Metro Nashville Public Schools has lost a keeper. Dr. Tim Drinkwine put in his resignation today. He is reportedly taking some time away from education to focus on his family after serving 3 years at the head of Eakin Elementary School. If you ever had the opportunity to interact with Dr. Drinkwine you understand what a special leader he was. The fact that MNPS is letting him get away is a huge loss for the district. The reason he’s leaving is like most things of this nature, complex. I won’t go into them because I respect him too much to co-opt his very personal decision to drive my agenda, but I also refuse to allow others to paint this as a “business as usual” kind of thing.
There are those that will try and lead you to believe that educators of Dr. Drinkwine’s talents are readily available. They will tell you principals change schools every few years and that the school has been through this before and everything will be fine. Do not belive that. There is no magical principal orchard where you can just go out and pluck another great principal. Schools do have a lot of transition at the top but that’s not a healthy sign but rather a sign of how difficult it is to find a really great leader. Lastly, there is no guarantee that things will be all right. Don’t believe me? Just ask the parents of students at Joelton MS, Cumberland ES, Antioch HS, Sylvan Park ES, or Paragon Mills ES.
Dr. Drinkwine is not the first high profile principal that we’ve lost this year. Lance Forman at Smith Springs ES left earlier this year to take a job with Lipscomb University. A job I doubt he would have accepted if he felt more confident in the direction of MNPS. Cental office will probably see a huge exodus this summer. Teachers are transferring at high numbers. Don’t believe me? Ask your kid’s teachers, they’ll tell you the story. For whatever reason, Dr. Joseph and his team are not getting buy in from the troops. (Actually, I know the reason but that would make this a much longer post.)
At the same time people are leaving in high numbers, MNPS has had to extend the application window for Advanced Academic Teachers, Literacy specialists, and Direct District Instructional Support because the district is not able to attract enough applicants. I know we often argue the merits of the new math, but no matter what math you apply, high output plus low input adds up to the same result. School Board member Will Pinkston once told me back when we were still talking, that he didn’t care if people left because that just demonstrated they didn’t have the districts best interests at heart. Spoken like someone who’s never really succesfully managed people and hopefully he’s cultivating his own private educator farm because we are about to have a personnel crisis. The kind of crisis that takes years to dig out from under.
I’ve long said that when you enter a new organization as a leader you will find basically three kinds of people all ready in place – people who are highly qualified and doing great work, people doing terrible work and under qualified, people capable of doing great work with the right management. It’s the directors job to inventory the talent, weed out the clearly unqualified, and convert those capable of good work. Dr. Joseph has never done that inventory nor have we as a public demanded it. Instead we let him believe that we were a district in crisis and he summarily dismissed the work that had been done to date in the district.
We readily accept that in order for kids to succeed we have to hold them to high expectations, but we don’t apply that to district leadership. Parent’s loathe Grading For Learning but apparently we only too willing to extend the benefits of the concept to district leadership. If I consistently offered healthy critique to students, the narrative would be that I am pushing them to succeed. If I offer the same input to the director of schools, the narrative is that I am undermining his chances at success. I’m sorry, but both statements can not be true.
Once again I am going to ring the warning bells. There are some very troubling trends starting to take root within MNPS. Burying our heads and singing “Everything is going to be all right” will not stop those roots from taking hold. Focusing on just your local school is not going to solve district issues and eventually the issues will translate to your backyard. We have to demand the same level of excellence from our leaders that we do from our students. Our school board can fight over charter schools all they want, and we can continue to allow them to distract us, but if we don’t fix our cultural problems and improve our existing schools, that argument will be moot. Parents will settle that argument with their feet and parents will demand more alternatives. Don’t believe me? Than just stay the course.
Eakin parents, I wouldn’t freak out, you have a great school, but I certainly wouldn’t rest easy either. I’d drop a note to the school board and Bransford Avenue that you expect the district to maintain the high level of leadership you’ve become accustomed to. I’d let them know you intend to be an intregal part of the conversation. I’d be an integral part of that conversation. I’d also take a minute to tell Dr. Drinkwine thank you. It’s been a great three years and we are all better for knowing you.