MAY 19TH WEEKEND POLL

The last full week of schools for MNPS students comes to a close today. Hope it was a good week for you as it was for me. The highlight of my week was attending Project Lit’s book club meeting with the students in Nashville’s SIFE(Students w/ Interrupted Formal Education) program.

If you are unfamiliar with Project Lit, it’s a literacy program rooted in project based learning that addresses the literacy needs of students living in book deserts. The community book club has been meeting since January and it brings together Maplewood HS students and members of the community over literacy. Two months ago a book club involving students enrolled in SIFE programs throughout the district was added. SIFE students are kids from around the world who have come to Nashville with a very limited grasp of the English language, so you can imagine the challenges of a book club. Somehow administrators  of the SIFE program and Project Lit have managed to overcome those challenges.

The thing that most impressed me about this week’s book club is how closely the SIFE Book Club resembles the Community Book Club. The expectation is that both groups will read the book and come prepared to discuss it. Both groups participate in the vocabulary and trivia contests. Both groups rose to the challenge. I sat with a group of Syrian students and we worked through both the vocabulary and trivia challenges and while it was extremely difficult for them, they stuck with it and were fully engaged. In fact, the Syrian young man proved to be extremely adept at trivia. If you get a chance to attend either book club, I strongly encourage you do so.

Before we get to poll questions, I  want to give a shout out to the staff at Tusculum ES. They do more with less on a daily basis and I just continue to be  blown away by their dedication and creativity. Thursday was Field Day or more aptly described at Tusculum, Asphalt Day. Due to a lack of greenspace Asphalt Day has been held in the main parking lot for the last two years. Despite the less then optimal circumstances, the staff comes together to ensure an incredible experience for the kids. Tusculum ES staff rocks. (Is my homer bias showing?) On to the questions.

To give a little fair warning, questions this week are not going to be as “fun filled” as last week. In fact they may offend some people. That is not my purpose. My purpose, as always, is to spark conversation in order to make us all better. My belief is that if there is an elephant in the room, let’s name it. Let’s go ahead and see if we can’t have a healthy conversation about that elephant. So please keep that in mind.

Last July when Dr. Joseph took over as the MNPS Director of Schools he became the first African American to hold that position. The majority of  people he brought with him to the district where also African American. Over the last several months there have been several critical stories directed towards Dr. Joseph. The argument has been raised that these criticisms are more rooted in racism then him and his teams actual performance. By the same token, the accusation has also been raised in some quarters that the new leadership team favors African Americans or white and hispanic staff members and students. The subject of race is a conversation that is probably long over due for Nashville – as a district we didn’t exit desegregation until 1996.  To start the conversation, I wanted to get your opinion on the current state. I understand that this will probably prove to be a long, painful, and complex conversation, as it should be. And please while comments are always welcome and encouraged, let’s keep our words as respectful as possible.

My other question has to do with testing issues. Letter’s went home to parents this week  informing them that the state is once again unable to provide quick scores in a timely manner and therefore TNReady scores will not be included in report cards. On the surface this appears to be the state once again unable to fufill their obligation. But, if you listen to the Channel 5 story, you’ll hear MNPS admit that the deadline to get tests in to the state’s testing vendor was May 10th and that MNPS submitted theirs on May 12th. The state maintains that they are adhering to the time line released at the beginning of the year, but was that an appropriate time line? Why did MNPS not make adjustments back when the time line was released? Andy  Spears over at Tennessee Education Report has done a good job of trying to make sense of a confusing never ending story that seems has no shortage of blame to go around. I honestly don’t know who’s responsible for once again testing administrators failing to live up to expectations. I do know that more questions need to be asked and that these continued snafu’s only undermine the tests credibility. Who do you think is responsible?

So there you have it. Three questions that hopefully will generate some healthy conversation. I’ll report back on Monday.

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