METRO NASHVILLE AUDITORS DELIVER A PUNT WORTHY OF RAY GUY.

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If you read the title of this blog and scratched your head wondering who Ray Guy is, you are obviously a sight younger than me or don’t follow sports. Let me help clarify. Ray Guy is a punter who played for the Oakland Raiders back in the 70’s. He is the first punter ever inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame. His trademark was kicking punts that stayed in the air for so long that by the time the punt returner was able to field it, the Raiders’ coverage unit had the field covered so well that a return was not possible. Yesterday with the release of the Audit of the Metro Nashville Public Schools Financial Matters(20180820MNPSFinancialMattersFinalReport-ilovepdf-compressed), the Metro Nashville Department of Internal Audit did Ray Guy proud.

In case you haven’t been closely following this story closely let me get you caught up. Back in March the MNPS budget process had gotten so convoluted that board chair Anna Shepherd and Vice-Chair Jill Speering reached a conclusion that an audit by Metro Nashville Government was needed in order to fully understand district expenditures. The promise of an audit by Metro Nashville Government was welcomed by the public and it quickly became the most anticipated release of the summer. There was a lot of speculation on just what conclusions would be reached, ranging from damaging to dismissive.

Five months later and with the release of the audit, anticipation has been replaced by disbelief. There is nothing in this audit. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. There is merely a listing of expenditures with no in-depth analysis. Under the section titled “What we found”, there is one paragraph,

The current accounting and budget structure do not completely meet the needs of certain members of the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education to identify central office versus centralized services costs.

This observation stems from the discovery that MNPS has no means to separate central office employees from centralized services employees because a definition of central office does not exist. Furthermore, Metro Nashville Public Schools is unable to separate expenditures for consultants from contracted services expenditures.Which leads to their sole recommendation,

Determine if the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education could benefit from a cost accounting report that separates central office costs from other district costs.

BAM! That ball is hanging in the air. I wonder if it will ever come down. Since the conversation around the size of central office has been going on for a decade, I can only conclude that the lack of a definition is intentional. Same holds true in regard to consultants. These are not new conversations and as such the lack of definitive definitions in inexcusable.

Despite this large shortcoming, the audit does collect some interesting numbers for inclusion.

Apparently the average salary for a central office employee has risen approximately 4k to $90,139. Payroll itself has risen roughly 3.2 million dollars over the last 2 years. To be fair to Dr. Joseph, we don’t know if that is good or bad, because this audit shares no context. For some reason, under the year 2016 the amount of growth is considered N/A. 3.2 million sounds like a big number to me for payroll growth, but is it. I don’t know and the audit gives me no clue. Though there are some conclusions sprinkled through the report.

One of my favorite conclusions in the audit is in regard to when MNPS leadership should have been aware of the loss of funds due to a drop in enrollment. After running through a brief summation of the methodology involved with monitoring enrollment between the district and the state, auditors conclude that, “The timing of when management “should have known” and made adjustments accordingly is an internal decision by the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.” Well, thank you for that insight. How about a little history and context of when these adjustments were communicated in the past?

There is another section that compares budgeted areas with actual expenditures. Looking at it I get a sense of a mixed bag. Some items come in over budget, some under. While there are comparison charts with 2016 and 2017, there is little explanation of context, past performance, or best practices. For example, under fixed costs, in 2018 we were nearly 2 million under budget, in 2017 roughly half a million over budget, and then in 2016 we were half a million under budget. So what does that mean? Is that fluctuation normal?

My interpretation is that fixed costs are just that, fixed, and therefore should be a bit more predictable. But I’m not accountant, Are these kinds of swings common? What does best practices say? What happens to the money that is under spent in a category? A little help here would have been nice. Instead, everyone is left to their own interpretation and little gets definitively resolved.

To say this report is a disappointment would be an understatement. For whatever reason, a large portion of the Nashville Community believes that MNPS leadership is mismanaging resources. There was an expectation my many that the audit would illuminate MNPS’s financial practices in a manner that clarified if this was indeed true or not. Clarification that would lead to better informed decisions being made. Now whether that was a right or wrong expectation is another conversation, but to fail to acknowledge that expectation, at the very least points to a colossal failure by those charged with constructing the audit. A request for the auditing departments specialized knowledge was made, and for the most part that knowledge was not applied.

There very real, and emotional conversations taking place around the financing of MNPS. There are many that believe the cloud of suspicion surrounding the district spending contributed to our schools being further underfunded this year. While others hold fast to the belief that money is being mis-spent. There was a hope by many that upon release of the audit there would be some clarity. Instead 5 months later, things are as opaque as ever and ultimately school funding will suffer. As long as there is distrust in the system, increased funding will not be realized.

MNPS is a district plagued by distrust. An argument could be made that much of the distrust in the district stems from people feeling like their concerns are not being addressed. This audit could have served as a counter argument to that belief.

People came forward in large numbers to discuss their concerns and observations with the auditors. They did so at the expense of their time, and in some cases at risk to their professional future. To have an audit come back with so little meaningful information discourages people from participating in the future. The narrative will take root that nobody will address documented concerns anyway, so why bother. There is nothing contained in this audit that can be used as a counter argument to that narrative.

As long as long as this cloud continues, and a sense of transparency and accountability is not established, people will continue to divest. That divestment can result in nothing but the destabilizing of our public education system.

It is like that friend who continually asks to borrow money because his family can’t eat, yet we run into him at the local tavern. That might be the only time in a month he’s been there, he might really be trying to get a better job, there might be a host of other elements to the story, but sans evidence to the contrary, we are going to assume that he’s taking the money we lend him and blowing it on booze. Odds are we are not going to give him more money. MNPS is no different.

The recently completed audit had an opportunity to clear up important elements to the narrative on MNPS spending, one way or the other. Unfortunately that is an opportunity that is going to go unrealized. That’s a shame, because you don’t get to many opportunities at this.

There is a continuing investigation into human resources practices being conducted still. When that will be completed, is anyone’s guess.

At the 1976 Pro Bowl, Guy became the first punter to hit the Louisiana Superdome video screen. Officials raised the screen from 90 feet to 200 feet. I’d argue that the raising of the screen is  what’s called for in regard to MNPS as well.

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WHEN TWO TRIBES GO TO WAR

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As of late there has been a lot of chatter about how culturally Americans are dividing into basically two tribes, conservatives and liberals. There are smaller tribes, but even those tribes are slowly getting absorbed into the two larger tribes.

Look at the last couple of elections here in Nashville and you’ll see evidence of what I’m talking about. Whether it is the transportation plan, electing a new mayor or electing a new state senator, it seems that the same people divide into the same sides and the same battles ensue. I hear y’all starting to protest, and sure some of you remain outside the boundaries of the bigger tribes, but if you are honest you’ll admit the slide towards a tribe has already begun.

Sociologists have long noted the trend and last year economist and best-selling author Tyler Cowen released a new book called, The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. In this book he notes how Americans are becoming more and more a part of a matching culture. “We’re moving residences less, marrying people more like ourselves and choosing our music and our mates based on algorithms that wall us off from anything that might be too new or too different. Match.com matches us in love. Spotify and Pandora match us in music. Facebook matches us to just about everything else.”

No where is this trend more evident than when it comes to education policy. It reminds me of the adventure clubs you could join when I was a kid. You signed up and in return you got a T-shirt, a window decal or bumper sticker, a list of beliefs, and the first news letter. You were always told that your adventure club was A number 1, and any others were just second-rate and not to be trusted.

That’s how it is now in education circles, except there are only two clubs, the reformers and the defenders. Each has a list of tenets that the joiner must subscribe to, as well as some that you ascribe to members of the other club. Each tenet comes with a catch slogan,

  • Y’all just want to preserve the status quo.
  • We believe all kids can learn.
  • Charter schools promote segregation.
  • Traditional schools fail kids.

You get the gist. I don’t need to list them all. The one thing these slogans all have in common is that they sound good as long as you don’t look too deep. For example, “Charter Schools promote segregation.” Sounds good if you just look at the Black and Hispanic families that chose to attend charter schools and don’t pay attention to your urban public schools. But, remember what I told you Friday?

Pearl Cohn HS has 17 white kids. Julia Green has 25 black kids in grades 3-5. Percy Priest has 12 black kids in grades 3-5. Glendale, the Spanish Immersion School, has 10 Hispanic kids in grades 3-5. Napier ES has 5 white kids. Carter-Lawrence ES has 25 white kids in grades 3-5.

Those numbers don’t exactly reek of integration. Now Charter schools don’t be getting all uppity. You’ve got plenty of misconceptions on your own side. Charter’s will talk about huge rates of teacher turnover in public schools, but if you look at Knowledge is Power Academies in Nashville. They’ve already hired 73 teachers/support staff/administrators to start 7/1/2018. That’s a lot of teachers starting so close to school and suggests some large turnover rates. The High School hired 20 more.

Sure, Valor Academy is doing some ground breaking work, but I’d argue Fall Hamilton is breaking some barriers itself.

I’m not putting any of this out there to try embarrass or shame anybody. Recent TNReady results after all show KA performing quite well. My point in all of this is that education policy is hard and you can’t reduce it to simple tribal tenets and then argue that the adoption of one set of tenets over another will solve the issues and always prove beneficial to kids.

Part of the problem is that so much of the real action takes place in that magical place called the classroom. Few of us try to access the classroom with any regularity so we are a little in the dark as to what actually happens in that nether world. We also don’t often feel comfortable talking to those who are regular visitors to the magical realm, i.e. teachers, so we miss out on additional information there as well. Since we don’t really know what goes on in the classroom, it’s easy to make suppositions. Those suppositions fuel the growth of the two tribes.

The cynic in me attributes money and ego as the fuel for the battle between the two tribes. At the top I see both tribes afflicted with the same malaise. The growth of the reform tribe began in earnest right around the time of No Child Left Behind but exploded with the adoption of Race to the Top. Tennessee alone received $500 million for their successful application. That’s a lot of cabbage around an industry that perpetually cries underfunded. It’s enough cabbage to fund a separate economy around school performance.

Between 2011 and 2015 the number of testing companies, curriculum developers, intervention specialists, educational software developers, principal trainers, teacher trainers, data specialists, grew disproportionately compared to previous years. The reformers saw gold in them dar hills and the defenders saw some one coming for their bounty, and thus war broke out. With war came the opportunity to be a savior. A bit of an over simplification but the more I think on it, the more I buy in to it.

Now, I’m not saying everybody involved in education over the past several years picked sides based on potential financial rewards or ego, just mainly the generals. Every general needs soldiers and few areas attract well-meaning and caring souls like education. The chiefs in both camps became very good at keeping their respective acolytes fired up. Continually convincing them that the other side was up to dastardly deeds at the expense of the nations children. Not too difficult a task when your soldiers have the best interests of kids as a primary motivation.

There is a lot of money out here in the world of education if you don’t waste it on kids. We all know about the high salaries of the leaders in the reform community, but how many of you realize that MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph has a compensation package – salary, retirement, health plan, vacation days – that sits around half a million dollars annually. Not exactly missionary work is it? His salary is not an outlier.

In his aforementioned book, Cowan argues that this dividing into tribes is ultimately hurting us. Where once we were a restless culture, we have begun to substitute change for comfort. Being around like-minded individuals allows us to feel a higher level of comfort and as a result we are postponing change, due to our nearsightedness and extreme desire for comfort, but ultimately this will make change, when it comes, harder.

You can see evidence of this resistance to change over the events of the last month. Phil Williams at Channel 5 News has been continually for the last three weeks filing stories that point to deep corruption at MNPS.

Collectively it’s a pretty damning portrait and one that I would think would inspire some calls for change. But instead it has resulted in a collective shrug. The school board raises no questions publicly. The mayor continues to publicly praise the Director of schools who feels no compulsion to answer inquiries by the media. In fact he feels safe to just avoid them at will. The human resources director feels so confident in the lack of public outcry that she just goes ahead and heads out on a three-week vacation, reportedly to Africa. Nobody feels any impetus to change.

What does dominate the news? Testing of course. Both sides have tenets that clearly address this subject. A letter gets sent and it is open season for discussion.  Everybody from the state commissioner of education, to equity groups, to individual school districts, gets to shout an opinion. Most of the opinions are of the “test is good” or the “test is bad” ilk.

Here’s one I’d like to see something someone shout about. In a test like TNReady, that is based on performance, the practice has always been rooted in a bell curve. 3 is considered your median. 1 and 5 are your outliers, under performing and over performing. 3’s and 4’s are each considered one index away from the norm. I think the expectation would be that the majority of your scores would fall into the middle categories right? Here’s approximately where they fell on this year’s TNReady,

  • 493 ones
  • 144 twos
  • 320 threes
  • 163 fours
  • 574 fives

Hmmm…that’s quite the distribution isn’t it? How is that you have nearly double the number falling into the outlier categories as you do in the desired categories? Based on these results, you are either really kicking it or you are missing by a mile.

In other words, if Memphis is the destination, people are either going to Dallas or Miami, few are getting to Memphis. Lucy…you got some explaining to do. Yet, nobody feels any compulsion to actually explain how these results failed to comply with expected statistical results.

This is where I’d like to see less public out cry, but questioning behind closed doors, with Director’s of Schools attending meetings with the state and pointing these discrepancies out. I would think that these results would present a conundrum to both tribes and that they would both be equally vested in getting them right. The same as I believe both tribes would be equally vested in getting our school systems right when it comes to sexual misconduct.

I’ve said it before, and I imagine I’ll say it a 100 more times, we’ve got to go deeper in these conversations. “Charter school bad and traditional school good” or “Traditional schools just support the status quo” are comfortable slogans to chant, but they don’t begin to address the real needs our schools and our kids face. It is imperative that we avoid the trap of tribalism.

QUICK HITS

The ⁦⁩ Burro Brew is open for business. Great work and business related experiences for these students daily. Thank you, Dr Kriebel, for your leadership!

Speaking of Tribalism, I couldn’t help but note this one. Jason Isbell, an example of the unhinged left? Isbell is probably one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet and about the last person I’d describe as unhinged. He’s a thoughtful man with an inquisitive soul. Why the GOP would go here is beyond me. Sometimes you have to just let a fundraiser be what it is, a fund-raiser. Isbell ain’t exactly Billy Bragg.

It’s oft debated whether Shakespeare is still relevant to kids today. Read this special profile of Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s fearless leader Denice Hicks for insight on just how relevant the Bard’s words are. She is a Nashville treasure. Take the family to see A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream. You won’t regret it.

MNPS and Director of Assessment Paul Changes are claiming that technical problems with online testing led to the recent poor TNReady scores for the high schools.

“It is impossible to quantify the impact on these growth scores of the numerous online
assessment interruptions that occurred during the spring 2018 EOC assessments,” Changas said in the news release. “Given the reports we received from high schools during the spring testing, we were not surprised that our EOC exams took a hit this year.”

I guess the excuse of test fatigue has already been used once in the last two years, so you couldn’t use that one.

Missing from MNPS’s statement was the fact that Pearl-Cohn high school scored a 5 on TVAAS for growth. Apparently they managed to overcome the technical problems that plagued the other high schools. Also worth noting are the exceptional chemistry scores recorded by Hunter’s Lane. A growth index of +38 is pretty damn impressive.

Does anybody remember when Paul Changes actually did data analysis and didn’t just arrange the data to justify the narrative Dr. Joseph wanted told. Between test fatigue, an inexcusably bad internal study on Reading Recovery, over touting of MAP results, and now this…leads me to believe that the real Paul Changes along with the real Chris Henson have been kidnapped by Hydra agents and been replaced by these doppelgängers. I hope Nick Fury sets them free soon.

Here’s a fun little story for you about a retired New Mexico public school teacher and a famous painting. Cue the theme from the Pink Panther before reading.

Hunter’s Lane principal Sue Kessler talks about the continued over-reliance on testing in an editorial written for EduDive. Laying the blame squarely at the feet of ESSA, she argues against putting too much emphasis on test results.

We bandage boo-boos and write college recommendation forms. We reinforce the values of not hurting one another or taking something that doesn’t belong to us. We dry tears. We applaud growth. The combination of all of these things we do each day is the method behind the magic. The quality of a school or a teacher cannot be reduced to a standard of effectiveness based on how a student performs on one test one day. The tests should be a small part of a larger picture. A human is the most complicated being on the planet, and a child is so much more than a test score.

I encourage you to read the whole piece.

POLL RESULTS

I continue to get good response to the polls. I found the answers this week very interesting. Let’s take a look.

The first question asked how long you think Dr. Joseph will remain director of schools. This was a hotly contested question, but ultimately out of 169 of you, 50 figured the end of the year. 47 said until the end of his contract which is two years from now and 40 answered “6 months”. Two of you answered “5 years.” Good to know the doctor and the missus are participating. Here are the write-in answers. I found it very sobering when I realized Dr. Joseph makes a grand a day just for waking up.

Please go now! 1
When a job opens up in San Diego, Charlotte, or Atlanta 1
Until he gets a bigger and better offer 1
He makes damn near $1000 every day of his life. He’ll fight like hell to stay. 1
Too long! 1
I wish Joseph and Pinkston were already gone! 1
Until the elusive AUDIT appears 1
Until neighborhoods with failing schools are bought up by gentrifiers 1
Depends on what the audit shows. 1
Too long 1
Long enough to lose awesome teachers! 1
One more week is too long…. 1
It can’t be soon enough. I’ve never seen MNPS in such a mess. 1
Word on the street is 3 to 4 more weeks 1
He needs to be gone now, but he will last until his contract ends. 1
Till tbe end of his contract because most of the school board has been duped 1
Hopefully, he will be gone sooner than later. He is an embarrassment to us. 1
Dear God, let it be over soon 1
How long do I *think*, or how long do I *hope*?

Question two asked how long you thought Dr. Felder would remain with us. These replies were a bit puzzling to me. I expected them to mirror Dr. Joseph’s, but that wasn’t quite the case. Out of 154 of you, 71 said the end of the school year would do it for her tenure. 29 of you gave her 6 months, but 19 of you said she retires with MNPS. That kind of surprised and may be an indicator that she is making progress. 5 of you answered “5 years.”

Here are the write-ins,

Please go now! 1
Til Dr. J departs 1
Not even sure what she does except collect a fat paycheck. 1
I think Dr. Felder has potential. Her light is dimmed a bit from above her. 1
End of Joseph’s contract 1
As long as Dr. J is here, she will be! 1
She leaves when Joseph leaves. Anyone else will see she can’t do her job. 1
Last day tomorrow 1
Till a job opens up in Newark, Dallas, or Orlando 1
When Joseph leaves 1
Only until SJ needs to create another diversion . Then she’s under the bus. 1
Until Joseph leaves 1
She’ll go when DrJ goes 1
Her salary is out of whack. She’ll stay as long as she can too. 1
Who knows? Teflon C-suite

The last question asked about the hometown hero, Chris Henson. What a different story the replies for the question on his projected tenure were. Out of 159 responses, 109 of you felt he retires with MNPS. The number 2 answer with 19 responses was the end of the year. The write-in votes were a lot kinder as well.

I would take Chris Hanson, over Henson any day. 1
He needs to go. 1
When is the audit? 1
I think he is trying to keep his job. I have no problem with him. 1
he needs to be run out now! 1
Teflon Chris, until he retires.! We have to have an experience Interim . 1
I hope he outlasts this craziness. I think the real Henson is still around. 1
once he has accumulated 6 months vacation and gets bought like C. OTT 1
The one constant. 1
He needs to jump ship

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. have a great week!

COMMUNICATION LEFT ME DOWN

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Communication let me down
And I’m left here
Communication let me down
And I’m left here, I’m left here again! – Communication, Spandau Ballet

Once again we have arrived at the end of another week. That may appear to be a case of stating the obvious, but lately that doesn’t seem to be a given. A whole lot got crammed into this week, let’s see how much of it we can cover.

We’ll start with the releasing of this year’s TNReady scores. Let me throw a little warning flag up here. Those of you in the “TNReady is worthless crap” camp may not like today’s post so much. While I’m certainly no testing fan, for me the world is not as black and white as some may like to paint it. I tend to find a whole lot of gray out here.

Two week’s ago Will Pinkston, oops, I mean MNPS Director Shawn Joseph and Shelby County Chief of Schools Dorsey Hopson sent a letter to the press calling TNReady worthless to the press hoping to catch TN State Director of Education Candace McQueen’s attention and hopefully kick up enough dust that nobody would talk results. It worked.

After the letter hit, everybody with a keyboard, or a microphone, weighed in. Consider the dust kicked up. Into the maelstrom, TNReady results were released and for MNPS it was a mixed bag, There were some positive results but the district scored a composite TVAAS of 1 due to low high school scores.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday going through the data and I want to reiterate that there are some good stories in there. More good stories then I initially thought there would be. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because the resiliency of Nashville teachers and administrators is the stuff of legend. Contained in last years stories are testimony to some incredible hard work and a dedication that should not be summarily written off because you think the test is crap. Some examples,

  • Tusculum ES, a school with a high poverty level and a high concentration of EL students, that was previously in the lower 10% of the state scored 5’s across the board. One of only 65 schools across the state to do so.
  • Whitsitt ES, another school with a high concentration of poverty and EL students, that was previously on the priority list scored a composite score of 4 and will surely exit the priority school list this year.
  • John F Kennedy Middle School, a school whose leadership is currently embroiled in crisis, still managed to achieve 5″s in both Literacy and Science.
  • McMurray MS, which has basically been a construction site all year, overcame significant obstacles in order to achieve a composite score of 5.
  • Eakin ES, a school that was led for most of the year by the AP Mary Holland, managed to score 5’s across the board.
  • Charlotte Park, a school where just 3 years ago things were so bad the that 6 weeks before the end of school the principal had to be walked out of the building , scored 5’s across the board.
  • Valor Academy scored 5’s across the board. Maybe they are a charter school, but those are MNPS students achieving at high levels under an MNPS banner.
  • Una, Glenn, and Swabb ES, all scored composite scores of 5.

Those are just a few of the stories, and if I missed your school, please correct me in the comments. Those scores weren’t achieved just because a magic fairy came a long and touched them with a wand. They did the work. Teachers did the work and self sacrificed and should be damn proud of their work. Students did the work and should be extremely proud of it as well.

Now do the results tell everything about that school? Did those who did not hit the high marks not sacrifice and sweat blood and tears? No and of course they did. The scores are just a snap shot of what goes on a school at a given moment. Like any other snap shot, you can’t just look at one picture and pronounce the definitive evaluation. But if I showed you a handful of pictures and one of them happened to catch me in a better light than in the others, would you just those it out , or would you say, “This is really good picture of you”? And we’d both smile and enjoy the moment.

I hope we get to a place where the emphasis on standardized testing is diminished, but there are so few celebrations in public education. Teachers, parents, advocates, will testify that it often feels like you are always fighting something. That’s why I think it’s important to celebrate the victories when they come. If you are a school that did well, celebrate while realizing that the race is not over. If you area school that did not do well, evaluate. Take what’s valid. Leave what’s not. Build for the future. Celebrate the success of your peers and their stories. I am unabashedly proud of my wife and her teammates. Theirs and other’s stories deserve to be told.

Unfortunately, since the director of schools told us all that the scores were crap, we can’t tell those stories ourselves. Knox County Schools are telling their story. Greeneville County Schools are telling their story. Cleveland County Schools are telling their story. Chattanooga Schools are telling their story. Even Memphis schools are telling their story. Nashville is leaving it to the Tennessean’s Jason Gonzales to tell our story. A story without one quote from our director. After all Pinkston’s, I mean, Joseph’s letter said it all, right?

Gonzalez’s story chooses to focus on abysmal high school scores and rightfully so, they are extremely concerning. These scores’ would seem to indicate that a lot of good work and progress made over the last several years is being undone. That’s something a director of schools might want to speak to.

But that said, there are also some elements to the story that a director might want to help explain. Did you know that students enrolled in the advanced academic programs generally do not take EOC exams?

At Overton High School this year 16 kids earned the prestigious Cambridge AICE Diploma. Up from 12 in 2017. The overall pass rate was 67%. Slightly lower than last year, but still better than the national average. Last year was exceptionally good, and therefore would have been tough to match.

At Hillsboro HS the cohort averages a 26 on ACT. I think it’s safe to say that if you added those scores into the results, things would look a little different. Pearl Cohn saw growth in a number of areas and Hunters Lane saw 37 points of growth in Chemistry.

So perhaps instead of sending meaningless memos to the state via the press, our director of schools could be adding some context to our stories. Owning failings where they exist and offering context where needed. That doesn’t mean accepting policy as is. It means playing long ball and understanding that narrative matters and that policy change can only come if you are in the game and actually participating.

In this day and age most people are wise to the strategy of diversion. They can spot it better than they can spot fake news. They see right through efforts to distract. What they want is transparency, details, and focus. Central ingredients of quality leadership and things that are sorely lacking in MNPS right now.

OUR SAVIOR MAP

Round these parts we love us some MAP testing. It’s become the chicken soup of the soul for MNPS. I already predicted how leadership was going to try to use it as a supplement for TNReady. But they have also decided that it makes a great universal screener and a qualifier for magnet school admission. We try to use it for everything but what it was intended for, a formative assessment designed to guide instruction.

As much as we love MAP, we seem to be about as good at administrating it as the state is at administrating TNReady. In two year’s we’ve yet to give it with fidelity. One year it was given after TNReady, then last year citing test fatigue, we moved the administration up to February. I’m not sure on what day of statistics 101 the concept of assigning a meaning to a one time occurrence was covered…but I digress. Last year the district attempted to instruct ELL teachers to not allow the accommodations that students are awarded on TNReady. That didn’t go far once teachers informed administrators that they were feeling compelled to share those instructions with TNDOE officials.

This year, it’s special educations turn as we are trying to test students with disabilities sans their accommodations that are listed in their IEP?The district will allow them for math but not reading. For example, kids that are visually impaired will not have the text read to them for reading as they do with TNReady. Neither will kids with dyslexia. This is despite the fact that NWAE has built these accommodations into MAP testing.

Some of the defenses that have been raised are that MAP is being used as a screener and that its not a high stakes test. Weeeellllll…if my child already has been identified with a learning disability and an IEP been created with the state, why do I need another screening? I would also argue that MAP is very much a high stakes test. Once it’s results were designated as a key performance it assumed that role. Decouple it from the KPI and I’ll bite on the myth of it not being high stakes.

I think it’s cruel to sit kids down for a test were the results are completely predictable. For the life of me, I can’t understand why a professional educator would sanction such an action. The cynic in me suspects that prior to the 2nd round of MAP testing the accommodations will be miraculously restored and we’ll marvel at the growth these kids made. I certainly hope I am wrong.

It’s a shame that we are misusing MAP to the extent that we are. When used properly, MAP offers teachers great insight that can lead to better differentiated instruction. Our current practice is squandering a valuable resource.

BUS BLUES

Early in the year I told you about mNPS raising the rates on buses for field trips and outings. Consider this Facebook post from a Hillsboro HS mom,

MNPS families, I learned this factoid tonight —

Metro Nashville Public Schools increased the cost for bus use for things like field trips, sports team travel, band competition travel and the like by 50 PERCENT for the school year! The increase is effective starting July 1, 2018, but they only alerted teachers, etc., on August 1 — well after budgets have been made, etc.

I’m on the Hillsboro High School Marching Burros band booster board, and we had allotted $2,400 to travel to competitions this year. We were told on August 1 that effective JULY 1, that the cost had increased so much that we are now looking at $5,000 in bus travel costs. In case you’re unversed in this sort of thing, a $2,600 unexpected increase is SIGNIFICANT. That’s a lot of car washes, recycling events, and Smart Card sales.

Here’s where that communications thing raises its head again. Rates on buses haven’t been raised for years, so the rate hike was probably overdue. That said, perhaps back in the spring notes could have gone out to parent groups, boosters, and teachers alerting them to what was coming down the pike? Surely back then somebody looked at somebody else and said, “I bet people are planning Fall events right now based on existing prices. We need to let them know so they don’t get caught short.” Or maybe not?

I don’t think that anticipation is too much to ask, especially considering the fact that we pay the top 5 positions in communications over a half million dollars. Makes me holler.

QUICK HITS

What do you do if your department is under fire for gross mismanagement and you just went on channel 5 and conducted an interview that played like a SNL skit? Well if you are the Chief Executive Officer for the MNPS Human Resource Department you go on a multi-week out of the country vacation. Good work if you can get it. Better work if you can keep it.

What do you do if you are an MNPS administrator and you are placed on administrative leave for gross misconduct? Why you retire of course. Today the head of MNPS security joins the growing ranks of retired MNPS administrators. I appreciate you.

This week Office Depot/Office Max presented students at with $4,000 worth of customer-donated school supplies to help kick off the new school year. Make sure you thank then for becoming a new community partner and helping to fulfill our students’ needs!
Some fun facts I learned looking at the results from TN Ready. Peal Cohn HS has 17 white kids. Julia Green has 25 black kids in grades 3-5. Percy Priest has 12 black kids in grades 3-5. Glendale, the Spanish Immersion School, has 10 Hispanic kids in grades 3-5. Napier ES has 5 white kids. Carter-Lawrence ES has 25 white kids in grades 3-5. I find these numbers troubling in the “It” city in the year 2018. With these kinds of number it’s hard to argue that just charter schools foster segregation.
I would like to wish Leticia Elcy Skae good luck as she takes her considerable teaching talents to Maury County. At some point MNPS has to stop giving talent away. How about it Ron and Ron, can we get a player to be named later? All kidding aside, they are getting a quality educator and we’d like to thank her for her service.
Remember that fun FAQ that MNPS produced after the District 6 community forum? You the one that said Antioch High School had only lost 17 teachers last year? Hmmm…word on the street says that they are currently sitting with 16 openings. That comes after hiring 23 teachers to start on 8/1. The good news is that current leadership seems to making the right moves. But the jury is still out.
Another fun fact for you courtesy of TNReady, of the schools that had Reading Recovery in place for the last two years, the majority were at minimum a 3 for literacy for this past year. Just saying.
Be sure to check out the just released Educator Diversity Report that sheds light on educator diversity in Tennessee. For the first time, the TNDOE is sharing detailed data on educator race and ethnicity demographics for every school district in the state.
This new Prince, Anthology: 1995 – 2010, reminds me just how amazing he was. Not a lot of hits, but a lot of great jams.
Of course it wouldn’t be Friday without a new teaser for another story from Channel 5’s Phil Williams.
Tonight Dad Gone Wild will hit 100k views for the year. The chart below shows our growth for the last 5 years. We’ve already passed last years total by over 15k views with 4 months to go. Thank you so much for your support!
That about does it for the week. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions, it’s a Chiefs survival special.

NOT YOUR HOLLA BACK GIRL

12

I heard that you were talking shit
And you didn’t think that I would hear it
People hear you talking like that, getting everybody fired up
So I’m ready to attack, gonna lead the pack
Gonna get a touchdown, gonna take you out
That’s right, put your pom-poms down, getting everybody fired up – Gwen Steffani, “Holla Back Girl”

That’s the tune that started running through my head as I read the reply letter from Candace McQueen to Shelbly County Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson and Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Shawn Joseph. Last week the two of them thought that through a ghost writer they could make a holla back girl out of Dr. McQueen. I say that since Dr. McQueen has yet to receive said letter, “Let me begin by sharing my disappointment that the letter you addressed to Governor Haslam and me has been shared widely in the media but has yet to actually be shared with the Governor or me.” Really bad form.

Upon initial release of the letter sent to McQueen, I raised a number of concerns. In a letter dripping with southern hospitality, McQueen wastes little time shredding Hopson and Joseph’s arguments. Pointing out that if they actually attended meetings they might know that there are already Tennessee teachers involved in the creation of TNReady. The purchase of technology argument, which made me laugh aloud when I first read it, is also quickly dismissed, “To suggest that an investment in technology is limited to online testing shows a misunderstanding of the increasing role of technology in education and undervalues the great work many of your teachers have done to enhance their teaching through technology.” Ouch.

Look, I’m no fan of McQueen’s but if we are ever going to make meaningful change to education policy, we have to demand more from our quarterbacks. You can’t have a game plan that consists of nothing but “Hail Mary’s” and expect to win the game. Yet that’s what they threw up, and not just a hail mary, but one that stunk of CYA.

Over at TNEd report Andy Spears offered his analysis of the back forth. Spears takes an exception to McQueen’s claim that halting TnReady would violate federal law,

Let’s be clear: The Tennessee Department of Education is the enforcer of the state testing mandate. The DOE could refuse to penalize districts who paused testing OR the DOE could take the suggestion made by Dorsey Hopson of Memphis and Shawn Joseph of Nashville and just hit the pause button for this year and work toward an effective administration of testing for 2019-20.

He continues to argue that the federal government tends to leave decisions regarding punishment up to the states. And the problems with testing have not been limited to Tennessee.

I get the issues with the test. But you can’t just say, “The test sucks, look at my MAP scores”, which is what Joseph seems to be proposing. You have to look at the data and evaluate what is useful and what is not. In my eyes there is information revealed by the tests that needs to be pulled out and examined a lot closer.

Most of the reporting on results uses percentages to convey results. I believe that is intentional by design in order to dehumanize the results. For example, if I say that 1.8% of black kids between grades 3-5 scored at a “mastery” level, it’s concerning. But what if I tell you that out of nearly 8k kids across the district only 142 scored at a mastered level. That’s makes things a little more disturbing to me, as it comes to less than 2 kids per school.

Looking at Hispanic kids it is even worse. Out of 4800 kids, 83 are on the “mastered level”. You good with that?

Conversely, white kids grade 3-5, out of 5563 kids 625 scored mastery. Still not great shakes, but a damned sight better than 83, or 143.

So why is that? I don’t know, but I certainly believe it needs to be addressed. If the test is so bad that so few can reach mastery, and some will argue that it is, why are we subjecting kids to it? Going back to the teacher advisory committee, why are they letting a test go through that one a minuscule amount of kids can score mastery?

Some would argue that mastery is not a good indicator, we should look at on track as well. Why? The test is given in the Spring, towards the end of the year, shouldn’t the goal be to “master” each grade levels subject content by the end of the year? Doesn’t “on track” mean that students will be entering their next grade trying to catch up and master last years subject matter? How does that play forward?

I looked at high school numbers for black kids and out of nearly 6800 tests only 122 scored mastery. For Hispanics, it’s 2966 kids producing valid tests and only 66 kids producing mastery numbers. That certainly doesn’t indicate anybody catching up to me.

It’s hard to find comparison numbers in districts across the state because few have similar sizes of Black and Hispanic populations. Though examining other Tennesse urban districts paints a similar picture. If you look at Shelby County, you’ll see they produce similar results but with double the number of black kids. Hispanic numbers are comparable. Hamilton County, with smaller numbers, produces slightly worse, but still comparable numbers to MNPS and Shelby County. Knox County writes the same story.

Montgomery County, which is Clarksville, produces slightly better numbers. Out of 2502 Black kids, 112 showed mastery. With Hispanic kids it’s 81 showing mastery out of 1046. These numbers shouldn’t produce dancing in streets, but they should fuel a deeper conversation. What is Clarksville doing that the other urban counties are not doing? Obviously socio-economic factors are coming into pay, but clearly Clarksville is doing a better job at mitigating those factors and perhaps tailoring curriculum.

What if instead of sending nasty-grams to the press, the state’s urban superintendents sat down with members of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition and discussed these numbers and how the test appears to not be serving the needs of black/hispanic kids. Either TNReady is not giving an accurate portrait of achievement or instructional practices, and/or socio-economic needs have to be further addressed. Based on a perfunctory look something seems to be going on. Than, what if after they reached a conclusion, they went to the TNDOE and presented a united front on why the testing/instruction wasn’t working? Might that not be more productive?

We spend so much time vilifying each other and not nearly enough time looking for collaboration. Admittedly, at times I’m guilty as well, but based on my observations of the data, there is a lot of room for collaboration and we owe it to schools to explore those opportunities.

I’m sure right now, there are readers shaking their head and saying, “TC, TC, you are looking at things all wrong. That’s not how you read results.”

Maybe I am reading them wrong, but that’s how I read them as a parent. These are the questions I would ask as a parent. I don’t care how you look at results, having only 143 black kids achieve mastery in a school district the size of Nashville, is not acceptable to me. And it shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone else.

INSTEAD OF WHAT YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DO, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

On the agenda for today’s MNPS School Board meeting is a proposed policy that will prevent MNPS from suspending any child between the grade levels of K-4. There are no shortage of studies that demonstrate the damage done to kids when they are continuously removed from the class room. Studies also show that there are a disportioncate number of black and brown kids that are suspended. Today’s proposal is framed with those facts in the background and the implied supposition is that you are either for this policy, or you are for the suspending of kids between k-4.

I most certainly am not a supporter of suspending kids between grades k-4. But neither am I supporter for this policy. As with everything, the devil is in the details and there are way too many missing.

What are we going to do with kid’s that are kept in the classroom despite committing egregious offenses? We all recognize that too many kids are entering the classroom suffering from severe trauma. They need professional services. Schools are not equipped to provide those services. So how are we going to serve them?

No offense to teachers, you are about as caring and willing a lot as could be imagined, but teachers are not equipped to provide adequate social emotional services to students suffering from severe trauma. I applaud the efforts the district has made in the realm of social emotional learning, though it’d be nice if they gave the department a budget, but no amount of restorative circles or 4 hour PD sessions are going to make teachers qualified caregivers.

That means schools need increased social services through licensed psychologists and counselors. There is no mention of that in the announcement for the proposed policy. So what are we going to do for kids?

Furthermore, I believe that all teacher have the right to teach in a safe environment and all students have the right to learn in a safe environment. What’s the plan to keep kids who commit violent infractions in school and ensure safety for all students? Is there increased funding for SRO’s? Again no details about our promise to all students, just a proclamation of a promise to a limited number of students.

Instead of proposing policy that says what we are not going to do, why don’t we propose policy that says what we are going to do? How about we promise to fully equip schools with the resources to get kids the help they need? How about we promise to meet the needs of all students?

Tonight’s meeting is another example of stacking the comments program. There are 10 people speaking in support of this proposal and zero against. Does that mean everyone supports this proposal? No, it just means that only supporters were made aware of the pending presentation in time to sign up to speak.

I see that MNPS leadership is on the program, did they even run this by membership? I know plenty of teachers who are a little alarmed at this policy proposition. Is this just one more example where the current leadership makes decisions without input from members?

Let’s see what happens. Proponents argue that this is just the beginning and that they fully intend to focus on things we plan to do for kids and not just on what we are not going to do. They refer to today’s action as a conversation starter in which all people will be invited to the table. There are some very good people involved in this initiative and there should be some optimism around it.

Regardless of the outcome, I still disagree with the process of stacking the comment agenda. It is not congruent with democratic principles and as such, should not be an acceptable practice for anyone. Before something of this magnitude is brought to the floor, ample notification should be given to all parties. This would ensure robust conversation by all.

HUMAN RESOURCE NIGHTMARE CONTINUES

Last night, Channel 5 News reporter Phil Williams aired his latest report on the mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations by MNPS’s HR department. This report focuses on an interview with head of HR Debra Story and it’s nothing short of embarrassing. In the interview Story touts the newly created anonymous tip line, only to moments later confess that they don’t investigate anonymous tips. The exchange reads like an Abbott and Costello episode.

“You’re saying that people can make anonymous complaints.”

“Yeah, they can,” she answered.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, “But Dr. Joseph is saying we don’t do investigations based on anonymous complaints.”

Story’s response: “If somebody’s being accused of something, you can ask a question of that person: did you do this? That person could say yes or no, but you would have no way to corroborate it.”

Could HR not interview the employees in that person’s department?

“Possibly,” Story said, “but you run the risk of — if it’s not a valid complaint — you run the risk of perhaps characterizing that person in a way that’s not fair.”

The pain doesn’t stop there as questions arise about the investigation that was done into allegations against Joseph’s friend Mo Carassco.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Story, “Did Dr. Joseph tell you that he had been told there was a problem with Mo Carrasco?”

“We did a full investigation on Mo Carrasco,” she insisted.

We pushed, “Yes or no, did Dr. Joseph tell you?”

Again, she deflected, “We did a full investigation on Mo Carrasco.”

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, “So you are not going to say whether Dr. Joseph told you about that complaint or not?”

Her answer: “I say, we did the investigation.”

“Months later,” we noted.

“When we got a complaint, a written complaint, with names involved, we did an investigation.”

One only has to watch the story to understand that current HR leadership is in way over their head. It would behove Dr. Joseph to recognize that and perhaps, make changes at the top less the dumpster keeps burning.

QUICK HITS

MNPS has an update out to information on the Community Eligibility Program. Check out if your school is eligible for free lunch or not.

Hume-Fogg High School librarian Amanda Smithfield was recently featured in the Tennessean for her work on ProjectCivAmerica, a project that teaches civic and community engagement to students.

Does putting pressure on schools produce better results? Maybe not says a brand new study. “These results suggest that the ratcheting [up] of test-based accountability pressures alone is not enough to sustain improvements in student achievement,” conclude researchers Vivian Wong, Coady Wing, David Martin, and Anandita Krishnamachari. Check out the whole article.

It is football time in Tennessee. That includes high school football. Gone are the days when games were the centerpiece of the weekend social calendar. That doesn’t mean they are not still good for a pleasant start to the week-end. Do yourself a favor and check out the action this year.

The Scarlet Foundation has created a new resource for parents. Their site called Nashville Education Facts takes a deep dive into the individual school districts of Nashville. I’ve spent a little bit of time with the tool trying to get a gauge of its usefulness and I’m still a little unsure of its value for more than just trivia. I admittedly didn’t know the discrepancy in size between the individual districts. For example, District 8 has 4785 students while district 6 has 10765. What that means, I’m not sure. Some of the other facts are interesting but in the case of some, i.e. teacher attrition, they come directly from the district so I’m not sure of their veracity. All in all though, I appreciate the information being centralized.

Local teaching legend Scott Bennett who now resides in South Africa has a new blog post out. I recommend it.

In keeping with our testing motif, national blogger Steven Singer does us all a favor by listing the 10 Reasons You Can’t use Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers.

 

 

POLL QUESTIONS

Lot’s of responses again to this weekend’s poll questions. Let’s take a look at results.

The first question relates to the aforementioned HR crises and asked whether you thought HR number 2 Sharon Pertiller should be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into how HR handled internal investigations into sexual misconduct allegations. 170 of you responded and the majority of you thought somebody should be placed on administrative leave. 60 of you favored Pertiller, but 66 of you felt that it should be Joseph himself. Only 4 of you felt that nobody should be placed on leave.

Here are the write-ins,

A snake who needs to quit! ASAP 1
Yes 1
Both she and Doctor Joseph while their is an investigation. 1
All parties involved should be held accountable 1
If allegations are true, she should be fired. 1
Hell yeah. And Joseph, too 1
All of HR should be wiped clean. 1
She should be terminated…totally clueless. 1
Joseph and Pertiller both. 1
She should be fired. She came from corporate, Corporate doesn’t do admin leaves. 1
Fired 1
Yes, probably. 1
Absolutely. Why can people at Bransford do whatever they please? ACCOUNTABILITY

Question 2 asked how you rated board chair Anna Shepherd’s leadership over the last year. Out of 158 responses, 73 of you gave her leadership an F and another 38 rated it a D. Only 2 people gave it an A, and 9 a B. That’s what happens when you don’t address major issues. Here are the write-ins,

F… out of touch with the reality of major problems wiith MNPS 1
What leadership? 1
F. I refused to vote for her. Wrote in Anyone Else

The last question asked for your opinion on the Tennessean’s coverage of MNPS. This one received 168 responses. 63 of you felt it was the best PR firm Joseph had ever hired. 54 of you were a little kinder but no less disappointed, noting that the Tennessean sure seemed to miss a lot. More telling was that not a single person felt coverage was excellent. Here are the write-ins,

bias 1
Pitiful! No wonder no one reads the Tennessean for real MNPS coverage. 1
What coverage? 1
Do they cover MNPS? 1
Completely checked out. 1
John Seigenthaler’s spirit left Broadway long ago. 1
Not very good. 1
Who is Shawn Joseph paying off? Tick tock. His time is coming. Soon.

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. have a great week!

BACK TO THE WELL

5

As I mentioned yesterday, we got a lot of catching up to do. So much has happened in the last week. Some of what has transpired is actually quite good.

“Another tradition to politics, a tradition (of politics) that stretched from the days of the country’s founding to the glory of the Civil Rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.” – Barack Obama

The role of a public policy advocate is often one that is fraught with disappointment. It takes a lot energy and a lot of belief to move the mountain even slightly. You often go months believing that your actions have little impact. Then you get a win. A win that makes you realize and believe anew how important this work is.

Over the summer of 2016, MNPS tested schools’ drinking water for lead. They did so on their own volition and for that should be commended. That’s where the accolades stop.

After the results came in, they did nothing. They didn’t share the results and they didn’t take action to address the situation at schools with high quantities of lead found in their water. It wasn’t until the Spring of 2017 that they shared the information with building principals. Mind you, I said shared, not gave a direction of action. It was more of a, “Hey, you might find this interesting” thing as opposed to a, “Oh lord, we have to fix this” kind of thing.

Luckily, Phil Williams of Channel 5 News got a hold of the report and thus began a year-long crusade to force the district to take action. A crusade that there never should have been a need to undertake. Williams’s first report was so damning that it should have been an instant call to action. Instead the District decided to congratulate themselves on the initiative to test, all the while failing to recognize the need for a follow-up. A campaign to spread half-truths and misinformation was undertaken and minimal steps at correction were pursued.

Over the year, Williams produced multiple stories. MNPS’s reaction was always the same: “We are doing the best we can,” “filters don’t really work,” “We are studying the situation.” They trotted out the worst trope – our levels are below EPA suggested levels – so often they might have actually believed it. One more time – for clarification purposes – the EPA levels are indicators of a need for a corrective action, not an indicator of safe levels of lead. There is no safe level of lead. Chris Henson should have to get that tattooed on his forearm.

Earlier this week, Board Chair Anna Shepherd took exception to my criticism of her leadership over the past two years. Going as far as to declare our friendship over. I’d like to point out that while MNPS students were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water, the board, under her leadership, never had a meaningful public conversation about how we could protect our kids or even about the level of risk they were exposed to. Instead, there was one perfunctory discussion where Dr. Joseph and Chris Henson said everything was all right, the board drank their Kool-Aid, and everybody said, “Okay.” Note to Anna Shepherd: friends don’t expose friends’ families to harmful toxins, especially without acknowledgement.

Luckily, Phil Williams didn’t drink his glass of Kool-Aid, and on this past Monday, Mayor Briley made an announcement that should be met with deep gratitude by all MNPS parents. MNPS will stop using a controversial technique, pre-stagnation flushing, for testing of toxic lead levels. “You know, you’ve got to applaud people for doing the testing, but frankly those results need to be thrown right in the garbage,” said Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, an expert who has studied Flint’s water crisis extensively.

Briley’s plan calls for random sampling of 10 percent of all drinking and food prep outlets every year and aims to keep levels under 5 parts per billion. Levels considerably lower than the 155 ppb that MNPS previously found acceptable.

Mayor Briley deserves a standing ovation for this action. What makes it even more remarkable is that initially he wasn’t convinced that there was more that MNPS could do. He felt that they were adequately addressing the problem. But then he did what all of us should do, he sat down with experts and listened to what they had to say. Then he did the right thing. That’s what leadership does.

Thank God Williams doggedly pursued this issue. The print press certainly didn’t have much to say. The Tennessean published one article that talked about MNPS’s plans to test water with little mention of the high levels already found in drinking water. They wrote one more report when an MNPS official was caught on tape discussing plans to bypass water filters. In that piece, then-MNPS public information officer Michelle Michaud was quoted as saying, “We are committed to making sure that the water quality in our schools is as good as it can be.” The Tennessean never checked that and apparently Briley disagreed with her and MNPS.

Two years ago, the Tennessean took a very vested interest in the selection of the next Director of Schools. Editor David Plazas wrote multiple editorials extolling the selection process. When school board members veered away from the endorsed path of the Tennessean, they were quickly slapped back in place. None of that should have been permitted and all of it should have raised eyebrows. To be fair, for some it did, including me.

The point is, that by allowing itself to get as enmeshed with the process of selection as they did, the Tennessean has become invested in the success of a candidate instead of the success of a system. It would seem that the two are the same, but when the candidate is underperforming, and you actively work to protect him, the system can’t improve. It should be immaterial who the director is because we are focused on outcomes, not personalities.

In just the last two months, the Tennessean has failed to give coverage to a director’s evaluation where some board members were highly critical of the director, in-depth coverage of recently released TNReady scores, and lawsuits accusing district leadership of covering up sexual misconduct. Fairly large stories, I would say. Though I should mention that they put out a press release touting the director’s letter on sexual harassment.

We constantly hear the importance of a free and independent press. I think the Tennessean needs to heed the words of journalist Tom Wicker: “If the true freedom of the press is to decide for itself what to publish and when to publish it, the true responsibility of the press must be to assert and defend that freedom… What the press in America needs is less inhibition, not more restraint.”

Nashville needs the Tennessean to do their job. Kids’ safety, future, and very lives are at stake. They owe it to the families of Nashville to give a true and unbiased portrait of what transpires in MNPS. District leadership cannot be the only source of information. In the immortal words of Bill Belichick, “Do your job.”

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

I always say that if you fail to give people a true narrative, they will invent their own and invariably it will be negative. Case in point is the recent resignation of Smith Springs Principal Lance High. Before we go any further, I’m going to state for the record that I have a great deal of affection for Lance. I truly hate the pain that he and his family are feeling right now and pray that they will find the healing they need. That said, nothing sets the rumor mill afire faster than an abrupt resignation in the midst of district wide allegations of sexual misconduct. Right or wrong, it fuels speculation.

In an effort to dampen rumor, and hopefully move the conversation forward so that the High family can get to the healing, here’s what I know and feel comfortable sharing. By his own admission, Lance suffered intense trauma as a child, that trauma has impacted his ability to navigate adult relationships, and at times has led to questionable actions. He and his family are taking steps to address those issues. I have seen no evidence that at any time his actions potentially put kids at risk.

I would ask that people put aside speculation on the past, and instead focus on helping new leadership pull that school together and continue embarking upon what appears to be the beginning of the best year ever. There are a lot of talented educators at Smith Springs and those families are in good hands. I believe Lance has a strong support system and they will help lead him out of this crisis. It’s not going to easy for either, and everyone will need our prayers.

UPDATED 8:30 PM, 8/10/2018: When I initially wrote the above piece, I was so concerned about the pain of the High family that I neglected to fully consider the pain of those who were on the receiving end of Lance High’s advances. I do think it’s possible to love the sinner but hate the sin. However, there is a lot of hurt to go around. All of it is worthy of our sympathy, empathy, and prayers. It was inexcusable for me not to include everyone and y’all didn’t give me a pass. Here’s what one of you wrote in the comments:

TC, I am really disappointed at the pass you have given Dr. High for his inappropriate behavior. He sends a conveniently timed email about his abuse as a 4-year-old and his behavior “didn’t directly impact kids”, as you state, and he gets a total pass. We’re supposed to feel sorry for him? By your logic, we should also give a pass to Dr. Braden because his behavior also didn’t “directly impact kids”. What if he was abused, too, as a 4-year-old and just hasn’t made it conveniently public like Dr. High has done. Does he, too, get a pass on his behavior? I’m disappointed that you did not call this out for what it is. Blatant, unwanted sexual advances towards a subordinate and outright sexual harassment. Dr. High has faced his day in the public eye for his behavior and his actions have likely damaged every aspect of his life. Let’s not forget what this is, though. It is a pattern of sexual harassment at multiple schools, and the only reason he shared this personal information is because “time is up” and he is trying to gather sympathy votes on his behalf. I am disappointed to see you cast your vote for him.

I am sorry that I wasn’t more considerate. By not fully addressing the issues, I was falling into the trap that district leadership is mired in. We are a district that has some very serious issues, compounded by a Human Resources department that feels their primary duty is protecting Dr. Joseph. We have a Director of Schools who is unwilling to lead when we need it most. We have a school board that finds it easier to bury their head than demand action. They’d rather cheerlead and send letters to the TNDOE on testing. In the end we are all failing teachers, students, and families that look to leadership to provide a safe haven to teach and learn.

For me, this is a learning experience. If you are going to raise people’s expectations, you owe it to them to live up to those expectations. This blog has become, and will continue to be, a place that strives to tell the truth to the best of my ability. Today I tried to duck that responsibility. Thank you for caring enough for me not to let me. That’s the kind of love MNPS needs.

QUICK HITS

District Leadership met this week with members of the immigrant community. The meeting came about after previous Executive Director Kevin Stacy resigned to take a position in Clarksville, and while previous Number 2 Molly Hegwood was named his replacement, her position was filled by former Paragon Mills Principal Joie Austria. Austria’s tenure at Paragon Mills was not a successful one. Eyebrows were further raised when she was installed at a salary higher, by several thousand dollars, than Hegwood. Where else but MNPS can you make more money than your supervisor?

By all accounts, the meeting was successful. Many of the community’s fears were allayed and they were given a sense of priority. There has been a shift as of late to have EL teachers spend more time supporting content teachers. The idea is that EL students are so prevalent that all teachers should have the tools to educate them. Apparently, content teachers were voicing feelings of inadequacies in that area. So it’s good that the district is addressing this concern. I can’t help but wonder, though, if those feelings of inadequacies isn’t a byproduct of the district losing so many veteran teachers and therefore having to construct more supports for younger teachers.

We’ll continue watching as things develop, but at this juncture everybody seems pleased with the direction things are going.

MNPS teachers be aware, today’s check does not include insurance deductions nor updated sick leave information. That should be on the next check. So don’t get excited and think you got a raise.

I nominate early education teachers and fine arts teachers to be in charge of organizing all future protests. Their well-organized actions in regard to portfolio evaluations have produced results. TNEd Report’s Andy Spears has the details. Those teachers are a force to be reckoned with.

Blogger Peter Greene has an excellent piece on teacher evaluations this week. Greene points out that “The root problem with the current state of teacher evaluation is that we never had the necessary conversations about what we think it is for.” True dat. Read the whole piece.

On Wednesday, August 15, Ride for Reading is hosting a Teacher Book Pick-up! Teachers in Title I schools are invited to attend and select books for their students and class libraries for the school year. Space is limited to 40 teachers. Register here: http://bit.ly/BookPickup_Aug

The Maplewood Cluster is hosting a back-to-school event this Saturday, August 11, at Ida B. Wells Elementary School.

Interesting article on teacher salaries in Williamson County. Evidence that it’s about more than just the money. As a school board member, I wanted to push creating compensation packages. Packages that might have offered day care at schools, low interest loans for those wishing to purchase homes, health club memberships to places that weren’t across town from their homes. We have to create packages that invest in teachers so they will invest in us.

Apparently teachers have been getting emails instructing them to curtail energy costs at school, going so far as to limit the number of appliances they are allowed to plug in. MNPS seems determined to drive home the “we are broke” messaging as deeply as possible. That always inspires the troops.

And one more word on testing. This one is from Chattanooga by way of my good friend J.C. Bowman.

The jury is still out for me on many of the main characters in this Chalkbeat article about Principal management, but I respect me some Gary Hughes. So I share it with you for your evaluation. I’ve yet to see wide scale evidence that the restructuring of central office has produced improved outcomes, but I’m always open to counter arguments.

That should keep you sated for the weekend. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GUESS WHO’S BACK? BACK AGAIN. SHADY’S BACK, TELL A FRIEND.

5

We’ve all witnessed the scene on television: the hero is backed into a corner by a pack of angry dogs growling at his heels, ready to tear him to shreds. His fate seems sealed until suddenly he reaches into a pocket and pulls out a bloody red piece of meat. He waves the meat overhead, getting the animal’s attention, and then hurls it across the room. The dogs quickly turn from him, race to the meat, and tear into it, whilst our hero scampers to safety, unscathed. That, in a nutshell, is what we just witnessed this past week as MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and Shelby County Schools Director Dorsey Hopson tossed out a piece of red meat by sending a letter to the TNDOE calling for a halt to TNReady testing.

In their letter, the two stated the following:

“After years of repeated implementation failures and missteps by multiple vendors, we believe educator and public trust in TNReady has fallen to irretrievably low levels. We are challenged to explain to teachers, parents, and students why they must accept the results of a test that has not been effectively deployed.”

That is a fair enough statement. Lord knows that for years I have been critical of TNReady and the state’s inability to correctly implement the standardized testing process. It’s almost become a spring ritual for me to write about the inadequacies. I wrote about issues in 2015, 2016, and again in 2016, 2017, and… you get it. The point is that I am clearly not a fan of standardized testing and have not been afraid to speak out about it for the past 5 years. I am so anti-standardized testing that it truly offends me when the issue is used purely as a distraction with little concern given toward making meaningful change.

Sending a letter at this juncture is nothing but a publicity move. Trust me, Candice and Bill ain’t having coffee somewhere when Bill looks at Candice and says, “You read about this letter in the paper from Dorsey and Shawn? I think they might be on to something.”

And Candice replies, “I was thinking the same thing. Bill and Karl called me and said they are ready to stop the madness if elected.”

Not happening. In fact, probably just the opposite, and if any of the aforementioned are prone to four-letter words, they are probably filling the air with them.

I hear the chorus now, “Come on, TC! This is big! These guys are making a stand! They believe in what they are saying.”

Ok, then riddle me these questions:

  • Why was the letter sent to coincide with the first day of school, thus taking away focus from the most optimistic day of the year? Why didn’t they pen this opus back in May when state legislators actually dealt with the issue? This year is as close to a pause as you can get and still follow federal policy.
  • Why are there no meaningful alternatives offered? Surely these two thought leaders have some ideas of what should be utilized sans TNReady.
  • Where is the official response to TNReady Scores from MNPS? Scores have been out for nearly a month, yet the only commentary comes from the Tennessean and it’s a bit buried in their article on Middle Tennessee results. Dr. Joseph has nary a word for students and their families. If the test are so invalid, why was that message not conveyed to parents, students, and teachers before it went on the big screen? I suspect that if the results were better, the problems with the test would lessen.
  • When did the school board sign off on this letter? Knox County Schools voted to send a letter to the DOE yesterday, but it was the school board who commissioned the director to do so. Why was Nashville’s School Board not given the same courtesy?
  • Why was the letter released to Chalkbeat prior to McQueen receiving it? Again, if you are looking to make meaningful change, why not show courtesy to those who facilitate that action?
  • The letter talks of the forming of an educator cabinet while failing to acknowledge one already exists. Why not just say that you don’t like the makeup of the newly named committee? Maybe if you spent more time collaborating and less time writing letters that land with the press before hitting the commissioner’s desk, the make up of the committee would be a little different. Just saying, you catch more flies…
  • Why no mention of the fact that suspending of testing for any amount of time would be in direct violation of federal policy and make the state vulnerable to financial penalties? Damn, that ESSA thing!
  • How come the letter coincides with a week’s worth of TV reports on alleged sexual misconduct by district employees? Hmmm… doesn’t that deserve a letter?
  • If we are so concerned about teachers and families, why does the letter just address TNReady and not the portfolio process, which is in crisis mode right now? If there was a real concern for teachers, the letter would have asked that access to the platform to check errors be available past tomorrow. Right now I’m sure a few on the ELT team are saying, “Platform? Huh? What’s he talking about? Is he talking trains?” If you are confused right now, ask a first grade, kindergarten, or fine arts teacher. I’m sure they’d be willing to elucidate.

All this leads to the best unkept secret of the week, the author of said letter. In talking to people across the district over the last couple of days, I can safely say not one person believes that anybody other than board member Will Pinkston wrote that letter. His fingerprints are all over it, with lots of hyperbole and little depth.

Of course, the superintendent letter generated a response letter. Members of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition released a letter asking that testing not be halted. In their words:

“We urge all of our education leaders and policymakers to press forward, tackling our testing challenges head-on, and rebuilding trust by staying the course and getting it right for every student in Tennessee,”

The statement was signed by 13 education advocates, including the leaders of the NAACP state conference, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Knoxville Area Urban League, and Conexión Américas, which advocates for Latino families in Nashville.

Let’s step back again and take a look at the author of the original letter for a minute. In this instance, you have a board member who takes it upon himself to set the district on a course of action without consulting any other elected leaders. One who’s been so busy working on a United States Senatorial run by Phil Bredesen that he’s been barely present at board meetings for the last 6 months, yet he feels comfortable using the Directors of Schools for two counties to drive his own personal agenda. How is that all right?

Imagine if board members Mary Pierce or Jill Speering tried a similar action. Special meetings would be held in a heartbeat. We might even be talking expulsion from Davidson County. In Pierce’s case, they’d probably drop Bransford Avenue on top of her.

How is it that Pinkston is allowed to continually act with impunity? Why does no one call attention to his lack of adherence to board policy? Pinkston treats board policy as mere suggestions. Deadlines for director evaluations are missed, he speaks to whomever and in whatever manner with impunity, he meddles in district operations on a whim while chastising others for getting “in the weeds,” and directs his ire at those he empowered in the past. No matter how egregious his actions are, no one ever demands accountability from him. If they do, they are met with an avalanche of scorn and public humiliation. He does as he pleases and people just shrug and say, “That’s Will. I don’t want him coming after me. What are you going to do?”

Currently, he chastises others for their public criticisms of Joseph. He tells people behind the scenes that his friends and public supporters have lost their mind – further evidence that loyalty is a four letter word to Pinkston. Yet, back when Dr. Register was the director of schools, Pinkston went after him with a zealousness that was often uncomfortable to witness. Utilizing every one of the skills honed as the pit bull for Bredesen’s gubernatorial cabinet to make Registers life miserable. Again, there always seems to be one set of rules for Pinkston and one set of rules for everybody else. I always say that it’s not that he’s smarter than everybody, but rather his lack of a moral compass allows him to go places that others won’t go which makes him formidable.

Example being that in last election cycle he had his, as he likes to refer to them, minions pulled the divorce records of an opponent’s staff member. That’s right, not the opponent, but the supporter’s divorce file. Yet his rather rich personal file remains untouched. Did you know that…. never mind… as Nietzsche says… “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

In the past, I might have argued that teachers and students benefited from his ruthlessness. Though I would point to the plethora of issues that have sprung from the roots of Race To the Top, including excessive testing and unchecked charter school growth, in which Pinkston often claims a role in having shaped. Now, though, he is using his considerable prowess to cover up bad policy that ends up hurting kids and teachers. Instead of focusing his attention on improving MNPS, he’s focused on preserving his perceived legacy by propping up a man that he was instrumental in selecting. Keeping that man in place has become more important than doing the right thing.

Every piece of red meat that he tosses out draws attention away from real issues that need solving. In deflecting attention away from policy deficits, an environment is being created where parents who have alternative options will take those options. This is not a new phenomenon; we saw it during Pedro Garcia’s reign as well. When families with means leave, those with lesser means are left behind. Unfortunately educating those with higher needs comes at a higher cost which leads to increased underfunding. We will be left with a system that has fewer families, but a higher cost, and that will take decades to recover from, if ever.

After this summer, I think it’s become clear that the Human Resources Department in MNPS is incompetent. However, after the last week of stories on Channel 5 involving sexual misconduct, I don’t think incompetent is a strong enough word. Last night’s story reveals a department whose inability to properly function is exposing teachers and students to grave risk.

You have not one, not two, but three independent entities telling stories of the HR executive director not just mishandling sexual misconduct investigations, but attempting to influence them to the benefit of the perpetrators.

“Ms. Pertiller came to the man in charge of this investigation and told him that he better ‘get this right’ in terms of outcome or Dr. Joseph would fire him,” Blackburn said.

The lawsuit says that – even though Joseph knew there were allegations against his friend – Pertiller told the HR employee he would not be allowed to interview the director of schools about what he knew.

In the end, the investigation still concluded Carrasco was guilty, and he resigned.

But the lawsuit says that wasn’t the end of it.

“The outcome was contrary to Mr. Carrasco, and all sorts of retaliation ensued for this employee afterwards,”

Those comments are made in reference to the investigation into allegations against former MNPS administrator Mo Carrasco earlier in the year.

Several lawsuits have either been filed or are pending due to the mishandling of investigations. Yet the only response from Shawn Joseph and MNPS has been to announce that an independent investigation would be taking place. Of course a few details are left out of that announcement. Details like who’s going to do the investigation and who’s going to pay for it. Minor details. Excuse me, Dr. Joseph did say sexual harassment is bad and not to do it. Actions speak louder than words though.

Up in Columbus, Ohio, head football coach Urban Meyer is on administrative leave while the university looks into how he handled charges of spousal abuse against one of his coaches. Here in Nashville, everybody is showing up and going to work. Don’t think people aren’t watching how things unfold and drawing conclusions about priorities. Why does a university hold its football coach to a higher standard than MNPS holds its leaders?

You’d think that somebody on the school board would read these reports and demand that action be taken. Not all of the pending lawsuits will end in favor of the accusers, but either way, through legal fees or judgements, Nashville is going to get a bill, and a school system that cries poor will have to divert some more money away from students. You’d think somebody would get proactive instead of waiting to react. Nah… everything is good… nothing to see here… move along… did you see that piece about standardized testing? Yeah… student rights!

But what about the right for students and teachers to attend schools where they are not subject to sexual harassment? Is that not important? What’s the message that is being sent through the handling of these cases? If I’m a teacher in a school where my principal is a known confidant of Dr. Joseph and I’m being sexually harassed, who am I going to turn to? Especially after witnessing on multiple occasions what happens to those who bring accusations against someone with favored status? Why would I not just grin, try to bear it, and transfer out at the end of the year? Is that the standard we wish to set? Is that exceeding expectations?

Apparently, that’s some MNPS board members interpretation. Because they have shown absolutely no compulsion to offer any direction to Dr. Joseph or even ask for more information, and instead have appeared content while a fellow board member hijacks the conversation for their own agenda. It is nothing short of shameful.

Some of you right now are probably thinking, “Damn, TC, you are going to piss Pinkston off.”

I don’t think so. I really don’t think he cares what I say. Why should he? As long as nobody will step in and actually check his actions, nothing I say is going to make a difference. The Bredesen campaign obviously has no problems with his behavior. It’s remarkable how much a similarity he bears to the current occupant of the White House. He acts with impunity, people get mad and wring their hands, but in the end he’s allowed to continue his behavior unabated. Thanks to Zac Barnes and his recently revised Tip Sheet, we now know just how much Bredesen values Pinkston. $120k for 6 months of work is some good cheese.

Meanwhile, really good behavior is being thwarted because we don’t have a comprehensive literacy plan, we don’t have enough teachers, we don’t have a deep enough sub pool, we don’t have enough literacy coaches, we don’t have enough crossing guards, we don’t have enough bus drivers… these are the things we should be writing letters about instead of picking fights with no chance of victory against those who should be allies.

Right now, there is jockeying behind the scenes for the position of school board chair, but I would ask, “Does it matter?” There was one person steering the conversation on Dr. Register and there is now one steering the discussion on Dr. Joseph. In neither case is that person the board chair. So whomever gets the position is going to hold it in name only unless they demonstrate the ability to make Will Pinkston adhere to board policy. Without that taking place, everything else is moot, and the board will continue to be dysfunctional.

Over the last couple of years, the board has taken a position of if you don’t say anything negative publicly, the public won’t think anything is wrong and things will just move along. Funny, Antioch HS and JFK Middle School both fall in District 6 and have been grossly neglected by MNPS. Ask former school board member Tyese Hunter how ignoring those problems worked out for her. I promise, board members may not be paying attention, but families are, and they’ve shown the ability to tune out the noise and use their vote to make their displeasure known. The message sent was clear: ignore them at your own peril. The rest of us will hopefully keep our eyes on the prize and work to make MNPS worthy of our love.

By the way… did you hear that in the nineties… I used to like to drink whiskey… chase girls… and make really bad decisions? Join us tomorrow when we celebrate a welcome announcement by the mayor on lead in school water and we see what else we can find lurking under the rocks.

 

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

18

This summer may have passed faster than any in recent memory. It seems like just last week that the kids were escaping the halls, and the endless possibilities of summer stretched out in front of them. I know for many, summer is not as freeing as it is for my family. Thankfully, over the years, churches and community groups have successfully worked with schools to alleviate some of those challenges. In any case, the season has passed and the time has come for the halls and classrooms to reclaim their denizens.

Unfortunately, teachers will not be starting the year without distractions and concerns. This is especially true for kindergarten teachers, first grade teachers, and those who teach fine arts. You see, last year, the state created a new system of accountability for those teachers. Two weeks ago, they released preliminary results for K-1 teachers. Predictably, it’s a mess.

THE INABILITY TO EFFECTIVELY MEASURE

Last year, in the endless quest to quantify and hold everybody but themselves accountable, the TNDOE rolled out a portfolio method of evaluation to be used for kindergarten, first grade, and fine arts teachers. The way it is supposed to work is that teachers submit 4 examples, or portfolio collections, taken during the year of students performing work related to the standards. A rubric is used to self-evaluate, with peer review used to complete the process. The TNDOE refers to this process as the collecting of artifacts.

As many of you know, I’m not a fan of standards for early learners. While the Kindergarten standards are questionable enough, looking at a sampling of standards for fine arts makes my head hurt.

For example, under student performance indicators (SPI), one standard a kindergarten student should be able to perform is as follows:

  1. 2.1.1  Identify a steady beat.
  2. 2.1.2  Imitate a steady beat using body percussion or instruments.
  3. 2.1.3  Maintain a steady beat independently.

I’m telling you right now, as a 53-year-old man, I would fail that SPI. I have never been able to stay on the beat. And guess what? It has never been a deterrent in my appreciation of music. Music is an integral part of my life and I often find a great deal of joy in singing loudly and off-key. That’s probably a failing of my elementary education teachers, but hey, you win some, you lose some.

A little side rant here. While I disagree with the use of standards for evaluation of primary kids, using standards in fine arts completely runs counter to the purpose of the arts. Art should be a reflection of the human condition and are entirely dependent on the individual. Some individuals convey emotions and experiences that relate to a culture as a whole, others to smaller subgroups. Both serve to enrich lives and none is more important than others.

Creating standards in art is nothing short of an attempt to construct uniformity among individuals. In the long run those standards will work to hinder the pushing of boundaries, which is essential to the vitality of the arts. As one friend of mine, a multi-Grammy award-winning producer, has said in the past, “We are losing that kid that goes into the garage and does everything all wrong, yet somehow it turns out all right.”

Enough of that now. Back to the portfolio process. I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading and re-reading the requirements and instructions as laid out by the TNDOE on their website and I’m still baffled. Here’s their outline for creating a high-quality portfolio:

  • Create a long-term instructional plan for the school year, considering when standards will be introduced, pre-assessed, and monitored.
  • Deconstruct standards so that planning can be explicit and clear for students and develop or identify aligned performance tasks that will be used to measure performance.
  • Utilize the scoring rubric to develop task-specific expectations.
  • Collect Point A work at the most appropriate time within the instructional plan.
  • Score and sort Point A student work artifacts into differentiated groups (emerging, proficient,advanced) based on the scoring rubric, task specific expectations, knowledge of students, and other assessment data such as universal screeners or entry inventories. See the section titled Point A ELA Student Work Artifacts: Collecting, Scoring, and Differentiating Grouping for additional information on the sorting process.
  • Differentiate instruction for specific needs and strengths that were identified within the Point A student work artifacts.
  • Collect Point B work at the most appropriate time within the instructional plan.
  • Score Point B student work artifacts and analyze growth between Point A and Point B student workartifacts.
  • Determine which samples within each differentiated group demonstrate the most representativegrowth; this guides the process of purposeful sampling. See the section titled Point B ELA Student Work Artifacts: Collecting, Scoring, and Purposeful Sampling for additional information on purposeful sampling.
  • Submit the purposefully sampled student work artifacts into portfolio collections using the online platform prior to the April 15 due date.

I hope you follow those instructions better than I do. In any case, it should not be surprising that the release of scores was delayed from mid-May until late-July, because nothing communicates “drives instruction” like releasing data near the beginning of a new school year. Also not surprising, errors were found within the results. According to the State Education Commissioner this was due to teacher error, as opposed to problems with the system.

According to the state, some teachers mismatched students and standards which led to them receiving 1’s. Why the potential for that to happen wasn’t recognized on the front end and safeguards built-in to account for such occurrences, I’ll never understand. But it seems as much as we worship at the church of critical thinking, we put very little of it into practice. The TNDOE response to complaints leaves a lot to be desired:

If you have a concern with your score, you will need to go through each one of your submissions where you received a 1 on the Educopia site and check on the items that are listed above and below before filing a grievance.

Check:

Check to make sure you have a context form for each student and achievement level for point A and point B that received a score of a 1
Check to make sure that you didn’t have two different standards between point A and point B on each submission and achievement level where you received a 1.
Check to make sure that you didn’t upload two different student work samples for point A and point B for each achievement level where you received a 1 on the submission.
Check to make sure that you didn’t include multiple standards on the context form or included on the context form on submissions where you received a 1.
Check to make sure that you had 3 different individuals for each achievement level for the submission where you received a 1. Make sure duplicate work samples were not submitted.

Review your collections thoroughly to look for any of the items above. If a submission error is found, it does not qualify for a grievance. If you have double checked your submission and did not find a submission error, a grievance form can be submitted. The grievance window has been extended to October 1st.

I am not going to pretend to have a full grasp of any of this process. While I understand that I am not a professional educator, I believe that education policy needs to be written in a manner that can be grasped by parents, and this policy, and subsequent DOE communication, fails that test. I also believe that this process is entirely too labor-intensive. Even though the window to file grievances has been extended to October, is this really where a teacher’s attention needs to be focused at the start of school?

Some have pointed out that this is a trial year and that scores won’t actually count against teachers. That may be true officially, but do you know anybody that would be comfortable under any circumstances with a 1 on their record? Secondly, unofficially those scores are out there and there is nothing to protect teachers from opinions being formed based on those scores.

Business long ago realized that there are only a limited number of hours in the day. That’s why when you go to buy a car, the salesperson is focused solely on the sale. He’s not completing your credit check, or your loan application, nor is he completing the final sale paperwork. The most effective salespeople are focused on only one thing, selling the product. Everything else distracts from the primary objective. Why can’t we provide that same consideration to teachers? Instead of just being allowed to teach, they are continually forced to devote as much time to proving they are teaching as they are actually teaching.

By creating a process where an early elementary teacher has to decipher dense instruction, create artifacts, upload those artifacts, and then review them, after the fact, to ensure that they were uploaded properly, creates a number of distractions. Time wise alone, something has to be sacrificed, and invariably that becomes focus on children. Surely a better process can be created.

TEACHER MENTAL HEALTH

Chances are that if you drove by an MNPS school this past weekend, it was littered with cars. These cars belong to teachers who are sacrificing their own time, uncompensated, in order to get their classrooms ready to receive students. This is due to the district continually failing to provide adequate time to do so. I brought up this issue with several teachers this weekend, and all answered that it was “just part of it,” “it had to get done,” and “what are you going to do?” I had one teacher offer as a compliment to the principal, “Our principal is only unlocking the doors to the school one day. Other principals are opening the building both days.”

Principals need to understand that teachers, despite the best efforts of Betsy DeVos and her ilk, are members of the service sector. They entered the profession to help kids and as such will do just about whatever is necessary to give kids the best opportunities available. Often to their own detriment.

This dedication to service has been exploited for years and continues to grow. Case in point, the proliferation of back-to-school sale fliers directed at teachers. Principals posting social media messages, or even inter building messages, extolling those teachers working long extra hours and sacrificing personal time subconsciously reinforces a culture of sacrifice. Who’s going to even consider refusing to sacrifice when acceptance comes from adherence?

What do you think would happen if, in response to the district failing to schedule adequate classroom prep time, teachers didn’t self-sacrifice and classrooms were unprepared for students upon arrival? I’m willing to bet that ensuing chaos and disruption would lead to a re-evaluation of scheduling the next year, and that provisions would be made. However, teachers refuse to take that step because they always put kids first and are unwilling to take action that could be detrimental to children and so the self-sacrificing expectations continue to grow.

2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples has an excellent piece out today, How Your Back-To-School Messages are Hurting Teachers. She points out the following:

There’s tremendous pressure on teachers to be up and on, always positive, always “engaging.” When the issues students bring to school with them accumulate to a degree that they feel too heavy for many teachers, there’s not many places to turn.

This can cause what feels like a constant, low-grade emotionally abusive relationship. Too much of school, in my experience, fosters a dark co-dependency where staff are told that if they just work harder, give up more hours of their lives, tutor more, then students will “achieve.” Achievement, in this regard, of course means higher scores.

It’s an observation that I see play out endlessly. She echoes my thoughts when she points out this:

Often, these messages are delivered from a corporate or business partner who will send in a marketing person to hand out baskets full of old chocolate while using her most dramatic voice to tearfully tell teachers: “You are all candles. You consume yourself so that you can create light for others.” As my friend Justin says, that’s not only completely unsustainable as a metaphor or a policy, but it’s also a literal prescription for burnout.

That’s not a recipe for a healthy culture. A subliminal message is continually sent that you can’t effectively teach without giving a pound of flesh. In other professions, that expectation may exist, but in those cases compensation that offsets the sacrifice is offered. For teachers, the only compensation is the success of their students.

What if, instead of unlocking the school on weekends, the principal made a public announcement highlighting that over the weekend, “Ms. Johnson spent Saturday at her kid’s soccer game, which they won 4 to 3. Ms. Smith joined friends for a wonderful dinner at Husk and then they saw a concert afterwards. Mr. Brown took his family hiking and if anybody needs recommendations on good trails, he’s your guy.” What kind of cultural impact would that have?

Many of you are probably chuckling right now. Nobody has any time for any of that because it doesn’t add to achievement scores. Or does it? Who is going to be more effective as a teacher? The one who is hanging by their last emotional thread because they’ve been working ungodly hours due to a combination of internal and external expectations? Or the one who disconnected for a bit in order to recharge and refresh? Teacher mental health is a real issue and needs to be treated with the same priority as student growth scores because the two are intertwined.

I think everyone needs to heed Peeple’s concluding message:

Education critics act as though there is an unending supply of people standing outside their administrative offices waiting to apply for teaching jobs. This self-serving fantasy is giving way to real numbers of teachers retiring and those who are refusing to go into teaching in the first place.

Much like the #MeToo movement forced the culture to see the reality of sexual harassment, teacher walkouts and teacher attrition will finally make us all see the reality of the emotional labor and abuse we’ve heaped upon our teachers for too long.

And no amount of discount door prizes at meetings, banal speakers, or slides dripping with edu-guilt and edu-shame will make that go away.

QUICK NOTES

On Friday, the last of the Reading Recovery teacher leaders, Marissa Hicks, resigned from MNPS. The district was publicly paying lip service to allowing RR to continue in some schools, while behind the scenes they were trying to bastardize it to fit their needs. What Hicks resignation means is that Reading Recovery will not continue in the district as RR teachers will no longer be able to retain certifications. But we know that was the goal all along.

MNPS HR strikes again. On Friday, principals introduced teachers to the new attendance policy as mandated by the recently passed Memorandum of Understanding between MNEA and the district, and it wasn’t received well. According to the explanation supplied by HR, teachers who utilized all their sick days, or occurrences, in a given year could be subject to a disciplinary write-up. That was never the intent, nor is it reflective of what was negotiated. However, MNEA leadership was present when HR’s version was rolled out at a recent principal meeting and felt no need to clarify despite visible confusion and anger by principals.

This is just one more example where current union leadership has failed teachers. The ranks of MNEA are filled with hard-working, dedicated, public servants who have been frustrated with leadership’s failure to adequately advocate for them. This is in no way a criticism of the union, whom I believe under proper leadership, could be and will be a vital advocate for teachers. This past election, the miscommunication of the MOU, and other incidents point to a current leadership team that feels entitled to their positions and places their agenda over the needs of teachers. I can only pray that at some point members take back their union and refocus it on what it was created for, to serve teachers.

In an effort to pass on positive news when I hear it, it was recently conveyed to me that district Number 2 guy Sito Narcisse did exemplary work on the recent High School Football Jamboree. I was very happy to hear it, though I must add that when I tried to confirm this opinion with other sources, I was met with a look akin to having just reported a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. Take it for what it’s worth.

I also heard this week that a kind soul mailed Dr. Joseph a map of the downtown library. That was very considerate of them and will hopefully ease future exits for the director.

POLL RESULTS

We gotta a whole lot of responses to this week’s poll questions. For the first time, responses numbered over 200 per question. Let’s review.

The first question asked for your thoughts on Fran Bush winning a seat on the school board over incumbent Tyese Hunter and the effect it would have on Dr. Joseph. 31% of you responded that it was a blow and that he had lost an important ally. While 20% of you indicated that you didn’t think Dr. Joseph knew a school board even existed. Only 5% of you thought the effect would be negligible. Here are the write-ins:

Fran Bush is the real deal. Watch out Dr. J. 1
Doesn’t. He will continue to do whatever he wants. 1
depends on how the new voices are heard 1
Not sure, but I hope Pinkston takes your advice. 1
I imagine he’s a little nervous at the moment. 1
Scared as he counts votes who may fire him. 1
I can ONLY HOPE his days are numbered. He lost one of his alllies. Good! 1
Who knows? But no more goo goo eyes betwen him and Tyese 1
I think he’ll take another job before the year is out. 1
I hope there are changes 1
I pray that the board holds his feet to the fire!!! 1
I hope the newbies hold his feet to the fire

Second question asked who you thought should be the next chair of the MNPS school board. 63% of you favored the choice of Frogge. Speering was second with 24% of the vote. Interestingly enough, third place went to the newly elected Pupo-Walker, who drew more votes than 2-year veteran Buggs.

Frogge has indicated that she has no desire to take up the position, and in fact, she supports Speering. Shepherd and Gentry have both already held the position and have proven unable to provide a semblance of adequate leadership. Pinkston can’t be bothered to show up for work most days, so he’s unsuitable for the position. All the others are too inexperienced to assume the mantle.

That leaves Speering, who despite recent public criticism of Joseph, remains the best option. Speering has 35 years of educational experience to draw upon, and I believe that many of her public stances derived from the board’s failure to have meaningful conversations. I think as chair, she would recognize the magnitude of the position and would conduct public business as such. Some question whether Joseph would work with her or not, but in my eyes that is immaterial.

Despite the way business has been conducted over the last two years, the director works for the board and not the other way around. If Joseph finds himself unable to work under Speering, like any employee that finds themselves under the supervision of a boss they don’t personally care for, he is free to seek employment elsewhere. Joseph’s feelings should be irrelevant in the decision of who becomes chair. In Prince George’s County, the director may get to dictate who they work for, but in Nashville it’s the voters who do.

Here are the write ins:

None 1
Frogge. Really, as long as it isn’t Pinkston. 1
Hurts him but not very much

Question 3, asked for what quadrant you claim. The majority of you, 63%, continue to call the southern quadrants home. Though the Northern quads are well represented. I do need to focus more efforts on the Northwest quadrant. Here are those write-ins:

Magnet 1
Live in Southeast, teach in Southwest, heart is in both! 1
Live – southeast, work – northeast

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. Enjoy the first day of school. I leave you with Vesia Hawkins’ reflections on the day.

LOSING SUCKS

15

I thought all night about what’d I’d say about yesterday’s school board election results. Don’t be too bitter. Be gracious. Be optimistic. And after all that rumination, the best I can come up with is… losing sucks. Getting your ass kicked… sucks even more. And no matter how you slice it… I got my ass kicked.

I lost by over 2,000 votes to a woman who listed “being the only mom in the race” as one of her top qualifications and who is married to a sitting Metro Council member. Something that I thought would be a cause for pause among voters, but apparently, I’m alone in my concerns about conflicts of interest.

I only managed a handful of votes more than a man who raised less than a thousand dollars, placed no signs, and had no presence at the polls on election day. In fact, he managed to garner over 1,500 votes. That is not insignificant.

Another man who literally did absolutely nothing managed to secure 763 votes. To this day, I’ve never met the man and couldn’t pick him out if he was one of only two people in front of me.

Eddie Arnold, who ran in 2014, managed to double his vote total this year from his last go around. He raked in over 1,200 votes.

Taken together, it’s safe to say that I did not create a compelling narrative. That’s on me, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow.

What makes it especially hard to swallow is that I didn’t run for the personal honor of serving on the school board, but rather to give amplification to the voices that have so long gone unheard. There is only one reason that I got as many votes as I did: teachers. Teachers stepped out of their comfort zone and not only supported me with their words, but with their actions as well. Each of them would probably offer a counter, but I let them down and that will always be a mark on me.

I didn’t have a big PAC giving me donations of several thousand dollars. What I had was teachers and families reaching into their pockets and giving me checks of $25 and $50. Think about that – you’ve got people, knowing that they are going to take home less money next year, taking from their budget and giving you money they can easily find better uses for because they believe in you. I don’t take that lightly.

It wasn’t out of personal ambition that I ran for the board. I believe that MNPS is on a disastrous path and that I have a special skill set that could possibly change that. A skill set that was acquired through hard work and the trust of educators. Nothing has changed there. I still believe that. The way that the current administration conducts business is not good for kids, families, or professional educators. That is not opinion, but rather fact that can be backed with data.

It is my fear that in response to these bad policies, teachers and principals will retreat into their individual classrooms and schools, shut the door, and mitigate policy in a manner that works for their schools. Some of you may think that is a good thing. Nobody knows their schools like the people in the building, right?

That may be true, but you are making the assumption that all principals are created equal. That all schools have the same demographics and resources. That all teachers are created equal and that there is endless supply of quality educators. That’s not true. A lack of strong district policy will lead to greater inequities across the district. Some schools will thrive, but many will falter and those will be swept into the shadows.

The new board members do give me some cause for guarded optimism. Gini Pupo-Walker knows the system as well as anyone, is a tireless worker, and is usually on the side of angels, though her positive positions on both testing and Teach For America give me concerns. In the past, her bark has often been worse than her bite and I’m hoping – ok, praying – that in her new role she bites a little more.

She’s going to need all of her moxie to stand up to the influence of board member Will Pinkston and Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. Pinkston, who despite his inability to regularly attend school board meetings, continues to be an effective shadow warrior manipulating fellow board members and giving continuous cover to Shawn Joseph as he focuses the majority of his considerable expertise on Bredesen’s Senate campaign. Pupo-Walker and Pinkston have had their differences in the past, so it should be interesting to watch that relationship play out.

When it comes to Rachael Anne Elrod, I’ve been guarded in my opinions over the last several months. But now that I’ve removed my candidate hat, and my blogger hat is fully affixed, I’ve got some opinions. I hope she does her homework. Her grasp of the issues so far has struck me as tenuous at best. She taught almost a decade ago and the realities have changed a whole lot since then.

The good news is that she seems to project a desire to emulate current board member Amy Frogge. That is cause for optimism as long as she remembers nobody does their homework like Frogge.

As an active father of two kids, I’m not sure how you balance the demands of two 4-year-olds, a husband who is a council member, and the time demands being a school board member requires. Furthermore, I’m interested to see how future votes in both Metro Council and MNPS will play out when the two entities are entwined. Bottom line, though, is that voters in District 2 elected her by a large margin to be our representative, and she deserves the support that comes with that.

Which brings me to Fran Bush. I’m going to be as blunt as possible here and if it offends, what do I have to lose? MNEA and SEIU need to get their heads out of their ass. Both unions not only failed to support Bush, but actively worked against her. That’s on them and to their detriment, and Bush has already taken the high road.

On Channel 5’s Open Line forum this week, Bush not only wore red in solidarity with teachers, but spoke of a deep commitment to improving their lives within MNPS. People need to reach out to her and support her efforts. That’s where the raises are going to come from. Wearing red isn’t enough.

There was an effort during the election season to paint her as “crazy.” After meeting her and doing the research, I’ve come away with the opinion that she’s “crazy” like Amy Frogge was 6 years ago. We need more of that “crazy.”

Crazy, in this case, means passionate, idealistic, hard-working, and willing to learn. Bush will have some missteps; she’s a neophyte, after all. But I get the feeling she’s a fast learner. She comes off as a very classy lady, but she’s the mother of 5 boys, so don’t think for a moment that she’s going to be a pushover.

Former board member Tyese Hunter learned that the hard way. She tried to intimidate Bush several times at the polls, and Bush never once backed down. This victory fills me with the most optimism, and I’m convinced Bush is headed to greatness.

A couple last notes on Fran Bush. She beat an incumbent and did it with no money. Frogge’s grassroots victory 6 years ago was impressive, but she had some funding. Bush’s last financial disclosure shows she’s $2k in the hole.

Bush also not only beat an incumbent, but one who had the MNPS Director of Schools as an ally. An ally who not only used his position as Director of Schools, but also the official MNPS communications system, as a tool to undermine her campaign. That can not be understated.

So, what’s it all mean for Director of Schools Shawn Joseph? I don’t know. Much depends upon who becomes board chair. I suspect that Pinkston will continue to wrangle board members into compliance and Joseph will be left to his own devices. That in itself does not bode well for Joseph and his administration.

Whether I write another word, or the board asks a single question, the biggest obstacle for Shawn Joseph remains Shawn Joseph. But I believe we’ve reached a tipping point. There are already rumblings that he tried to use his influence to undermine Sheri Weiner’s campaign for Vice Mayor. The district has canceled much-needed professional development for SEL due to budget constraints. Yesterday, teachers were put in a time machine and sent back to 1995 for district wide professional development, thereby eating up valuable classroom prep time. It’s not ideological issues that will be his undoing, just the inability to do the day-to-day job.

Going forth, current board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering will need our support more than ever. I suspect there will be an increased effort to isolate the two, especially Speering, by fellow board members. That can’t happen, and it’s important that new board members resist those efforts. Open questioning and transparency shouldn’t be an offense, but rather the norm.

The one thing I consistently heard from people at the polls is that this lack of transparency is killing MNPS. Board members need to understand that destruction won’t come with a mustachioed villain tying the school district to the railroad track. It’ll come with families quietly, systematically disengaging. Once that trend becomes wholesale, it’ll become impossible to reverse.

Families who leave aren’t coming back. Professional educators who leave aren’t coming back. As school starts back up, I urge you to take a look around and note just how many are already missing. A charter school operator asked me a couple of weeks ago what I thought they should do. My reply was, “Nothing but call architects.”

It wasn’t by accident, or due to recent defeats, that kept charter school money out of this year’s school board race. There just wasn’t a compelling reason to invest as things are already trending in their favor. And this shouldn’t be considered criticism against them – I’m certainly not getting back into that fight while the district serves as their best recruiter – it’s just an indictment of our current landscape. I do find it ironic that Pinkston’s machinations serve to empower his self-proclaimed enemies.

He’ll point to no new charter schools opening during the last 2 years as a sign of success, while failing to acknowledge the growth in the number of students attending the existing schools. Without a correction in how MNPS is performing, increased charter growth is inevitable. That may anger some, but it’s the reality.

That’s one thing that is freeing about not being on the school board and having had my background publicly exposed – I no longer have to worry about retribution from Will Pinkston and can freely discuss his failings as a school board member.

Who knows, maybe now he’ll manage to stay for a whole meeting sometime in the future. My hope is that he’ll head off to Washington DC and allow somebody to take his place that will put the needs of MNPS staff and families in the forefront and not treat them as an afterthought to someone else’s political aspirations.

I would be remiss at this time if I didn’t take a moment to thank Mary Pierce for her service. We didn’t always, or even often, agree. But I admire her work ethic and the fierceness in which she defended the families who looked to her for leadership. Enjoy that family, Mary, and I look with anticipation to your future endeavors.

I also need to take a moment to point out the pitiful state that education reporting has gotten to in the Tennessean. They were able to fully investigate my past while failing to give full coverage to the District’s response to TNReady results, the Director’s evaluation, or any meaningful coverage to the school board race.

It should be noted that the Tennessean was instrumental in the selection of Joseph as Director of Schools, and as a result, they seem to have become more comfortable in the role of cheerleader instead of public watchdog. I’m actually not sure if Jason Gonzales’s office is at Bransford Avenue or in the McNeely, Pigott, and Fox office suite. Hopefully, since Frank Daniels has experience with education reporting, the new Nashville Scene will fill the void left by the Tennessean’s abdication of responsibility. A free and independent press is essential.

I need to thank Pam Swoner, Laura Kelley, Karen Hensley, and a player to be named later who all volunteered to man a poll position for 12 hours yesterday. You ladies are amazing.

So now we get to myself. What am I going to do? I admit, I’m hurting today, and I suspect I’ll be hurting for a number of days. Maybe weeks. I wanted this, maybe as much as I’ve wanted anything in the last decade. But it wasn’t to be.

The one thing I can’t ignore is that over 2,000 of you gave me one of the most precious things you have to offer, your vote. There were 37 of you who dug in your pocket and financially supported me. I don’t take any of that lightly. I owe you something for your investment, and I plan to deliver. That you can count on.

During the election, Valor Collegiate Academy families brought up that I had not visited their school. A valid criticism, and I promised to rectify that. I’ll try to honor that promise this month. I also promised a bus driver that I would ride a route with them – if they’ll contact me, I’ll honor that promise as well.

I take further solace in that my son and I had a fantastic day yesterday. It’s amazing to me that at just 7 years old, he was able to work the whole day at the polls with me. He’s a good kid, and I have a good daughter and a good wife. A wife who is going to do amazing things at H.G. Hill Middle School this year.

I would also caution sitting politicians not to discount the 2k voters who gave me support. Now would be the time to start discussions on a budget for next year that includes raises for teachers and support staff. We’ll be watching, and you can count on engagement if next year’s budget looks anything like this year’s budget.

I hope people don’t think I’m going anywhere. I take inspiration from the words of Joseph Campbell:

“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems the most challenging.” 

Thank you all for your support.

I didn’t mean for this whole post to be about the election. There is still a lot for us to talk about. Things like kindergarten and fine arts portfolios, capital needs, the old Tusculum building coming down, the status of English Learners, etc. We’ll get into that on Monday.

Until then, as always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. We’ll have lots of pictures up of the first day of school. As always, make sure you answer the poll questions. See ya Monday.

 

 

MONEY, IT’S A GAS

4

Saturday at 4:30 PM, early voting for this year’s school board race came to an end. Well, in all fairness, it was also the end of early voting for the governor primaries, the vice-mayor contest, and several other races. The early turnout for these races has been pretty impressive. A total of 56,843 people, or 14% of eligible voters, have already cast their ballot.

It was a long 10 days of early voting that saw me spending a great deal of time at the Edmondson Pike Library meeting voters. Something I enjoyed immensely. Y’all have the ability to touch my soul.

On the flip side though, I’ve discovered that running for office is one of those things that becomes so all-encompassing that it’s very easy to lose perspective. It becomes all you think about and you naturally begin to assume that it’s all other people are thinking about as well. And that they are attaching the same level of importance as you are to it.

Spend some time at the polls and that fallacy becomes exposed. Primary voter focus remains with the state level races, with the scraps falling to the other races. The good news is that the vast majority of voters are receptive to talking to you, and so with a solid pitch, and the credentials to back it up, you can sway people to your side. Never underestimate the power of a friendly greeting and a well-constructed elevator speech.

Unfortunately, the limited timeline and the need to constantly secure one more voter makes it very easy to lose sight of other priorities. I started to fall into that trap yesterday, but caught myself, and so I shut off the computer and asked the boy if he wanted to play some catch. We went out in the backyard and tossed the ball around for a bit, and then I took both kids to the pool. I didn’t secure any additional votes, but I certainly impacted two young lives.

With school getting started in about 10 days, I think this is an important lesson for teachers not to lose sight of. Over the next several weeks you’ll see school parking lots start to swell on weekends. There is a limited time schedule and the endless need to do just one last thing for their students, and it will cause teachers to begin sacrificing their own time to go in to work, uncompensated for their time.

Teachers, resist, and make sure you strike the proper work/life balance. Principals, don’t become enablers by publicly congratulating those who sacrifice their personal time. Don’t let unpaid work become even more of an expectation. SEL is just as important for teachers as it is for students, and we need to make sure that addressing teacher mental health is a priority.

While we are talking about the election, let’s talk money for a minute. This is another subject that has proved illuminating by being a candidate. Up until running for this election, and despite working on other’s campaigns in the past, I was fairly naive about the whole financing process of a campaign.

I knew that a candidate needed to raise money, and so they approached donors, but I didn’t really understand how that all worked or the real cost of a campaign. I was a little apprehensive because the money involved in the 2014 and 2016 races for school board was astronomical, with candidates raising a combined $350k. This year, things are considerably more subdued.

There are several reasons for the lack of money in this year’s school board race. First, many of the outside entities that contributed heavily in previous years are noticeably absent for this year’s race. Stand for Children and the Scarlett Foundation, two entities that invested tens of thousands in the last go around, have taken a pass this year.

Secondly, due to an unplanned Mayoral and Vice-Mayoral election, a crowded field for the gubernatorial primaries, and a high-profile state senatorial race, there is less money to trickle down to the school board level. The advice given to me back in May was raise early, spend early.

Lastly, fewer entities are doing endorsements this year. Endorsements tend to come with substantial financial rewards. As a prime example, neither the Nashville Scene, nor the Tennessean, have endorsed candidates this year. A break from the past.

Those organizations that are doing endorsements are attaching fewer financial rewards to them. Most endorsements are coming with either no money or a reasonable $500. Save for one, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. They are still trying to flex their muscles.

Here’s where things get interesting. Earlier in the year, I suspect due to the negative connotations they derived from previous elections, the Chamber changed the name of its political action committee to Nashvillians for a more Pliable School Board, or something like that. Ok, it’s actual name is Nashvillians for an Effective School Board (NESB). But you get the picture.

They are still handing out big money donations. Substantially more than other entities. For comparison, MNEA and SIEU both attached only $500 to their endorsement. But NESB awarded more than 10 times that amount to their preferred candidates.

In District 8, they gave their candidate Gini Pupo-Walker $4k. In my district, District, 2, they awarded their pick Rachael Elrod $7.5k. Hmmm… not sure why District 2 is worth more than District 8… but ok. District 4, Anna Shepherd, got no money because she’s running unopposed. In District 6, we have no idea how much they contributed because their candidate, incumbent Tyese Hunter, has yet to file a required financial disclosure. More on that in a second.

So let’s put this into perspective for a minute. That $7.5k the Chamber – let’s dispense with formalities and call them by their rightful name – infused into the race is $2k higher than my total earnings, which are a very respectable roughly $5k. An amount arrived at through donations from 35 different people. An amount I’m extremely proud of because I know the sacrifice that went into each of those donations. Many coming from teachers who this year will take home less money than they did last year. We’ll talk more about that in the future.

So with one fell swoop, the Chamber was able to give one candidate sufficient financial resources to put them in a place where they could focus on other responsibilities besides fundraising. Based on the fact that Mrs. Elrod only raised an additional $2,200, I can only assume that raising money did become less of a priority. I think it’s safe to say that the wife of a Metro Councilman with her background is capable of raising much more than $2,200 if necessary. But the Chamber made it unnecessary.

On an interesting side note, elections make strange bedfellows. Board member, and frequent critic of the Chamber, Will Pinkston, finds himself in alignment with the their goals, as he contributed $500 of the additional $2,200 Elrod raised. Just goes to show you… well, never mind.

In District 6, since we don’t know what their endorsed candidate received, we can only assume the Chamber awarded the full $7,500 to Tyese Hunter as well. That is significant because of her challengers, Aaron McGee has raised roughly $3,600, Fran Bush is in the hole, and Earl Latimore hasn’t filed disclosures. That Chamber money equates to giving a significant advantage to their chosen candidate. Unfortunately, money matters.

Right now you are probably thinking, “Whatever, TC. What’s the matter with a few business people who care about our school system donating some money to candidates that they think will improve outcomes? After all, businesses throw millions in to our schools with little return. So give it a rest and quit your belly aching.”

Fair point. Business leaders should be able to put their money wherever they want. That’s part of living in a democracy and is certainly their right. But is it their money we are talking about here?

During recent budget hearings, it came to light that the Metro Nashville Government subsidizes the Chamber to the tune of about $350k a year. In those budget hearings, CM David Rosenberg proposed cutting that subsidy. That seemed a reasonable proposition considering that city workers had their raises cut from the budget this year. Everyone should sacrifice. Council Members didn’t see it that way, and the Chamber got their money. I’m not going to give you the individual votes, but you look it up. You won’t be surprised.

To draw a clear picture, what’s happening here is that the Chamber is receiving tax payer money and investing in influencing local elections simultaneously. There may not be a direct line between the money received from tax payers and the money given to candidates, but ask yourself, if the Chamber has enough money to invest in candidates to the maximum legal amount allowed, while others are cutting their donations to candidates, do they really need your money to push their agenda?

For me, this influence isn’t a significant factor. In the immortal words of Sonny and Cher, “I got you, babe.” That, and 5 years of being in schools. 5 years of building relationships and establishing a reputation. Through this blog I have a platform to get my message out and to inform you on things that you might not normally be aware of. And let me tell you, your support, both over the years and at the polls, has been phenomenal.

In District 6, things are a little different, though. While all three challengers have excellent track records of working in schools with kids, along with great ideas to improve the system, they find themselves at a disadvantage in conveying those records and ideas to the general public due to financial restraints.

Mailers run around $1k a campaign and 100 signs run around $500, not including artwork which can run another $200. Not only is there little money for mailers and additional signs, but time that could be spent conveying their platform is instead spent on fundraising. I salute these District 6 candidates for their tenacity and willingness to try to climb the mountain in an effort to improve their communities, despite the considerable obstacle placed in their path. It’s a shame that their willingness is not rewarded with a level playing field.

So why has incumbent Tyese Hunter not filed her disclosures? I don’t know. There has been virtually no media coverage on the lack of information on who’s funding Hunter’s re-election. Which is inexcusable. This is exactly why a free and independent press is so vital to democracy. The fact that an incumbent can get to the final week of an election without meeting the prescribed election commission requirements should be of grave concern to everyone. Somebody needs to be held accountable.

I think it’s also imperative that going forth in next year’s Metropolitan Budget, we take a lot closer look at who’s getting subsidized and who’s not. We can’t just punish the people who make the city run while allowing others to continue to spread their influence unencumbered.

LAB RATS

Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) is coming to MNPS. Well, they were in 5 schools last year, but this year that list is expanding to 25 schools as part of a study by Florida State University. According to MNPS Chief of Instruction Monique Felder:

Twenty-five MNPS schools (see list of participating schools attached) will be involved in this study. Schools were selected based on interest and/or student achievement data. Because this study is an experiment, 13 schools will be randomly assigned to the Treatment condition and 12 schools will be randomly assigned to the Control condition in November 2018. The study will roll outslowly with Kindergarten teachers in the Treatment Group of schools implementing CKLA’s Knowledge Strand this school year(2018-2019); 1st grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2019-2020, and 2nd grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2020-2021. Kindergarten teachers in the Control Group will implement the CKLA Knowledge Strand in 2019-2020; 1st grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2020-2021, and 2nd grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2021-2022. On- going professional development and ALL materials will be provided to each teacher at no cost to the school or district.

Interestingly enough, all 25 participating schools are in the NW and NE quadrants. I’ve got some initial qualms. Primarily being the use of our students as guinea pigs. As a parent, I would have a hard time knowing my children would be placed in either the controlled or treatment group. I would want a guarantee that my kids are receiving the best possible instructional curriculum, not being used as a development tool.

Secondly, I’m real loathe to place even more responsibility on the shoulders of Kindergarten and first grade teachers that are already struggling to adapt to the state’s new evaluation tools. The state has put them in an untenable position by forcing them into a portfolio system of evaluation that is not fully developed, and now the district wants them to participate in a study that may do further damage to their professional reputation.

Sure, teachers are being told that CKLA lines up well with the portfolio model, but if that proves to be untrue, who pays the price? In a district that already suffers from a lack of trust, this just feels like a disaster waiting to happen.

National results indicate that CKLA has shown success, but in MNPS the results have not been as promising. Of the five schools currently piloting CKLA, none have shown overwhelming evidence of its effectiveness.

Further irony comes from the fact that several years ago, Tennesseans rejected the Common Core standards and created their own. MNPS is now conducting a study using a program that describes itself thus:

Only CKLA reflects what expert educators, cognitive scientists and the authors of the Common Core State Standards already know: background knowledge and foundational skills are the keys to early literacy.

POLL RESULTS

A lot of you had opinions this week. Unfortunately for Dr. Joseph and district leadership, they weren’t complimentary. Let’s look at the results.

The first question asked the question that NOAH asked at their school board candidate forums, “Do you support Dr. Joseph?”

150 of you responded, with 92 of you, 61%, saying “absolutely not.” 34 of you, 23%, indicated that you still wanted to say yes, but couldn’t. That means 84% of you answered in a negative manner. Only 1 of you answered, “absolutely.” 8 of you indicated that he still, despite challenges, had your support. I know that Dr. Joseph is a proponent of tuning out the noise, but it feels like the din is getting deafening.

Here are the write-ins:

I support good policy 1
MNPS Faculty member: I’m split between sadness and anger that my answer is NO. 1
He has the same issue as Braden! 1
The real question is does he support me as a teacher? Leaning no on that one. 1
Dr. Joseph should be supporting Staff and students. How I feel about him does n 1
NO. Dr. Joseph has become part of the problem, not the solution.

Question two asked for your opinion on the handling of principal Sam Braden’s actions at JFK Middle School. 145 of you answered this one, with 74 of you, 54%, referring to it as a dumpster fire. 48 of you, 34%, indicated that it was the same old incompetence. Only 1 of you, I’m assuming it’s the same person who answered affirmatively to the previous question, indicated it was being handled properly.

Here are the write-ins:

He has bullied teachers for years and gotten away with it. 1
This has been Sam Braden MO for years. Someone needs to check out the wife! 1
Despicable. No excuse for letting this go on 1
Intentional sweep under the rug 1
HR should have been put on administrative leave for gross incompetence! 1
There are others—Smith Springs is just as bad! 1
“I haven’t looked into it enough. That’s not my job.” — Tyese Hunter 1
Embarrassing! 1
Covering up slime. All HR has to go.

The last question asked for your prediction on the Vice-Mayor race. If Dad Gone Wild readers are to be believed, Sheri Weiner wins this race 51% to 35%. We appreciate MNEA head Erick Huth’s write-in vote.

Undecided 2
didn’t 1
I have not yet made up my mind. 1
Erick Huth… been around and knows all 1
*Who* not *how*

And that’s a wrap. Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Feedback is always welcome and I will try to promote as many of the events that you send my way as possible, but I do apologize in advance if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge.Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can.

Above and beyond all… vote on Thursday. Tell your friends to vote on Thursday. Tell your friend’s friends to vote on Thursday. Every vote counts.

 

IS THIS THING ON?

3

“Experience has shown, and a true philosophy will always show, that a vast, perhaps the larger, portion of truth arises from the seemingly irrelevant.”
Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I write today’s post as dawn breaks. There are only two days left in early voting and I need to spend as much time at the polls as possible, and I’m trying to dash this off.

One of the joys of this campaign, has been the opportunity to meet and interact with so many of you. I can’t tell you the thrill I get when you walk up and confess to being a regular reader. It’s something that really fills me with pride and gratitude. I’m extremely grateful for your patronage.

It would be remiss if I didn’t mention the tremendous outpouring of support I’ve received from MNPS educators, both past and present. Y’all are the story of this election and when I win, it’s a story that needs to be repeated. This is what happens when teachers use their voice and I’ll make sure I amplify it. Not an hour goes by at the polls where I don’t meet either a teacher, or someone inspired by a teacher, coming to cast a ballot for me. All I can is…thank you.

CONTINUED HR FAILURE

The fall out continued this week over the actions, and subsequent mishandling of the investigation, of JFK MS Principal Sam Braden. On Tuesday he had a front row seat at the principal meeting seemingly impervious to charges of sexual and financial misconduct. On Wednesday, he was placed on administrative leave and MNPS HR announced a deeper investigation.

Last night, Channel 5’s investigative report Phil Williams went to the polling stations seeking feedback from school board candidates. Current school board member Tyese Hunter admitted that she hadn’t attended Tuesday’s closed door session of the school board because she was out campaigning.

When asked, “Based on what you know now, do you think it was properly investigated?”

Hunter replied,

“I don’t know enough now because I haven’t actually seen — I’m sure you probably did a show or something on it. I haven’t had an opportunity to see anything personally.”

Challengers for her seat, Fran Bush and Aaron McGee had their own opinions. With Bush stating,

“That is something that should have been handled very quickly,” she added. “Instead it lagged. It was not handled in a timely manner. That is the reason that the community was so concerned.”

McGee had the following to say,

“Once the allegation was made, the policy has to be followed to the T, and Dr. Braden should have been placed on administrative leave,”

Dr. Joseph has taken the unfolding controversy as an opportunity to admonish principals to adhere to the highest standards. At this weeks principal meeting he warned them of the perils of engaging in the act of gossip. I never understand why managers think that this tactic will work. It is a tactic that invariantly leads to more gossip.

If you don’t want people to gossip, than be transparent and supply a compelling narrative that is backed up by actions and facts. Devoid of a compelling narrative, people will supply their own and it is usually error ridden and negative. I think this is something that is covered during the first week of Leadership 101. Sorry, I’m tired and feeling a little snarky.

Joseph followed up his words with an email that was sent not once, but twice to district employees. An email that had many asking whether they worked for a school district or the Syndicate. My favorite was the bullet point saying leaders should not bribe. Up until this letter I was a little unclear on whether that was a go or no go. Consider the confusion cleared up.

Meanwhile as the Channel 5 story is still unfolding, over on Channel 2 another HR mishandling was being covered. Hey, if one news story is good…2 is great…right?

Long term MNPS employee Stephen Henry if you’ll remember was arrested a month ago on meth charges. Full disclosure here, I’ve known Henry for a number of years and consider him a friend. While I find his actions deplorable, I’ve also seen the flip side of Henry and fully understand the dark side of addiction. Thankfully he is seeking treatment and making progress. That however does not put things above reproach.

In light of those actions, Channel 2 took a closer look at his MNPS personal file and found that not everything was as it first appeared. Initially it was reported that Henry was transferred to Johnson Alternative Learning Center, a school were students are transferred because their behavior has led to expulsion, due to budgetary concerns. After News 2 asked multiple questions about this, a school spokesperson confirmed the real reason for the transfer was because of the parent complaints due to Henry’s job performance.

MNPS spokes person Dawn Rutledge broke out the common refrain used to defend MNPS HR this summer, she believes the error on the transfer form was a human mistake but that the school system is investigating what happened.

The investigation needs to go a lot deeper than this one incident and in fact, I would say a complete audit on the performance of HR needs to be conducted. It’s not enough to just shrug and say, “Human error” three times fast. Somebody needs to be accountable for the continuing incompetence that has plagued the MNPS Human Resource Department.

Unless of course it is all by design. In that case, we need to have a whole other conversation.

QUICK HITS

It’s been over a week now since the state of Tennessee has released the state and district results of this years TNReady tests, yet still there is not statement in response from the district on said results. Is the plan here to just ignore them and hope nobody will notice? It should be noted that the TN Department of Education makes results known to districts several weeks in advance before releasing them to the public.

Speaking of evaluations, the state mandated  pre-k/kindergarten portfolio model of evaluation has made it to my radar. Andy Spears of TNEd Report touched on some of the issues back in June. Last week scores were released and the clamor has only grown. While I don’t fully have my head wrapped around the issues yet, I’m dropping this here as a place holder for further investigation in the coming month.

Professional educator Zac Barnes continues to offer insight into educational issues via his recently launched Tip Sheet. Check it out.

NOAH this week completed a series of forums with this year’s school board candidates. One of their questions to each candidate was, “Do you support Dr. Joseph?” My response was that I support good policy and that should be the metric, not whether an individual is supported or not. I went further and said that I believe entirely too much focus is placed on whether individual board members support Dr. Joseph or not.

In my eyes, a board member’s job is not to support the director but rather to supervise them and ensure that they are carrying out the board’s directives as dictated by the folks that elected the board member. A role reversal seems to have occurred where some think that it is the director that supervises the board instead of the other way around. A correction needs to be made and the focus shouldn’t be on whether the board member supports Dr. Joseph,but rather, if the community supports Dr. Joseph. That is where question one of this week’s poll derives from. Just thought I’d offer some clarification.

Governor Hallam is on the way out the door and Andy Spears evaluates his exit interview.

I can’t seem to stop listening to the new Jayhawks record.

The new marquee is up at Tusculum ES and it looks fabulous. What a long strange trip it’s been. Now let’s talk about those needed additional classrooms that were cut from the original plans.

School starts back in two weeks. Send me your back to school pictures. The email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’d love to share them on the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Hope springs eternal.

Looking for school supply lists? View the lists here:

Colorado, like Tennessee, created the seal of biliteracy in order to recognize multilingual students. Unfortunately not many districts have taken on the work. Aurora isn’t yet offering the new seal of biliteracy, so Math teacher Susan Holloway took it upon herself to help 15 seniors at her school win the recognition.

While benefits of the seal of bi-literacy have been slow to materialize, Halloway offered this hope.

“I hope, No. 1, that it allows them to know just how good they are, she said. “This is above the high school level. It’s an advanced level of proficiency. I hope it invites them to participate in our world and I hope it helps to get them a job and that they take that whole understanding of their global citizenship with them.”

Wish I had time to write more, but the polls are calling. If you come out to the Edmondson Library make sure you give me a shout out.

Make sure you answer tis week’s poll questions and If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send me as possible, but I do apologize in advance if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out my campaign web page and sign up to help if you can.