The Story Of One Parent’s Son

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Since I started blogging, it’s never ceased to amaze me how the same thoughts seem to be on parents’ minds at the same time. I’d like to share a piece that was sent to me by a parent of two school-aged children. She’s been a fierce public education advocate who unfortunately has been placed in a position where she was forced to take a deeper look at her beliefs and make some tough decisions for her family based on those evaluations. Some may argue with her decisions, but few could say they aren’t what’s best for her family. At the end of the day, that’s what we all need to be able to say. This piece dovetails nicely into a piece I’m in the process of writing. So without further ado, I’d like to share her story:
In August of 2015, when my son (“J”) was in 6th grade in a local public school, the wheels, bumpers, headlights, etc. started to come off the proverbial bus. The teachers were not able to successfully differentiate his instruction, so he was bored and was not progressing at an appropriate pace. The district also had recently changed their discipline policies, which made it difficult for them to appropriately discipline the children who were inflicting emotional and physical abuse on my son. To top it off, a tenured teacher, who was clearly burnt out and ready to retire, inflicted emotional trauma on my son and other children.

Perhaps if J were not a highly sensitive child (http://hsperson.com/books/the-highly-sensitive-child/), he could have handled all of these issues. But he was depressed and despondent, so my husband and I made the only choice we could—we pulled him out of school and I homeschooled him for the second half of his 6th grade year. And then we–two graduates and advocates of public schools–did what just a few months previously was unthinkable: we applied for local private schools in the area.

We found a school that was a good match for him and he began attending 7th grade there in August. And he is happy again. He loves his classmates and teachers, and best of all, he feels safe and respected. (At this point I would sell a kidney to help pay for his tuition. That is how much this school has helped him.) But, here is the catch: J is having a difficult time adjusting to the demands of the school.

I have been told by many people that it’s very normal for children to struggle when moving from public to private school, especially when they are in middle school and all of the hormones and social pressures make the simple act of existing complicated. But this is different. My son, who normally brought home straight As, was suddenly failing tests on a regular basis–and he didn’t seem to care. When I tried to help him study, he often resisted, which ended up in arguments and hurt feelings. But on the few occasions where the planets aligned and he allowed me to help him, he got great grades on his tests.

We consulted with the school counselor, his advisor/home room teacher, school principal, and a variety of other specialists. We brainstormed solutions and we all shared them with J. But nothing we tried seemed to help. He often times refused to study for tests, and when he did, he didn’t know how to do so effectively. He also forgot to bring home materials for very important tests, which was so infuriating to his father and me. We could not understand how this straight A-child suddenly seemed incapable of functioning in his new school. He was angry and frustrated with his schoolwork, and he just seemed to give up.

Finally, after a semester of struggle, I recently contacted a tutoring service. After talking with the executive director and explaining what was going on, she said that it appears that J does not have the necessary executive function skills to succeed in the more rigorous academic environment. (Please see this link for an example of how a child with limited executive functions experiences life: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning-issues/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-child-with-executive-functioning-issues) I knew that J was having problems planning, organizing, staying focused, persevering, and self-advocating—but it blew me away when she put it in such terms.

Executive functioning is the brain’s way of managing its thoughts, tasks, and focus. These processes are generally performed in the frontal lobe of the brain and they do not come naturally to everyone. In many cases, they have to be taught explicitly. My son’s private school classmates have been working on executive functioning skills for years because the school they have been in does not focus on teaching to the test, as is done in public schools. The school is, instead, able to focus on teaching children HOW to learn.

So here is the conclusion that I have come to in just the past couple days: High-stakes standardized testing has handicapped our public school students. The curriculum is limited and focuses on teaching content—not on teaching children how to learn (i.e.., executive functioning skills). And Common Core standards absolutely do not solve this problem, as indicated by the incredibly low number of children who leave Metro Nashville Public Schools prepared for college. In fact, the executive director of J’s tutoring practice said it doesn’t matter what a child gets on a standardized test–what matters is if he/she is capable of effectively using executive functions to stay focused, organized, and motivated. Without those skills, a child will grow up to be an adult who has trouble succeeding in college, future careers, and life in general.

It is unfair that there are countless children going all the way through 12th grade without learning how to think. These children graduate from school and are left floundering because they do not know how to advocate for themselves, plan or organize their lives, or focus on a goal. In this day and age, you can find just about everything on Google, so cramming facts that will likely never be used again into a child’s head is not an effective way of making our children self-sufficient, successful adults–but teaching them how to learn is.

It is long past time that our state and nation take their focus off of the amount of stuff that children can regurgitate on a test. While it is important to have some very basic measure that reflects if students are learning the content being taught to them, it is much more important that these children learn how to access this content, organize their learning, and discover how to reach out for help when needed. If my son, who by all measures, is “gifted” and was raised in a highly supportive household, does not know how to do such things, I suspect that there are countless other children in public schools who are in desperate need of learning these executive function skills.

My fear is that our country that is known for innovation and creativity is going to lose this edge and become a society of people who do not “reach for the stars”. Not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know how. And that is unacceptable.

 

 

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Of Race And Inequity

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img_1088I must admit that I have struggled lately with what to write. Between a local school board here in Nashville that continues to be unresponsive to legitimate questions about the practices of the new administration, the state of Tennessee continuing to refuse to address real school financing issues, and the recent nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, things are feeling pretty grim, and I am questioning just how much impact I am capable of making. Being a public education advocate has always been like playing a game of three-tiered chess, and it often feels like as a parent you are relegated to the role of pawn. To exacerbate matters, right now it feels like I’m in check on all three boards and all that’s left are pawns.

There is one subject I have been meaning to write about for a while, but have never been able to find the courage or the right words to tackle it, and that is racial inequality. Having two children in a school as diverse as Tusculum Elementary School for the last three years has really been an education for me about how race and poverty still color our world. We like to say that we’ve entered a post-racial world, but nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that whether we are willing to admit it or not, racism shapes our perceptions on a daily basis. We make assumptions about people’s intentions, expectations, and motivations based on the color of their skin while we try to tell our peers that we don’t see color.

As a middle-aged white male, I have struggled with talking about race. Lord knows there has already been enough written about the subject from the viewpoint of a white male. I wrestle often with my own thoughts on the subject, trying to evaluate the depths of my own bias until I came to the realization that it’s not mine to evaluate. Everyday I try to live the best I can and treat people as equally as I am capable of doing. If some of my actions strike others as racially motivated, all I can do is honestly listen, evaluate, and if possible, make adjustments.

Macklemore has a song on my running playlist called “White Privilege 2” that has a line that goes as follows: “It seems like we’re more concerned with being called racist than we actually are with racism.” It’s a simple line that lies in the midst of a lot of other powerful lines in the song, but I’ve spent many a run contemplating those specific lines. We get so outraged if someone even implies that we are acting in a racist manner that we are quick to dismiss any actual racist actions. Instead we need to stop, evaluate, and possibly adjust our actions or behavior. What is the possible harm in admitting that your actions might be colored by race? We have ample evidence of the harm manifested by not accepting it.

There is a line in “White Privilege 1” where Macklemore states that “Hip hop started off in a block that I’ve never been to, to counter act a struggle that I’ve never even been through.” As a white male, that’s something I really need to remember. I am evaluating my actions based on my experiences. To get a true evaluation, I need to put them up for inspection by those who have actually felt the hurt of racism. In doing so, I risk discovering parts of myself I may not like, but without that discovery, growth becomes an impossibility. There’s a poem by Mary Lathrap that was written in 1895 called “Judge Softly” that perceptively makes these points and concludes with the line, “Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.” The idea of seeing things through someone else’s world view is one we really need to consider.

I want to share a personal story. It’s a story that has shaped my beliefs on racism for almost 35 years. It happened when I was just a teenager, and it was a lesson imparted by other young men who had no idea that they were teaching a lesson that would impact me for the rest of my life. This is a chance for me to say thank you and attempt to share some of that lesson. If my story comes off as superficial or offends others, I’m sorry, and please know that it is only offered so that the conversation can be furthered. So without further ado, here it is:

First, a little background information. I grew up a military brat. My father was a noncommissioned officer in the Air Force, so we lived predominately in military housing or housing right outside military bases. The military is made up of a lot of the poor, and therefore, all races are represented. My world was one of color and diversity right from birth. Because of this, I assumed that I understood what it was like to grow up a child of color and that I had no prejudice myself.

In the summer of 1982, I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts. These scholarships were only awarded to 220 students per year, with 30 going to my discipline, which was theater. For 6 weeks, I was thrown together with other talented high schoolers from across the state. To say the whole experience was life altering is probably an understatement. It was the first time in my life that I was surrounded by people who truly understood me. Words can never express the joy of that summer. My fellow students at PGSA, or Govies, as we called ourselves at the time, would offer similar testimony.

Among the student population that summer was a handful of young African-American boys who naturally gravitated to each other. They didn’t exclude anybody, but this was 1982 and the world wasn’t nearly as integrated as it is today. However, that didn’t prevent me from spending a fair amount of time with them. They were talented and a lot of fun. Since I had no issues with race, why shouldn’t I spend time with them? Race issues were for other people, right?

We’d spend hours together cutting up. A lot of our jokes were far from politically correct and often played on stereotypes. I had a straw fedora hat that I’d taken to wearing, and they christened me MacDaddy. We created caricatures to amuse ourselves. We were all so enlightened until I made a joke that stepped outside the boundaries. I have no idea what that joke was. I don’t know if it was funny or not, nor does it matter. The only thing that I remember, and therefore mattered, was that it deeply hurt my friends. Intentional or unintentional, the pain caused was the same.

One of the people in this group of African-Americans was a young man named George Russell. George was a talented piano player and a man of grace even at the age of 17. I’m blessed to be able to keep up with George via Facebook and witness him continuing to live with that grace. Luckily, George wasn’t willing to just write me off that summer. George came to me and in plain terms informed me that I’d offended the group, and as a result, the group didn’t want to have a lot to do with me. I was crushed. I loved these guys and was mortified that I’d hurt them.

I explained to George how terribly sorry I was and that causing harm was never my intention. I asked what I could do to make it right because these guys were a big part of my world at PGSA. George was kind enough to facilitate me making an apology to the group, and the guys were gracious enough to accept it. We continued to hang together, but things were never quite the same. A line had been crossed, and it would take more than just an apology to erase it and more time than the summer had to offer. It saddens me to think of all the opportunities missed out on due to my insensitivity.

The lesson I learned was that just because I thought I had no racial bias did not make it true, and that just because I didn’t find something offensive did not mean others didn’t. If I wanted to have a diverse set of friends, I needed to try and become sensitive to their experiences and to own up to it when I fell short. Taking into consideration other’s experiences and how those experiences affect them is vital to forming relationships. Just because I’d never been discriminated against didn’t mean discrimination didn’t exist and that my friends hadn’t felt its ugly sting.

The lesson I learned from this experience has extended into many other situations as well. Just because I’d never been sexually assaulted didn’t mean that sexual assault wasn’t real and therefore should be fodder for jokes. Just because I hadn’t been denied basic human rights because of who I loved didn’t mean that it didn’t happen to others. Just because someone had deeper religious beliefs than I had didn’t give me cause to judge others for their beliefs. Over the years, I’ve found that having friends from different backgrounds has greatly enriched my life. This enrichment has only been possible through greater sensitivity on my part.

Have I been 100% successful? Of course not. Friends will tell you that I am still capable of the uncomfortable joke. That I sometimes say things with the potential to offend. What can I say? Like all of us, I am a work in progress. It’s important, though, to be willing, when confronted, to try put yourself in other’s shoes. Try to validate their life experiences instead of rejecting them because they don’t match yours. As I go through life, I try to keep that feeling from the summer of ‘82 close. Everyday I strive to never allow my actions or words to hurt people I care about in that manner again. That’s something I will continue to strive for no matter how many times I fall short.

I suspect over the next four years it’s going to become more important than ever for us to step out of our skin and become more accepting of others. We need to collectively resist falling for stereotypes. We need to understand that saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t marginalize white lives. We need to embrace the common ground between all religious faiths instead of allowing fear to cause us to focus on the differences and isolate us more. We need to understand that every immigrant and refugee does not have the same story, and in fact, many of their stories may resemble our own experiences. In short, we need to become more concerned with the effects of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia than being labeled as such. The work needs to start with our schools.

In a recent blog post, blogger and educator Russ Walsh points out three recent articles on race and schools that resonate with him. He states that these articles illuminate “how the public school can play a role in helping us improve this long-standing stain on the America of all of our imaginations. These articles suggest that what we need more than anything else to combat prejudice is to connect, to talk, and to deliberate.” I couldn’t agree more, and that belief plays out daily in our lives. Our public schools offer us the opportunity to let the the seeds of equity take root.

Some refer to Tusculum ES as a high needs school, but for us it’s been a high rewards school as well. My children have had the benefit of learning right next to children from every fabric of society. My son’s teachers have told me that he has a highly developed sense of empathy towards new children who come into the classroom, and he takes it upon himself to make them feel welcome. That is a direct result of his experiences at that school, and it fills me with a sense of pride, but more so, with a sense of relief. To put it bluntly, it’s more important to my wife and me that our children don’t grow up to be assholes than it is for them to amass academic accolades. The world has a surplus of the latter and not enough of the former (the non-assholes, that is). Albeit, we should not have to sacrifice one for the other. Often though, unfortunately, that becomes the challenge.

Like many of our high need schools, Tusculum has a high number of portables, lacks technology, and suffers from a number of other resource shortcomings. My wife and I are often forced to try and evaluate if we are hitting the proper balance or not. To be honest, it’s not an evaluation we are adequately qualified to make. If my wife wasn’t an educator herself, we wouldn’t be aware of the high level of instructional quality. By forcing parents to evaluate their children’s schools, it takes the onus away from the government to provide equitable educational resources and places it on the backs of parents. That shouldn’t be acceptable. As retired teacher and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools Lisa Haver notes, “Parents don’t want to go school shopping any more than consumers wanted to pick an electric company. They want districts to distribute resources equitably, so that children in every neighborhood have access to safe and stable schools.” I say amen to that. We should be able to trust districts to do so.

District and state leaders tend to get a little defensive when challenged about the inequity that exists at a school like Tusculum. In the case of Tusculum, they are quick to point out that students will be the beneficiary of a soon-to-be completed, multi-million-dollar construction project. As if the act of finally providing an adequate facility should somehow serve as an act of absolution for years, and in some cases, decades, of neglect. As if the arrival of a new building will suddenly make up for lost educational opportunities and level the playing field.

The new school will be very welcome, but I’d question why it took so long and why things were able to deteriorate to such a level before building actually started. I would also like to point out that being a high needs school means that there is a lot of mobility in Tusculum’s student body, so how many students will have sacrificed a year of their lives in an inferior facility for one in whose halls they’ll never walk? There are 138 students at Tusculum who speak English as a first language, which means there are over 600 for whom English is a new language. I can’t help but think that this played into why the facilities weren’t updated sooner. I can’t help but believe that the color of these children’s skin made it easier to ignore them longer and therefore fail to provide them with an equitable education experience. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the kind of honest conversations we need to have with ourselves. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it means admitting that we’ve been wrong. We owe it to all our kids.

INTO THE ARENA

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fullsizerender-5Earlier this week, something interesting happened. Scrolling through my social media threads, I found several references to an article by Nashville school board member Amy Frogge on how KIPP made its money. The article was actually written last year by Frogge, but I wasn’t shocked that it was being reshared now because it really is quite good. In it, she countered arguments that former fellow board member, and now State Board of Education member, Elissa Kim made on the board floor during a meeting the night before. The article is an excellent primer for parents and community members on how money and politics intersect when it comes to our educational system. I am sure that it was appreciated by countless people. However, the irony now is that article wouldn’t be possible under the new policies the current MNPS board has adopted.

One of the first tasks that Dr. Shawn Joseph undertook upon his hiring as Director of Schools for MNPS was to train the school board on how to be a board (well, that, and open up the Prince George’s County federal witness protection program, as the majority of his hires have ties to Prince George, but I digress). Apparently the way the board functioned before Joseph’s arrival was unacceptable, despite the fact that the incumbents won their recent reelection campaigns  by overwhelming margins. Voters, apparently, didn’t have any issues with the way things were being handled previously and expressed appreciation for the fact that Frogge, Will Pinkston, and Jill Speering wore their passions on their sleeves and were willing to fight for their convictions. In knocking on doors, calling people, or writing blog posts, I never heard a supporter say, “Please stop fighting.” Rather, it is important to have leaders who are willing to have the hard conversations in public and stand up for what they believe in. It’s part of what got them re-elected.

So where did this narrative of a school board that needs to be taught how to be a board come from? Well shockingly (yeah, not really), it came from wealthy people who never had the intention of sending their kids to public schools. The narrative was created by the Chamber of Commerce, The Tennessean, and private foundations that heavily funded the opponents in this summer’s school board election. Furthermore, a narrative was created that the first director search was a failure because of board members. It was this narrative that empowered Dr. Joseph to get the board under control.

Over the past several months, the school board has undertaken five out-of-town trips and utilized three consulting groups in order to “become a better board.” As part of this improvement, they’ve agreed to stick closer to policy governance, and, as related by Board Chair Anna Shepherd via a Facebook post, “at one of our recent retreats we all agreed, ALL NINE OF US, that we will speak as one voice. We will have discussion and dialogue on the board floor, take a vote if indicated, and speak with what the majority of us decided. No sulking. No social media posts. Just agreement that we will speak as one.” That’s  all fine and good, but now apply that rule to the article written last year by Frogge.

In that article, Frogge counters a fellow board member. She continues the discussion past the meeting. She informs parents and community members where her fellow board member was wrong, and I would argue, because of her willingness to confront a fellow board member publicly, the district benefited as a result. You see, at that time, the board was made up of a majority of members who supported Teach for America, the Achievement School District, and unchecked charter school growth. The only way that the general public was able to beat back the direct attacks on our schools was through information garnered by social media posts from Frogge, Pinkston, and Speering. Think about the fights that have been fought over the last several years and where we might be without their very public leadership. Now, per the words of the board itself, that resource is not going to be there anymore, and I think that’s a huge loss. Our board members – and as a result, what they stand for – have been silenced in the name of getting along.

I’ve never understood how publicly questioning someone is the equivalent of undermining them. The only way that they are undermined is if they fail to be able to reasonably answer the questions. I also fail to grasp the concept that if you philosophically oppose someone, you must also personally dislike them. Here’s a news flash: I semi-regularly talk to many who fall into the “reformer” camp. We will argue as passionately as imaginable, yet that doesn’t prevent us from being able to behave towards each other in a respectful manner. The world is full of gray areas; it’s not just made up of for and against. I follow Voltaire’s words, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” (There is some question as to whether he actually ever wrote this, but for my purposes I’m appropriating it.) I would much rather see the board embrace this tenet as opposed to that of a style-over-substance approach.

In adopting this new approach to governance, school board members are asking for an unprecedented level of trust from the public. They are asking that we have faith that the hard questions are still being asked despite the lack of evidence of such. That’s a hard thing to ask, especially in light of what’s transpired in public education over the past several years, as well as what is currently transpiring in the world around us. It also means that we accept that board members have suddenly become omnipresent and can sense every threat. I’ve always believed in the power of the collective over the individual. The power of Frogge, Pinkston, and Speering derived not just from their innate intelligence and courage but their ability to draw the community together in a collective action.

Private entities have become very sophisticated and are utilizing more than one attack strategy in seeking to destroy our schools. Some of their methods are extremely overt, like spending on political campaigns, while some of their methods are much more subversive and deceptive. Writer Jeff Bryant does an excellent job of illustrating this distinction in a recent piece on Betsy DeVos and how rich people’s grip on the nation’s public education system has reached a choking point.

Bryant makes the argument that charter schools and vouchers almost serve as a distraction while the real threat of big money slips into our school system and quietly remakes it. As he states, “No doubt, education policy led by Trump and DeVos will differ from the previous administration, but what’s staying the same is how wealthy private interests will strongly influence policies. Grasping this essential truth matters a lot in the ‘nasty’ politics of education today, where the real debate is not so much about charters and choice as it is about who is in control.” In Nashville it is all around us. The Chamber of Commerce, Project Renaissance. Nashville Public Education Foundation, all funded by wealthy donors who are trying to exert their influence over an educational system their children or grandchildren will never participate in.

One of my favorite bloggers, Crazy Crawfish, made a similar observation in a recent blog post. He states, “What most folks don’t know is they or their meddlesome allies have been in charge the entire time in one form or another. It’s quite an ingenious strategy. Create a mess; invite yourself to clean it up, create more messes for yourself or others to clean up, blame any failure to clean up messes on predecessors (you/allies) and deflect the attention that should be focused on your failure as a need to do some new and expensive untested things someone saw posted on Reddit.” Man, those words ring true.

Here in Nashville, our millionaire meddlers adhere to the playbook religiously. What’s worse is that we allowed the failing school board narrative to open the door for them. For example, Nashville’s school board turned to Nashville Public Education Foundation to assist with the director search. At the time, I screamed that allowing them to pay for the search would just empower a private entity to meddle in our public school system. I was ignored, but unfortunately have been proven right as NPEF has continued to interject themselves into the workings of MNPS. Heck, Shannon Hunt is even helping Dr. Joseph find suitable housing. Hopefully advise is the extent of it.

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Shannon Hunt, as director of NPEF, has used their involvement in the director search as leverage to have even greater influence on district policy. I’ve already pointed out that right from the beginning of Dr. Joseph’s tenure she was pushing for the director to meet with Josh Edelman and other representatives of the Gates Foundation. NPEF has also set up meetings with the director for the Scarlett Foundation, the Ingrams, and the Joe C. Davis Foundation. On the surface all appear highly altruistic but all are heavy investors in Teach For America, charter schools, and the candidates who ran against the incumbent board members on a platform of creating a more congenial board. In other words, the outcome of the school board election meant nothing because those with cash are still getting access and the ability to push their agenda to the district. NPEF is still pushing the Gates talking points.

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Talk about a subversion of the democratic process. There is no need to look any further in trying to understand why less than 50% of the population voted in the last presidential election. What’s the point? If nothing changes why should the average person exert extra effort and get more involved? I can’t answer that.

Through the credibility gained from the director search, NPEF has become integrally involved in the process to create the district’s Vision Statement, Mission Statement, Core Values, and ultimately the Strategic Plan. Recently, NPEF sent out an email that included a link to an op-ed piece written by board chair Anna Shepherd and Dr. Joseph touting their involvement and a letter from John Ingram that included this admonishment: “Unfortunately, I have read recently, with great disappointment, that some level of sniping has begun to stir on the fringe of the discussion for better schools – silly comments about vehicles, salaries, and the number of seasoned administrators that Dr. Joseph has brought with him. As Nashvillians, we know there is no time for that.”

With all due respect, Mr. Ingram, I don’t consider putting unqualified or inexperienced  people in charge of our neediest students education to be a silly issue, I consider it to be a moral issue. I would think that in order for someone to oversee our English Language Learners’ instructional practices or the professional development of our educators, some classroom experience would be a minimum requirement. The email from NPEF also provides a link to take the survey on our proposed vision, mission, and core value statements. These statements don’t seem to be reflective of the new administration’s actions over the last several months. How can you speak to the value of diversity and equity when some schools still look like this?

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Quick side note here. The proposed vision statement is as follows: Metro Nashville Public Schools is the fastest-improving urban school system in America, ensuring that every student is prepared for success in college, career and life – and that every school is a great school. Why do I care if we are the fastest-improving urban school system in America? That sounds like something somebody puts on a resume. Why is it too much to ask that you simply provide a quality education for my child? Also, who gets to decide the definition of great? Remember those reformers I talk to regularly? Their definition and my definition of a great school are a whole lot different. Who’s right? I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet that will a passionate discussion. Until we start to define our terms, I’m afraid we will continue in the same constant swirl.

These are interesting times we are heading into. We’ve spent a lot of time in Nashville arguing about charter schools and choice, and I’ve slowly come to realize what Bryant gives voice to in his article: “In this sense, arguing for or against charters and choice has in many ways become a distraction. Many communities already accommodate charter schools and eagerly embrace the idea of offering parents a range of choices, if the district can afford it. What pisses people off, though, is when private foundations force charter schools on their community and parents are told by powerful outsiders what kind of choices they have.”

Bryant continues, “We should worry, Dorn and Potterton write, ‘when policies are shaped substantially outside ordinary public politics by an increasingly private set of actors, whose relationships with the public sphere can simultaneously be rivalrous, symbiotic, and parasitic. One does not need to be paranoid to worry about the concentration of decision-making in the hands of people who are friends and who are not accountable to the general public.” Dorn and Potterton elegantly write out the argument I continually try to fight for and which continually seems to slip further and further away.

So now, it is into this new reality we go without our leading voices. It’s my fear that this more congenial board has the potential to cost Nashville’s children a great deal. The current board members have worked to create a better culture for themselves, but while they’ve focused on themselves, a different culture has sprung up throughout the district. I talk with teachers and administrators regularly, despite their reticence to do so, and almost universally they express apprehension over job security, lack of clarity on objectives, the continued growth of testing, lack of support on discipline issues, and an overall feeling of uneasiness. Unfortunately, despite the promise by board members of great revelations and improvements coming in the near future, I see no signs of anything that will temper the growing feelings of apprehension and impact our students in a meaningful way. The resolution on TVASS was appreciated but more needs to be done.

How do you improve culture if you have done little to earn the trust of those most impacted? You can’t earn trust until you actually listen and appreciate those doing the heavy lifting. It’s way past time for things to come out of the boardroom and into the classroom. The only true measurement of success should come from its impact on students, and at present, unfortunately, we are falling short. It is in this light that I am reminded of a quote by Teddy Roosevelt, “The human body has two ends on it: one to create with and one to sit on. Sometimes people get their ends reversed. When this happens they need a kick in the seat of the pants.” That Teddy was a smart guy.