WORDS ON MNPS NEXT AND SOME QUESTIONS

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June seems to be speeding by like a runaway train. It’s interesting how busy things can be even when students are not in the buildings. As I write today’s post I’m listening to The King and I – Faith Evans and Biggie Smalls. Should make things a little funky today. Unfortunately, once the kid’s arise it’ll have to come off the turntable.

Thursday night saw the third entry in the MNPS Next series. If you are not familiar with this initiative, over the past two weeks MNPS has been holding community meetings in order to gather public opinion on the future of district schools. I’ve attended two of the three events held but have refrained from commenting on these meetings until now because I didn’t want to unintentionally dissuade any one from attending. I believe the attempt to get more community input is commendable but per usual the execution and results are mixed.

In my eyes the most valuable portion of the night is the small group discussion. The power of these discussion lies in the disparate mixture of people in the room. Too often we hold conversations on education issues solely with people that see the world through eyes similar to our own. We fall into the trap of thinking our life experiences are universal life experiences. The small group discussion created through MNPS next served to counter that practice.

(Dr. Joseph addresses MNPS Next at Hillsboro HS)

The discussions I sat in on exposed me to arguments I hadn’t considered in forming my opinions. It was brought to my attention that including Pre-K in elementary schools could potentially translate to those programs becoming more academic focused and less play based – something I’m not in favor of. I learned that private schools run on a 6th through 8th grade model. I also learned that we still aren’t clear on the difference between equitable and equal.

The facilitator of last night’s group, a volunteer and community member, made a comment that in effect said, we want equitable experiences for our kids, we want all schools to be equal. The terms equitable and equal are not interchangeable. Equality speaks to “leveling the playing field” where as equity insures that those that need more, get more.  When I tried to point out that equity and equality were not the same thing the response was that “diversity and equity are also not the same thing either.” A point I’m still puzzling over today.

It was also presented that the disparities in our schools were highest at the High School level. I disagree and think the experiences at our High Schools are fairly equitable across the board. Note that I said fairly. I see the biggest disparity being at our elementary school and middle school level. The experience at McKissack Middle Prep is hugely different then that at West End Middle. The experience at Haywood Elementary is vastly different from that Waverly Belmont ES.  I’m not trying to compliment or disparage anyone here, there are some legitimate reasons why these discrepancies exist, but I think we need to find the  means to make our kids experiences more equitable across the board. I found the small group discussions extremely valuable in this regard and I would encourage MNPS to hold more of these. Perhaps structure a night were the first half hour people break out into one small group and then after a half hour re-scramble the groups for another 30 minute discussion.

I would comment more on the survey portion of the program, but that’s going to be one of our survey questions and therefore I don’t want to risk prejudicing the responses. I will comment more on Monday when I recap.

GOOD NEWS

Congratulations go out to Lucki Price a recent graduate of Pearl Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School. Lucki won a full scholarship to Belmont University by writing an essay on her experiences at Girls Inc., a national program that aims to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold by equipping them with the skills to navigate gender, economic and social barriers. The scholarship itself is provided by Be About Change, a nonprofit committed to providing higher education scholarships to students from low-income households. Way to go Lucki!

(Attorney Roger Rosenthal addresses educators on EL student rights)

This week saw another incredible EL Summer Learning Institute take place. A highlight this year was Attorney Roger Rosenthal who presented on EL students rights. By all accounts the sessions were extremely enlightening. The English Learner work that is done at MNPS is truly transcendent.

Going on at the same time was MNPS’s Excellence in Early Education Summit 2017 which brought together early childhood educators, community partners and businesses to connect and collaborate. Both Mayor Megan Barry and Director of Schools Shawn Joseph provided key note addresses.

Congratulations also go to Rita Black, a music teacher at Eakin Elementary School, who is one of 10 music teachers across the country to receive the 2017 Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award.

Here’s a couple rumors for you. I hear that training for the new LTDS positions has been going extremely well. I’ll be honest I don’t not what LTDS stands for other then the “L” stands for literacy and that’s my major concern. I’ve heard good things about the literacy initiative all across the board as of late. My hope is that come next April everything will be just as positive.

I hear that the district plans to have all assignments complete by July 1. That includes all principal and EDDSI’s I know people are anxiously awaiting to see which cluster gets assigned to which EDDSI. All principal job’s have been filled except for Amqui and Eakin.


Speaking of literacy, here’s a shameless plug for Book ’em. Book’em creates a more literate Nashville by helping economically disadvantaged children, from birth through high school, discover the joy and value of reading through book ownership and enthusiastic volunteers. Check them out and help them out.

Also I would like to give a final salute to Knoxvillian Lauren Hopson who ends her tenure as President of Knox County Education Association at the end of the month. All I want to say is look up the word leader in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of her waving at you.

POLL QUESTIONS

 This week’s questions are going to be tied to MNPS Next initiative. I’m curious of how many people that read the Dad Gone Wild blog post actually went to the events. My first question is how did you find out about the MNPS Next meetings. Then I would like to know what your thoughts on the poll were. Lastly, how did you feel about the small groups breakout sessions. I know not all of you will be able to participate this week but I’ll have some great patriotic questions for next week.
If you haven’t read my latest entry in my Voices of Tennessee Educators series. I urge you to check it out. This time out I’m speaking with Tennessee Board of Education member Wendy Tucker. I’m pretty proud of it.
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TENNESSEE EDUCATION VOICES: Wendy Tucker

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I started this series of interviews in order to get a better understanding of the people who shape education in Tennessee. In order to get a robust picture, it is important to talk with people with disparate views from my own. Wendy Tucker is a parent, advocate, adviser to former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, and current member of the Tennessee State Board of Education. Over the years, we’ve often found ourselves on opposite sides of education policy debates, and it hasn’t always been civil. A couple weeks ago, Wendy said enough was enough and how about we sit down and have a coffee. I agreed, and the result was an interesting conversation. I’m not sure that the conversation led to a change in belief for either of us, but we both gained a greater understanding of each other’s motivations, experiences, and intentions on which those beliefs were forged. Hopefully we also found out we were both a little more multi-dimensional then previously thought.

Dad Gone Wild: I’m always interested in people’s stories and how they came to be involved in public education. So how about a little bit of your history and how did you arrive where you are now? You’re not from Tennessee, are you?

Wendy Tucker: I’m not. I am from a small south Louisiana town, Hammond, Louisiana. Probably never heard of it. I am the youngest of four, raised by a divorced single mother. And I am the first in my family to ever graduate from college. That happened mainly as a result of a very persistent parent and two amazing teachers who didn’t take no for an answer because where I come from at that time, college in my hometown wasn’t really necessarily an automatic part of the equation. I was able to get a scholarship and go to Tulane, where I went to law school as well. After that, I came to Nashville and became a public defender. It was impossible to miss the connection between our young clients and the fact that they had given up on education. The biggest influence on me, though, has been my daughter. I have a soon-to-be 15-year-old daughter with profound special needs, and navigating the education process with her showed me how complex it is for parents. That insight led me to start helping parents, pro bono, handle school issues for their kids with disabilities, which led to co-creating a non-profit to do that work. That led me to co-chair then-Mayor Dean’s task force on special education with Elise McMillan from Peabody and the Kennedy Center. After that, Mayor Dean hired me during his second term to be his education adviser, and I joked with him that he hired me so I’d stop suing his city.

DGW: Probably not a bad idea.

WT: It worked. But that’s how I got into the actual education policy world.

DGW: One of the reason’s that I started this interview series is because I’m fascinated with people’s stories and I feel that we are too quick to pigeonhole people before we know those stories. Which gets in the way of real discussion.

WT: Yup. I think it needs to be said, because I am clearly pegged as a charter zealot by some, that I never stepped into a charter school before working for Mayor Dean. I didn’t know what a charter school was, not unlike a lot of Nashvillians who still don’t have a clear understanding of charter schools. I first visited Nashville Prep when they were at TSU’s downtown campus in my role as Mayor Dean’s adviser, and I was blown away by the level of engagement in the classrooms and by the high expectations for the kids. Many of those kids were kids in very different circumstances than mine. I’m not comparing my small town upbringing to inner city high poverty upbringing. But in some ways, I connected with them because they were kids people didn’t think would go to college and were now in a building with people who thought they would go to college. That’s the role my high school English teacher Grace Milton served for me and so it resonated. I saw a building full of people like her, and I became a believer.  I am still a believer in great charter schools. I’m also a believer in great district schools. I just think that the people matter a lot more than the structure of the governance of the building.

DGW: And I’m still a big believer in that the delivery system matters. That’s what schools are essentially, delivery systems for education. I believe schools should be charged with creating great citizens, as well as great readers and mathematicians. Public schools, in my estimation, are a pillar of a democratic society. That said, I will concede that after having my kids in a high needs school for several years, I can understand why parents consider charter schools. And I love my kids’ school. I think their school is going to make my kids better people in the long run, and I think that the level of instruction they receive is excellent. But there are trade-offs, and it’s not easy. But the only way that school gets better is if everybody enrolls. If families are making other choices, I don’t believe you can expect expect poor families to stay in the school and fight for the system while other people are exploring other avenues for their children.

WT: Yeah. And I see that perspective. The perspective I see as well, and the one that is part of my DNA, is that every parent wants better for their kid no matter how wonderful your parents’ experiences are or how bad. They all want what’s better for their kid. And I’ll give an example: my children. When my daughter was about to start kindergarten, we were in Davidson County. I am a bleed blue democrat. I wanted to stay in Davidson County, but my daughter has profound special needs. She has a seizure disorder. As she was growing up, we got on a first-name basis with EMTs because there was a period of time where her seizures wouldn’t stop. She has an implant in her chest to stop seizures but that doesn’t always stop it. Metro Nashville Public Schools was not going to be able to meet her needs. We moved to the most affluent area of the city to try to get her needs served. But when we visited and conducted our IEP meeting, it was clear that her specific needs wouldn’t be met. So we made the very difficult choice to move to Williamson County because we toured Williamson County schools. We found a school that could meet her needs, had a nurse all day everyday, had full inclusion in the classrooms, and had the supports necessary.

By moving from East Nashville to West Nashville to Williamson County, did I abandon kids who didn’t have those choices or the the ability to move? I mean in some ways, I suppose I did because I did what was best for my child. But what I want to see is all of those families having the level of choice that I had. We as a family have resources; resources that are not available to other families. Not everybody can move to Williamson County. And so I feel passionate about the ability of parents to make that choice.  I get that if a lot of parents make choices, then a school can suffer. I’m sensitive to that, but I think it’s a more complicated situation than people will admit. But what I sort of see is parents and their kids in the moment. I think of the kids who I represented as juvenile offenders and wonder what would have happened if they had found a charter school that met their needs or a special teacher in their district school. If they had just found something that kept them engaged in school, then maybe they wouldn’t be in an adult prison right now. They could be on different paths. That’s why I feel passionate about parent choice.

DGW: Well, I think some of what we are talking about puts a little too much on our schools to begin with. I think we need to step back and realize that not all of it can be on our schools. Working this past year with an aftercare program and actually being in the school more, I see kids who are just faced with overwhelming obstacles before they even enter school. Society is failing them. That’s where I’ve also begun to lose a little stomach for the charter school wars. You have adults arguing about the delivery method when, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if they go to a charter school or a public school because they have such extensive needs that need to be met before they ever even get in the classroom. I was talking with Gary Hughes, who is principal of JT Moore Middle School, about this the other day. Even in a school considered to have low poverty, they still face these challenges. They still have children who are more focused on getting something to eat, or a safe place to sleep, than with learning to read. Somehow that has to be addressed.

WT: Yeah. No, I agree with you. I agree. And I think– when I worked for Mayor Dean, we were in a lot of schools – district schools, charter schools. He was in a few private schools when they asked him to come and do presentations. And there are great things happening in every school. But in some schools, kids have a higher likelihood of being in a classroom with a great teacher and having the resources that they need. And I am going to get an eye roll here, but–

DGW: [Laughs]

WT: Charters are public schools. I hate the public/non-public thing there because charters are public schools despite what–

DGW: And again, that’s a debate we could go back and forth on forever.  I am a currently little frustrated with our school board and the way they are treating charter school parents. If you go to a charter school, you are still part of Metro Nashville Public Schools. Now, if you want to argue the level of oversight those schools are given, that’s a whole different conversation. But a charter school student is still considered an MNPS student.

WT: Correct.

DGW: So we should treat those parents like they’re MNPS parents. Or cut them loose. Just let them go and form their own administrative body. I think that would be a lot more honest than keeping them under a governance body that doesn’t want to acknowledge them or serve them, and that’s where we are now.

WT: I agree. And I think–I mean I can’t speak for the governance body, but do I think there is a lot of support at the district level for our charters and our charter parents. There are clearly some people who don’t support them, but on a whole, the district supports our charters. In some cities, it’s different. Now that being said, there are some parents who are concerned and don’t feel like they’re treated like MNPS parents. And I think that’s sad because every parent has enough challenges without feeling like they are outcasts for a choice they made based on what they thought was in the best interest of their kid.

DGW: Over the past year, I’ve had a number of conversations that have continued to resonate, and I hate to drag them into the conversation, but I’m going to anyway. In talking with Dr. Looney in Williamson County and Dr. Woodard who now works in Maury County, a common point was made that instead of arguing over charter schools, we should focus on making schools better. Make your school so good that demand for an alternative is not there. I will continue to argue that parents don’t want choice, they want quality. I think ultimately that’s the thing that frustrates me the most – we don’t spend enough time improving schools. If we were to wipe out charter schools tomorrow, what would the landscape look like?

WT: Right. I agree with you on that. I think the district schools face challenges that the charters don’t face in the sense of rules around the hours in the day and the number of days they can have. Obviously more time on task is going to help, and charters are able to do that.  But I also see, when I go into a great charter school here in Nashville and I walk into a classroom and spend time watching the instruction, I see really rich instruction. I see highly engaged kids. It’s the same thing I see in a great classroom in a district school. So in some ways, I think there are barriers in the district because of the hours limitations, the days limitations. There’s a lot of bureaucracy. That’s just the reality. But a lot of it comes down to the people and the talent that’s in the building and the leadership that’s in the building.

DGW: The last time we talked, one of the things we talked about was money and the role that money plays in schools. Is it money or is it culture? That really got me thinking because to be honest, while schools are unquestionably underfunded, I don’t know that we are always as prudent with the money we do have as we could be. Conversely I don’t know that we’re empowering people to create a really great culture. Is it prudent to overpay management and underpay those in the trenches?

WT: Yeah. There’s a lot of debate about charters supposedly having so much more money than district schools per kid. The numbers I’ve seen don’t reflect that. Charter schools have to pay for their buildings. They have to pay for their transportation. They face a lot of expenses that traditional schools don’t necessarily face. So, I would say that the great charters in Nashville have been forced to do a lot with a little. And if they can do that, I think that could be a lesson to the larger structures in Nashville that maybe if you targeted the money better we could get better results. I’m not the finance person who determines where all the money goes, and I’m not saying I have an answer, but I do think that a lot of our local charters have shown how to do really great work with less money.

DGW: Part of the hindrance in this conversation is a lack of transparency across the board.  I know a couple of years ago, when I asked for exactly what LEAD Academy was getting from donors, I had to make an open records request and then go through three or four levels before I could get their donor’s list. Those donations totaled 1.5 million dollars, which is something that public schools don’t have access to.

WT: Traditional public schools.

DGW: Traditional public schools, I’m sorry. I’ll work on that.

WT: [laughs] It’s okay. You’re not the only one.

DGW: And so if we had a rubric that we could look at and see that everybody was adhering to the same rules on disclosing their finances, their enrollment processes, their discipline processes, their hours, etc. – then I think you could possibly do a little bit more collaborating. Unfortunately, because there is no clear rubric, we end up arguing back and forth with each assuming the worse about the other..

WT: I can agree with that. I will say that the charters’ financials, as far as I can tell, are much more available and transparent than the district schools’ financials. Charters have independent audits that are required by law and made available every year. Traditional schools don’t have the same requirement, so it’s a little more difficult. I don’t know that I would be able to assess if I picked any district elementary school, and wanted to see how much money they got, how much money their PTO donated and any other donors and their Pencil partner. Would I be able to actually decipher all the numbers? So I agree with you, more transparency across the board would be helpful. But what I think gets lost in this whole charters-get-millions-from-donors conversation is that they get per-pupil dollars for the kids who come to their school that they have to do everything out of, which is very different than the district, which gets the building, transportation, the economy’s scale of special ed, and then they have to, while educating kids, go out and ask for money.

So, I don’t know of anything stopping a district principal from going out and trying to fundraise with philanthropy. I’m sure they could do that, but their time is probably just as hard to manage that way as a charter. And so the fact that charters are successful in doing that, I don’t think they should be dinged for it. The fact that they have to do it is where I think the conversation needs to go. I would love to see our public charter schools get facilities without having to pay for them. They’re paying rent. The rent for the ones who are in district schools now just went up.

DGW: This is where things can get a little suspect. Take, for example, Rocketship Education, a national charter network, and the model that Andre Agassi has developed. They have an independent corporation that buys and develops the property, leases it to Rocketship at a reduced rate, still gets all the tax breaks, and if Rocketship fails, Agassi’s corporation walks away with a valuable piece of property acquired at a reduced rate. That may be a legal way to do things, but does it pass the smell test?

I can attest to what you just said about looking at the budgets for a local school because I have spent a great deal of time looking at the district budget this year, and I’ve pulled all the Title I budgets to look for where the money is going, and to be honest with you, it might as well be written in Chinese for all I can see. I’ve had to have people explain to me that this is where you get this money, but then it’s weighted this way for this, and then this is coming from the State but then you’ve got these two Federal grants which are supposed to be used for this, but we found out that this is close enough to that to use it for that. And well, here comes the PTO money, but you don’t have a PTO so you don’t get that money. But I know you think that we get the Title I money, so you….. – I’ve had to walk away from budgets and acknowledge that I’m not a CPA and I’m never going to be able to really follow the money. Getting the information is only half the battle. Getting it in an decipherable form should be the goal.

The other thing that concerns me a lot, and you touched on it, was hours. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine. We are so willing to use extra hours for our kids of lower economic status and our English learner kids on more direct instruction. Whereas our kids from the middle class and higher are going home to families who take them to museums, libraries, and sign them up for extracurricular activities. Like my kids, for example, they do Ju-Jitsu, ballet, and Little League baseball. We tend to forget that kids’ natural state is learning. So these activities shape them as much, or more, as any direct instruction. We as adults, look at a kid and say this third grader is reading on a seventh grade level. That’s awesome. But what did we sacrifice to get there? Did they have the opportunity to learn leadership? Did they have the opportunity to learn team work? Did they have an opportunity to learn how to deal with failure? Did they have those opportunities? Because while this kid was striving to read at a higher grade level, these other kids were out developing leadership skills and such. So all of a sudden, we’ve got these two tracks, where one kid is going to go the worker track and other kids are going to go to the management track. That concerns me a little bit. What are we using extra hours for is a conversation that needs to happen.

WT: I get that. As the mother of a soon-to-be first grader, or God, soon-to-be second grader–sorry, she wouldn’t forgive that–I mean, watching the reading struggles, and how much time we spend on it, for a kid who’s very bright that’s hard. First grade is just deep and hard. And then seeing my fourteen, soon-to-be-fifteen year old, who struggles at a different level, I completely agree with that. I would say though, that the great schools here – and I’d encourage you to come visit some of them, TC, I’ll bring you – I will bring you in the doors! They are doing-

DGW: I’ve been to LEAD Academy and I think one other.

WT: Alright, but I want to bring you to a few others. They are doing longer hours, but in those hours, they’re doing chess and soccer teams and soccer clubs, and outdoor garden club, and they’re fitting all those things in. I know STEM Prep’s soccer team is pretty competitive. You’ve got world percussion at Liberty. You’ve got intramural sports. The narrative is that these kids sit at their desks all day and get instruction and it’s just not actually the reality. They do get more instruction time and they focus on time on task being very deliberate . In some schools the teachers change classrooms instead of the kids to save time, and then the kids get brain breaks and they’re doing fun things while the teachers are changing class. So, they’re just really stingy with the time they do have for academics, and the grade schools make room for the other stuff that I think is important. The reality is a lot of kids in our city are not going to get Jiu-Jitsu and ballet at home, so providing some of those enrichment opportunities and time to just be kids at school in that longer day I think is a great opportunity.

DGW: That’s one of the reasons why I support the recent community schools initiative. I think it’s extremely important for kids to interact with other kids across all socio-economic levels. When we all used to go to the same public school, we interacted with kids from all different levels. But now we are becoming more segregated, which robs kids of those opportunities.

For example, at Tusculum, where my kids go to school, they’re interacting with mostly lower income kids. My kids are going to Nashville ballet and playing Little League in Crieve Hall and they’re making relationships with kids from different tiers. But what about the kids who don’t have those options? I know we say “well, they’re only in first grade, those relationships don’t matter,” but if you look at our own lives, some of the most important relationships were the ones we made early in life. When these kids graduate and enter the job market, there is no radar sweeping up all the kids reading at or above grade level into a job. It’s the relationships and the social norms kids have learned that lead to opportunities. I think that the relationships get lost sometimes when we focus so much on achievement. That’s one of the places that increased focus on accountability and testing has led us.

WT: I agree. I think there’s a balance. My mother – we did not have vouchers in Louisiana – but she worked herself to death to send us to Catholic school through eighth grade. I think she felt like it was the only option, and that’s back when Louisiana was battling Mississippi for 50th place when it came to education. Therefore, I was tested to death in Catholic school, and I think I turned out okay. So the whole testing question, the way I approach it with my daughter who takes tests – my older one doesn’t – is like this: it isn’t about how you do compared to anybody else. I don’t care if you miss every question; what I care about is that you give it your best shot. This is about helping your teacher figure out what things she can focus on with you. I think if we approach it that way, as parents, it’s helpful. Now, I get it that teachers are tied to it and there is some stress there. I do believe there has to be accountability for teachers, though, if teachers are ever going to be treated as the professionals they deserve to be. I haven’t seen a better accountability system proposed. I see a lot of knocking down of the accountability system, but I haven’t seen anybody come up with something that I think would work any better.

DGW: Accountability is really a tough nut for me. I always end up pointing to my own experience. The teacher who inspired me was an environmental science teacher who was crass, sarcastic, wore a bad toupee, and spoke in a fake English accent. But I loved him and thrived under him, whereas other people I went to school with who had him thought he should have been run out of the teaching profession a long time ago. Any accountability policy has to be able to take the intangibles into account. His impact on my life is immeasurable. When I take my kids to a creek, we look under rocks, to look for different larvae and I can tell them what kind of fly that is and such. I think we tend to lose sight that good teaching involves a little magic. I certainly would hate to see us lose that magic.

WT: Absolutely.

DGW: I don’t know how you strive for accountability and measure magic at the same time.

WT: I think the intent of the current accountability system is for the observation piece to be that piece. So you have to have great leaders who are willing to be super honest, both on the good and the bad. That’s where relationships can make it challenging. If there’s somebody that you just really like, especially in some of the smaller towns that are in my State Board of Education district, where the first grade teacher is probably the person who taught the principal first grade and the neighbor and the assistant principal, it becomes hard. I just think if my goal at the State Board and my day job is to always try to figure out how to be student focused – what’s best for the students – because sometimes that is not what’s best for the different adults.  So an observation of that teacher for your class, hopefully, the principal would have seen what an impact he was having. I don’t know. You’re going to lose people no matter what system you have, and I don’t want to lose anybody either.

DGW: No, we need all hands on deck. I think one thing that gets in the way whenever we have these conversations is that we never start at the beginning: what is the purpose of public education? Is it to fuel business? Is it to make better citizens? I’ll be honest with you, for my kids, to put it bluntly, the biggest thing I care about is that they don’t grow up to be assholes. They can be C students their whole life as long as they grow up to have compassion and be decent people and a productive part of society. The quest for greatness is not primary for me. Where does that fit into the overall societal picture?

WT: There are certainly parents who would disagree with you. I was told about parents who had a written plan for their child to be the valedictorian that started in his eighth grade year. They had detailed everything for that as if it was their goal for the child’s education. And then apparently that child rebelled and got a C because it wasn’t their plan, and so I think those parents are out there. For me, I want my kids to grow up to be decent human beings as well, and I think school plays a role in that. I think I should play a role in that too. But I also want my kids to be able to dream big and have the tools they need to reach those dreams and so that’s why for me what’s important is – and I know you hate this word – but like grit.

DGW: Oh good Lord.

WT: I know you hate that word.

DGW: God, with a passion.

WT: I want my kids to not give up easily. Because I think that’s what my mother taught me, watching her struggle as a single mom and just never letting the door shut.

DGW: I get that, but the flip side is we’re asking the kids to have grit who are are already demonstrating more grit than we should expect from anyone Those kids don’t need grit; they need a break.

WT: I’m talking about my kids. This is my personal “what I want” for my kids. I don’t want Franny to go to school and her teacher to give a lesson on grit. I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in her going to school and learning to love reading. I tell her stories how I would hide under the blanket with a flashlight and read when I was just a little bit older than her because I loved it so much. If she’s in a classroom where the teacher’s going to give her some boring text that doesn’t hold interest for her and some worksheet, and that’s the work for the day, that’s not going to get her where she needs to be. So I want that; I want to foster her love of learning.

DGW: Here’s a question, where does she need to be?

WT: Well since she likes to boss everyone around, and she did say that after the last election, that she guessed she would have to be the first girl president after all. I told her I hope she was the fourth [laughter]. So she needs to be somebody in charge of everybody so she can continue to boss them around [laughter]. Or, she’s going to have a miserable existence. Now, I’m joking – kind of. She needs to have experiences in her young life and there’s plenty of young life left – she’s seven – where she decides what makes her want to get up in the morning as an adult. At some point, she says, ‘I want to be an artist,’ and it changes, as you know, when you get older, but she needs to have enough experiences where she can see what makes her super excited. That’s what kids like ours have the benefit of doing that a lot of kids in high poverty don’t have.

DGW: I think we might have touched on this the last time we talked, but it still concerns me, with all this focus on greatness, are we really preparing kids for life? We’re all not going to live “great” lives. We’re going to all have periods of “greatness” followed by periods of destitution. For the majority of us, we’ll be raising families and holding jobs.

WT: Right. I want her to live her great. Whatever her great is.

DGW: There’s a reason why this current generation is the most medicated, the most depressed generation on record. I think sometimes we don’t set people up to lead successful lives. We create the illusion that everything is going to be a YouTube video receiving thousands of likes. When it’s not, they aren’t equipped with the ability to accept that there’s a greatness in being able to care for your family and hold a job. That your greatest accomplishment may only be seen by those closest to you.

WT: I think you’re describing grit.

DGW: Touché. But, I’m also talking about compassion. Humility. Hard work. Resilience. Caring about others.

WT: [laughter]

DGW: Last thing, before we end up with an eight hour interview…

WT: I do have to make one comment. What you said about Agassi and the Rocketship stuff – my only comment on that is that it could all be solved if the public charter schools that are serving MNPS students were allowed the same consideration in the capital improvement budget that everybody else is. I’m not saying that’s a lot of consideration because Tusculum, I know, waited a really long time for a new building. But if they were allowed to be a part of the capital improvements budget, I think that would solve some issues.

DGW: It’s debatable. The last thing I want to touch on is the role the charters play in segregation. Many would argue that segregation takes place because our neighborhoods are segregated. I don’t know. I think one of the beauties of Nashville is that if you look at our demographics – 43% African American, 30% White, 23% Spanish, 4% Asian – we have a pretty good mix for an urban school district. But we end up with pockets that are very segregated, and there are people who would argue that charters, because of who they target, contribute to that segregation. And there are studies out there to back up that argument. How do you counter that?

WT: I have been in quite a few high poverty district schools that are not diverse. They are serving high populations of African American students, and they’re not doing well. I would say that if you visit some charter schools, you will see that the diversity in many of them is a lot higher than you think. You can walk into Nashville Classical or East End Prep and find a much more diverse population than I think you have in your head. I haven’t looked at the numbers on paper lately, special-ed wise, you’ve got charter schools serving higher percentages than the district school, you’ve got charter schools serving about the same, and then you have a few that have less – none have less than the magnets.  So I asked a mother about what she thought of the fact that her child was in a primarily African American school, and her first response was, “Our neighborhood school looked exactly the same.” Her second response was, “But this school’s going to get my kid to college.” I can’t speak for those families because I haven’t walked in their shoes, but I saw a whole lot of very non-diverse district schools in the city. I don’t think that has changed much. Your school is diverse.

DGW: It is diverse but only to a certain degree. I got into an argument with Tim Drinkwine, former principal at Eakin Elementary, when he claimed that Eakin was more diverse than Tusculum. And then I realized that Eakin, due to where they’re located, has an economic diversity that Tusculum does not have. So the argument can still be made that Tusculum is still not as diverse as it could be.

WT: I think the more important thing in my mind, and again, I do not pretend to speak for the African American community because I can’t, but in my mind, what I think is super important is that whatever the demographic of the students, are there high expectations, a great learning environment that is also a loving environment, adults in the building that build relationships with the kids and with the families, and the sense of community in the building? So I think if you have those things, especially the relationship pieces, well especially all of it, I don’t know that if you ask those parents that they will have concerns. Does that make any sense?

DGW: Yeah. Well, we can sit here and chat all day, but I do think that these conversations are important. We spend more time talking at each other instead of talking with each other. I think we also walk away sometimes thinking that we have to solve the problem with that conversation – and I don’t think so. I’m going to get in my car and there’s going to be things that were said that make me think, “Damn, Wendy was full of shit.”

WT: [laughter]

DGW: And you’re going to get in your car and you’re going to think that on some things, “Damn, TC was full of shit.”

WT: [laughter] What?

DGW: But the most important thing is we had a little bit more of a conversation. We talked about things a little bit more. Each of us gave the other a little bit more to think about. I think at the end of the day, that’s important. I think that’s something we’re losing sight of.

WT: I think that’s important, and I just want to say I think it is clear that you come from a very good place. We can disagree, but you and I have the same focus, which is what does education need to look like to best do what education needs to do? We don’t know the answers to any of those things, but I appreciate–I just appreciate that.

DGW: Thank you.

Wendy and I headed to our separate cars, and I thought to myself well, she did a good job of keeping her horns and tail hidden. I also thought she was a funny, caring, intelligent individual who had given me even more to think about. These are the kinds of conversations that need to take place in order to ensure that we are providing our children with the best educational opportunities possible.

 

 

MONDAY RECAP 6/19

I hope everyone had a wonderful Father’s Day. We took a trip to Burgess Falls for a breathtaking hike. The falls were spectacular. We followed the hike with a Father’s Day brunch on the square in Cookeville at a place called Char. The food was excellent. Later in the evening we joined family friend Dave Holden for dinner at Burger Republic in Lennox Village. Unfortunately his family was still vacationing out west but other then missing them, it concluded about the best Father’s Day a Dad could ask for.

QUICK NOTES

There are two more of MNPS Next meetings scheduled for this week. The first is Thursday at Hillsboro HS. Food is served at 5:30 and the meeting starts at 6. If for some reason you can’t make one of the meetings, you can take the survey that dominates the meeting online. What prevents you from doing both is a question I can’t answer.

Things may appear to be quiet on the school leadership front but there are quite a few principal changes going on. Here’s a list of the ones I know of and the reason. They are in the order I can think of them.

  • Eakin ES – Principal exploring other options.
  • Smith Springs ES – Principal took job with David Lipscomb
  • Amqui ES – Principal transfer
  • West End Middle Prep – Principal promoted to central office
  • H.G. Hill Middle Prep – Principal retired
  • Wright Middle Prep – Principal promoted to central office
  • A.Z. Kelley ES – Principal retired
  • Hattie Cotten STEM Magnet ES – Principal exploring other options
  • Nashville Big Picture High School – Principal promoted to central office
  • Cockrill ES – Principal promoted to central office

It’s a list about half as long as last year, but we’ll keep an eye on it to see if it grows.

Has anybody heard any updates on collaborative conferencing? MNPS teachers have been working for several years without a contract. Due to the loss of collective bargaining, the only way to rectify that was through collaborative conferencing. The last I heard, training, which is part of the prescribed process, had taken place and things were ready to move on to the next stage.

This week is the English Learner Summit in Nashville. I don’t have a lot of details other then it’s from the 19th to 22nd and I want to go.

I’m hearing reports that the AP confusion that erupted last week is in the process of being cleaned up and there should be some clarity in the next week or so.

Great progress continues to be made on Tusculum ES’s new building. However, if one was to look too closely at the drive way at the front of the building, it would seem to mesh nicely with the old building, almost as if planned. That’s probably just me being suspicious since David Proffitt, ‎MNPS’s Director of Facility Planning and Construction, has gone on record promising that the old school will be demolished next summer. Now you stop that! No eye rolling allowed.

As part of the change to leadership structure, the new position of executive directors of school support and improvement (EDSSI) – not to be confused with the web site ETSY, where people sell homemade goods. These positions were created to support the new community-based organizational structure and the district’s four community superintendents. Last I heard there were still 2 positions left to be filled and at that this time  nobody has received their specific assignments. It is the middle June, perhaps somebody should make that a priority. Maybe once a new org chart is released we’ll get some more clarity or when the districts number 2 returns from Puerto Rico with his also district employed wife.

Things continue to be heated in the land from whence they came. Several Prince George County School Board members are calling for an investigation into school system wide corruption. There seems to be evidence that graduation rates are being monkeyed with, imagine that. This is why it is so important to always stay vigilant and to conduct constant reviews. It is much more difficult to fight this stuff when it is entrenched then it is to fight it before things reach critical mass. I hope school board members are monitoring this story seeing as we now have a bunch of the folks that were in PGCS leadership from 2014 – 2016 that hold MNPS positions of leadership.

POLL RESULTS

Two things I learned this week. One, don’t share a post on social media if you can’t include a picture, and two, summer camps are not a burning topic of conversation. Responses were significantly down this week and hopefully that’s not a sign of people losing interest. Let’s look at results.

Based on question one’s answers, it is clear that we love our Nashville Zoo. Thirty-four percent of you said it was your favorite place to take the kids. It’s long been a favorite of the DGW family and I have often said an annual membership is one of the best investments a family can make. If you do get a membership, I encourage adding the ride stamp for $50. The stamp allows members to ride the attractions at no additional cost and no limits. Here’s a look at the write-in answers:

Canoeing on the Piney River 1
Green way/bike ride 1
Lynchburg 1
Warner Park 1
Warner Parks 1
various creeks, streams, and swimming holes

Question two, asked about how your family utilizes summer camps. It seems the majority of you try to pick one big one for the summer. This one garnered quite a few write in answers.

Soccer camps, youth ministry camps 1
My son who just graduated from Hume Fogg is actually working at a camp all summ 1
I don’t have children 1
Sports camps 1
Too much traveling for camps 1
They go to camp the weeks I have to work! 1
We love our summer swim team too much to give it up for camp! 1
My kids are too young 1
two 1/2 day baseball camps that are 4 days each

The third question easily got the most responses. This is where I asked you to give your impression of MNPS Next and once again your answers indicated that MNPS administration has some work to do on community buy-in. Almost 60% expressed negative feeling about the meetings. These results correlate with previous poll results measuring trust among stakeholders. At some point, leadership is going to have to acknowledge that they have not build a foundation on which to launch their multitude of objectives.

I get it. Building trust and stakeholder buy-in is hard tedious work. You have to actually listen to people and actually communicate your objectives. Communicate doesn’t mean that you talk and then consider things communicated. You have to make sure people understand exactly what you are doing, why you are doing it, how you plan to do it, what is their role, and how you plan to measure success. Otherwise you are just building a mansion without waterproofing the basement. When there is a lack of a clear narrative, people tend to create their own and it usually defaults to the negative. All of this is communications 101.

Here’s the write-in results for question 3:

Waste of time-they only do what they want to do 1
All schedule when I can’t be there.

That’s it for the week. If you head out to the MNPS Next meting on Thursday at Hillsboro HS please look for me and say hello.

WHAT ARE YOU AND YOUR KIDS DOING THIS SUMMER NASHVILLE?

I thought this week I would focus on Nashville a little bit. On Thursday, I attended the first of the MNPS Next meetings at IT Cresswell. Jason Gonzales of the Tennesean put attendance at about 75. Of that 75 just under 50% were MNPS employees. Also in attendence were board members Anna Shepherd and Mary Pierce.

I’m going hold off on making any comments about the meeting because I don’t want to unintentionally disuade anyone from attending. There are some rough spots that need to be worked through, but they’ll only get worked through if people show up and push back on them. I do question once again hiring an outside party to conduct these meetings. Chris Weber’s office of student assignment does excellent work and I’m not sure why they couldn’t have overseen this process. On a plus note, Dr. Joseph was present at the meeting and was much more accessible and approachable than in the past. That in itself makes the price of admission worth it.

SCHOOL BOARD LOW POINT

This week saw what I would consider a low point with our school board. Tuesday’s meeting began short of a quorum, with only four members present. Now to be fair, 3 of the missing had legitmate personal reasons to be late or absent. Based on twitter feeds, I can only surmise that the other 2 were absent because they didn’t want to hear what people who signed up for public commentary had to say or they wanted to avoid voting on board member Mary Pierces proposed referendum COMMITTING TO ADVOCACY AND RESPECT FOR THE ENTIRE ORGANIZATION OF MNPS AND ALL OF ITS STUDENTS AND FAMILIES. That’s inexcusable.

One of our board members likes to tweet and comment publically about his rights under the Constitution. I would remind him that the Constitution protects the rights of all people, not just the ones that agree with him. Part of the job of school board member is to hear things you might not want to. Let’s be honest, both sides of the charter school debate have been guilty of stacking public commentary. I try to always ask myself, “How would I feel if I was in the minority and this tactic was used against me?” What comes around always goes around.

The other thing that happened tuesday night that I find inexcusable is the limiting of parents requiring translators to the reduced time of two minutes. Standard speaking time is 3 minutes but due to the high volume of speakers, the board chair sent word out the night before that times would be reduced to 2 minutes. We can debate the merits of the board director limiting speaking times, though I would argue that a meeting with no actionable items and no directors report would not demand reducing those times, but accomodations need to be made for those that require translators. The problem with limiting parents requiring translators is two fold. First and foremost is the simple fact that utilizing a translator lengthens the time of a presentation. In essence it cuts time in half because everything has to be said twice and therefore you are penalizing parents who don’t speak English. How is that congruent with the recently voiced support of immigrant and refugee children?

Part two of the equation is the fact that it takes a tremendous amount of courage for a non-english speaking parent to get up and speak out publicly. Do you think they are unaware of the rhetoric that swirls around them? My mother was a refugee from the Ukraine to Germany during WWII. I lived in Germany growing up and as a family toured the country extensively. But we never went to Berlin. It was my mother’s fear that if we went there they would detain her. Was that an irrational fear? Sure. Could she grasp the fact that she was a US citizen and therefore couldn’t be detained? Of course. Did we visit Berlin? No.

The same holds true for our non-english speaking community members. They may have every legal right to be here but they are well aware of the immigration debates raging and are understandablt slow to risk their status. Our refugees families, despite what President Trump would have you believe, spent years in refugee camps before arriving here. News flash, you don’t get to stay in a refugee camp by making demands. These are the challenges we face in getting parental involvement in our schools with high EL populations.

Say what you will about Project Renaissance, and I have a lot of qualms, somehow they are managing to get those parents to the microphone. That needs to be recognized and commended. Because if not them who? Nobody else, including me, has taken it upon themselves to make the extra effort to get these voices to the table. At the very least, we can refrain from throwing more roadblocks up in their path way. Sending these parents away with the impression that their voices are only welcome when we agree with them is unacceptable. It’s an action that needs immediate correction and apology.

I have repeatedly said this over the last several months but this week’s board meeting just reiterates the point. This endless battle between charter school zealots and defenders of public education needs to go on the back burner. We have very real issues that we need to focus on with a laser like focus. For example, we are hemorrhaging teachers and central office personel right now. Look at the job listings and you’ll see that there are 41 central office positions open and nearly 600 teaching positions available. We’ve got schools with turnover rates for the last two years over 60%. I would argue that teacher turnover is a little more important than Ravi Gupta’s newest endeavor (Maybe next week I’ll have a poll questions that asks how concerned are you with Ravi Gupta’s latest endeavors.) and demands a little more attention then what community members are paid by EduPost, especially when we have district administrators that are Broad trained.  It’s going to take a little more than the country’s largest discount program for us to increase teacher retention and it is time to start having the right conversations.

GOOD NEWS

Time now for some good news and kudos. Jeremiah Ginder, Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School, and Joseph Henry, Hillsboro High School, are the recipients of National Merit college-sponsored scholarships. Congratulations go out to the both of them.

McMurray Middle Prep hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on June 14 to celebrate the kickoff of a $20.75 million renovation project that will transform the 53-year-old school into a modern learning facility. These renovations are desperately needed and we are very excited to see these renovations begin. 

POLL QUESTIONS

This week I decided to make all the polls questions Nashville based. The first one asks about where you like to take the kids during the summer. Nashville has an abundance of family friendly activities and I want to know which place is your favorite.

Things have changed dramatically in regards to summer camps since I was a kid. It used to be only most priviledged of us went to camp. Now most families send their kids to some sort of summer camp. I thought I’d try and get an idea of just how much we utilize summer camps.

Lastly I’d like to get your read on MNPS Next. How much do you plan to participate?

As always, I hope everyone has a great weekend and I look forward to your answers.

RECAP ON PD AND READING POLL

(Nashville before game 6)

I’m still trying to digest last night’s Stanley Cup loss. Our Nashville Predators made an incredible run at the Cup, only to fall short by losing 2-0 last night to the now hated Pittsburgh Penguins. This run has been one of my all time favorite sports experiences and I’m so proud of our team. One thing that can not be lost in all of this is what an incredible community partner the Predators have been through the years. They established the Ford Ice Center out on the south side of town where many kids get the chance to experience ice skating for the very first time and are always willing to help out financially where they can. This years run really brought the town together this year and demonstrated the power of sports. I look forward to next year.

(example of flexible seating)

Speaking of helping out financially, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my wife, a fourth grade teacher at Tusculeum Elementary School, established a GoFundMe project for flexible seating for her classroom. In her own words:

My young writers need your help!  I have been working hard this summer to help the students at my school learn to love writing in all forms and in all subjects. Students who are from high-poverty homes.  Students  for whom over 80% English is their second language.  Students who inspire with their stories, poems, and  essays.  One aspect of the Writer’s Workshop I want to be sure I can provide is flexible seating.  Giving these students a place they feel confident, creative, and safe as writers is  of up most importance.  Please help in providing us with exercise balls, yoga mats, lap desks, stools, and other spaces in which they can become authors.

I read some of their work last year and it made me laugh out loud and at times shed a tear. These are voices that need amplifying.  Any help you could give would be greatly appreciated.

(Pals)

On another personal note, I want to give a heartfelt thank you to Nashville’s Encore teachers and the wonderful camp experience they produced last week. They rock! This years theme was Art and the kids learned a lot, made new friends, and had a blast. If your kids get a chance to participate, I strongly recommend it.

UPCOMING NASHVILLE EVENTS

This week MNPS will begin holding the first of 4 Next Community meetings. These meetings are being scheduled to get community feedback on,

  • The grade structure of elementary and middle schools
  • The ways in which our school buildings support academic programs
  • Strategies for better distributing academic programs throughout our county
  • The availability of optional schools in the district
  • And more

The first meting is scheduled for Thursday June 15th at Creswell Middle Prep School of the Arts from 5:30 to 7:30. Food is provided. The next one is Saturday at Cane Ridge High School from 10:30 to 12 noon. Two more are scheduled for next week. I’ll be interested in seeing what turnout looks like, as the last “Listen and Learns” didn’t produce many tangible results. I’m hoping people are still willing to participate and don’t perceive these as dog and pony shows. And hopefully the district doesn’t conduct them as such. In case you don’t read the Tennessee Tribune, here’s a link to a recent article explaining the upcoming meetings, Metro School Director Joseph Readies 10-Year Plan for Schools.

RUMORS INNUENDOS AND QUICK HITS

Some have accused DGW of acting like a junior version of TMZ, so this week I thought I’d embrace that description and give you some quick hits on things we’ve heard this week.

Heads are scratching a little bit because the number 3 person in MNPS is going to be unavailable for the next 2 weeks. Now we know everybody needs their vacation time but, word was sent out that #3 would be completely unavailable for the next two weeks and would not be answering any emails. Hmmmm…perhaps the siren of home is calling. Or maybe she just need to re-charge her battery.

Word on the street is that there is going to be a new literacy sheriff in town. Shockingly, OK not so much, they come Atlanta with a previous stint in…wait for it…Montgomery County. Now this new sheriff does not have a whole lot of classroom experience, or any,  but luckily they were previously an account rep for…wait for it…Scholastic. The more things change the more they stay the same.

I’m hearing about a new policy in regards to assistant principals. If you are a AP in a building that has a principal vacancy and you apply for that vacancy, if you don’t get the position, you will be moved from your previous AP assignment to a new one. What this translates to is kids coming back to a school not knowing the Principal or the AP. Scuttlebutt is that furthermore, Principals currently are not getting to select their APs. They will be appointed one out of the pool. A pool that was drained last week and everybody forced to interview. Not everybody got an interview and it’s now a pool holding between 60 and 80 people.  Now I’ve heard conflicting information on whether or not principals are getting to select their AP, so I’ll try and dig deeper.

At Tusculum ES, the number of teachers and other employees that are suffering from respiratory infections, pneumonia, continues to mount. Last count puts it at 6 cases and rising. Probably just a coincidence that these illnesses occur after teachers spent a week packing up their classrooms in the old building. Just like brown mold, I’m sure it is all just an urban myth and moving kid’s into that old building next year shouldn’t be a concern to anyone.

I have to offer this one up to amuse MNPS teachers out there. I filed an open records request a couple of weeks ago to get a count of teachers that have transferred, been non-renewed, or quit this year from certain schools. Here’s the official count for three of those schools, per MNPS:

  • Antioch High had nine to leave during the course of the school year and seven non-renewed for next year but eligible for rehire.
  • Sylvan Park had four to leave during the school year and none who were non-renewed. One AP position was eliminated for next year.
  • Warner had nine to leave during the school year and I know at least a couple of those did not start the year and one was a transfer to adjust for lower enrollment.  They have seven who were non-renewed but eligible for rehire. One AP position eliminated for next year.

See, nothing to be concerned about.

Lastly, here’s one that is not a rumor. West End Middle School teacher Cicely Woodard has been named a finalist for the Tennessee Education Department’s teacher of the year award. Anybody who has ever had a child in one of her classes can attest to how deserving she is of this honor. Congratulations are definitely in order and here’s hoping she’s the state winner.

POLL RESULTS 

I started doing these polls out of a genuine interest in finding out what was on people’s mind. It’s never been my desire to write in an echo chamber. To say that I’ve really come to enjoy these polls would be an understatement. Sometimes I get 80 responses and other times I get over 200. Whatever the number of respondents, I always gain insight and I hope you find them informative as well.

The first question this week focused on professional development. This question is particularly relevant in Nashville because in the beginning of the year MNPS hired Tamika Tasby as Executive Director of Professional Development despite her having no experience in the field of professional development and no classroom experience.  I think it’s safe to say, she hasn’t added to that resume this year, as I can find no evidence that she conducted a single professional development session this year. Results of this weeks poll seem to bear that out as 60% of respondents said the PD they received this year was worthless and what they did on their own was more beneficial. Only 1 respondent was able to say that it was a benefit this years. That bears looking into. If professional development is as important as people maintain, we owe it to our teachers to get it right. Plus their time is too valuable for us to be squandering.

Here’s the write-in responses.

Monthly guided reading and scholastic—WASTE 1
In my role I receive no professional development. 1
It was OK, but repetitive. How many times must I be trained on guided reading? 1
Library services good local and mnps bad 1
Spent 400$ Of my $ on G8 PD MNPS ????

We may want to take a closer look at Guided Reading as well.

Question two pertained to a subject dear to district leader’s hearts, the value of outside consultants. Based on results from the poll, y’all aren’t quite as enamored. 58% of you answered that it was just more money being diverted away from classrooms and teachers. Those that did see their value did so with the caveat that the consultants understand the local landscape. Here’s the write-ins,

They could be good or bad, depending on their skill and fit. 1
Pay teachers more with it. They know their needs a

The last question, what are you reading, was just me being nosy. I was also hoping to put together a list that might lead to someone discovering a book that they hadn’t previously known about. The two most cited were Hillbilly Elegy and The Handmaid’s Tale. I love this list though:

The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. 1
The bible for patience needed with this administration 1
Beethoven’s Hair and Musicophilia 1
The Soul Of Black Folks – W .E. B. Du Bois 1
Four Futures – Peter Frase 1
Courageous Conversations About Race – Glenn E. Singleton 1
I’m taking the summer off. Ignorance is bliss! 1
Young Adult and Chilfren’ literature 1
Anything that allows me to laugh or take my mind to another world! ???? 1
Online nutrition levels of all the alcohol I’m drinking 1
freakonomics 1
The Secret Chord- Geraldine Brooks 1
Radio Girls 1
Visible learning for Teachers by John Hattie 1
Reign of Error – Diane Ravitch 1
The Teacher Wars: The History of America’s Most Embattled Profession – Goldstein 1
A Gentleman in Moscow 1
Balanced and Barefoot; When Crickets Cry 1
Dark Money – Jane Mayer 1
Rereading classics with my kids 1
Running Man 1
History 1
The Well-Spoken Woman-Christine Jahnke 1
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

Hopefully you’ll find something you like.

That’s it for today. I’m about done editing my interview with state school board member Wendy Tucker. I know I’ve been promising it for weeks but I do believe it’ll be this week. Turning into George Martin. I am really liking the way it is coming together and I’m looking forward to offering it as proof that two people with disparate views on education policy can have a civil conversation. See ya soon. Feel free to send any comments to norinrad10@yahoo.com.

UPDATE 6/13: Apparently two weeks were not required as number 3 was spotted in the district today. Glad to have her back at work.

QUESTIONS ON PD AND READING

1

Here we are at the end of another week. I must warn you that I am listening to the new Rancid record as I write this, so I hope things don’t get too aggressive. If so I’ll switch over to the new Will Hoge song featuring Cheryl Crow.

Dad Gone Wild published two posts exploring school choice this week – Who Are We Saving Public Education For? and One Parents Voice on School Choice. I hope you got a chance to check both of them out. We really need to get past the demonizing and start deep diving into what our schools really need. As blogger Peter Greene points out, we also can’t just depend on data – Data Overload.

National education policy continues to be a looming train wreck. My dear friend Mary Holden wrote a heartfelt piece on her frustrations with Betsy Devos that everyone should read. To get a partial understanding of Mary’s frustration I recommend reading Valerie Strauss’s recap of Devos’s testimony before congress – What we just learned from Betsy DeVos’s painful appearance before Congress. It makes for terrifying reading. We all need to be awake.

Glancing up to the north and it seems things are heating up in Prince George County, Maryland. People are once again calling for Superintendent Kevin Maxwell to resign. Since a large percentage of MNPS’s leadership team hails from PGCS, I think it is important that we understand where they came from in order to get a better idea of where we are going. This quote from Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-26), has an all to familiar ring to it,“Our county is being held hostage by a few people making all the decisions and have totally shut out the voices of the citizens. They have forced one decision after another on our citizens. Citizens no longer have a voice in who leads our school board. This establishment is the worst. I refuse to be a part of an out of control establishment.” I know, I’m being hyperbolic. That could never happen in Nashville, right?

This week I wanted to ask two questions about professional development for teachers. Report after report claims that professional development is an integral ingredient in the retention of teachers. Yet I seldom here much commentary on the quality of that instruction or just how relevant teachers feel it is. So I thought I’d ask. While I was at it, I thought I’d ask for opinions on outside consultants. Nashville’s district leaders have mad love for outside consultants. At this point I think most of our major initiatives – literacy, board relations, director evaluation, professional development, STEAM, district culture, L5 schools – are all powered by outside consultants. What’s your thoughts, do you share Nashville’s love?

Summer is the time to catch up on reading. Since I’m pretty sure that everybody who reads my posts, reads books, I was curious as to what y’all were reading. I surveyed some state educators about what they are reading to get possible answers, but if your selection differs please write it in. I thought the list of answers might also serve as a good reference place for people that might be looking for something new to read.

Hope everybody enjoy’s the week-end. See you on Monday.

WHO ARE WE SAVING PUBLIC EDUCATION FOR?

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Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the charter school wars. Apparently I’m not alone in this pursuit. The Network for Public Education recently came out with their position. Two bloggers – Jersey Jazzman and Peter Greene – whom I have immense respect for, recently published pieces on the arguments against charter schools. Locally, blogger Vesia Hawkins wrote about the attacks on Nashville charter schools. As a reader of Dad Gone Wild commented recently, “It is a war.” But I’m not sure the teams are as defined as they appear to be or whom we are actually fighting for. It’s all begun to get a little muddy for me.

There is no shortage of arguments against the proliferation of charter schools. There are, with apologies to my charter sector friends, some very bad actors seeking to privatize a public good, and I firmly believe public education is a public good. Unfortunately, there is a whole other side to the discussion that we are failing to give enough weight. I think that’s a grave mistake.

(Tusculum ES)

I’ve previously mentioned how I’ve been gainfully unemployed this year and how this status has allowed me time to increase my participation in my kids’ school and work for an after school care program that serves both their elementary school and the middle school it feeds into. Both schools are high needs with a high population of kids who live in poverty and who are classified as English learners. The depth of challenges that these children face is unfathomable unless you hear them from their very own mouths and see them with your very own eyes. With the school year just wrapped up, here’s a new flash for you: a large portion of these kids are headed to charter schools next year.

What?!? How is that possible? Well, we shouldn’t be shocked because many schools populated by high poverty/high English Learner students are highly neglected. I know we are not supposed to say that aloud but unfortunately it’s true. It is not with joy that i make this observation, because I love the schools and have a deep respect for the educators that work at them. But take a look at what has happened directly at the two schools I’ve been involved with over the last year while local school board members were focused on fighting the charter school wars:

  • Students at both schools have been housed for years in buildings that are woefully inadequate. The elementary school utilized 24 portables withno covered walkways between them. The middle school currently has around 10 portables, but will be adding more this coming year. The roof leaks in the elementary school and the wiring either continually trips breakers or shocks people. The middle school is getting serious renovations starting this year, and the elementary school will have a new school but has spent the last year basically on a construction site as the new was built on the same lot.
  • The elementary school has no play facilities for older kids. They routinely play in a dusty or muddy area with tires. There used to be a shed adjacent to the play area that MNPS was slow to tear down until a kid cut his leg and required stitches.
  • The middle school has suffered from mold infiltration for years.
  • The middle school has seen high teacher turnover for the last several years.
  • A professional development program that had been targeted at ensuring the elementary school was staffed by exceptional teachers and was valued by both teachers and school leaders was unceremoniously cut without review and replaced haphazardly with a less effective program provided by an outside consulting firm with previous ties to newly-arrived executive-level district leaders.
  • MNPS has a program calledReading Clinics, and the elementary school has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the program. The program started as a collaboration between Tennessee State University and MNPS, and it is one that recruits and coordinates community volunteers to provide one-on-one tutoring for kids reading at two levels below grade level. Students are tutored for 30 minutes, twice a week, during or after school. College students, volunteers, and high school students provide one-to-one tutoring under the direction and supervision of the Reading Clinic Director and program assistants. It has proven to be quite successful. MNPS has decided to cut funding for the Director position, and as a result, the administration of the program will be shifted back to the individual schools. We are talking about a service that affects over 1000 students and 800-plus volunteers district wide. Individual schools do not have the capacity to effectively administer this program on top of all their other responsibilities. So it appears that the Reading Clinics may be falling by the wayside soon.
  • While the middle school undergoes renovation, 5th and 6th graders will be housed in the condemnable former elementary school building. This will cause two schools to be crammed on a site designed for one school. This move was made with no community, parental, or teacher input. A letter explaining the move was sent home to families, but was so poorly worded and exacerbated by language challenges that it led to many parents thinking their children were not graduating. Seeing that 4th graders just spent the last year housed in portables and were now being told they are moving into the old building, it’s not hard to see how they arrived at that conclusion.
  • At the graduation ceremony for the elementary school’s 4th graders, parents expected to celebrate a milestone for their children. Instead, at the end of the ceremony – which, by the way, was attended by several district representatives who were seated at the front of the room, glued to their phones for the whole ceremony – there was a 10-minute presentation that included the reading of the letter that was sent home, an explanation of next year’s bus schedules, and an invitation to come up and ask questions at the end of the ceremony. There was no warm welcome to middle school, no reaffirmation that they would be an integral part of the middle school next year, and no promise to do better at keeping families informed.

Still shocked that families are choosing charter schools? It has less to do with slick expensive and misleading marketing plans than it does with actual experiences. But, you say, charter schools have much more inexperienced teachers. Charter schools drain funds from public schools. Charter schools have unethical land deals. There is no evidence that kids in charter schools have better outcomes. Now, if you’re a parent whose child just graduated from the aforementioned elementary school and are looking at your choices for next year, and if you have risked everything to give your child a better life, are any of those mentioned objections going resonate with you? If you and your spouse are already working two jobs apiece to give your kids a chance, are those concerns going to sway you?

A COMPARISON OF CHOICES

Let’s take it a step further. If you look around the school and you see families who have choices choosing to go elsewhere, are you going to want to keep your kids in the public school? Aren’t you not also going to wonder why, if those wealthier families are not choosing to take the public option, you should? After all, it’s been long-given advice that if you want to be successful, then you need to emulate what successful people do. If the people you perceive as successful are choosing to home school, go to a private school, or move, why would you not take the only alternative open to you, which are charter schools?

(McMurray Middle School)

If it’s me, I’m looking at what I’ve seen over the last year and comparing it to what the charter school is offering, and unfortunately in many cases it’s a clear answer. I’d probably read the objections raised and then say to myself, “What they say may be true, but I don’t know for sure because I haven’t tried it. I have tried the public school option, and I know its faults. So a charter school can’t be worse, right?” And based on my experience, I don’t know how you counter that argument in a way that would make them want to potentially risk their child’s future by staying in a public school that is not meeting their needs. As they say in the musical Hamilton“I’m not throwing away my shot.” That’s the trap we as charter school opponents keep falling into. We keep making intellectual arguments while parents are making emotional decisions.

In a new piece on school choice, Jeff Bryant makes a very interesting argument. To quote Bryant, “All of this [school choice] just sounds so sensible until you take into consideration that individuals don’t pay for public education; the taxpayers do. And the choices parents make about their children’s education don’t just affect their children; they have an impact on the whole community.” He goes on to quote Carol Burris, a former award-winning New York school principal who now leads the Network for Public Education: “We supported education with our tax dollars not to give individual children advantage,” she writes, “but to build a nation by teaching our children about the blessings of democracy in a publicly governed community school.”

I can’t say I disagree with that sentiment, but I ask when is that same mantra applied to wealthier parents who explore other options for their children? Whether a child’s parent chooses to opt out for a charter school, chooses to enroll the child in a private school, elects to homeschool, or chooses to enroll in a school outside of their zoned school, there is a cost to the system. If that child is not in a seat at their local school on counting day, the school loses money. Every parent who enrolls their child in a neighborhood school is considered a resource for that school. If the child goes elsewhere, the resources go elsewhere too. When wealthier parents choose a private school, or when poorer parents choose a charter school – the underlying problem is the same. And if wealthier parents don’t see that, things will never change, nor can we expect poorer families to man the front lines alone.

(Tusculum ES Play area)

In enrolling my children in a high needs school, I recognize that there are sacrifices that have to be made to ensure that everybody is getting a quality education. It is not a private school. My kid’s school is a high needs school with a high population of poor kids and English learners. These kids may be extremely bright, but due to socio-economic conditions, many are coming to school reading below grade level. As a result, the focus needs to be on getting the majority of those kids up to grade level. There is a much smaller group that requires advanced academics. No matter how much money is invested in schools, resources are still going to be limited, and I don’t see how it’s practical to demand that the school divert those limited resources away from serving the vast majority and instead provide curriculum that is only beneficial to a handful of children. Unfortunately, the state exacerbates the situation by utilizing standardized testing to measure schools and will now be assigning them letter grades. Grades that can possibly further dissuade parents from choosing that school. Public schools have no choice but to play the game.

WHAT IF WEALTHIER PARENTS MADE DIFFERENT CHOICES?

Now if more parents from my socio-economic group and higher were to enroll their children in the school, there would be a larger group of students possibly needing advanced academic instruction or any one of the other diverse academic opportunities that are offered at our wealthier schools. But as long as parents keep looking for alternatives, the scope of services available at high needs schools will continue to shrink because the students left behind are the ones who truly don’t have a choice. The barrier could be transportation, parental involvement, language, or any other number of obstacles, but the reality is that choice is only an option for those who have the ability to take advantage of that option, and it limits the choices of those who do not have that ability.

Parents of wealthier children are applauded for astutely navigating the system, whereas poorer parents are painted as victims of the charter school canard, or they are just ignored. Consider this for a minute. You are sitting in a roomful of people in a stark, unadorned room. You start to notice that some are negotiating their way out of the room and into a more adorned room. You start to realize that as these people leave, the room gets a little dingier. The walls start to show wear and light bulbs begin to burn out with only every fifth one being replaced. You start to realize that you and the people around you are missing something that allows you to get to the other room and that is why you remain in the slowly deteriorating  room. Occasionally you see people heading towards the other room with cans of paint, fancy lighting and television sets, but none of that makes it to your room. Then, someone comes in your room. They tell you they can’t let you go to the other nicer room, but they can let you go to another room where you may or may not eventually get to go to the fancy room, or you can stay in the room you’re in where more light bulbs continue to burn out without being replaced and the paint continues to fade and hope that eventually some maintenence will be done to your room. What would your choice be?

(Field day at Tusculum ES)

That example may be a little exaggerated, but it is still a reality for many poor families and families of color. All families that choose charter schools are not naive, conned, or seeking to destroy public education. They are just like wealthier parents who are trying to get an opportunity for a better life for their kids and sometimes, unfortunately, that means rolling the dice and hoping to beat the odds. And by not focusing with laser-like precision on improving our neighborhood schools, we are in essence pushing them up to the craps table.

Since not all middle class families are enrolling their kids in public schools and poorer families are also looking for alternatives, whom are we saving public education for? I don’t know the answer to that, but the cynic in me is starting to suspect that it’s to allow a handful of middle class parents to preserve what they remember as an idyllic experience from their youth and wish to impart that experience  to their children. School board member Amy Frogge recently wrote a Facebook post that described her children’s public school experience in Nashville.

My children have taken many educational field trips over the years. My son has traveled to Chattanooga to visit the Challenger Space Center and the Creative Discovery Museum. My daughter has visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Discovery Park of America in Union City, TN, and Wonderworks in Pigeon Forge, TN. This year, she is heading to Six Flags for a second time with her middle school band. (Last year, she played at Six Flags over Atlanta, and this year, she’ll play at Six Flags over St. Louis.) As part of this year’s band trip, she’ll also tour The Gateway Arch and Museum of Westward expansion. 

 

OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND VINYL RECORDS

What Frogge wrote is true for her children, who attend public schools in Nashville, and it’s how all our public schools should be. It’s beautiful, but unfortunately for the majority of children who aren’t enrolled in a school with a poverty rate under 50%, it’s not their experience. The defense of public education reminds me of the recent resurgence in people who prefer their musical experience via vinyl records. It is undeniable that listening to music via vinyl provides a deeper, richer, more engaging experience. However, it does require a certain level of financial investment, and since you have to turn a record over every 20 minutes it requires constant engagement. And for many, that level of investment and engagement is not desirable. Their ears are not attuned to the difference between vinyl and a streaming system. All they’ve experienced are scratchy records filled with pops. The vinyl experience appears cumbersome and outdated despite the arguments from audiophiles. Some of our schools in Nashville are like the ones Frogge’s children attend – like a good vinyl record – but not all are. And therein lies the problem. We seem to lack the investment and engagement to make all schools high quality.

(Tusculum ES students participating in project fair.)

I suspect many of those who support traditional public schools attended better than average ones growing up, and I suspect among those who champion charter schools, you’ll find a large cadre of people who attended below average schools. How do you convince those people that things are going to be different when you produce no evidence and rely only on words? How do you convince them that things will be different for their children when all they see is a continuation of the neglect their schools received growing up? Here’s a math formula for you: If the amount of time working on improving a school and interacting with its community is less than the amount of time spent fighting against charter schools, then our public education system is doomed. Sorry to break it to you, but just because you rid the land of charter schools does not mean that suddenly all public schools will become exceptional or that poor families will suddenly accept a less than exceptional school. Maybe we are spending too much time on fighting against things rather than fighting for things – things like equitable funding for all schools, extra resources and staff for our neediest schools, extracurricular programs at all schools, increasing parental engagement in a meaningful manner, and on and on.

It’s really quite simple. It’s like the old argument that if you want to champion marriage, stay married. You want to champion public education, make good schools. Now let’s make sure I say this here: making good schools does not mean not talking about their faults. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t recognize a problem, and trust me, you are seldom the only one to spot a problem. Attempting to ignore a problem only signifies not correcting a problem. It’s time that we stop acting like charter schools are the problem and start treating them for what they are, a symptom. We also need to ask ourselves, if each of us isn’t willing to invest in our zoned schools, who are we saving public education for? As my friend Amy recently said, “We have to openly discuss this stuff without getting mad at everyone. It’s complicated!” and vital.

 

ONE PARENT’S VOICE ON SCHOOL CHOICE

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I started this blog some four years ago due to encouragement and inspiration by a blogger named Crazy Crawfish. Crazy would say, I’m not the smartest man in the room but my job is to make enough noise to get the smartest people possible in to the room to start having a real convesation about the issues. I’ve always aspired for this blog to be a similar tool. In ordere to have a real conversation, you need to have as many perspectives as possible. Education policy discussions tend to produce a lot of tshirt slogans while in reality things are much more nuanced then they appear. Over the years I’ve been blessed to have readers share their experiences with me. Which might actually be the best part of doing this blog. When given permission, I try to share. These are the words of Aidan Hoyal, a parent brave enough and kind enough to give us insight into her families education decision making process. In my opinion, hearing people’s stories is critical to making good policy. So thank you Aidan for allowing me to share and all of you please take these words in the spirit they are shared. We may not agree but remember all of our experiences are not identical.

Disclaimer: I am a parent. I don’t work for a school or a school board or school district. I taught Spanish for a long time, but not K-12. These opinions are my own.

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“One Parent’s Voice on School Choice”

The dialogue around school choice in Nashville needs to include more parent and student voices. The discussion about charter schools has become so polarized that it sometimes seems completely divorced from the realities faced by Nashville families. As a parent who opted for a charter school, I am by definition a “charter supporter” in that I support the school we chose. That doesn’t mean I support all charter schools. Nor does it mean I support vouchers. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I agree with the current Presidential administration’s outright attack on public education.

Unfortunately, the media, as well as blogs and social media posts from education advocates including some of our elected school board members, often label families that chose charters (aka “charter supporters”) with extreme characterizations. We’re either depicted as corporate cronies out to privatize and destroy public schools with unabated charter growth and vouchers; or we’re painted as poor, uneducated, uninformed parents who have no choice, don’t care, or don’t know any better.

This is simply not reality. Nashville families who choose charter schools ARE public school supporters with myriad concerns, pressures, preferences, and challenges faced by any family. Demonizing families for choosing the schools they feel best fit their children’s needs, or talking about those families in a patronizing way, does not support kids or improve schools.

My husband and I chose our neighborhood zone school K-4 for our child and had a very positive experience there. When we faced the transition to middle school, our default was our neighborhood school. In fact, I attended the same schools my child is zoned for in middle and high school. But, we also wanted to explore all options offered by Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). We narrowed it down to three schools: our zone school, one magnet school, and one charter.

When we chose the charter school for our child, it was NOT because we wanted our neighborhood public school to fail. It was NOT because we feel charters are a magic bullet that will save public education. We did NOT make the choice based on what we felt would be right according to a political party, school board members, district superintendents, nonprofit organizations, charter marketers, or education policy wonks.

What we DID do was spend months studying everything we could learn about those specific schools, visiting each school more than once, asking countless questions, talking to other parents, letting our child “shadow” another student at the schools, and openly discussing different options as a family. I also did a lot of soul searching, balancing what we learned with my deeply held belief that public education forms the backbone of our democracy, and that every child has a fundamental right to a quality education.

These ARE the reasons why we chose our school:

* a discipline policy firmly grounded in restorative justice practices;
* a curriculum tightly integrated with social and emotional learning;
* a shared community identity intentionally informed by the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity of its families;
* a culture of kindness and engagement that includes every child in the learning process, no matter what their test scores, what language they speak at home, or if they have an IEP; and-
* necessary bus transportation

I’m not saying this all works perfectly. Like at any school, there is always room for improvement. Nor am I saying that other schools don’t incorporate some of these same practices. The point is, MNPS made these public schools available, and we carefully examined our options. As is the case with the academic magnet and special theme schools, this charter school offers something unique. We chose this school model because we believe it is the best fit for our family, as well as a benefit to the broader Nashville community.

I am aware that shady business practices and financial loopholes have made it possible for unscrupulous people at some charter organizations to profit off failing schools paid for on the public dime. Exposing this kind of abuse is vital to the public interest. We should expect nothing less than complete transparency from all our schools. The examples raised by charter opponents about charter mismanagement, and in a few cases outright misconduct, are not lost on me. Corruption and profiteering in charter organizations is no more acceptable than it is in our existing public school system.

But that does not mean that EVERY charter school or charter supporter is corrupt or willfully blind. Nor does EVERY charter school “cream” high-performing students from the crop (as many academic magnet schools do). Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Presenting a specific charter operator’s failure as an indictment against all charter schools is misleading, particularly if that school operates in a different state. If we are worried about charter school mismanagement, then we need Metro Nashville and the State of Tennessee to LIMIT charter authorization to highly qualified, rigorously vetted charter organizations that meet communities’ needs, and agree to complete transparency and regulatory oversight.

There are some states that allow for-profit entities to operate public charter schools. And some states allow non-profit charter organizations to contract with for-profit entities to operate or manage their schools. Tennessee currently prohibits both. Charter schools in Tennessee are subject to state audit procedures and requirements. It is my expectation that in carrying out these audits, Tennessee protects the public interest by holding all our schools to the highest standards of accountability.

People on either side of the charter school issue struggle with the persistent and deeply rooted systemic inequalities in our public education system. Yet, it is often the voices of those most impacted by these inequalities that are left out of the school choice conversation. If we believe that our public schools have a role to play in dismantling inequality and preparing all children to be thoughtful, engaged citizens, we must look at what is and is not working in individual school communities for different populations.

We also have to recognize that traditional neighborhood schools housed in separate school district zones are themselves rooted in the context of economic inequality and racial segregation. Failing to tackle the institutional structures that helped create existing inequalities prevents us from moving forward. Some charter schools aim to level the playing field, helping kids succeed (and stay) in school by trying new approaches. That’s one of the reasons we chose our school. We need schools like this, especially when they provide a small-scale model for system-wide change.

I can only speak to our experience at our chosen school. If that school stands out as an exception among charter schools, then so be it. As a parent and an engaged citizen, I believe there is room in Nashville for exceptional public schools, be they traditional neighborhood schools, magnet/theme schools, or public charter schools. I know that my family is not alone in thoughtfully and carefully choosing the right public school for our child. I have no doubt that if charter school opponents would keep this in mind, rather than making sweeping generalizations about all charter schools and “charter supporters,” it would drive more meaningful and productive community dialogue around school choice.

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INSIDE THE FIRST POLL IN JUNE.

Today starts the first week of MNPS Encore camp. Encore is the districts program for academically gifted children. The kid’s went last year and absolutely loved it. I must say I was very pleasantly surprised this morning when I dropped the kids off because this year’s families were looking a whole lot more diverse then in the past. The Encore program has been making a concentrated effort to get children from more diverse backgrounds involved. Hopefully today was an indication of success with that initiative.

I want to remind you that this saturday is the MNPS Fatherhood Festival. The festival, according to a district press release, welcomes MNPS fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, mentors and other men to spend a day of family fun including games, activities, music and food at the event. It is from 10 – 2 on Saturday at the Watkins Park Community Center.

As we all know, MNPS loves a focus group and they love feigning listening. They’ll be doing the latter this summer, but I’m confident it’ll lead to the former. Four community meetings have been announced this summer to get your input on the following:

  • The grade structure of elementary and middle schools
  • The ways in which our school buildings support academic programs
  • Strategies for better distributing academic programs throughout our county
  • The availability of optional schools in the district
  • And more

The first meeting is June 15th at Creswell Middle Prep with 3 more to follow during the last two weeks of the month. There will be free food and child care, and attendees will have the chance to take home free books and passes to the Frist Center of the Visual Arts and the Country Music Hall of Fame. I encourage you to go if possible.

POLL RESULTS

Now that we have the announcements out of the way, let’s get to poll results. Our first question inquired about the purpose of public education. The potential answers were written by people who worked in public education throughout the state. It’s my personal belief that we’ve never spent enough time defining the purpose of public education and that lack of discussion has contributed to us not having a congruent education policy. If I asked you to create a design for, say a car, would you start designing the car before you quized me on exactly what it’s pupose would be? I didn’t think so, yet we do it all the time in designing education policy.

When tallying up the results, the number one answer, with 28% of the responses was “To expose all children to basic concepts and big ideas, to enlighten them on our shared human history and culture, to build character, teach critical thinking, so they grow into adults who can improve our world.” It was supplied by Anna Thorenson. Anna is the former head of the Eakin PTO and a tireless advocate for children with Dyslexia. The number 2 answer, with 22%, was “A foundation for life-long learning, building blocks for social interaction, and fundamentals for life.”  It was provided by former school board candidate Jane Grimes Meneely. Hopefully reading through potential answers made you stop and think about what you think is the purpose of public education.

Question 2 wanted to know your thoughts on vocational schools. 73% of you said that you support them and that we need more. It was in the “other” answers that qualms were brought up.

I believe in their value, but don’t have enough info to know if we need more. 1
I worry that they will become a way of segrating society 1
Traditional vocational schools tracked students. Academies are better. 1
We already serve our students by providing career and technical pathways within 1
Depending on how they are used–tracking ‘problem kids’ is no good

I’ll be honest, I never considered the practice of tracking when thinking about vocational schools. In case you didn’t know as well, according to Wikipedia, Tracking is separating pupils by academic ability into groups for all subjects[1] or certain classes and curriculum[2] within a school.[1][2] It may be referred to as streaming or phasing in certain schools. It is a very prevelant practice, unfortunately, when it comes to vocational tech programs. While it’s certainly something we need to be cognizant of, I certainly believe there can be a great deal of good in vocational tech programs and offerings should be expanded.

The last question asked what part of Nashville readers were from. I wasn’t surprised to find that the majority of readers come from the west and south sides. I was very happy though to see East and North also represented as well as out of towners. The more people you talk to, the more dimensions you get to your conversations. Hopefully I will continue to develop readers from all over. There were a few write-in answers on this one as well.

downtown, baby! 1
Live outside the city 1
All over. I rep Nashville to the fullest. ????

That’s it for this weeks results. Look for a piece on Charter Schools coming in the next day or so. The Wendy Tucker interview is still being edited. I’m also keeping an eye on what appears to me to be a lot teacher movement this summer. Several schools are losing over a third of their staff. That should be concerning to people. I’ll let you know what I discover. Thanks for all your support.

First June Poll

I hope everybody survived the first week of vacation. Over in our household we are celebrating the 6 year old boy passing his swim test. He hadn’t been swimming for months but as we drove to the pool he continually swore to pass his swim test. Within minutes of arriving at the pool he marched over and requested that the swim test be administrated. I looked on with amusement and half through the test they stopped him and explained he would have to get his head in the water more. He asked a few questions and said, “All right let’s do it again.”

Puzzled the life guard asked, “Now?”

“Yea, right now”, he replied marching himself over to the beginning where he proceeded to complete the test. I must admit that I’m pretty proud and a bit surprised.

Speaking of proud fathers, MNPS is holding a Fatherhood Festival on June 10th. It’s from 10 – 2 at the Watkins Park Community Center. Go ahead and put it on your calendar as it should be a great time for everybody.

I am also proud to mention that the learning village at Tusculum is now just about a thing of the past. MNPS has moved very quickly to get rid of the 24 portables that we have been utilizing for the last two years. All I say is, thank you and good riddance.

Let’s get to the poll questions now. I have a fun one for this week. The first question is going to ask what you believe the purpose of public education is. I solicited education figures across the state for a one sentence answer. You’ll be able to choose an answer from among those submitted. The answers are annonymous because I wanted you to focus on philosophy not personality. On Monday I may reveal who submitted the winning reply. The replies come from advocates on both sides of aisle – teachers, school board members, principals, and other education thought leaders. It’s long been a belief of mine that we never spend enough time defining the purpose of education before creating policy. As always, if you don’t find an answer you like, feel free to add your own.

The second question asks if we should bring back vocational schools or not. Over the last several years the topic of vocational schools has begun to reemerge and has begun to get serious consideration. I am curious on what your thoughts on the subject are.

Lastly I am curious about what part of Nashville local readers are from. I’ve also included a couple answers for those from outside of town.

Thanks again for your participation and let the games begin.