. One whose experience eclipses that of Dr. Joseph. It baffles me how we want to give teachers a JCrew gift card because they are so amazing, yet are quick to dismiss their insight based on a lifetime of experience. How do you think Jill Speering became such an ardent supporter of Reading Recovery? Do you think she heard about it a conference? Maybe a consultant told her about it? Or do you think it grew out of a lifetime of serving kids and seeing first hand its results as compared to other programs? It’s a ridiculous expectation. What should be sought out is where the visions overlap, but again, that is for another day.

When it comes to Speering, the charge that she is letting personal ideals get in the way of what’s best for kids is even more ridiculous. Do you think that in 30-plus years of classroom work, Speering never used another reading program? Clearly, based on a lifetime of research, she has come to the belief that Reading Recovery is the best program for kids. Why would you think that she would abandon a student-centered posture that has proven to work for children based on a half-assed research paper cited by a director who is clearly playing politics? In other words, by continually fighting for Reading Recovery, Speering is doing exactly what Pierce is calling on board members to do: fight for what is best for kids.

The most disturbing thing about Pierce’s whole piece is that once again she seeks to return us to the year 2014 and the fight over charter schools. It is a fight that based on results from the 2014 election has basically been settled. The electorate at that time indicated they were not clamoring for more charter schools and basically liked the way things were being handled. They further indicated that they were ready to move on in the conversation.

In the last 4 years, I like to believe that the conversations involving charter schools have matured. For myself, I recognize that some charter schools are doing really good work. Some not so much. Some traditional schools are doing really well. Some not so much. I just don’t have time to get bogged down in the debating of their merit when there are so many other issues demanding attention – teacher attrition, capital needs, discipline issues, etc.

I personally don’t believe at this time there is a need for more charter schools. If there was, I wouldn’t see recruitment signs for Valor Academy High School peppered along back roads in Nashville. Valor performs on a similar level as Hume-Fogg, yet I’ve never seen a single recruitment flier for Hume-Fogg. Beyond that, while I believe both schools are exceptional, I don’t think either has a model that is scalable. So why waste time debating?

Re-engaging in the charter school wars does nothing but give cover to an administration that is underserving our kids. I challenge you, the next time you see Ms. Pierce, ask her, “Do you think Dr. Joseph is adequately serving our kids? Which of his policies do you feel are setting kids up for success? Why do you think we are losing so many quality professional educators?” I’d be interested in what she has to say.

I could write more, but I think I’ve said enough for today. Oh… one last thing… those governance meeting agendas Pierce cited… could she send me a copy of those? Because I’ve never seen an agenda or minutes from a single board committee meeting or retreat in 4 years. Kind of a sticking point with me. You know, that transparency thing.

That said, here’s to hoping that Pierce continues to pen opinion pieces and stays engaged. We may not always agree, but I do believe Pierce offers a valuable and essential piece of the conversation.

THE TENNESSEE TRIBUNE ARTICLE

As I mentioned earlier, last week also saw the Tennessee Tribune leap to Dr. Joseph’s defense. Curiously, in an effort to defend Dr. Joseph, the article took board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering to task for consistently failing to put children first. Yet nowhere in her article does she cite a single instance of kids benefitting from Dr. Joseph’s policies. Instead, she focuses on the board member’s actions, which have…

… taken on the appearance of a disgraceful reality show – struggling for ratings, high in poor taste, and lacking any semblance of class. Like the elements found in many reality shows, Frogge spews negative narratives about administration officials without facts, shares anonymous and baseless rumors, and makes obscure accusations and statements at Board meetings based on random conversations she says she has had with select employees.

That’s a nice trick, using obscure accusations and statements in order to accuse others of making obscure accusations and statements. Brilliant.

The most disturbing thing about this article, and Pierce’s as well, is the complete dismissal of new board member Fran Bush, an African-American woman. Bush has been every bit as critical of Dr. Joseph, and being a newer board member, has been less polished in delivering that criticism. Yet she receives nary a mention in either piece. Why do you think that is?

Former mayoral candidate jeff obafemi carr responded to a Facebook post by the three board members by evoking an image of Emmitt Till. When challenged about how that was possible since one of the authors was an African-American woman, he evoked the respected work of Dr. Joy DeGruy and accused me of attempting to use Bush in the role of a gatekeeper.

In her work, Dr. DeGruy spoke of issues of restorative justice and equity and the necessity of circumventing chosen gatekeepers that she has described as “Black folk who are sick and hate themselves more than others do, including self-loathing teachers, facilitators, leaders that don’t live in our communities yet become representatives and spokespersons for Black people.” That’s a pretty interesting take seeing as Ms. Bush actually does live in the community and was elected by a largely black electorate.

I don’t pretend to fully understand the implications of race and the many ways that systematic racism reveals itself. I am doing my best to learn and adjust my outlooks, but evoking images of Emmitt Till and other horrific acts when board members are simply trying to do their job doesn’t help. We would all benefit from studying the words of Dr. DeGruy, a nationally and internationally renowned researcher, educator, author and presenter. DeGruy calls for a robust and honest conversation on race, which is sorely needed. In reading her words, I did find this passage and feel that it fits here more than anything I could write:

Dr. DeGruy explained that what has happened to Black women is they feel racism from white women, sexism and racism from white men, and sexism from Black men. “Women of color are the oppressed of the oppressed with Black women at the bottom. And who does the Black woman raise? Black children. That is the cycle of oppression,” said Dr. DeGruy. “We have folk that are broken and no one looks at the weight of what it has taken to carry all of that.”

“If you want to save the village, you have to save the women,” Dr. DeGruy said. “If she is healed, her children are healed.”

I would urge everyone to not dismiss the words of Fran Bush just because she doesn’t fit the narrative you are trying to sell. That’s advice for people on both sides of the issues.

QUICK HITS

MNPS is hosting their annual School Choice Festival on Thursday. November 15. Join them to visit every Metro School in one place!

The state finally lifted their embargo on WIDA scores last week. WIDA is the test given to EL students to measure their growth and whether they are eligible to exit EL services. There is a lot more I need to write about this as I continue digging into the numbers, but in looking through the data I found both plusses and minuses. More minuses than I would suspect considering that for the last 3 years MNPS has been exceeding state goals.

MNPS educates the largest contingency of EL students in Tennessee and for the most part, we do a good job. In examining the data, the primary focus is on exit rates and the percentage of students making expected growth. Exit rates should be between 16 – 19%. This usually indicates that you are exiting students in a manner that ensures progress but is not pushing out kids too soon.

Exit rates were down a bit for MNPS this year with a rate of 14.7%. Students showing growth was slightly below the state average of 50% at 47%. Interestingly enough, some of the surrounding counties of Nashville have seen an influx of EL students and seem to be doing quite well in providing instruction. Rutherford, with 2,809 students, had a 20.5% exit rate and a growth rate of 54.9%. Williamson County has 559 students with an exit rate of 42.8% and a growth rate of 71%. Keep in mind, though, that they are serving a student population with an average literacy score of 3.9 compared to MNPS and other districts students having a score of 3. Wilson County had 473 students with an exit rate of 20.1% and a growth of 50.8%. Their literacy score was 3.4.

Like I said, still a lot more to dig in and write about. I do want to give a shout out to Norman Binkley ES, J.E. Moss ES, Lakeview ES, Mt. View ES, and Neely’s Bend ES. All produced scores significantly higher than state averages. We are also lucky to have Molly Stovall at the helm. Her presence should instill confidence.

I am a fan of Mt Pleasant Principal Ryan Jackson, though at times his intensity can be intimidating. His is an incedible story filled with passion. Check out what he has to say in the TNEd Report on changing school culture. It’s an important read.

POLL RESULTS

Wow! We got a lot of response to this week’s poll questions. Roughly 200 answers to every question. Let’s look at results.

On the first question, whom do you think Dr. Joseph takes advice from, 42% of you felt it all came from himself. The number two answer, at 25%, was “God I wish I knew.” Both are clear indicators that the good doctor might want to expand his circle of influencers. The only outside influencers that got significant votes were “his fraternity brothers” and “Will Pinkston.” Here are the write-ins:

He thinks way too highly of himself to think anyone would be worthy to advise him 1
No one. Absolutely no one. 1
Dude makes 337k while teachers suffer. He doesn’t care. 1
I think he’s just making shit up as he goes 1
Whoever he can manipulate 1
His own narcissism. 1
Tom Ward 1
Like Trump, he thinks he is beyond advice 1
Nobody. He acts like he doesn’t need anybody else. 1
Leadership books? 1
His frat brothers 1
He takes advice from those who stroke his ego in order to ride on his gravy train 1
His mentors 1
Illuminati or The Syndicate

Question number 2 asked for your suggestion for interim director in the event that Dr. Joseph’s tenure meets an untimely demise. Kind of a surprise for me here. Adrienne Battle, with 28% of the vote, was the clear winner. Battle is a product of MNPS and a long-time district educator. The district could do a lot worse. Chris Henson was number 2 with 20% of the vote and coming in 3rd with 20% of the vote was Tony Majors. Board chair Sharon Gentry received one vote. I’d like to take a moment to thank her for continuing to read my words. Or maybe it was Howard. Here are the write-ins, and there are a lot of them:

None of the above 2
Adrienne running things and JC communicating them 1
Bring back Dave Moore! 1
Can JC come back to help communicate? 1
Can Oden take over communications? 1
Ron Woodard with JC Oden running communications 1
TC 1
TC Weber 1
Dr. Hughes from JT Moore 1
Linda DePriest 1
Bring JC back to give media attention to teachers and students 1
Ricky Gibbs 1
Jill Speering 1
Dave Moore 1
None of these would be good 1
Dr. Angela Huff 1
Never Woodard 1
Battle & Oden 1
JC for Communications 1
Amy Wyatt 1
Bring back Woodard 1
Linda DePreist 1
Patti Yon 1
Somebody from Nashville who knows the system and won’t pay consultants to do work 1
David Williams 1
We miss JC’s jokes and culture building. That would be nice to have back. 1
Damon Cathey 1
Woodard 1
someone new 1
Bring JC Oden back please 1
None of the above. The winners were all let go. 1
Mary Catherine Bradshaw 1
JC back to communications please so someone will tell our positive stories. 1
Sonia Stewart – Todd Dickson, very bad idea 1
Comms Director – JC 1
I could do a better job 1
Can JC direct communications? 1
Aimee Wyatt

The last question asked for your thoughts on Senate candidate Phil Bredesen’s support of Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice. 35% of you said you were terribly disappointed, while 14% indicated that there was no reason that he shouldn’t. We’ll see how it plays out. Here are the write-ins:

It’s over. May as well call her Senator Marsha now 1
Digusting. I am sure the suddenly silent Will Pinkson agrees. 1
Great! Let’s dig up what every politician did when they were in high school 1
Appalled but with the other option being Blackburn unfortunately he will still h 1
Must have been advice from Pinkston. 1
He needs a win and he and Blackburn are neck in neck. It’s strategy.

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.

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

5

“How much longer is this going to continue?”

“Surely they won’t be here past Christmas.”

“What is it going to take before somebody finally does something?”

“Nobody is ever going to do anything.”

“When are they leaving?”

That’s the chorus I am greeted with daily as another week in MNPS land comes to a close. A week that has been peppered with rumors of a principal meeting gone terribly awry, the continued unveiling of both a literacy plan and a priority schools plan – both of which appear to be neither, a social media policy whose enforcement and origin are both questionable, and yet another story from Channel 5 reporter Phil Williams about the MNPS administration playing hard and fast with the truth. In other words, just another week in MNPS land. A land whose inhabitation grows increasingly difficult. A place where after 2 years people still refer to the administration as “them.”

When I first started this blog, I used to chuckle that I felt like I was writing for the underground. Nobody wanted to admit that they talked to me, yet when I walked through the halls at schools I would get silent smiles and a thumbs up. But as time has gone by, things are continually getting less amusing as this administration has more and more taken on the role of an occupying force.

I’m currently reading a novel that utilizes Algiers and the French occupation as a backdrop. The similarities between France’s imperial colonist approach to governing Algiers and Dr. Joseph and his team’s approach to governing MNPS are not lost on me.

I can hear the groans now, “Come on, TC, that’s a little hyperbolic. Don’t you think?”

But think about it. The French believed that the people of Algiers were made up of ignorant people who needed the French to bring them to civilization and modernization. The French cultivated sympathizers but never allies. No matter how closely Algerians worked and collaborated with the French, the lines between the two never blurred. It was always the enlightened modern French and the uncivilized Algerians. Not much different from at MNPS.

I’m sensitive to the implications of comparing an administration made up of African-Americans with past imperialists that victimized countries made up primarily of people of color. However, I believe the analogy fits because of the way Dr. Joseph has conducted business. There has never been an effort for him to become ingrained in Nashville. Rather all efforts were made to convert Nashville to his way of thinking, much like occupiers throughout history.

There was never an effort to seek out the successes of Nashville educators and build upon them. Instead there was a continual reinforcing of the narrative that MNPS was a failing district in a state of crisis that required a savior, namely Dr. Joseph. The people on his team, abetted by certain members of the school board, did everything they could to compound that narrative.

Dr. Joseph and his team utilized local talent on some level, but only as long as they toed the party line and didn’t raise questions. Those who defied were quickly ousted. Walk through central office these days and you’ll see few faces that were present just a couple of years ago. If you want to stay employed, you better offer support even if you recognize bad policy.

I think back to Paul Changas’ impassioned words before the board a few weeks ago, claiming that nobody puts words in his mouth. Yet he continually supports Dr. Joseph’s use of MAP testing for things it was never intended to be used for, implicitly giving credibility to such usage. We continue to use MAP as a screener, which it is not designed for, and despite Special Ed students and English Learners not getting the accommodations that they are entitled to, Changas continually defends the fidelity of the data. In doing so, who is he fighting for, students or Dr. Joseph?

That may seem harsh towards Dr. Changas, and in all fairness, he’s not the only one guilty of such actions. There are plenty of others who offer up support to what they surely recognize as bad policy.

With the way that recent sexual harassment issues were handled, who were HR heads Deborah Story and Sharon Pertiller protecting? Was it the students and teachers, or was it Dr. Joseph? When the budget got messy last year and a call went out for people to speak at the board meeting, were they asked to support the budget or was it to support Dr. Joseph? Is the primary function of the Community Superintendents to look out for the interests of students, teachers, administrators, and families, or is it making sure none of those parties get too close to Dr. Joseph?

Look around you. Dr. J and his team have been here for 2-plus years, but where are the followers? You’ll find a fair amount of those who are “co-operators,” but do they really believe in the work? Do you ever read, or hear, an impassioned defense of the work being done in MNPS as directed by Dr. Joseph’s team?

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a criticism of teachers and administrators; they continue to go above and beyond and have success despite all odds. But do you ever hear someone say, other than Dr. J, that his policies put teachers and students in a position to excel? The best you’ll get is a shrug and a “some of it’s okay, I guess.”

While France occupied Algiers, Algerians realized that they needed to cooperate or face dire consequences. The French were entrenched and weren’t showing signs of leaving, so many compromised. Retribution for Algerians opposing the policies of the French was swift and harsh. MNPS is currently no different. As I told one of Dr. Joseph’s team members several weeks ago, people look at the examples of Vanessa Garcia, Scott Lindsy, Kris Elliot, Jill Speering, along with others and they see what happens when you oppose this administration. Programs get canceled, positions get eliminated, and your name gets publicly smeared.

Genghis Khan allegedly advised his sons that “occupations turn soldiers into jailers.” I have no idea if he actually said that or not, but it is certainly relevant here. The district is populated by more people operating out of fear rather than joy, and administrators seem unnaturally focused on compliance as of late. The district’s mission statement shouldn’t be “Exceeding Expectations,” but rather “If I can just hold on a little longer.”

I thought that up until recently teacher attrition had started to level off. Unfortunately, last week the stories of teachers leaving started to circulate again. Many are starting to plan their exits, and some are just walking out. Last Friday there were over 300 unfilled sub vacancies. That should concern people.

Word on the street is that a group of principals tried to discuss this, among other concerns, with Dr. Joseph. Details remain a bit sketchy, but from what I can piece together, these principals asked for a meeting with Dr. Joseph in order to try to mitigate some of the issues that have arisen and to attempt to forge an alliance with him to create better outcomes for kids. It was a small group and the expectation was one of a personal meeting between themselves and Dr. Joseph. Instead, the director chose to bring his pack of enablers and use the meeting not to listen but rather to reinforce the pecking order. Once again, another opportunity missed.

Dr. Joseph has referred to himself as a researcher at heart. As such, he should recognize that occupations never last. No country has ever successfully occupied another, and employing that strategy as a leadership model is only going to meet the same end.

Leadership is not a result of holding a position. I always tell young managers that you are not a manager or leader because you were hired for the position. You are a manager because those who you are tasked with leading have chosen to follow you. If they decide that they are no longer going to follow you, then you are no longer a manager, whether you hold the position or not. Just like Dr. Joseph says, you can’t remediate your way to success, and you also can’t fire to success either.

Those with options will exercise those options. There is nothing worse, and less indicative to success, than trying to manage people with no options. It’s not a recipe for success.

The question is fast becoming not when this will end, but rather how much damage will be done before it ends. My biggest fear is that people will continue to become disenchanted and in turn disengaged. I say hold tight and hang on because we are going to need everybody’s full involvement to right this ship. And we will be righting it.

Right now, three board members – Fran Bush, Jill Speering, and Amy Frogge – are beginning the process, but if you want the occupation to end, you have to get involved. This is too important to just sit on the sidelines and wait for change. We have to be the change.

WHOSE GOT HIS EAR?

Which brings us to the other question that I am often asked, and one I don’t have an answer for, “Who is Dr. Joseph listening to?” I subscribe to the leadership theory that a leader is only as good as those who advise him. In order to be a good leader, you must have strong, informed advisors around you. Advisors who are willing to offer well-researched counterarguments to both your other advisors and you. Everybody, I’m sure, remembers the book about Lincoln from a few years ago, Team of Rivals.

In my management career. I’ve always kept close people who wouldn’t take my first answer. People who would push me. At my last job I can remember that person saying to me, “I always feel like I’m annoying you.”

My response was, “You are and you should. Only by you pushing me will I dig deeper and in the end be better.”

So who is advising Dr. Joseph? Who is making him dig deeper and be better? I honestly can’t tell you.

There has been no indication that anyone on his executive team does anything but echo his pronouncements. Upon his hiring, the word was that it would be his mentor and former Maryland Superintendent of the year Jerry Weast who he would listen to. But over the last year, I’ve seen little indication that the two still communicate. And I can’t believe that based on Weast’s past successes, he would be a supporter of Joseph’s recent actions.

Some speculate that it is Nashville Public Education Foundation Director Shannon Hunt or Scarlett Foundation head, Tara Scarlett. I would point out, though, that while the organizations the two head have both readily given cover to Joseph’s missteps, neither of the two have deep educational backgrounds. Hunt’s background is primarily in politics and Scarlett’s is in business.

There has been some talk that Joseph has formed a bit of an alliance with the other urban heads, Shelby County’s Dorsey Hopson and Hamilton County’s Bryan Johnson. However, both of them seem to be on a different trajectory and several people have downplayed to me the relationship between the three.

Previous advisors have been former Baltimore Superintendent Dallas Dance and current Guilford County Superintendent, and fellow Learning Forward Board member, Sharon L. Contreras. Both of whom have had their own issues to deal with.

Let’s not forget that last spring, former Knoxville Superintendent Jim McIntyre was seen around executive meetings. That’s a scary one.

Perhaps he’s been listening to board members Sharon Gentry and Will Pinkston. After all, Pinkston’s been crafting his letters to the editor and the department of education.

Dr. Joseph has always been one to talk about his close relationship with Nashville Mayors. Maybe that’s who’s advising him. Though I’d argue about the quality of advice either could offer him.

It’s clear he’s not talking to anyone at the Tennessee Department of Education.

I thought it might be his fraternity brothers because he spends a great deal of time with them, but I’m told they function primarily in a support role.

So who is it?

I don’t know who it is, but I hope he’s thinking about expanding the circle because currently he is not being served well.

GUN VIOLENCE

“National Day of Concern – Students against Guns: Nashville Hope Dealers.” It will be held at Vanderbilt (John Seigenthaler Center – Lecture Hall) on Wednesday, October 17th, from 5pm to 7pm.

Just last year, Nashville experienced a 20-year high in homicide rates, which ¼ of the 108 murder victims were juveniles. On average, 15 juveniles are arrested daily in the “It City” of Nashville. Our youth should not have to ponder the question “Can I Live?” It is long overdue that we come together and make a stand to change the narrative of Nashville’s Gun Violence.

Participating as a city in the National Day of Concern with The Student Pledge is a way to start the conversation about gun violence with our youth that are affected first hand by these shootings. I truly believe, individually and collectively our young people are an incredibly powerful force for change, their voices are a vital component of the solutions needed in this city, and we have to provide space for their voices to be heard.

This is a city-wide event for youth organizations to network with families and informs them about services they provide for youth to help build resiliency. Youth will also be showcasing their talents through spoken word, speeches, graphic art, dance, and testimonies. There will be an area designated to The Pledge for families to sign as well as pay respects to youth homicide victims of Nashville. Our youth should not have to ask the question “Can I live?” Let us unite together and show them that “Yes, they can!”

My hope is that key stakeholder in our community from elected state and local leaders, to law enforcement and our judicial system, to local universities, to students and our families around the community will show up and unite together with a common goal: to pursue peace in an effort to reduce the shootings and homicides in the “It City” of Nashville.

QUICK HITS

Pearl Cohn High School recently opened a new health center in partnership with the Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center. This should prove beneficial to both students and the community and is fantastic news!

Per MNEA, Community Conversations:

Suspensions, Expulsions, Arrests, and SOLUTIONS

Please join teachers and parents in a community discussion about solutions for discipline in elementary schools.

What supports do you really need to create a positive classroom environment?

We want to hear from you!

Meeting Opportunities:

Monday, October 8 at 6:00

Payne Chapel AME Church

212 Neill Avenue

Thursday, October 11 at 5:00

MNEA

531 Fairground Court

Attend if you can.

Over the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard me discuss the new study on the “Opportunity Myth” that was conducted by TNTP. Well, I was going to write something about it, but then I thought, “Why bother. Peter Greene will only come along and do it better.”

I wasn’t mistaken. I urge you to read Peter’s take on the opportunity myth myth.

Thanks to PENCIL and Nossi College of Art, students at Bellshire Elementary Design Center received a donation of new art supplies! Fantastic!

Will Hoge has a new album out. You probably out to check it out.

Wow! circulated 58,906 books in September! That is a lot of reading!

The U.S. Department of Education has named Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Hume-Fogg Academic High School as one of 349 National Blue-Ribbon Schools across the nation. The program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on overall academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

“This is really exciting news for Hume-Fogg to be among the top performing schools in the country,” said Dr. Kellie M. Hargis, executive principal. “This is such a special honor and speaks highly to the quality of work, academic rigor and commitment to achievement that our students, faculty and staff strive toward every day.”

As the spouse of a Hume-Fogg grad, I say, “Way to go!”

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.

A POWERFUL VOICE

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Today, MNPS Board member Amy Frogge posted a piece to her Facebook page calling out the way that Director of Schools Shawn Joseph conducts himself with women. It’s a powerful piece and one that I am sharing without permission because I believe the message is that vital. I also believe that it is important you understand the back story behind Frogge’s critical posts.

Shortly after becoming elected to the school board 6 years ago, Amy and I became friends. Our friendship grew out of our mutual love of public schools. Over the next 4 years, we worked together on a myriad of issues. Issues that took us from local schools to the courthouse to the state house and even national recognition. In those 4 years, I discovered a woman who is fiercely loyal to her family, committed to giving all kids a shot at a great education, courageous enough to always stand by her convictions, and committed to doing the research it takes to ensure that those convictions are rooted in the truth. One of my favorite conversations is the interview I conducted with her a few years ago.

The selection process that bought Dr. Joseph to Nashville, headed by then, and now-newly-re-elected, board chair Sharon Gentry, was dysfunctional at best. It proceeded with starts and stops, the first part ended in a scene right out of the movie Runaway Bride, outside interests were given way too much influence, and previously agreed upon procedures were disregarded at will. I remember offering Amy the cautionary advice that “Nothing that springs from corrupted ground will have the opportunity to grow uncorrupted.”

My advice was dismissed under a wave of optimism. Nobody was more optimistic than board member Amy Frogge. She was all in on the director of schools Shawn Joseph. The director’s family was not here for the first year of his tenure, and Frogge opened her home to him, often inviting him over to visit and socialize with her family and at community events. When questions were raised about the director’s decisions or practices, she staunchly defended him. In her eyes, we owed it to Dr. Joseph to give him every opportunity to succeed, even if it cost her personal friendships.

As that first year progressed, the friendship between Amy and I regressed. We went from talking three times a week to talking once a month. Where conversations had previously been filled with laughter and optimism, they grew terse and defensive. Amy’s husband Patrick, a man who I have deep respect for, and I ended up in a very heated conversation. We haven’t talked since, and I regret that.

Mine wasn’t the only relationship that suffered either. Other parent activists grew frustrated and became less involved. By the end of the first year of Joseph’s tenure, former supporters were openly asking on social media, “What the hell had happened to Frogge?” Amy remained staunch in her defense of the director though. Her commitment to our schools, and by de facto our director, superseded the need to be popular or appease friends. His missteps continued to be written off as rookie mistakes.

It wasn’t until this past budget season that Dr. Joseph let the mask slip and Frogge got a glimpse of what many of us have been seeing for a long time. The director’s words and his actions didn’t align. Even though she now realizes that she made a mistake, she could have easily remained silent and just continued to work against the director internally. She did try that for a little bit, but it was ineffective. And the evidence of the district heading in the wrong direction continued to mount, leaving Amy with few options.

Amy may deny this – but I know her well enough to know it’s true – the director could have fixed this at any time in the last 3 months. With a little introspection, a little humility, and a little cooperation, I firmly believe he could have, at least temporarily, brought her back into the fold. Unfortunately, someone must have once given Dr. Joseph the bad advice of “Never let them see you sweat.”

Nobody told him we like our leaders with a little more humanity. He has never made a serious attempt to repair the relationship with Amy. Instead, he has maintained a position that he is here to save a district that never asked for a savior, and we all will eventually acquiesce to his desires. It is a bad strategy headed for a bad outcome.

I think it is important that you know the back story so that when you read the words of Amy Frogge, you understand exactly what it took her to get to this point. For the first 18 months, she was fiercely loyal to Dr. Joseph. A loyalty that she didn’t surrender; rather it was a loyalty that was destroyed by the very person she bestowed it to. Her words aren’t written in anger or in a reactionary moment; rather they are words that have been mulled over and carefully chosen in order to fully impress upon people the severity of the current situation.

Once again, her position is coming with sacrifice. Former political allies quite frankly wish she’d shut up. Those whom she’s shown loyalty to for years suddenly seem incapable of reciprocation. I’m proud to have her as my friend. Hopefully, she considers me likewise, and I applaud her for always trying to do what she thinks is best. I hope that you read her words, and I hope those words lead you to action. Email your board members, write your council person, call the mayor.

Change is seldom easy and it’s often scary. It can also be exhilarating. We now know what we don’t want in a leader. We also have a greater appreciation of the people in the individual schools who care for our kids. Continuing on the same path will not lead to success. If you are honest with yourself, you know that.

Read the words of Amy Frogge and let them spur you to action:

Take a moment and watch this interaction between the Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and a female reporter. It’s important to note that this reporter was actually invited to the MNPS press conference, where she asked a perfectly reasonable (and pretty predictable) question: What would you tell the parents of children in priority schools?

Joseph is quick to put this female reporter in her place with a rude and unprofessional response. Rather than answering her question, he turns the tables on her, trying to bully her. After the press conference, Joseph’s fraternity brothers followed this reporter into the parking lot to harass her, telling her that her questioning of Joseph was not appropriate.

Joseph’s frat brothers had been asked to stack the press conference to show support for Joseph, lending a rather tone-deaf atmosphere to the event. Although the press conference was held to address the fact that the number of “failing” schools has more than doubled under Joseph’s watch, Joseph began the conference by saying, “Can I get an amen?!” The conference, which should have been quite serious, was strangely filled with cheers for Joseph himself. (Joseph, through fliers distributed with his photo on them, often requests that his frat brothers show up to board meetings and other events to cheer him on or to go after anyone who questions him.)

Certainly, people have bad days, and I would perhaps just disregard Joseph’s testy interaction with this reporter under another circumstance. But I have seen this sort of behavior repeatedly from our Director. While he can be very nice toward those to do not question him, he changes his demeanor toward those who raise questions about problems in the district. (It took me a long to time to see the problem, since I was very supportive of Joseph for the first year and a half of his tenure.) He particularly does not tolerate questions from females (no matter how professional or polite) and uses bullying tactics to avoid answering them. This sets a poor tone for the district, as it is his job to answer questions.

Joseph has tried to put me in my place (by threatening lawsuits, by telling me what I can and cannot say on the board floor and by inviting his frat brothers to meetings to call me out). He has tried to put Jill Speering in her place by cutting Reading Recovery (her favorite program that she championed for decades), thereby suddenly firing 87 Reading Recovery teachers, many of whom were Jill’s friends, with no plan in place to repurpose them. And Joseph is already starting to go after Fran Bush, the newest board member to question him. Joseph loves to use race as a weapon to protect himself, quickly labeling anyone who disagrees with him a “racist,” but I think he will find this tactic increasingly difficult to utilize as more begin to speak up.

This is the behavior of a bully, plain and simple. Joseph has banned employees from speaking to board members. And just yesterday, he actually banned employees from writing anything negative on social media about the district or its leadership. These are crazy times.

Since I have begun speaking up against problematic practices in the district, I have received hundreds of thank-yous from MNPS employees and parents, including flowers and gifts. Not a day goes by that I do not receive a call or message from a grateful employee. The usual message is: “We are hanging on by a thread. Please, please keep it up!” I have suggested that others must start using their own voices to address problems, but employees- and amazingly even parents- respond, “Oh, no- we know how vindictive he is!” Teachers, bus drivers, and other staff members know they will lose their jobs for voicing problems (they’ve seen what Joseph did with Reading Recovery as vengeance against Jill), and parents actually fear that Joseph will take funding from their schools or try to punish their children in some way if they speak up. Many are deeply afraid of being attacked along racial lines for voicing concerns; Joseph has done everything in his power to stir racial divides and anger in order to avoid being held accountable. Something is seriously wrong when we have arrived at this place.

Jill, Fran, and I am more than happy to keep standing up and to serve as a voice for the voiceless. I have stood up to bullies before; I have no fear and absolutely nothing to lose. I always outlast them. But for things to truly change, Jill, Fran and I cannot continue to be the only voices speaking for the community. We are doing all we can, but we need help. Please consider speaking up, even if you must remain anonymous and ask someone else to serve as your voice.

IT’S A QUESTION OF PRIORITY

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“I’m about to fuck up, he thought clearly, and his next thought was, but I don’t have to. This was followed closely by a third thought, the last of this familiar sequence, which was, but I’m going to anyway.”
Richard Russo, Nobody’s Fool

“I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger.
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger.” – Rod Stewart, Ooh La La 

I long considered the potential ramifications before citing the above quote by author Richard Russo, but it just seemed so appropriate that I couldn’t resist. Once I decided to use it, I toyed with offering an apology and then remembered another one of my favorite quotes. This one by author P.G. Wodehouse:

“It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.”

So that’s where we are at.

PRIORITY SCHOOLS

Last week, there was a lot of focus on the state of Tennessee’s recently released priority school list and it’s no secret that I was critical of the district’s response. Based on that criticism, I think a fair response would be, “All right, smart guy, what would be your response?”

So here is how I would have responded to last week’s release of priority schools. I understand that in some areas, it’s a little easier for me than it is for the current director of schools, but I firmly believe in the legitimacy of my responses.

I would have started off last week’s press conference with the following statement:

“Thank you for coming this morning. I would just like to say that with all respect to the TNDOE, the recently released priority list is bullshit due to the fact that it is based on a bullshit test. Sorry, I’m not saying that results are not without some value, but at best they are merely a snapshot of where kids are on that day and are a clearer indicator of socioeconomic status than of actual learning. We don’t believe in the priority school list because we consider ALL of our schools a priority. That said, we do recognize that we have some areas that need to address so that all schools can have greater outcomes, and I’ll share details of those plans.”

That statement would probably cause a bit of an uproar, but it would easily be the most honest thing that’s been said to citizens about our schools in a long time and it’s basically indisputable.

Take a look at a map showing the locations of the schools designated “priority schools” – I refuse to call them “innovation” schools because that’s just intentional obfuscation. Every one of them lies in areas populated by people with a lower economic status. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that all kids can’t learn. I’m saying that it’s a lot easier to learn if your stomach’s not rumbling, your shoes are a size too small, or you are suffering from an illness resulting from a sub-par housing situation. Those assertions are indisputable.

To their credit, both MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and School Board Chair Dr. Sharon Gentry alluded to those social challenges during last week’s press conference. But then they proceeded to allude to some kind of collaboration with the mayor and council members to work on those issues. Sorry, but that’s not their gig.

Too often, I imagine due to having the most daily contact with kids, educators are quick to rush in and try to create solutions to socio-economic challenges. Unfortunately, they are not the ones charged with facing the challenges, nor the best equipped. I don’t want the chair of the school board crafting affordable housing policy anymore than I want the mayor crafting literacy curriculum. In the words of Belichick, “Just do your job.”

Mayor Briley often talks about wanting to support Dr. Joseph and the schools. Awesome. You want to support him? Craft policies that address affordable housing, stagnant wage growth, and mass transit. The governor wants to be known as an “education governor”? Address health care issues and incarceration rates. Some may argue for the need of a “high-quality assessment aligned to our state’s academic expectation” in order to provide better results, but I guarantee you that if you improve health care and lower incarceration rates you’ll instantly see better student outcomes.

About those “high-quality assessments aligned with our state’s academic expectations,” shouldn’t you prove that you can administer them with fidelity before attaching high stakes to them? Look at the caveats that went into creating this year’s priority schools list. Due to state legislation passed in response to technical glitches involved with this year’s testing, inclusion on the priority list is based primarily on results from the two years prior to the recently completed school year. Except if your school did well, then this year’s results could count. For even more clarity, here’s TNEd Report’s take:

By the way, we now have the following set of apples, oranges, and bananas from which we are determining student growth:

2015 — TCAP

2016 — NO TNReady

2017 — pencil and paper TNReady

2018 — Hacker and Dump Truck TNReady

Not exactly confidence instilling. And I would work to instill confidence in stakeholders. I wouldn’t do that by telling stories about kids who are going to Harvard after playing football at a priority school and graduating from a magnet.

Telling stories about Harvard-bound seniors and merit scholars are wonderful. Those are stories that are grand and should be told. But equally important are the ones that involve kids that are now work in A/C repair, or are ministers, insurance sales people, or police officers. The ones that are using their quality education to raise their families, care for their aging parents, and because of the lessons they learned in their schools are proving to be better citizens.

Truth is, those are the lives most of us are going to live. Lives that may in outward appearance appear ordinary, but in reality, are inwardly filled with a million miracles. Those are the examples that I would cite to reassure stakeholders about the lessons the community’s children are learning and practicing daily. Examples that are never reflected in a standardized test administrated by the state. A test where results are not even returned until well after the beginning of the next school year. A return time that makes it impossible for them to drive instruction and only serves as a means to try to pick winners and losers.

My approach would be a lot more honest than the conversations that are currently taking place. Conversations where people wring their hands, decry the terrible fates we are forcing upon kids, chant slogans that are better left to t-shirts and Hallmark cards, raise money on the backs of these children, only in the end to do nothing of substance. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the 2017 990 Tax Form from the Nashville Public Education Foundation and see the amount of money their director made last year and then tell me I’m wrong.

We could go on all day about the fallacies with the test, but let’s move on to what we could do for ALL school that would improve outcomes for ALL schools. The first, and maybe simplest thing, would be to expand the Community Achieves program. All schools that exited the priority list were Community Achieves Schools. There is plenty of data that readily supports their work. My only complaint with Community Achieves is that expansion has come at a glacial pace. Let’s pick things up a bit.

The next area of focus should be on personnel. Let’s start with the head honchos. Look at the schools that are on the underperforming list and you will find that the majority have had high turnover at the top over the last 5 years. There are some exceptions – Joelton Middle School, I’m looking at you. But in those schools, you’ll likely find a lot of turnover in those leadership positions directly below the principal, i.e. your AP’s and your Deans. It’s hard to produce quality results without stability at the top. Just ask the Cleveland Browns or Tennessee Vols. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

The district’s proposed priority school plan did get it right when it placed a focus on teachers. But I’d argue this is a district problem and not just a priority school problem. Though they refuse to acknowledge it, the district has been hemorrhaging teachers for the last 3 years. Reasons run from salary issues to a perceived lack of respect. When I ran for school board, I often talked about the need to not just focus on salary increases for teachers but to create robust compensation packages that address needs like child care and homeownership. Invest in teachers so they will invest in the district. This is an area that the Mayor, Metro Council, and business could be instrumental in. You want to impact literacy rates… take care of those who can do the most to impact student learning.

A lifestyle compensation package would go a long way towards counteracting the perceived lack of value that teachers feel, but if you want to take it even further, let teachers teach. If district leaders want the trust of teachers, they have to trust in them. Provide curriculum supports, but stop the implication of required scripted teaching. Realize that all teachers, like all students, are different. Some may like the heavily structured lesson plans and prefer to use them straight out of the box, while others will want to add their own imprint. Let teachers decide and then help them succeed by giving supports based on that choice. It can’t be said enough, show trust and you will receive trust. Without trust, there can be no success.

We need to stop reigniting the reading wars of the past. Phonics, like other tools, has its value but the over-reliance on one tool over all others sets us up for failure. Per a recent article in the Washington Post:

It is time to change the thinking from rigid “either-or choices” in literacy instruction to responsive “yes-ands” that engage children’s unique pathways to literacy.

We can have classrooms with explicit phonics instruction and engagement with literatures that sustain the cultures and identities of our students. We can teach reading and writing, and let one support the other.

We can plan for motivation, engagement, identity development and rigorous skill development in the same lesson. We can build classrooms that teach all students to read, but not if we miss opportunities to learn from current practices before running in the other direction.

I’m also not buying into this new TNTP argument that kids are not getting enough “rigorous” instruction. I’ve got two kids who have attended a cusp school for the last several years, and the rigor of their instruction has been quite satisfactory. What there has been is some sacrifice of social studies and science instruction in order to have more rigorous math and literacy instruction. That’s due to the narrowing of focus in response to the need to produce better test results, and this is problematic. What the most challenged schools need is not a narrowing of focus, but rather a broadening. Again that relates back to trusting teachers.

Finally, under personnel, we need to address our substitute teachers. This past Friday there were over 300 unfilled vacancies in the district due to teacher absences. That should be unacceptable. We are also utilizing long-term substitutes to fill permanent teaching vacancies. That should be unacceptable. I’m also hearing stories of PTO boards becoming substitute teachers to help offset the need. That’s not really a solution either.

The current priority school plan calls for a focus on absentee rates. That’s all fine and good, but are any of the aforementioned scenarios a marked difference from kids not being in schools? Again, when I ran for school board, I talked of a plan that would create substitute pools by quadrant, a pathway to making substitutes benefit eligible, and ways to include substitutes in district professional development offerings. I firmly believe these steps are essential.

We also need to look at our calendar. The largest single day of teacher absences has historically been the Friday of TSU’s homecoming weekend. In response, the district has moved back fall break to coincide with that event. Unfortunately, the prolonged time before a break puts undue stress on non-TSU alumni resulting in more personal days leading up to fall break.

The idea that the district sanctions the missing of work for college fraternity activities is just mind boggling to me. I had a great time in college. It was a very meaningful time in my life, but I’m not in college anymore. I’m a professional with professional responsibilities. I can not for the life of me understand how you can justify asking students to sacrifice a day of learning in order to participate in college-based rituals. Perhaps the argument can be made that these rituals are community-based and akin to religious ceremonies, but I find that a stretch. Our calendar needs to reflect the needs of kids and not the social needs of adults. Burning teachers out in order to allow a select number to participate in social rituals is not good policy.

I urge you to drive around the district and check out the facilities of the schools on the priority list. You’ll find that for the most part, they are housed in aging buildings supplemented by the use of portables. Environment makes a difference. Kids who have to go in and out of the building to portables have increased exposure to inclement weather, which leads to higher rates of illness, resulting in greater absenteeism. I can tell you from first hand experience, being in a quality facility has a direct impact on educational outcomes. Here’s another area where both local and state elected officials could actually impact outcomes if they were serious about the importance of education. As a school board candidate, I raised the need to create a single bond that would create the funding for all schools capital needs to be updated.

It should also be noted that we can not have a conversation about underperforming schools without acknowledging the role a choice system plays in their creation. I personally do not believe that a choice system and an equitable system can exist side by side, at least not without everybody having the same resources. The very act of choice creates inequity. You are choosing one option over another based on perceived value. As more people make a choice, one option grows in perceived value while one diminishes. Rail against it all you want, but it’s the natural process and eventually, you are left with schools that are rife with resources and those that are depleted.

Now if everybody starts with the same resources when making their choices – knowledge, transportation, flexibility, etc. – the choice options, perhaps, would remain more balanced. But since not all parents have the same understanding of the system, flexibility of schedule in order to transport kids, or even method of transportation, those with the most resources tend to congregate in the same schools. Leaving those with fewer resources in other schools. As time goes on, the disparities only grow because nobody wants to send their children to a school that is perceived to be under-resourced.

This is where the proposal to send more Title I money to those under-resourced schools is supposed to counteract the effects of choice. But unless you are using that money to buy families reliable transportation or to adjust work schedules so that parents can participate more, you are not really changing outcomes. Families will make choices based on the choices of others and who they wish to emulate. As a result, you will see families with resources congregate in select schools, while other schools are left to serve those with fewer resources.

Remember how I told you that standardized testing is better at identifying socio-economic status than actual learning? Well, what you are left with under a choice system results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I fail to see how you can have your cake and eat it too.

That, in a nutshell, is my approach to addressing priority schools. I have a few more ideas and I’ll share them in the future. Under the current administration, I’m slow to lobby the city for more money. However, if we were making some of my aforementioned initiatives a priority, I believe it would be money well spent and it wouldn’t take long to see positive results. I know some of it is fairly idealistic, but isn’t that the goal of education, to unlock the power of dreams?

QUICK HITS

Blogger and Pennsylvania teacher Steven Singer has a post out on the distinction between being “data-driven” and “data-informed.” Needless to say, it’s a big distinction.

Over the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Robertson County resident and teacher Larry Proffit. I’ve always found him to be a true gentleman and a scholar. Larry is running for the office of state representative to the legislature. Today he received Diane Ravitch’s endorsement. Help a brother out if you can.

Wednesday at noon is the deadline to sign up to speak at next week’s board meeting. If you have something to say, now is the time to say it.

I would like to give a quick shout out to Mathematics Director Jessica Slayton. The word on the street is that she and her team are offering some excellent professional development opportunities in the realm of mathematics. Opportunities that should provide great outcomes for kids. Thanks for the great work!

Bands of America competitions draw some of the best bands in the country, and BOA Clarksville this past weekend was no exception. Bands like Castle, Franklin, and O’Fallen Township continually rank among the best. This weekend, Overton HS Band also competed.  Late last night they received the overall breakdown of scores from preliminaries and have very exciting news! Out of 28 bands, they were ranked 13th! On top of that, they were only 1.1 points away from making finals! This is a huge success, especially since they were competing against groups that make BOA Grand National semi-finals and finals year after year. Additionally, a band director of one of the bands that made finals Saturday sent the following message:

“GREAT job today at BOA! Wow! Best Overton Band I’ve seen since I started teaching around here. Y’all should be super proud, they sound GREAT! (insert hand clap emoji) Please send your kids my congrats!”

So, even though they didn’t make finals this time, they should be extremely proud of their performance and continue striving for growth! Watch out for them next year BOA! Luckily band parent Terri Lampley Watson was there to document.

POLL RESULTS

The response to this week’s poll questions was admittedly a little low, but here are the results.

The first question asked for your opinion on the district’s priority school plan. Tied at 37% apiece were the answers “they announced a plan” and “same old same old.” Only 3% of you thought it was a great plan. Here are the write-in answers:

hokum and horseshit. Makes me sad. 1
Just a bunch of catchphrases & big words to cover for ineptitude 1
Dr. J continues to harm students of color 1
ALL KIDS DESERVE THIS MUCH CARE! 1
Lip service 1
What plan? There is no plan with substance-better check with the home town folk 1
Incompetence 1
Not enough emphasis on retaining staff. Quality people are seeking real salaries

Question 2 asked you to grade the district’s press conference in response to the release of the priority list. It doesn’t appear that you were too impressed. 52% of you gave it an F, and 25% gave it a D. Three of you felt it was worth a B. Here are the write-ins:

Didn’t see it 1
an embarrassment 1
F. Can’t make diamonds from feces. 1
What press conference?

The last question asked where you place blame for the district’s failure to adhere to state law by reporting teacher discipline issues to the state. Overwhelmingly, 75% of you laid blame at the feet of the director and his office. None of you blame the former employee. Hmmm… here are the write-ins:

Director and the corrupt HR Department 1
director and HR

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.

DOING HANDSTANDS

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“No longer how long you play guitar, there is always something new to learn” – Tom Petty

“’I It’s easier if you do a handstand,’ commented Rebus. ‘What is?’ ‘Talking out of your arse.’”
Ian Rankin, The Black Book

I’m going to do something today that I don’t normally do. I’m going to compliment the MNPS school board. This week’s meeting, and the governance committee meeting that accompanied it, looked more like an actual meeting than the normal staged event it has become. For that, I think all board members deserve kudos.

It was certainly a meeting that had some heft and all board members did their part in fleshing things out. For the first time in a long time, board members asked hard questions publicly. Questions that more closely reflected the questions that community members have raised for months. It was good to see board members holding the director and others accountable and doing so in a respectful manner.

I’ve heard some folks comment that they felt there were some fireworks involved in the meetings. I disagree. There were moments of discomfort certainly, but I think everybody remained respectful. People were certainly blunt, but I didn’t feel they were rude.

There were moments when emotions spilled over. I welcome that. Remember we are dealing with kids and their futures here. Kids who, I don’t think anybody would argue, are not being fully served. I think a little anger is good. If it makes people a little uncomfortable, good. Change isn’t borne out of comfort, and we certainly need some change, either in policy or personnel.

That said, there are a few things I would like to direct your attention to that happened in both meetings. And some clarifications I think are necessary.

RETRIBUTION

We’ve spent about two years observing Dr. Joseph, and I think, based on evidence, it’s safe to say that he does not react positively to criticism. In fact, every time he is publically criticized he tends to lash out at the perpetrator. Look at the body of evidence:

  • The TV stations air stories that are unfavorable to the good doctor, and station managers all get calls from MNPS trying to have reporters reigned in.
  • The director gets criticized for his choice of music at a principals meeting, and suddenly the Tennessee Tribune, the city’s African-American newspaper, is running an op-ed piece about the “unfair prosecution” of Dr. Joseph. Ironically that article is attributed to the father of Arnett Bodenhammer, who is at the center of a series of stories about the district’s failure to report teacher misconduct to the state. Bodenhamer Sr.’s piece appeared days after a meeting with Dr. Joseph and around the time junior’s charges were reduced.
  • Call for an audit and the Doc will cut the literacy program that you’ve championed for the betterment of kids without offering a viable option.
  • Criticize the director and suddenly your entire personal financial history is the subject of public scrutiny. Did anybody else notice how fast that Fran Bush story disappeared?
  • Criticize the director at budget hearings and he’ll get his fraternity brothers to show up at a public hearing and paint you as a racist.

History dictated that after this week’s board meeting, the Tennessee Tribune would once again jump to Joseph’s defense. And they did not disappoint by printing an op-ed piece on Thursday.

Interestingly enough, in defending him, the newspaper failed to identify another one of Joseph’s fiercest critics who has been very outspoken, new board member Fran Bush. A board member who happens to be an African-American. I’m sure it’s just an oversight that they ran pictures of the two white women while ignoring a fellow African-American who is being equally hard on Dr.Joseph. If I didn’t know better, I would think there was an agenda at play here.

I’m not denying the Director’s right to mount a defense. My concern is rather the tenor of that defense, I would ask that he be cautious in the narratives that he is painting in his defense and consider the ramifications beyond self interest.

His strategy in response to criticism seems to be one of division. Dividing people is never the best strategy for overcoming problems. Attacking sitting board members might have been a successful strategy in Prince George’s County, where school board members are appointed. Here in Nashville, where board members are elected, it is not really a workable strategy.

Seeing as the director reports directly to and in actuality, works for, the school board, the onus should be on him to ensure a working relationship between the himself and the board. I get that he may have issues with certain board members. He is not the only one who has ever had to work for a boss that they thought was a jackass. You have to find a way to work with them. If not, you won’t be successful.

I reflect on the story a friend who was a VP for a company making mid-six figures once related to me. He’d been in his position for a couple of years and hadn’t had a good relationship with his supervisor throughout his tenure – hard to believe, but making mid-six figures does not free you from the yoke of a boss. When it came time to sit down for his annual review, his boss commented, “You and I have never seen eye to eye, have we?”

“No, we haven’t,” my friend acknowledged.

“Yeah, I think it’s time we just end this whole relationship.”

And with those words, my friend was no longer employed. He’d been very successful at his job and was well respected throughout the industry for his skills. None of that came into play. He could not get along with his boss, and therefore, he was forced to seek new employment.

It would behoove Joseph to pay heed to that story. Open warfare with your boss never works out well. They aren’t going to change their behavior to suit your needs. It’s you who has to find a way to collaborate. Somehow that reality has been lost when it comes to MNPS. Will someone please help it be found?

FURTHER NOTES FROM MEETINGS

What follows is a hodgepodge of observations and inference drawn from the recent school board meeting.

There was a good conversation held on the process MNPS employs in reporting teacher misconduct to the state and the corrections MNPS has made in order to stay in compliance with state regulations. As outlined by the MNPS HR department, they draw up discipline paperwork based on their investigations, findings, and actions, and then submits it to the director’s office to be signed. The director’s office then signs it and submits it to the state, followed by a receipt to the HR department signifying that the required paperwork has been filed. Sounds foolproof, right?

It may be until the director intercedes and doesn’t adhere to the department’s recommendation. This is what happened with the aforementioned Bodenhammer case. The principal and HR made a recommendation, and then Dr. Joseph met with Bodenhammer. Based on that meeting, his disciplinary action was altered. So in this case, how would HR know what paperwork to write-up? Maybe Dr. Joseph notified them, maybe he didn’t.

It is disappointing that MNPS leadership continues to try to focus blame on former employees. While blaming an ex is certainly convenient, that employee’s complete role was not shared during the explanation of the current process. In the end, no matter how many allegedly disgruntled employees may be involved, the responsibility for reporting still lies with the director.

During the governance meeting, it was a little disturbing that some board members seemed unfamiliar with recently-passed policy. Nearly all of the board policy has been updated as of late and approved by board members. Surely they familiarized themselves with it before approving.

A robust discussion on the recently completed metro audit of MNPS spending. I urge you to watch it, specifically the portion that centers on the director’s travel budget.

Per the audit, the director has $2,700 annually in his budget, but regularly exceeds that by $10k-11k a year. As a defense, it was offered up that 2 years ago, the director’s first year, the board did a lot of traveling and that’s the reason for exceeding the budget.

Ok… but why is this hard? The way it should play out is that the director says to the board, “Hey, I think we should do a retreat in Chattanooga.”

The board says, “Ok, do you have enough in your budget to cover your travel? You do? Well, we don’t have enough in ours. Do you have enough to cover us out of yours as well? No? Then we are not going to Chattanooga this year. Let’s make a note of this and budget enough for next year.”

That’s what families all across the district do every day, every year. Why should district leadership be any different? They seem to think that you just write a budget as an estimate and spend what you desire. Shifting money around at will.

As you probably know, the law firm Bone, McCallister, and Norton has been hired to do some HR auditing for the district. There was a discussion on that scope of work. Based on what I heard, their role will be to create policy, write policy, and train staff on policy. All of which, I would argue, should be the responsibility of  the two women employed by the district and making over $300k a year combined. If they are incapable of performing that task, why are we not replacing them with people who can, instead of paying an outside entity additional money to do their job?

During the meeting, the board finally discussed lead in schools’ drinking water. A discussion that should have taken place 2 years ago, but why quibble. Unfortunately, Executive Officer of Operations Ken Stark is still out peddling the canard that flushing is part of EPA protocols. The good news is that the Mayor’s office has gotten Metro Water involved and the situation has noticeably improved.

One last thing, board members continue to heap praise on district leaders for merely conducting tests. Keep that in mind when you go to the doctor and he orders cancer tests, but once the tests come back positive, he fails to offer treatment. Hey, cancer treatment is expensive and he didn’t think you could afford it. Thank God he ordered the tests. At least now you know you’re dying, right?

Executive Director of Innovation Schools Lisa Coons presented on the recently released state priority school list. Coons did a better job here then she did at the press conference held the day before. I still fail to see how any of this is considered a plan. There is nothing in the “plan” that is significantly different then what we should be doing for all schools.

High quality teachers are considered one of the four pillars, yet the district is still woefully understaffed when it comes to teachers at ALL schools. How is the Innovation office going to counter a districtwide trend? I’m sure it will be done through yet another survey or focus group.

The most disturbing portion of Coons’s presentation came when Jill Speering asked how many priority schools we actually had previously. Was it 15, 14, 11, or 9? All numbers that have been bandied about. Instead of just answering the question, Coons tried to equivocate about what year did Speering mean. She could only talk about last year because that was her first year in the district. Huh?

Only knowing the history since you got here should be unacceptable to everybody. Before forming a plan for the future, you need to be well versed in the past. It’s imperative that the people moving us forward can recite the past with a deep understanding. If you don’t know the past, how do you guarantee that you are not just repeating it?

Dr. Joseph likes to state, “We know what it takes to get off the list.” I disagree. The work that led to Whitsitt, Inglewood, Pearl Cohn, exiting the priority list started 3 years ago. Over the last two years, Dr. Joseph brought 2 of his own people in from Maryland. Both of which failed to make an impact.

So, no, you don’t know what it takes. But the people before you apparently did. Therefore it may prove beneficial to study that history and be able to recite it as if it were yours. Just saying.

I’d suggest taking a look at that priority school list and ask yourself how many of those schools have seen continual turnover at the principal position. Then look at the reward schools and ask yourself the same question. Just saying. I’m betting one has more stability than the other.

I’d also keep an eye on that pillar of “effective instruction.” Much of the language used here is eerily similar to that used by The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and their support of CKLA. We’ll talk more about that in the future, but until then I’ll leave you with TNTP’s recently released study on the Opportunity Myth. I do suggest reading Peter Greene’s Field Guide to Bad Education Research before diving into the TNTP piece.

During the board meeting, there was a discussion centered around Dr. Joseph’s driver. This driver is a source of contention with many stakeholders. If you are unfamiliar with the power of symbolism, I suggest picking up a copy of Joseph Campbell. The Power of Myth is a good starting place.

The assertion was made that previous directors also utilized a driver. That is incorrect. Chris Henson drove his own vehicle and it also impressed me to see him pull up to a school in his own car by himself to visit. Dr. Register drove himself and if several administrators were going to the same place, they rode together with Register driving. Dr. Garcia also drove himself until MEDICAL reasons forced him to utilize a driver towards the end of his tenure.

Those are just a few of my observations. I encourage you to watch the meetings and form your own opinions. We should take heart, though, that board members are starting to take the gloves off. While it provides some short-term discomfort, in the long run, it will prove beneficial.

QUICK HITS

I recently came across this article entitled “Why Your Students Don’t Like to Read.” It’s one of my favorite in recent memory. Unfortunately, the writer’s relating to middle school reading practices rings all too true:

My love for reading disappeared when I got to middle school. Every book we were assigned came with standards-aligned questions, literary analysis prompts, and essays. We would get to class, copy 10 or so questions off the board, sit at our desks while our peers read aloud (God forbid we turned the page early), and then we would answer each question in a complete sentence. That was it. And then we would go home, read 10 more pages, and answer some more questions in complete sentences. It was agony. I used to doze off and turn the page as soon as I heard the entire class doing the same.

I love her analogy of how the joy of reading is killed:

Imagine going home after a long day, collapsing on your couch, and turning on your favorite guilty pleasure — The Bachelor. Now, imagine that you have to take notes, answer ridiculous comprehension questions, analyze what each contestant meant when they said something provocative, and then write an argumentative essay about which contestant should be chosen at the end.

So, so, so true, I urge everyone to read it.

Vesia Hawkins continues to write very thoughtful pieces over at the blog Volume & Light. Her latest talks about the recently released priority school list and Nashville’s failure to live up to its obligations in regard to black and brown kids. While I don’t agree with all of her assertions, I do believe she offers valuable insight and I truly appreciate her work.

Over at TNEd Report, Andy Spears does us all a favor by collecting Maplewood teacher Jarred Amato’s series of tweets. I’ve long been a fan of Amato’s despite us disagreeing on some subjects. The beauty of my relationship with Amato is that our major respect has never come with the caveat of universal agreement. I urge you to read his words and think about them.

In late breaking news, MNPS sent a letter to middle school teacher Sonji Collins that they have wrapped up their investigation and, yes, she was sexually harassed. Collins has a pending lawsuit against the district. So I’m assuming negotiations will start soon.

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.

THE GLARINGLY EVIDENT

9

“The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.”
Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

“How about less snark and more solutions, TC? You’ve got a big platform now. Be about something instead of always fighting the man.” – Private Twitter Message

That second quote was sent to me yesterday, I presume after the sender read my tweets from the press conference held by MNPS addressing the increase in state-designated priority schools. Believe it or not, the comment is indicative of a continually ongoing internal dialogue for me. I fully recognize my tendency to become snarky when faced with confrontation and do try to mitigate it. I blame it on the addict in me.

I’ve often expressed that I never laughed harder than I did during those 21 days I spent in rehab. Surrounded by like-minded people who shared a common gallows humor, there were no sacred cows. But what might not have been recognized from the outside is that while we were treating everything as if it were a cosmic joke, we worked with a single-minded purpose to heal. Without the snark, the task in front of us would have seemed unassailable and impossible. Humor, dark humor, made it manageable.

We are in a similar predicament now with MNPS. Much like with my addiction, when it comes to the state of our schools, some people, unfortunately, are still in denial. They believe that a little more self-control, a little more prayer, a little more love will miraculously cause the body to heal. As with my efforts to control my drinking, without first admitting there is a problem, things have little prospect for healing. Like the big book says, the first step is admitting you have a problem. And Houston, we have a problem.

I purposely waited a day until after the press conference to write this post. It was important to me that I took time to think things through, to let my thoughts come together in as concise and unemotional manner as possible. While I freely admit that the current situation pisses me off, I also understand that it’s equally important to step back and consider things in as a dispassionate manner as possible. So having done that, here are my observations, along with the video from yesterday’s event. In case you want to check my observations.

First, to give credit where credit is due, Dr. Joseph, for the first time in his tenure as Director of Schools, stepped to the podium and semi-owned the situation. I give him props for that and maybe we’ll see more of it. I say semi-took responsibility because when directly asked by Channel 2 reporter Jessica Jaglois how much responsibility he felt he bore, he punted. “I take… Look, we take full responsibility as a school system for the fact that we have got to do better by our children.” He tried to say I… but defaulted to “we.” Still, that is an improvement.

Joseph then proceeded to become belligerent with Jaglois over her questioning. Over my lifetime, I’ve tried to focus on patterns of behavior over individual instances. When it comes to being questioned by women, there seems to be a clear pattern of behavior that emerges with Dr. Joseph. Whether it’s MNPS School Board members Amy Frogge or Jill Speering, TV Reporters Jessica Jaglois or Lindsay Bransom, a similar picture emerges. He doesn’t like back talk from the womenfolk.

Back in May, Joseph found himself in hot water for playing a snippet of the rap song, “Blow My Whistle” at a principal’s meeting. He prefaced that snippet by stating that during difficult budget talks with the school board, he sometimes play songs in his head; “Blow the Whistle” was offered as an example. The thing is there is only one man on the school board and I doubt Joseph is playing “Blow the Whistle” in his head while Will Pinkston is speaking. In that light, coupled with the accumulating evidence, it becomes clear that a questioning female voice is not music to the doctor’s ear.

While reflecting on yesterday’s press conference, I decided that the whole thing could be summed up by two exchanges. First, during his initial remarks, Dr. Joseph spoke of being at the barber shop over the weekend where he, by happenstance, ended up next to a Pearl Cohn parent. A parent whose child is now attending Yale. The crowd applauded for this laudatory tale that was offered as evidence of the good work being done at Pearl Cohn High School.

The second part comes later in the program as School Board Chair Sharon Gentry stepped to the podium and told how she tried to Google “Pearl Cohn” and “Yale” and couldn’t find the story. She told the audience what came up instead was the many negative stories associated with Pearl Cohn. She admonished everyone in attendance that “we had to get better at telling our stories.”

Here’s the rub. The student is question played football for Pearl Cohn but actually graduated from MLK. That, in a nutshell, sums up the last two years under Dr. Joseph. He tells a narrative that is close to the truth, but not rooted in it, and the school board recounts it without ever verifying its veracity.

Need another example? Look no further than the story on sexual harassment offenses committed by former JFK MS principal Sam Braden. Joseph peddled the story to the board members as just another incident of a news reporter trying to scare up controversy. There was nothing to see and nothing to discuss here. Board members didn’t push and to this day there has been no substantial discussion on HR practices in regard to sexual harassment on the board floor. Yesterday, Metro legal officially admitted that many of the instances actually did happen. In other words, there was cause for a discussion. This is just one more instance of the creating a narrative not based in fact that Dr. Joseph tends to regularly engage in, unencumbered by the school board.

At the press conference, the director, along with the head of priority schools – excuse me, innovation schools – Dr. Lisa Koons, did get around to unveiling a semblance of a plan to address the increase in priority schools. Like everything else, it, too, was devoid of details. In summation, the plan is based on 4 pillars:

  1. Refining supports to school leaders
  2. Strengthening instructional coaching
  3. Developing student and family supports
  4. Growing teacher talent

My immediate question would be why are we not doing this already for every school? The district has been hemorrhaging teachers for at least 3 years, but we still don’t have a plan in place for every school, let alone priority schools. Yet one pillar of this plan is teacher recruitment and retention. Developing student and family support is another pillar, yet after two years there are only three clusters with parent advisory committees up and running – Stratford, Hillsboro, and Overton – in the whole district. Those are up and running solely due to parental and individual school leadership making it happen because the district is still studying what approach will work best. So again, proposing a tactic for priority schools that is needed for all schools.

Strengthening instructional coaching… somebody needs to talk to the literacy coaches and see how they feel about the training they’ve received this year. It won’t be a glowing review.

In other words, everything that is being talked about in the plan for priority schools needs to be done for the entire system. It is also stuff that should have been started last year, or earlier. None of this is innovation, which is fine because I believe there is a lot of merit in executing the basic at a high level, but let’s call it what it is and execute. Not throw up a whole bunch of smoke and mirrors and label it innovation.

Coupled with the lack of a plan is the feeling that there seems to be a concentrated effort to dampen down the conversation. In the press conference, Dr. Joseph called out critics, saying, “We need to stop bickering over trivial issues, and we need to unite to support our children.” An op-ed published in the Tennessean this weekend, that feels like a Pinkston production, was signed by the Mayor, the Vice-Mayor, the school board chair, and the director of schools, and echoes those sentiments: “But we will only succeed if we find a way to bicker less and instead work together to equitably address historic challenges of underfunding of our public schools.”

I’m curious which subject these city leaders deign as “bickering.” Is it the sexual harassment charges? The lead in the water? The questionable spending? The out of whack salaries? The lack of real academic direction or even a real plan? What exactly is considered “bickering” and what would fall into the category of fighting for the best educational opportunities for our kids?

The truth is that Nashville’s city leaders have been standing in the way of kids getting the educational opportunities they deserve for the last 2 years and it’s time to get out of the way. It’s time to listen to what teachers, administrators, and parents have been saying in increased numbers over the last year: we need leadership. The pleas have been both emphatic and ignored.

Where is the city leader, other than board members Bush, Speering, and Frogge, with the courage to stand up and say, “I got questions”? Where is the city leader that is calling upon Dr. Joseph and saying, “Um… my constituents tell me this ain’t working? We need to fix it now”? There is none to be found, and as a result, the system suffers.

There is no opposition leadership. Instead, families and educators are told to get in step and stop questioning. I don’t believe that is going to be a succesful strategy. Based on conversations and comments on social media, dissatisfaction is only growing. Eventually, it will reach its tipping point, but until then, what will be the damage done?

I don’t want to underscore the amazing things that, despite the district’s dysfunction, are happening in individual schools and classrooms. Many school leaders have the skills to mitigate the failings of the district in order to create exceptional learning environments.

Those efforts should be applauded and celebrated, but it needs to be recognized that individual schools performing well is not the same thing as the system performing well. Not all schools and school leaders are created equal. City leaders need to fight as hard for MNPS as a school system as parents and teachers are fighting for individual schools. Leaders and advocates owe it to teachers and administrators to engage so that they can focus on the business of schooling.

While some may dismiss my commentary as mere “snark,” I don’t see it that way. I see it as advocating for the people who can’t advocate for themselves because their focus needs to be elsewhere. If the “man” is preventing our schools, our teachers, our administrators, and our students from truly soaring, I will be continually fighting him. I’ll know when it’s time to quit fighting the “man” when teachers, administrators, and families indicate that things are truly improving. That is not the current case.

I’ll flip the script and challenge those who accuse me of snark to take a stand. Instead of always finding the path of least resistance or taking up only the fights you know you can win, draw a line and take a stand for those who need you. Take a risk of being seen as a troublemaker, a malcontent, and unreasonable. Let people know that you are not only promising to fight but that you are already fully engaged. You do that and I’ll lose the snark.

In light of yesterday’s press conference, I find myself reflecting back on recent history. In 2014, when the priority schools list doubled from 6 to 15, there was a lot of hand-wringing and criticism directed at then Director of Schools Jesse Register. One quote made at that time by board member Will Pinkston is equally applicable today and bears repeating:

“Why didn’t we see this coming?” he asked, noting the absence of a turnaround plan. “Why should we be convinced that the organizational capacity now exists to do what we should have been doing already?”

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Lurking in the background during all of this conversation is Dr. Joseph’s contract. It expires on June 30, 2020. That is the end of next year’s school year. The renewal clause says that if the board intends to not renew his contract they must inform him of their intention no later than January 1, 2020. Those are the official dates.

I believe that the conversation about his contract will begin right after MAP scores are released in November. Here’s my reasoning: Nobody wants to go into the final year of their contract without a clear cut indication of renewal. Dr. Joseph will want a contract in place by the end of this school year. The budget season is going to be rough this year, and so, that’ll leave little room for negotiations on the director’s contract. That means he’ll probably want to get his contract done and have at least some kind of agreement in place by the middle of February.

Now you can’t push for a new contract without also asking for more money, right? So the doctor needs some good news in order to make that argument. MAP scores were an effective tool for such an argument last year and there is no reason to believe they won’t be this year. I think it’s also a priority for Joseph to quiet things down a bit so that potential good news has some ground to grow in. Hence the calls for us to stop the bickering and work for the kids.

I further believe that this pending contract negotiation was a big reason for the push to have Sharon Gentry assume leadership of the board. If Frogge would have become chair it’s extremely doubtful that the subject of the contract would be brought up, and if it was, the terms would most likely be considerably less favorable to Dr. Joseph. Dr. Gentry was a very willing partner to Joseph last go around and there is no reason to assume that she’ll be any different this time.

Time will tell if I’m correct, but I would keep an eye on things.

QUICK HITS

Lost in all the talk of Priority Schools is the fact that the district did see a raise in Reward Schools. While my beloved Tusculum ES barely missed the cut, I do want to congratulate those that made it.

The MNPS schools on the 2018 Reward Schools List are:

  • 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

Over at the TNEd Report, Andy Spears has a solid piece on what money means when it comes to school discipline policies. I urge you to read it.

Please welcome Jessica Padgett, as the new Community Achieves site manager to HG Hill Middle! They are so excited to be a Community Achieves school this year and glad to have Jessica on their team to coordinate partnerships and programs! Good things ahead.

Antioch Middle School kicked off yesterday! Gotta love seeing everyone in their college gear! They have a week full of college activities, including college trivia today during lunch!

POLL RESULTS

Thank you once again for your participation in our weekly poll. Some very interesting answers this week.

The first question asked what you thought of the opinion piece written by Briley, Shulman, Gentry, and Joseph. Out of 130 responses, 72 of you indicated that it sounded like 4 people completely out of touch. The number 2 answer, with 35 responses, said that you wished they’d listen to the public as much as they listen to each other. Absolutely none of you indicated that you thought it was a needed message or that you felt better after having read it.

This one generated a few write-in responses as well and here they are:

only doing PR is an instant credibility fail 1
This really frightens me. Leaders? 1
What is that ? 1
Talk is cheap. Visit schools, sit in classrooms, talk to kids. 1
Meh 1
4 happy people in an echo chamber. 1
I’m glad that some people can come together!! 1
INVESTIGATE-Gentry & Joseph- will take him down 1
Who 1
Didn’t know about it til now

The district has held the position that they are not employing the use of scripted curriculum. However, in talking to teachers I continually hear a different story. In this light, I decided to ask for your feedback. Out of 136 responses, 52 of you indicated that any claims of not utilizing scripted curriculum should be considered bovine feces. 53 of you answered that it may not be scripted, but it is awful controlled. Only 1 of you indicated that you appreciate the guidance, though some of the write-in answers told a different story. Here they are:

I know for a fact they are. 1
any teacher not using scripted curriculum is swimming against the current 1
From the inside: Huh? 1
Scripted or structured – either way it implies teachers cannot design instruction 1
What curriculum? That’s half of the problem! No reading or math curriculum. 1
And breaking copyright laws…kids with binders of the material! 1
2 high quality units challenge Ts thinking and practices doesn’t = scripted 1
I thought that’s why all that love it love it… why deny it’s scripted now? 1
Yep! It’s scripted. We now have Hamburger Helper curriculum! 1
The curriculum is not scripted. It’s is following the state’s unit starters. 1
Honestly, it’s needed. We need help. 1
Scripts in Middle Grades 1
The district must not know the definition of scripted. 1
IFL is scripted. More concerning is the idea of identical lesson plans and pacing 1
How about empowering & supporting teachers… scripted doesn’t work

The last question asked if you thought Nashville had an affordable housing crisis. Out of 148 responses, 89 of you asked who can afford to live in this city anymore. On the other end of the spectrum, 8 of you said it was a challenge but not a crisis. Here are the write-in answers to that one:

yes. 1
Devastating crisis. Wake up. 1
Yes. 1
Yes, to a detriment of the city’s sense of community. 1
Barely making it in the “it” city 1
The rich get richer and the poor get pushed out 1
All of Middle TN, not just Nashville. 1
Maybe is we all made $130k like Maritza 1
An unaddressed crisis pushing out a lot of us (me included). 1
By design!!! Future Vegas… failing schools drive families out, party peeps in 1
My home is nearly paid for. I must be part of the problem.

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 DAY OF RECKONING

14

“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 #89

“And time is but an essence

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, choosing 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. But there is one candidate I believe in wholeheartedly.

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. Campaigns are often the springboards to relationships of convenience, but 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 himself 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 state house. 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 included 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 rebranding these school as “innovation schools.” A plank Dr. Joseph is still clinging to, as an item on next week’s school board meeting, under director’s 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 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 school, 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 ES
  • Antioch Middle
  • McKissack MS
  • Belshire ES
  • Caldwell ES
  • Cumberland ES (Home of the highest paid ES principal who hails from PGCPS)
  • Gra-Mar MS
  • Haynes ES (State managed to spell it correctly)
  • Jere Baxter MS
  • Joelton MS
  • Robert E Lilliard ES
  • Maplewood High
  • McMurray MS
  • Rosebank ES
  • Madison MS
  • Tom Joy ES
  • Warner ES
  • Whites Creek HS
  • Wright MS
  • 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 its results do not 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 plans at next week’s board meeting or, 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 to 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 ES
  • Cameron College Prep
  • Charlotte Park ES
  • Crieve Hall ES
  • Dan Mills ES
  • Eakin ES
  • Glendale ES
  • Gower ES
  • Head MS
  • Hume-Fogg HS
  • Intrepid College Preparatory Charter School
  • KIPP Academy Nashville
  • Lockeland Springs ES
  • Martin Luther King Jr School
  • Meigs MS
  • Neely’s Bend ES
  • Purpose Prep
  • Rocketship United
  • Shwab ES
  • 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 5% 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. Policies 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 a Who, “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 who 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 underfunded 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 its more affluent students. Kinda like Prince George’s County Public 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, a 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, so maybe Shulman 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 at 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 or 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 the following:

  • 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 school’s 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.

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.