MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND POLL

It’s official now. Summer is here and another school year has passed. It was a hectic week here in Dad Gone Wild Land. Graduation ceremonies took place all across MNPS and as always they were emotional for teachers and parents. I’m particularily proud of the one at Tusculum ES seeing as my wife played a large role in putting it together and it was quite inspiring. It’s onward and upward now for these amazing 4th graders.

In the last two weeks, two of Nashville’s higher profile schools, have lost dynamic leaders. Eakin Principal Tim Drinkwine is leaving to spend more time focusing on family. West End Middle School Principal Craig Hammond has been promoted to a newly created district leadership position, executive director of school support and improvement (EDSSI). Wright Middle School, Cockrill ES, and Big Picture High School will also be looking for new principals as Erin Anderson, Susan Cochrane, Chaerea Snorten were also promoted to the newly created EDSSI position. All 5 of these have exceptional leaders have provided extrordinary service to their respective schools over the years and parting is bitter sweet but I suspect all will continue to do great work. They leave some big shoes to fill.

Wednesday I had a chance to experience the opening phase of the principal replacement process first hand, as newly appointed Community Superintendent Dr. Dottie Critchlow held a community meeting to out line the process. Dr. Critchlow did an excellent job of explaining a process that raises a few questions to say the least. As part of the first step of the process, parents were asked to fill out a survey selecting the 5 top traits they would look for in a principal. Teachers completed theirs seperately. Out of these surveys 5 – 6 questions are crafted that are supposed to illuminate the traits most desired by the community. A panel is then constructed of various stake holders -administrators, teachers, parents, community members. All panel members nust sign a non-disclosure form that they will not discuss anything that happens during the interview. Interviews are scheduled on a single day with 4 -5 candidates that have been pre-screened by human resources.

At the interview, each principal candidate is required to produce a writing sample and then is asked the crafted questions in front of the panel. The panel is not permitted to ask any additional questions nor to ask any follow up questions. I believe every interview is scheduled for 45 minutes. If the interviewee answers all questions and there is time remaining, they can be asked if there is any additional information they would like to share. After the interview ends, and the candidate leaves, two pieces of butcher paper are placed on the wall with columes for “likes” and “I wonders”. Panel members submit their feedback. All feedback must me based on the questions asked. The use of Google or outside sources is not permitted. “I wonders” are never addressed to the panel though Dr. Critchlow testified that Dr. Joseph uses them in the final interview.

After all interviews are completed each panel member ranks their top 3 and places that information in a sealed envelope and turns it in. Nobody knows who anybody else has in their top 3. The envelopes are then collected and given to Dr. Joseph. He opens them and based on the results,  selects the top two candidates for the next round of interviews. That is the process in a nutshell. Those candidates who are not selected  are given their lists of  “Likes” and “I wonders” to review for professional development. A practice that makes me cringe and hope that legal has signed off on it. When I described this process of principal selection to a friend, they labled it the Pontius Pilot method. If things go south…well, that’s who the panel picked.

Like I said, I see a lot of problems with this model. The main thing that concerns me though is the lack of transparency embedded in the process. Why are people being asked to sign non-disclosures? The official argument is that it’s to protect the potential principals. My counter is that Chattanooga recently allowed access to the interview process via Twitter and secondly, when was the last time that a quality person got fired from a position because they sought different employment?

We need to realize a couple things. First, this is education not national security that we are talking about. If you are doing things above board you shouldn’t fear people hearing what you are discussing.  Secondly, this is Nashville, we all talk. Telling us not to talk…only makes us talk more. You know what makes us talk less? Being transparent and including us in conversations. We are capable of evaluating whether you are truly doing what’s best for our kids. Include us in the conversations at all levels and amazingly the mis-information that you so fear, will decrease. If I am told by a panel participant that the questions actually represented what parents expressed, I’m going to be less critical. If the hire matches what the community had in their top two it lends credence to the process. I know that takes a little work but it should be inherent in the process. We used to have a saying in the service industry, “This would be a great job if it wasn’t for the customers.” Some times it feels like district leadership holds that view.

One last thing on the process. Dr. Critchlow did a very good job of informing parents and attempting to address the parents’ concerns but she was the only representative of MNPS, besides Dr. Hammond, present. That is the first time in 5 years I can remember a community/parent meeting that didn’t have a member of the communication team and at least one more central office representative present. That is a lot of pressure to put on one person. Perhaps in the future the community superintendent will have members of their still being hired team present, but it feels to me a little like the position of community superintendent was created to serve as one more bulwark to protect and isolate Dr. Joseph and his leadership team. I could be wrong but he hasn’t exactly been quick to assume responsibilty for problems that arose throughout the year. I guess time will offer the final judgement on all of it.

Enough of that, let’s get to this week’s questions. Once again TNReady has proven to be not so much. In a nutshell, quick scores are supposed to be included in students’ final report cards. After promising to have them back to districts in time for them to be included, the state is failing to once again hold up their end of the bargin. Andy Spears over at the TNEd Report has done a spectacular job of covering the fiasco.  My question is, based on a multi-year failure to execute, what should be the next step for Tennessee in regards to standardized testing?

School is ending across the state and students are recieving their final grades for the year, albeit some a little later than others. Why should the commisioner of education be any different? What grade would you give Dr. McQueen this year?

Lastly, everybody knows that teachers have it made because they get summers off, but I’m curious on how you teachers plan to spend this summer.

That’s what I got. Hope everybody has a wonderful and safe holiday. Remember feed back is always welcome.

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