I know this is late, and probably not as in depth as I would like it to be, but that’s what happens when you are on vacation. To complicate matters further, I’m in the heart of the Pocono’s where WiFi access as I am accustomed to is not readily available. I’m utilizing a combination of a hot spot that my sister provided and my phone as a hot spot. Wifi may be limited but news certainly is not so let’s not waste any time getting after it.


You might have seen the headlines this week singing the praises of Tennessee’s  ESSA education plan. Under the recent nationally passed ESSA legislation states are given more latitude than under NO Child Left Behind but are required to submit an accountability plan. Tennessee was one of the first states to submit theirs and now awaits approval. A recent review by a group spearheaded by Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success gave Tennessee solid marks though. At least that’s what the Chalkbeat TN headline said.

It’s upon closer review that I become a little confused. According to the article, “Tennessee’s plan was called “robust, transparent and comprehensive.” The review praised its “clear vision for reform” and its design of “district and school accountability systems that rely on high-quality indicators.” But they also made the remark that, “The state’s lowest rating — a 2 out of a possible 5 — was for how Tennessee plans to identify and rate schools in need of targeted support for certain groups of students. Reviewers questioned whether the state’s system might mask the performance of some by proposing to combine the scores of black, Hispanic and Native American students into one subgroup.” I would think that the later would out weigh the former and I certainly wouldn’t call a plan weak on identifying and rating schools solid. Peter Greene per usual has some excellent insight into the whole issue with ESSA nonsense. I don’t know if all of it holds true in Tennessee but it’s a worthy read.


This week in MNPS was nothing short of embarrassing. You would think that the week before the 4th of July holiday would be relatively drama free. I was actually starting to feel a tinge of optimism after the listen and learns from earlier in the month and things appeared to be calming down. It’s amazing how things can crumble in a week. This week earns MNPS the double face palm.

Let’s start with Tuesday’s board meeting. Once again Mary Pierce introduced her resolution to treat all families of the district as… families of the district. This shouldn’t have been a hard vote, yet three members chose to abstain and one…not to vote.

I take no issue with a board member choosing  to vote against this resolution. Too chartery for you? Fair enough. But to abstain? To not vote? This resolution has been out there for a month. If a board member had issue with the wording, there was ample time to approach the author and get it amended. If they don’t agree with the resolution they should vote no and stand by their reasons. The scenario that played out is just the board playing games as always. These are the moments to remember the next time a board member tells you what “powerful work” they’ve been doing and how the retreats to Salt Lake, Chattanooga, New Orleans, and Florida have made them a much more cohesive unit. Don’t let anyone fool you, this board is as divided as ever. Just because mom and dad don’t fight in front of the kid’s doesn’t make it a happy household.

Then there was the Phil Williams report on lead in school drinking water that aired Thursday. This report comes on the heels of MNPS putting out a press release congratulating themselves on being proactive in testing water in schools for lead.  The press release reads, “While not required by the city or state, Metro Schools voluntarily initiated a water safety testing program to affirm the safety of the drinking water in schools.” No where in that release do they talk about the results from the testing. Did they really think no one would inquire?

Well Channel 5 did and here’s what they found:

At Waverly-Belmont Elementary, a faucet in one classroom tested at 135 parts per billion, while a second classroom registered 200 parts per billion.

At DuPont Elementary in Old Hickory, a water fountain there tested at 238 parts per billion.

And at Hillwood High, the chiller unit for a water fountain there registered 1,190 parts per billion — that’s almost 80 times the EPA action level.

How did MNPS respond? “We’re confident that our drinking water is safe,” said Dennis Neal, the school system’s executive director of facility and grounds maintenance. This despite the fact that, out of the 2,800 samples taken, more than a third exceeded the pediatricians’ recommendation of what is safe for children to drink. Pediatricians are kinda partial to no lead in the water. a second report that aired Friday night made things look even worse.

In all fairness this is not a Dr. Joseph problem. This goes back to the previous director of schools Jesse Register. It also should fall on the shoulders of the school board members who have served over the last 4 years. Perhaps a little less Trumpian tweeting and a little more report reading would have been in order here.

What is a Dr. Joseph problem is the apparent inability to manage a single challenge. Whether it is a snow day, teacher raises, or bus problems, nothing seems manageable before escalating. In short everything is dealt with re-actively and nothing is anticipated or addressed proactively. Remember that earning of trust thing I was talking about? If you can’t handle these issues, why should we trust you to reshape the district?

Quick raise of hands. Does anybody here not know what a Friday afternoon news dump is? Just in case, let me tell you, it’s releasing bad news or documents on a Friday afternoon in an attempt to avoid media scrutiny. Even better is a Friday holiday news dump. With a holiday news dump, nobody reads anything for several days and the chance of more immediate stories over shadowing the bad news becomes more likely. Guess what came out today at 3 pm? MNPS released communication on the brand new administration assignments. You know the big reorganization that was supposed to make us more dynamic and responsive? The one designed to allow for better planning and coordination across all grade levels in support of the district’s Strategic Framework. A framework that would create tighter communities and allow families to follow one path forward. I find it hard to imagine a more critical document that could be released. For all the fan fare and bally hoo, it doesn’t feel like they want the plan looked at too closely.

I’m not going to spend to much time on this because I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say on it going forward after I dig into things a little more but a few things stand out. I am curious why we are giving the heads of HR new titles and raises after only a year. But what do I know? Maybe they’ve drastically improved the department.

In looking at the EDSSI assignments I’ve got several questions. I was under the impression that each EDSSI would have a cluster. You know that pathway thing? “Having one person for the parent to be able to contact from K-12 will help strengthen communication over a student’s career,” as Dr. Joseph stated when announcing the restructure.   Yea, not so much. Each EDSSI has several schools from various clusters. I’m going to have to study it a bit more, but to my untrained eye it looks as if everybody just drew straws. When I get back I’ll be filing an open records request for salaries. That’s when things should get real interesting. Like I said, more on this later.

Things keep getting hotter in Prince George County. Last week the NAACP asked the board not to renew CEO of Schools Kevin Maxwell’s contract and the Governor of Maryland thinks there should be an investigation. The state board of education agrees with the governor and will conduct an investigation.


We do want to wish a fond farewell to some of MNPS’s good un’s who are moving on. Thank you Tim Drinkwine, John Hubble, and Connie Gwinn for making our schools a much better places. If we send up a bat signal will you come back?

Tusculum ES saw the moving of the library this week. Excitement abounds. Looking more and more like a school and less and less like a refugee camp.

If you haven’t read Mary Jo Cramb’s piece on teacher retention, do yourself a favor and read it now.

Phone battery is starting to die so I better get to the poll questions.

This week I’d like to know how you gauge homework, MNPS has a new policy and I’m not so sure it’s going to be very popular. My second question has to do with the start of the school year. This year MNPS has decided to jump right in with a full week right from the beginning. Lastly, I’m starting to see school uniforms on the racks at stores and I wanted to know your thoughts.

There ya go.




On occasion I have been blessed to have others willing to share their thoughts and experiences with me. As often as permissible I am honored to share these thoughts and experiences with you.

It’s no secret that I have grave concerns about the teaching profession. A decade ago I became involved in educational issues because my wife was working on attaining her Master Degree in education in preparation for entering the teaching profession at the same time as Teach For America was feeding college grads with 6 weeks of prep time into the system. That didn’t sit right with me. Over the years I’ve watched MNPS hemorrhage teachers and do little to stem the bleeding. The trend is not isolated to local entities either. Nationally we are beginning to grapple with a shortage of teachers at the same time it’s generally acknowledged that a quality teacher is the most important element of a child’s education. At some point substantial steps need to be taken.

Mary Jo Cramb is a local teacher and an exceptional writer who read one of my posts last year and has been doing her own thinking on the subject. I am grateful that she has chosen Dad Gone Wild as a vehicle to share those thoughts.

I loved TC Weber’s blog post on teacher retention from last year. He’s a parent who stands up for teachers, and that is so important because too often people pretend that the interests of these two groups are opposed, when they are not. Everything he says here is true. The profession has been devalued, and we do need a seat at the table. But there’s one aspect of the issue that TC missed entirely: a gender analysis.

Teaching is a female dominated profession.

Because it is a profession dominated by women, making teaching more family-friendly will improve retention. School districts aren’t just competing with other districts or other professions for teachers. They’re also competing with babies.

Teachers drop out of the profession very quickly in the first five years or so. Assuming most new teachers begin their career soon after graduating college, this drop-off coincides almost perfectly with the average age of first childbirth for women. Lots of women who quit teaching do it because they decide to stay home with their children. Therefore, school districts need to make it easier and more attractive to stay in the classroom than to stay home with a child. And that’s a really hard bargain. Babies are hard to beat. A paycheck alone won’t do it, especially a low one. The intangible rewards of teaching, the joy of seeing children learn, aren’t going to keep a young mother in the classroom when she can just as easily watch her own child learn and grow. To compete with the allure of parenting, districts should present teaching as a job that allows workers to be the best parents they can be, a job that encourages them to put their own children first.

In addition to this retention problem, teaching also has a problem attracting new people to the profession. Especially men. Our male students need male role models, showing them a new vision of masculinity different from the aggressive, dominating figures they see in the media. Luckily, the changes that will keep young mothers teaching and that will attract men to the profession are some of the same things. The younger generation of men wants to be involved fathers, and are less likely to out-earn their wives than previous generations, so they may be equally tempted to drop out of the workforce and stay home with kids, especially if a low teaching salary isn’t enough of a reason to keep working.

To attract and retain the best teachers, I propose four improvements to benefits: 1) longer, paid parental leave, 2) options for part-time work, 3) free, high-quality on-site child care, and 4) increased pay.

1) Parental leave in the US is dismal compared to every other country in the world. Until legislators can improve FMLA, employers have to take care of parents so that they can take care of children. Ideally, parents should have at least six months paid time off to care for a new child. The parental leave policy should be gender neutral, allowing parents plenty of time off regardless of whether they give birth, or the circumstances of their birth or adoption.

This is how bad the current state of maternity leave for teachers is. When I called to find out exactly what to expect for my most recent maternity leave, I found out that my district’s policy is that FMLA leave is paid only as long as accrued sick time not used up, and as long as the “period of physical disability” lasts. For a vaginal birth, that’s six weeks, for a C-section it’s eight. This makes no sense to me: the district is creating an incentive for mothers to choose to undergo unnecessary surgery. I don’t understand why our health insurance company allows this. Surely the difference they pay for a C-section versus a normal birth is greater than a single paycheck for a teacher. At the very least, this nonsensical policy should be changed so that all women can use at least eight weeks of their earned sick time after giving birth regardless of how they did it.

Despite the fact that I had over 15 weeks of paid sick time accrued, I was only allowed to use six weeks of it for my maternity leave, and had to take a few weeks unpaid. And the district deducted my health insurance premiums from later paychecks to cover my family during those unpaid weeks. It’s hard not to resent that kind of stinginess. Instead of building my loyalty by taking care of me, my district built instead a sense of grievance and distrust. (It didn’t help that the HR representative who explained this to me was rude about it.)

It should go without saying that generous family leave policies should also apply for people with aging parents, ill spouses, or other family care responsibilities.

Parental leave is a federal and state issue, so our local district probably won’t be able to use it to make itself more competitive as an employer. It seems likely that teachers won’t get paid parental leave until everybody does. We should advocate for changes to these laws in Congress and the state house. In the meantime, inadequate parental leave policies will continue to hurt teachers, their children, and their students.

2) Among the new mothers I talk to, a part-time job is the holy grail. They want to enjoy lots of time with their kids, to nurse during the day more often than they pump. But they also want to be engaged in meaningful work, to be with adults and use their training and skills. They usually dread the chaos that might result if they are out of the house too long each week, the laundry and dirt that would pile up, the lack of sleep and loss of time for self-care. A part-time job allows a balance that aligns more closely with a parent’s priorities while children are young.

I’ve taught part time during summer school (the budget couldn’t pay me for full time work) and loved it. I found the schedule ideal. I kept my kid in full-time child care and enjoyed half a day to myself, exercising, writing, reading, and doing chores. If I could do part time work all year and feel secure in my job and my finances, I would do it in a heartbeat, at least in this stage of my life.

I know it would be easier for many teaching jobs to become part time with no loss in quality than it would be for many other jobs to make the same transition. For example, in a high school with an A/B block schedule, two teachers could share one classroom, one teaching on A days and the other on B days. My first year, I taught 3 English classes and 3 Spanish classes. I was like two teachers in one; two part time teachers with different certifications could have done my job. In fact, the flexibility that could be possible with many part-time teachers might be just what principals are looking for in creating their schedules. In order to make the offer of part time work feasible and attractive, health benefits would have to be included, at least on a prorated basis, even for less than half-time work.

Our district already has a job-sharing policy. I’d like to see this policy used more frequently, and expanded to increase flexibility. A teacher should be able to work part time independent of a partner teacher who’s splitting her position. As it is, if one teacher wants to go back to working full time, the other will probably have to switch schools or scramble to find a different job-sharing partner. When a teacher begins to get burned out, principals should notice that and offer her the chance to work part time, and then should be celebrated for saving that teacher from becoming another statistic on retention.

3) I’ve written before about the need for free, high-quality, on-site child care in schools. While hooked up to my breast pump, I used to daydream about how nice it would be if I could just walk down the hall, nurse my baby, give him back to a caregiver, and then go teach my next class, instead of listening to the mechanical whirring of my Medela. In addition to the benefit to teachers, another thing to consider is the potential of a school’s child care center to help students as well. I’m imagining a few classrooms at a large high school set aside to care for children of the faculty and staff. Students could assist in the care center and earn elective credits and perhaps certification in early childhood care. Also, students who have children of their own could bring them to the care center as well. At my nontraditional high school, we always have several students who are parents. These students miss a lot of class when the care arrangements they make for their children fall through, and so they’re often in danger of failing and/or dropping out. If schools could offer these students free child care, they would do much to keep them in school, benefiting the young parents and their kids. It would also pay off down the line when these at-risk kids are in school themselves and the high-quality care they received as babies means they aren’t as far behind as they might have been otherwise.

Nearby districts are already trying this. Murfreesboro City Schools is offering childcare for its employees. (No mention of students involved in these childcare centers in any way, and they appear to be in a central location rather than in the school buildings.) The district is charging below market rates for it, but they’re still charging, so while it’s a step in the right direction, this situation is not ideal.

4) We live in a country with a large wage gap between men and women. However, within the teaching profession there is a not huge gap between what male and female teachers earn. (Except for the money women lose when they go on unpaid maternity leave, and the fact that men are over-represented in administration relative to women, when compared to the pool of teachers that the administrators come from.) Teaching’s lack of an internal pay gap is mostly because of set salary schedules and collective bargaining. In other professions, much of the extra pay men receive relative to women comes from their negotiating larger starting salaries, and that is not an option in the public school system. The fact that teacher salaries are nonnegotiable is a good thing that I don’t think we should change because it could potentially open up an inequality that wasn’t there before.

The impact of the wage gap on the teaching profession is that it is underpaid because it is dominated by women. When women first moved into the teaching profession, salaries went down, and they have largely stayed down. (Read The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession if you don’t believe me.) Generally, men who move into female dominated professions are underpaid relative to men in other professions–and that is the problem. Men see that, and choose not to pursue teaching. To attract men, we have to pay more. It’s as simple as that.

Increasing pay will also attract and retain more women. Seventy or eighty years ago, women had very few options for employment, so many of the best and brightest women became teachers. Students benefitted from women’s lack of economic opportunity. As options for women expanded, many of the women who might have become teachers in previous generations became doctors, lawyers, college professors, or business leaders instead. To attract these high-potential women back to public school teaching, salaries will have to improve. At least to the point where the low salary isn’t the first thing that comes to someone’s mind when you tell them you’re a teacher.

Increasing pay will also help to retain parents who might otherwise choose to stay home with children. Parents do some math during pregnancy. They look at the monthly salary of the lower earner in the couple (probably the teacher) and compare it with the monthly child care bill they expect to pay. If child care is going to cost more than half of the teaching paycheck, it starts to feel like it would be better to just stay home. This is especially likely to be true if there is more than one child who will require paid child care.

It might seem odd for me to call for making teaching a more family-friendly career when it already has a reputation of being pretty family friendly, mostly because of its yearly calendars and daily schedules. However, that’s not because teaching is so perfectly complementary to family life, but because other jobs are even worse. Teachers have a lot of vacation time, and it obviously aligns with their children’s school calendars. However, there is a lot of hidden work that teachers do that others don’t know or think about, they’re so blinded by the idea of summer vacations. For example, in my district there are 10 days this school year when teachers will be in school with no students. Teachers with school age kids will have to scramble to find care for them during those days (just as other parents do), or perhaps bring them to school with them, if allowed. Also, vacation time in the summer is a meaningless benefit if teachers are paid so little that they have to work a second job during that time. Teachers are finished earlier in the afternoon than a typical 9-5 job, and thus available for after-school care for their kids. However, very few teachers go home right after the bell rings. Also, school start and end times do not always align. For example, in my district, high schools’ hours are 7-2, elementary schools are 8-3, and middle schools are 9-4. A middle school teacher with a son in high school would not be able to supervise him after school. A high school teacher with an elementary school daughter would not be able to drop her off to school.

The alignment of calendars and hours is not helpful to teaching parents whose kids are not in school yet. Babies and toddlers need full-time care. Without paid parental leave and child care, families are left scrambling during the years when children need their parents the most. Without more support from their employers during that time, workers are more likely to simply opt out, especially if the salary isn’t high enough to be worth the trouble.

Yes, the benefits I am asking for here are much, much better than those offered in many other professions. They would make teaching a better job than a lot of other jobs. Isn’t that exactly the point? Isn’t the goal to attract people to the profession and get them to stay? In order to do that, you have to make it more attractive than other professions. You have to look around and see what other jobs aren’t offering, and offer that. Tech companies are famous for their perks because they’re competing for quality workers. Education “reformers” bemoan the quality of teachers without offering high-potential young adults any reason to consider the profession.

Besides, these are changes that I think should happen broadly across all workplaces. There should be no gender pay gap, either within professions, or across professions. Every worker deserves paid parental leave. All workplaces should be flexible, with easy ways for people to ramp hours and responsibilities up and down according to changing family responsibilities. Free, high-quality child care should be widely available and not necessarily dependent on one’s employer. Workers should be paid commensurate with their education and experience, so that they can support a family in comfort and security. Instead of trailing other professions and offering only the minimum benefits required to temporarily fill positions, education should lead other professions in this area, competing to attract and keep the best workers by offering impressive salaries and perks.

Nashville’s teachers are currently negotiating with the district for a new contract, using the collaborative conferencing process. I hope that the management team will take these ideas into account when they are sitting at the table with our union. Fulfilling our requests will make their jobs easier and better our schools by improving teacher retention and recruitment. We’re not asking for the moon, we’re just asking for what everyone should have, what we need in order to make our work sustainable.



It was the week before vacation and all through the house people were scrambling to make arrangements for the morning departure. That’s right the Dad Gone Wild crew is hitting the highway and heading north to visit family in Pennsylvania. It’ll be good for all of us to get away. However, I couldn’t leave without recapping this past weekend’s poll and setting the table for the week. Today’s writing music is the final recording by the man himself – Chuck Berry.

Let’s start off with a couple things I got wrong last time out. You might remember that I made a comment about the new LTDS – literacy teacher development specialist – training going well? Yea, not so much. Apparently the first day of training for the elementary LTDS got off to a good start but by Friday things had gone completely south. Word I get is that leadership continues to contract consultants that insist on repeating work that has already been done in the district. One LTDS finally got frustrated and stood up and asked  for the who, what, why, and when from the consulting group. We are getting ready for year two and it appears we’ve learned little from year one.

I also got the acronym wrong for the position that the Executive Principal position has evolved into.  The proper title is Executive Director of School Support and Improvement – EDSSI. This coming week is going to be very exciting for them and the district. On Monday they’ll find out who has what cluster and which schools and they’ll begin 3 days of intensive training in preparation for the new responsibilities. Going to be a lot of work, but hopefully will pay huge dividends.

Monday or Tuesday will find us saying good bye to another central office fixture. Since we won’t be here to say farewell, we’ll be camping in Blacksburg, DGW would like to say so long and thanks for the fish. Hopefully others will just say thank you and good luck, and leave their personal agenda on the shelf for the day.

Strains of the Clash continue to play throughout central office.

Word also has it that Moses will be coming down from the mount with an addition for the tablets. Look for a new homework policy to be in place when school starts back up. From what I’m told homework will now be a requirement. Kids should expect 10 minutes a night for every grade level they’ve attained – 3rd graders 30 minutes, 6th graders 60 minutes, etc. Homework must be “meaningful” and there will be a spot on the report card where students will recieve a rating on whether or not they are meeting expectations. Who wants to bet on this getting walked back by October?

Anybody miss Jill Peeples yet?

There is a school board meeting this week. This is the one with no public comment so I assume getting a quorum won’t be a problem. Perusing the agenda and I see Mary Pierce will be once again attempting to introduce her resolution – Committing to Advocacy and Respect for the Entire Organization of MNPS and all of its Students and Families. It should spark an interesting conversation but its passing should be a no brainer. However, that’s not a guarantee by any stretch of the imagination.

Can I miss you if I never knew you were here?

I continue to keep an eye on Prince George County Schools and things there are not getting any prettier. Over the weekend the Governor of Maryland called for a state investigation into alleged improprieties at PGCS. I don’t know if the allegations are true or not, but I do know that stories continue to paint a picture of a toxic culture. The Prince George County way is clearly different then the Nashville way. Let’s make sure that is always true.


Let’s take a look at our poll questions. It never ceases to amaze me what get reactions and what doesn’t. I figured y’all would love talking about summer camps. Not so much. I figured I’d get about 10 responses to this week’s questions, yet I received over 70 responses. I know 70 doesn’t sound like a high number, but remember, total attendance for all four events was probably about 350. So I’m pretty tickled by the number I got. Though nobody should be tickled by the story they tell.

We’ll start with question number 1, which asked, “How did you hear about the MNPS Next meetings?” The hands down number one answer was via email. The next most popular answer was robocall. It’s good to know that those calls produced some results. Here’s the write-in answers.

Email 3
by email. 1
Mnps staff 1
From just about all of these. 1
Twitter post from board mtg 1
MNPS email 1
MNPS email notice 1
Family Involvement Specialist (Gracie) 1
Email from MNPS 1
MNPS Email 1
Social Media 1
Multiple outlets-email, social media 1
Mnps Twitter and Facebook 1
Facebook 1
Facebook, both MNPS and my school’s pages

Question 2 is where the wheels begin to fall off. The question asked people to give their impression of the poll that was connected to the meetings. Forty-four percent of respondents answered that they felt like it led them towards preconcieved conclusions. Another fourteen percent found the questions very confusing. I have to agree with both the top answers. I’ll go a step further, I found the poll to be worthless.

There was nothing to prevent me from going to all four meetings, taking the poll, and then going on-line and taking it again. There was nothing that connected the answers to either me, a particular school, or even a cluster. There were questions asking for an evaluation of a zoned school and a choice school, but Croft is an example of both. Often times there were answers to questions that seemed to contradict each other when results should be similar and vice versa. In other words, the poll produced a big bag of data out of which one could construct just about any narrative they desired. Only two respondents found it well constructed. Hence, my calling it useless. Here’s the write-in answers.

Some questions were fairly written, some were poorly done. 1
Why poll? They still do what they want 1
Too many questions 1
I thought it was adequately prepared but I think the process is meaningless. 1
Knew but didn’t take it

Here’s where things got real interesting. Forty-three percent less people answered the question about the small group discussions than answered the question about the poll. The small groups discussion followed the portion of the program dedicated to the poll. Those numbers would concern me a little bit. It would appear that a lot of people left before taking part in the small group discussion or took the poll on-line and never even went to the meetings. I wouldn’t call either scenario desirous. One solution might be to flip flop the two agenda items. Here’s the write-in votes.

Didn’t attend. 1
They continue to do shady things behind the scenes 1
I missed the meeting and did the poll online 1
Unable to attend so far 1
Haven’t been yet; going tomorrow. 1
I had to leave before the discussions

In Conclusion

Before I head to bed and then head out on the road, I want to leave you with this advice.

Parents and community members, buckle up. If you don’t own a seat belt, go buy one. The next couple years are going to require some patience. The MNPS Next meetings, while nothing was spelled out, gave me the feeling that big changes are on the horizon. Landscape altering changes are coming and it’s important that you do your part and support the ideas when they seem good and be ready to push back on the bad ones. I think most of the changes will be for the betterment of the district but remember, recognizing good policy is only half the battle. Recognition must be coupled with execution. Knowing good policy is only good if you have the ability to implement it and that’s where the jury is still out in regards to Dr. Joseph’s team.

My advice for Dr. Joseph’s team is the same as it has been all year. You have to earn some trust. Let me say it again, you have to earn some trust. Do not fool yourself into thinking you have any now.  You do not. Look for some small victories and celebrate them. Hold meetings with teachers and then actually fix the problems they tell you about. Show that it’s causation and not correlation between calling a problem to your attention and the problem getting fixed.  Because if you try to undertake the things I suspect you are are aiming to try and undertake and you still don’t have trust, it is going to get painful. You have a lot of good, talented, hard working people out here willing to help you if you would just take the time to validate them and earn their trust.

That’s it. I’ll be monitoring from afar this week but will be back soon.



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.


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.


 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.



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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


(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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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?


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.


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. 



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.