A HEAVY HEART, ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS, AND POLL RESULTS

5

There are times in life when events conspire to make words inadequate. This past weekend such an event occurred when Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and her husband Bruce lost their only child to an overdose. It is impossible to even imagine the depth of emotions that the Barry family is experiencing at this time. These are the moments that remind us how fleeting and precious life really is. Things can change in the blink of an eye. I am sure that this is not the way the Barry family envisioned the start of their week.

This is a time for us to take a moment, let go of an imagined, or even real, slight and cherish those in your heart. Hold your loved ones close and give a collective hug to Nashville’s first family. Please hold them in our prayers and our hearts. Hopefully the Megan and Bruce know that Nashville takes care of its own and we are right here if they need us.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS

On Friday I talked about how low scores were on the WIDA tests this past year. In case you are not familiar, WIDA tests scores are used to determine if EL students are ready to exit ELL services. This year 1% of students who took the test scored high enough to exit. Last year it was 14%.

The problem apparently stems from WIDA adjusting the way they score the test and is not a problem just in Tennessee. There are 30 states that utilize WIDA. The change means that English-learners must demonstrate more sophisticated language skills in four domains—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—to achieve the same proficiency-level scores. Lower scores means fewer students exiting and translates to more students requiring more services.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he who controls the cut score controls the narrative. WIDA member states have the right to set the cut scores for their respective states. Tennessee plans to temporarily adjust its cut scores to avoid “unnecessarily” retaining students in ESL classes.

Deciding whether those classes are “unnecessary” is hugely important. Exit kids too early and they end up struggling for many years. Exit them too late and they run the risk of missing out on higher-level classes that would prepare them for college.

There is another elephant in the room. The state pays the district additional money for each student requiring ELL services. If students aren’t exiting and new ones are showing up, costs start piling up. The state has never been overly fond of doling out money to the districts so I can’t imagine that they are comfortable with this growing expense. Of course, only a jaded man would suggest that the cash has any bearing on how the state adjusts the cut scores.

MNPS NOTES

(Dr. Joseph reading to kids at Southeast Health Festival)

This picture of MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph appeared in my social media feed over the weekend. I felt compelled to share it on the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. The response it generated was both larger than usual and overwhelmingly positive. It might behoove the director to generate more of this type of image and less of the ones that have permeated the news over the past year.

We’d like to take a moment to bid a fond adieu to some long time Central Office employees that are moving on to other opportunities. Nicole Cobb is leaving her position as Executive Director of School Counseling to take a position with Vanderbilt University. Nicole is well respected through out Nashville for her work on Social Emotional Learning and will be missed.

Executive Director of School Choice Aimee Wyatt is leaving MNPS to work for the Southern Region Education Board. Aimee had been the Executive Director of High Schools for the last several years, and many of our principals have benefited from her knowledge and experience. She also will be missed.

Over in the Human Resources department, Quincy Ingle and Karen Lefkovitz have left to explore other options. Sources on the street tell me that Quincy was the one who kept an eye on licensing issues for the district and sing his praises in this area. Karen is equally well respected and will also be missed.

Taking a look at vacancies across the district and I see that there are approximately 200 positions still open. A few of our high schools have quite a few positions open. In all fairness, though, most of those positions are outside of core subject matters. The exception is Antioch HS, where they are still looking, according to the MNPS web site, for a CTE teacher of Business and Marketing, a CTE teacher of Human Services, 4 Exceptional Ed teachers, 5 math teachers, and an English teacher.

Many teachers across the district opened their paychecks last Friday expecting to see a raise only to be disappointed. Despair not, teacher contracts are based on the school calendar year and not the fiscal year. So despite many teachers getting paid 12 months of the year, they won’t see that raise until the first pay check of the new year.

On Friday, I talked about the situation with the facilities over at Overton High School. This week I found this FAQ in my social media feed. It goes a long way towards addressing concerns.

(Tom Joy ES SSA requirements)

The discussion around Standardized School Attire pops up around this time every year. The code is left up to the individual schools and some are definitely stricter than others. Tom Joy Elementary School’s SSA requirements raised my eyebrows a little bit. In their defense, my kids don’t go to school there, so I’m not sure of the back story. I can say the Weber kids would have a hard time adhering to this policy.

POLL RESPONSES

This weekend we only had two questions and a half-baked attempt at a “You are so MNPS if…” contest. The first question had to with the grading policy called Grading for Learning that MNPS implemented in 2013. To say it’s been controversial from the beginning would be an understatement, and the policy is currently under review by the district.

According to 35% of you, it is a review that is needed, as you indicated that it is the dumbest idea you’d ever heard of. A large part of the criticism stems from the tenet that the lowest grade a student can receive is a 50. Parents feel that not being able to give a student a zero leads to students not taking the work seriously. Students are also allowed to retake tests, which sometimes leads to them “taking the 50” by skipping a test, knowing they’ll have a chance to retake the test.

As a proponent of Grading for Learning, I would argue that many of the problems arise from implementation. I personally don’t understand the fixation with the “50 vs. 0” argument. To me, failing is failing whether you call it a 0 or a 50 or a 35. In a mathematical equation, a zero is extremely difficult to overcome with a limited number of assignments. With a 50, kids have a better opportunity to overcome that score and therefore not give up on the class. Whatever the number is, it’s an arbitrary number that indicates a lack of mastery, and mastery is what grades should be about.

The argument also makes me feel that people are arguing for a punitive element to grades, and that just doesn’t resonate with me. Grades should be reflective of what a student knows, not their effort, attendance, or ability to adhere to a homework policy. The number 2 answer with 18% of votes was that the policy needed better implementation.

I do realize that I’m glossing over a very complex subject here and will try to re-visit it more in-depth in the near future. Here are the write-in answers:

If it is standards based grading then it is simply teaching to the test and shou 1
Standards based grading is what it’s called and it’s great 1
mixed – parts I like- parts I don’t 1
I like the focus on standards, not the rest.

Question two attempted to get a read on people’s mindset with the impending approach of the first day of school. The good news was that 24% of you are excited about the coming school year. The bad news is that 19% of you are apprehensive. Another 13% of you have a mixture of anticipation and fear.  Those numbers fill me with a bit of apprehension.

Here are question 2’s write-in answers:

Frustrated. School board doesn’t listen. Treats charters teachers like scum 1
In the EU, summer started in July. But I have my first higher ed class, so all 1
Depressed 1
Dreading it. Why are they letting my principal stay another year? 1
Concerned

I did get two responses to my proposed “You are so MNPS if…” contest.

You are so MNPS if you insist that SSA is for safety yet continually use dress down days as a reward.

You are so MNPS if you post comments on Metro’s Facebook page about why there should or shouldn’t be a snow day while utilizing poor grammar and failing to use correct spelling.

I like them. That’s it for this edition. MNPS teachers have 2 days of district wide training starting on Wednesday. I know y’all would prefer doing that instead of getting your classrooms ready. Hopefully it all goes well and everything gets fully calibrated. See you Friday. If you feel the need to send me any feedback, norinrad10@yahoo.com is the address.

 

 

Advertisements

SUMMER COMING TO AN END

1

Only 2 more weekends until school starts here in Nashville. I just don’t know where the time goes. Before we get rolling I do need to clarify a point from a previous post. I mentioned that MNPS’s EL coaches were in Florida for a conference. I’ve been informed that this is something the department sends people to every year because it’s proven to be an extremely effective training. In fact, I’ve been told that they’ll be sending people next year and the year after as well. They politely told me that in the future if I have any questions, perhaps I should ask someone. Anyone who knows me knows that I have mad love for our ELL department, so consider me properly rebuked.

In related EL news, it seems that this years WIDA test was a little more difficult then in previous years. For those who don’t know, the WIDA Consortium is a non-profit cooperative group whose purpose is to develop standards and assessments that meet and exceed the goals of No Child Left Behind and promote educational equity for English language learners. They developed the test that the state and the district use to evaluate whether kids are ready to exit EL services. This year very few EL students scored high enough to exit EL services across the state. If the word on the street is to be believed, the Tennessee Department of Education is taking a look at those scores and possibly re-evaluating the test. What that means is anyones’s guess but I’ll keep you up to date as I know more.

TALKING TESTS

Speaking of tests, yesterday the Tennessee Department of Education announced that high school students across the state saw their scores on end of year exams rise this year. While this is good news, it should be noted the growth was modest and there are a few things I’d like to point out. In looking at literacy scores, there was a growth in level 3 scores from 22% to 27.5% but the there was actually a decline in those who reached level 4. That number dropped from 8.3% to 6.9%. Level 3 is considered on track while level 4 is mastered.

Math scores continued to fall way short of state expectations. This year 17.7% scored at a level 3 as compared to last year’s 17.1%. Mastery rose from 3.7% to 3.8%. Anybody who has been around education for awhile can see the opening credits of this movie beginning to roll. How long do you think it will be until we are filling our buckets and rushing over to put out the math score’s fires?

The scores released this week are just the first of a series of releases. District- and school-level high school scores are out next in August, while results for students in grades 3-8 are due to be released  this fall. Am I the only one that questions the usefulness of scores that arrive well into the next school year?

In an interesting wrinkle. According to NPR radio, the Tennessee Department of Education is encouraging teachers to make their classroom tests look like TN Ready Tests. Assistant Education Superintendent Nakia Townes says her department will be holding “item writing workshops” to help teachers with this initiative. The benefit being, “It teaches our educators how to think about designing a task that measures the standards in the same way that students will see that on the state assessment,” Towns says. “They learn how to take that knowledge and that skill to say I’m going to write my own assessments this way. I’m going to think about the kinds of critical skills and knowledge I need to be measuring with students when I create my classroom quiz.” Strikes me as giving even more power to the test and less to the individual teacher. But what do I know?

NEW TEACHER ACADEMY

MNPS has a teacher attrition problem. One that is finally starting to be acknowledged and a few people are starting to try and address. One step in that direction was the creation of the new teacher academy last year by Executive Director of Talent Management Shannon Black and former Executive Director of Talent Strategy Katie Cour. Cour may be gone but Black ratcheted up the game this year. Over several days new teachers were exposed to what it means to be an MNPS teacher, challenges as well as opportunities. An added goal of the Academy was to help new teachers perhaps discover mentors. By all accounts the event was well executed and attendees found the information very useful. Props to Shannon and her team.

This is a start. Not to be a negative nelly, but there is still a lot of work to be done with existing teachers. There are schools in MNPS that continue to lose teachers hand over fist. Going into the new year, Antioch HS still shows 15 vacancies and recently lost a cite teacher and a newly hired dean. Five of those openings are for math teachers. Sylvain Park ES has lost five veteran teachers just this week. I hope somebody is taking a close look at leadership at these schools because no matter how spectacular Black and her department’s work is on the new teacher academy, you can not just keep adding water to a bucket with a hole in it and expect to make progress.

OVERTON

(Front of Overton HS)

If you are a parent at Overton HS and you’ve recently driven by the school, it’s understandable that you may have some concerns. Overton underwent an extensive remodel this summer with 78% of the building being gutted. Taking into account the current situation, it seems hard to envision them being ready to go come August 7th. This week I talked with district leaders and they ensured me that they are keeping close tabs on the situation, and the construction company has assured them things will be ready by the 7th. I know, I gave them the same skeptical look you are probably giving me right now. In response to that look, I was told there is a plan “B” being formulated and communication to parents would go out soon.

It’s that communication piece that always seems to be the hang up with MNPS. School board member’s get so caught up with charter school marketing materials that they fail to recognize the role of keeping parents and community members in the dark contributes to charter school attrition. It’s the age old rule of communication, the lack of a clear narrative leads to people creating their own narrative and it is invariably a negative one.

I will say, that the job of Community Superintendent seems like an overwhelming position. My early experiences with Southwest Superintendent Dottie Critchlow though have been extremely pleasant. She’s been responsive, open, and proactive in opening the lines of communication. It is very much appreciated. If you get a chance to reach out to her I encourage you to do so.

DISTRICT CHALLENGES

The Nashville Scene’s Amanda Haggard has a new piece out on the challenges facing Dr. Joseph and MNPS this year. It’s a good piece and a lot deeper then anything published recently by the Tennessean on MNPS. There are a couple areas that I think need further exploration.

Haggard names literacy as one of 4 primary challenges faced by Director of School’s Shawn Joseph. Literacy is the focus of the district and the shortcomings frequently get exposed. We’ve all heard the “2/3 of Nashville kid’s aren’t reading on grade level” statistic. But there is never any explanation of what measurement is being utilizing to arrive at that number. Most people assume it is based on state tests, but Tennessee Ready is not a reading test, it’s a literacy test that includes punctuation and spelling. Often those quoting the state default to an in house measurement that the general population doesn’t have access to. That should change this year, as last year the district began utilizing MAP testing. I don’t deny that there is a lot of room for improvement in reading skills across the district, but if we are going to quote statistics and increase awareness based on those stats, we need to be transparent about how we are measuring kids.

Haggard discusses the directors evaluation as well. Apparently, according to this article, Dr. Joseph will not be evaluated until mid-year despite a recently adopted board policy stating that the director is to be evaluated twice a year. I understand the need to have a quality evaluation tool but I still don’t understand the purpose of having a policy if it’s not going to be followed.

Lastly, board climate is discussed. Enough is enough. The board’s ability to work together is obviously important, but does it supersede the need to address teacher attrition or capital needs? At some point the elephant in the room needs to be addressed – there was no trust or buy in developed between leadership and teachers, administrators, and community members last year. Culture is as bad bad or worse then it has ever been. That should be the number one challenge. I am completely baffled how leadership plans to make their strategic plan concrete without buy in. In all fairness, I think there are some, including Dr. Joseph, who are beginning to recognize the reality on the ground and attempts were made to address the culture problem at last week’s principal meeting. I’m just not sure they recognize the depth or urgency of the situation.

I want to raise one last point on the subject of the board. Board Chairwoman Anna is quoted in the Scene article speaking on professional development for the board,“Dr. Joseph came in, and we were all honestly so hungry for it. We latched on, and we just haven’t let it go.” Ok, great, but aren’t we forgetting something? The board is Dr. Joseph’s boss. It’s not his role to make them better, it is their role to make him better. That’s where timely evaluations come in. They are a tool to facilitate improvement. They are not supposed to be punitive. As it stands, name me one tool the board is using to propel Dr. Joseph to improvement. Are we to assume that he is beyond the need for growth or that his self evaluation is sufficient? I’ll try that on my next job.

Please read the rest of Amanda’s piece. As I stated earlier, with apologies to Jason Gonzales,  it’s far superior to anything being written in the Tennessean these days. The Tennessean seems to have used up all their critical ink on Dr. Register.

QUICK HITS

(Project Lit Attendees)

I attended the summer meeting of Project Lit’s book club this past week and was quite impressed with the turnout. While there, I was afforded the opportunity to talk with several of the districts librarians and came away quite impressed. I believe that they are a under utilized resource in our district and we’d all benefit by talking with them more. It was informative hearing their thoughts and insights.

This fall Project Lit book club meetings will be expanding beyond Maplewood HS to other sites. Both Overton HS and Croft MP will be hosting meetings. Look for more information on that.

Expect a new update of Eclipse-gate 2017 in the next couple of days. All I can do is shake my head and pray nobody gets whiplash.

Nashville School of the Arts has a brand new newsletter this year. I encourage you to read and subscribe to it.

(Antioch Middle Prep faculty)

A shout out Antioch Middle Prep teachers and administrators. Once again they are on the bus dropping off welcome back letters and school supplies to their students at their homes. Gotta love how they get out in the community.

Over at Jere Baxter MP teachers are working hard at getting ready for the school year as well. It’s going to be a good year.

By the way, has anybody seen raises reflected in their paychecks?

(Jere Baxter MP prep work)

POLL QUESTIONS

This week I would like to get your opinion on where you are mentaly for the start of this school year. Are you excited? Apprehensive? Blasé? Inquiring minds want to know.

I hear rumblings that the district is looking at a new grading policy. That means Grading for Learning maybe out. Is that welcoming news or does it just need to be tweaked or kept the same. Inquiring minds want to know.

The last question is a take off on the Nashville Scene’s You Are So Nashville If…. contest. I would like your ideas for a You Are So MNPS if…. contest. So write them in. You can email them to me at norinrad10@yahoo.com or add them to the comment section. Whichever you are comfortable with.

That’s it for now. Enjoy the week-end.

A TEACHER SPEAKS OUT ON INTEGRATION

7

Time now for another guest blogger post. I must reiterate that I consider myself blessed and am honored that professional educators feel comfortable using this blog as a forum to share their thoughts and perceptions. Thank you Mary Jo Cramb.

In a couple groups of women that I belong to, the issue of where we’re sending kids to school has come up. There’s a lot of anxiety about it because we all want to do what’s best for our kids, but our choices are limited by our finances and sometimes by school districts. Some of us also have concern for social and racial justice and how that is reflected in our schools, and want to make choices for our own children that contribute to a more just school system. I feel I have a somewhat unique perspective on this since I’m a teacher in the public schools as well as a parent. What my position gives me more than anything is perspective, which keeps me from doing too much hand-wringing on my own children’s behalf, even though I am sometimes an anxious person by nature.

My surprisingly chill perspective comes mostly from a recognition of my privilege. My kids are little white boys with two married, employed, home-owning, college-educated parents. They have so much privilege. Every statistic there is says they will be just fine. My students have very few of these advantages, and I see every day that they are people with intelligence, integrity, humor, and optimism. Accepting my students for who they are helps me to accept that my children will be ok, even if they don’t get every single advantage I had. In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways–that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb. Actually, growing up in a less homogeneous community than I did will give them an important set of skills and dispositions that will help them in an increasingly diverse world. Hopefully, they’ll grow up in a country where their privileges–their skin color and their parents’ status–matter less and less, while their skills and work ethic matter more and more.

Given all that, our current plan is to enroll our kids in the neighborhood public schools. Our kids are four and one, schools can change quickly, and I can’t predict the future, so I’m not promising now that my kids will eventually graduate from their zoned public schools. But I am saying that this will be our first choice, one we will only deviate from for very compelling reasons. Too many other families don’t even give public schools this much of a chance, scared by reputation and rumors into opting for private, charter, and magnet schools before investigating the neighborhood public schools for themselves.

Sometimes during these conversations among parents, even after I say something about how my privileged kids will be ok and how diversity is good, the other moms continue their handwringing. Why? Sometimes it’s because their children have challenges mine do not, because they have less privilege than I do, or because they are afraid that even the privilege they have will not be enough to position their children favorably in a rapidly changing world. These fears are understandable. But sadly, I’m also afraid that some of their anxiety is because of implicit bias that these good-hearted women don’t want to recognize within themselves. This is what’s usually buried under the surface of talk about “good schools”: so often, white parents define “good schools” as schools full of white kids.

This American Life had a great podcast about school segregation last year called “The Problem We All Live With.” This podcast did an incredible job explaining the history of school segregation, desegregation, and re-segregation, including white flight and the uproars in white communities when their children are sent to schools filled with students of color, or when there is a sudden influx of minority students in previously white schools. I took from it a rule of thumb that I’m going to use to evaluate schools for my kids–to be truly integrated, a school has to be AT LEAST 25% minority AND AT LEAST 25% white. 25% of the population seemed to be the threshold where minority students were no longer tokens, and where white parents were numerous enough to fight for the school to get the needed resources from higher up (because, sadly, school boards and districts often disregard the concerns of parents of color, while paying attention to their white constituents.) In diverse counties, this 25% rule makes a pretty low threshold, a goal that should not be incredibly difficult to achieve. Studies show that minority students’ test scores improve in integrated classrooms, while white students fare no differently. In many ways, integration would be one of the easiest strategies for “closing the achievement gap.”

This long article by Nikole Hannah-Jones about the history of school segregation in Tuskaloosa, Alabama is very relevant and comprehensive. The same writer also wrote about her own choice for her daughter’s schooling. Liberal parents sometimes struggle when it feels like they have to choose between what’s best for their own kids in the short term and what’s best for the system as a whole in the long run. But I like the point Hannah-Jones makes in this interview with NPR: her child is no better or more deserving than any other child, so it’s wrong to say that a school isn’t good enough for her child, but fine for other kids. In a way, insisting on one’s own children’s right to attend “better” schools is a selfish choice if it results in the deterioration of schools that other, less fortunate children depend on. Jose Luis Vilson wrote a similar essay about his own family’s choices. My particular situation isn’t the same as these writers’, but I found their stories compelling and persuasive.

I wish our school system in Nashville didn’t have big pockets of de facto segregation–that might be my #1 wish as both a parent and a teacher, surpassing even my desire for higher teacher pay and better family policies. There are schools in our district that are over 90% African American that gain a reputation for being ‘bad schools,’ even ‘dropout factories,’ while the expensive private school down the road (founded soon after enforcement of Brown vs Board, not coincidentally) is over 90% white and has ‘Blue Ribbon’ status.

We have been debating charter schools in Nashville very intensely for years now, and segregation is one aspect of the issue that has certainly come up. One argument is that charter schools intensify segregation in the district as a whole, and the response is that the racial makeup of charter schools is not significantly different from that of the other nearby zoned schools. Meticulous number-crunching is necessary to try to adjudicate that debate. Personally, I think that whole argument is more pertinent to magnet schools than to charter schools, and they’re certainly not going anywhere. But the effect of any school or type of school on the district’s racial makeup seems a moot point when the fact is that the system as a whole is deeply segregated, and most individual schools reflect that. 

Of course, the main root cause of school segregation is residential segregation, the legacy of housing discrimination and redlining. One reason people don’t like busing plans is because some kids have to have a long commute to school because they live so far away from their classmates who look different from them. That’s why mixed-race and mixed-income neighborhoods are so crucial–they make desegregated schools happen more conveniently, organically, and peacefully, without tortured debates or elaborate busing plans. In our rapidly gentrifying city, as new developments are popping up all over, attention will need to be paid to ensuring the availability of affordable housing. I’m afraid that left to its own devices, the “free market” will intensify residential segregation and displace many longtime residents, especially people of color and the poor, with a side effect of intensifying segregation in schools.

The education activist groups I’m in haven’t been talking much about desegregation and busing, though I know they care deeply about racial justice. I know and trust these people, and I feel confident that the reason this issue hasn’t come up is that we are fighting a war on multiple fronts. We’re teachers trying to protect our jobs, we’re working to elect a school board that hasn’t been bought and paid for by out-of-state special interests, we’re trying to keep charter schools from taking students away, and we’re fighting to keep standardized testing from taking over every minute of every school day. Also, I know I’m a relative newcomer to town (I moved here in 2008), and there may be a fraught history here that I’m unaware of. Desegregation is politically tricky, so it’s something we haven’t fought for. But I would love to see that change.

It would be great if one of our school board members proposed a trip to Louisville, Kentucky to see how school integration works there. Louisville is a great success story of racial integration. I’m sure that it would be difficult logistically and politically, but it’s certainly possible to create a similar plan here in Nashville.

 

TWO WEEKS TILL SCHOOL STARTS

1
  1. Summer in Nashville is quickly winding down. This time next week, teachers report and then the week after that its full on with students reporting. Things are going to be interesting this year because it’ll be the first time in years that MNPS starts with a full day on Monday followed by a full week. That means no chance to sort out any of the multitude of kids that show up unannounced. That means all sorting and adjusting is going is going to be on the fly. It is going to be a very challenging week for teachers and administrators and I wish them luck. Interestingly enough, the last Director of Schools that proposed doing things this way was…wait for it…Pedro Garcia.

TEACHER ATTRITION

This past weekend there was an interesting article accompnied by a video in the Tennessean talking about teacher recruitment and retention. The story itself didn’t really have a whole lot to offer. Human Resources Director Debrorah Story is quoted as saying,  “What we do know, is that consistently hundreds of teachers are needed to be hired every year.” It should be pointed out that Story is actually not the director but the Chief of human resources. She recieved a promotion and a raise after less then a year on the job.

Story goes on to say,”This year, what we did was monitor the transfer window, which ended in May,” Story said. “We want to ensure that movement isn’t having a destabilizing or adverse impact on students in classroom.” In other words if you are an MNPS teacher in a lousy situation, don’t even think about transferring because they’ve narrowed the transition window.  MNPS’s HR plans to introduce standardized training for educators in their first year, as well as subsequent years. Story said one required training component will include classroom management skills. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Of course the devil will once again be in the details. When will these trainings take place? How long will they be? Who will conduct them? Will teachers be paid extra for them? That’s just a few of the questions that spring to my my mind. If the tranfer window is closed what keeps a good teacher from just quitting outright? This year 13 teachers transfered from Antioch HS to Overton HS. If they hadn’t been allowed to transfer would they still be at Antioch HS? My suspicion is that at least 10 would have left the district or teaching all together and the other 3 would be doing whatever possible to get through to the next year. Neither of those alternatives benefit MNPS students or families. Transfers can be extremely detrimental to individual schools but, just like with school choice, finding out why people aere making their choice should be paramount to addressing the issue.

Another aspect of the transfer policy comes into play if a school loses it’s Dean of Students and wants to hire a teacher from another school. That transfer would not be allowed under the current policy as it is viewed as a lateral movement. Therefore the teacher would be losing the opportunity unless the principal would be willing to hold the position open until next year. Let’s face it, the likelyhood of that happening is slim and none.

It’s the video connected to the Tennessean article that I initially found most disturbing. I always try to talk to people though about my observations and often times I get a different perception. While I still take major exception with some off the statements made early in the video, it’s important to remember that not evrything in that video is presented in context. The teacher in question spent over 2 hours with the video makers only to have that time edited down to a minute and a half. A minute and a half that supported the narrative of the reporter.

In the video, Marlaine Ells, a 35-year veteran of teaching makes the assertation that teacher attrition is no greater then it is in the commercial world and that our society has become a moving world. To some extent I agree with the statement but I can’t agree with the accecptence of the predicament. Younger generations are much more transient then previous generations. I always laugh when we say we are making kids career and college ready while kid’s are sending messages that a career isn’t that important to them. Still certain profession require a high level of commitment to meet the high requirements required. Do you want a doctor who’s planning on only being a doctor for a of couple years? How about a priest that’s just doing serving until they figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives?

We can’t just throw our hands up and say, “Some are going to leave every year. What are you going to do?”

We have to identify why people are leaving and create a culture that empowers them to remain in the profession for a lengthy period of time. I recently worked a luncheon for leaders in a leading hospital chain. They recognized the importance of talent retention and spent a portion of the program celebrating the strategies and success in lowering the turnover rate. The commercial world isn’t accepting high turnover rates and neither should we. I look to the words of Armando Garza Sada, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Alfa SAB de CV, Mexico for inspiration:

“Our capacity to attract, retain and manage executive talent does not depend on the compensation package, but rather on our ability to create a sense of belonging to an organisation that offers a long-term relationship and a professional development opportunity, and that has a clear conception of itself, of what it wants to be, and of how to achieve it.”

That needs to be printed on a tshirt for everybody in Human Resources and on the executive leadership team. I urge you to watch the rest of the video. She makes some solid points.  I do agree that teacher mentorship is an important component. Somebody needs to talk with Shuler Pelham over at Hillsboro HS where he has hired Paul Beavers and dedicated resources to help keep teachers from becoming overwelmed throughout the school year. Since this year they had zero transfers, I think you could label it successful.

One other trap we need to start becomming more cognizant of is the treating of all teachers and their experience as the same. How do often do we hear things like, “Money is not important to teachers.”, “teachers hate Common Core”, “teachers think kids are out of control” or “teachers want leadership opportunities”? Teacher are a complex and varied lot. Talk to enough of them, which should be the goal,  and you’ll find evidence of both sides of any sweeping statement you could make. We recognize that one size fits all does not apply for students but then we quickly forget it when it comes to teachers.

To some teachers, money is a motivating factor. For other teachers it’s more about autonomy. Some teachers hate Common Core and some feel they have more pressing things to worry about. The point is that you have to talk to as many teachers as possible in as open a manner as possible in order to create a culture that allows for a sense of belonging to an organisation that offers a long-term relationship and a professional development opportunity, and that has a clear conception of itself, of what it wants to be, and of how to achieve it. That should be the foundation of which all teacher recruitment and retention plans are built.

QUICK HITS

Teachers should see their paychecks this Friday reflect the new pay schedules. Everybody got a 3% raise. Rumor has it that none of the Chiefs partook of the 3% raise, but I’ve yet to see confirmation of that. Seems like that might be something the communications department might want to put in a press release, but what do I know?  I’m sharing the new schedules here in case you haven’t seen them. I’ve posted both the certified and support staff schedules here. There is a story behind these two schedules and I’m trying to get a complete sense of it so I can share with you hopefully in the next couple of weeks.

(Certified Administrative Schedule)

(Certified Teachers Pay Schedule)

(Support Staff Pay Schedule)

Last week it was the Literacy and Numeracy Coaches traveling off to the French Quarter. This week it’s the EL Coaches heading to Orlando. This years theme appears to be a trip for everybody. 

Antioch Middle Prep will be holding a 5th grade orientation and ice cream social on August 1.

 

Think MNPS doesn’t know what’s it’s doing when it comes to our English Language Learners? Read this excellent piece in the NY Times written by a volunteer at Overton HS.

Remember when all we had to worry about was Tahoes and drivers? Those seem like such innocent days.

Test scores, test scores, anybody got a test score?

By the way, Dad Gone Wild has a FaceBook page that is all positive no negative. You’ll want to check it out for all the fantastic pictures on the first day of school and on. As always, feel free to send me pictures and postings.

There is a new journalism venture at Hillsboro HS – The Hillsboro Globe. Check it out.You’ll be impressed.

POLL RESULTS

This week’s poll was an example of how sometimes things are better left in my head. last weekends poll questions didn’t play out quite as I envisioned. It happens. Based on poll answers y’all are obviously having less trouble then I am in keeping the acronyms straight. We got a couple good write in answers but I think we’ll keep those to ourselves for right now. Thanks for indulging me and I’ll try and do better in the future.

I am toying with the idea of stealing the Nashville Scene’s idea of “You so Nashville if…” and doing a you are so “MNPS if…” next weekend. If you have any grave objections shoot me a line. That does it for now. I hope everyone has a great week.

CHATT TOWN, BIG EASY TRIPS AND WHAT’S THAT STAND FOR?

1

I must apologize for this this installment being late. Dad had to take a catering gig yesterday that translated to a 5:30 AM to 2pm work day and a new appreciation for people who work in the service industry on a regular basis. Y’all work hard. As always, we have a lot of ground to cover. So lets get after it.

FUN TIMES IN RIVER CITY

Bruised by years of doing battle with Memphis and Nashville, the Tennessee Department of Education is now turning it’s attention to Chattanooga to try and implement some of it’s not so cutting edge plans. At the forefront of this focus is the creation of a “partnership zone” made up of 5 chronically under-performing schools. As part of the “partnership zone” these schools would be governed by their own school board and receive additional resources. This wouldn’t be a state takeover as Chattanooga and the state would work as partners.

Of course the state has an interesting definition of partner. They have given Chattanooga till the end of August to decide if they want to be partners or else they’ll give one or more of the schools to the state Achievement School District. They’ve also failed to share a proposed budget or test scores for the schools from this past year. It’s also worth noting that all of these schools suffer from high poverty levels and this past year the state changed its method of counting Title 1 qualification to including only those children who receive direct services. That means a drop in the official poverty numbers, though not real poverty numbers,  and therefore less Title 1 funding for schools with high concentrations of poverty.  Somewhere Don Corleone is smiling.

Chattanooga has a brand spanking new Superintendent and it appears that he is not in a hurry to join this budding partnership. Not surprisingly he’d like an opportunity to develop his own strategy.

The “Partnership zone” is not the only potentially new district coming to Chattanooga. Signal Mountain is looking to exit Hamilton County School District and form their own school district. Signal Mountain is home to 3 of the districts highest performing schools and their exit would have a profound effect on HCSD. Last month town leaders visited Shelby County Schools to get some insight on how the exit could be executed. 

Watching these developments in Chattanooga is important because I think you’ll see emulation in the rest of the state. Remember in order to do the “Partnership District” legislation permitting schools to be overseen by an appointed board would have to be passed. That legislation alone could have dire consequence for schools across the state. Always be wary of laws that are puportedly designed to help someone because seldom are the unexpected consequences considered. Just look at the ASD. That was never meant to be a charter school zone.

Speaking of our friends over at the Tennessee ASD, they’ve got a new leadership team heading into a new school year. Well kinda. Malika Anderson will remain in charge and two of those promoted have been a part of the work since 2011, but there are 2 new lieutenants who are completely new to the district. The leadership change is a shift away from outside education “reformers” and towards people more entrenched in the Tennessee education community. Schools also now won’t suffer the abrupt takeover actions that were the previous hallmark of the ASD. Going forward struggling schools will have three years to apply their own turn around strategies before being eligible for state take over.

Over in Maury County, there is a new number 2. Dr. Ron Woodard is the new Assistant Superintendent of Instruction. Many of you may know Ron through his many years as an educational leader in MNPS. A big congratulations to Dr. Woodard.

NASHVILLE NOTES

This isn’t part of this week’s poll questions, but I’d like to pose this question to you, what would you do if you were the brand new literacy director to a large urban school district and school was starting in 2 months? Would you a) spend the time reviewing the district’s literacy data and policies, b) get to know in depth the individual literacy coaches that you’l be supervising or c) pack your bags, grab some lead literacy coaches and head to New Orleans for a conference?

Well since this is Nashville and our district leadership has yet to meet a trip or consultant they don’t like, the obvious answer is C.

(MNPS Director of Literacy Barbara Lashley w/ lead literacy coaches in New Orleans)

That’s the choice new district literacy director Barbara Lashleymade last week. She joined district lead coaches for a fun filled week in the Big Easy for the Equity in Motion Practitioner Convening. The theme of this event was Growing All Students Through High-Quality Assignments. A quick glance at the agenda shows that speakers include Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White and U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.  In case you are not familiar with John White I suggest you read Mercedes Schneider’s blog posts looking into his work. To call him controversial would be an understatement.

Attendees of the conference stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria. Lashley is formerly/currently employed by Scholastic inc so we shouldn’t’ be to surprised. Remember these are the same folks who threw a literacy conference at Amelia Island. Here’s what get’s me though, we don’t have money for hiring the 12th EDSSI but there’s still plenty of money for week long stays in the French Quarter. We preach to kids on a regular basis about setting priorities, yet here we go again. Just remember it was the Mayor’s fault we had to scrape for those 3% raises for teachers.

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR YOU BUT NOT FOR ME

Back in November of 2016 the MNPS school board revised their policy on director evaluations to read as follows:

The Board shall strive to evaluate the Director twice annually. Each January, following the mid-point of the school year, the Board will administer a formative evaluation of the Director based on factors including but not limited to formative student assessment data. Each June, following the end of the school year, the Board will administer a summative evaluation of the Director based on factors including but not limited to summative student assessment data, as well as student and educator culture/climate survey data. The formative and summative evaluation instruments will be determined by the Board’s Director Evaluation Committee.

In January there was a little cheer circle where everybody stood around and gave a big ol “atta boy”. Dr. Joseph was given a rade of an A. (Just for the record a formative assesment is not supposed to have a grade or numerical score attached. It’s a sumative that gets the score.) Well it’s now the end of July and no evaluation has been completed or is one in sight as far as I can see. This is nothing new because for the last 2 years the board has failed to complete a formal evaluation of either Dr. Register or Chris Henson – the directors prior to Dr. Joseph. That failure came under the guidence of now vice-chair of the directors evaluation committee Sharon Gentry who was chair of the committee. Looks like new committee chair Will Pinkston is picking her work up right where she left off. Which begs the question, why have policy if you are not going to adhere to it?

At the last board meeting, Pinkston wasn’t in attendence, but he did pass on information to board chair Anna Shepherd that the committee had not settled on an evaluation tool but was continueing to research. Fair enough, but the policy was written 7 months ago by Pinkston. That should provide ample time to settle on a evalauation tool and conduct an evaluation of the director in a timely manner. What’s Pinkston been doing since the board adopted the policy. He’s conduct a number of charter school investigations, appeared on TV talking about civil rights issues, he’s written an op-ed piece on the failings of others, he’s worked on getting people fired from their jobs, and he’s engaged in several online battles with people he percieves as not being true Democrats.

What he hasn’t done is complete the task that he set out for himself. It has to be noted that this is a task that was not imposed on him but rather one that he designed. We often lecture kids about the importance of setting priorities, so how is this modeling that lesson. We tell kids evaluations are an important part of learning but apparently not for those in positions of leadership. Last I checked, my boss never finds it acceptable when I chose to focus on my personal agenda instead of the job prescribed. But then again Pinkston never does seem to think the rules apply to him or that his constituents are his boss. His response to me when I criticized him for the lack of forsight shown by the district in regards to the solar eclipse was a recommendation to “avail yourself of the many charter options available if you don’t like MNPS”, i.e love it or leave it. You know who else talks like that. His recomendation says it all and I’m sure we’ll get a directors evaluation when he’s good and ready.

In other news, MNPS has released the beginnings of an organizational chart. There is still a lot to fill in, but it’s a starting point. There are some questions that need answers. Where is the ELL Department on this chart? Gloster is listed separated but in other literature she’s listed in with the EDSSI’s. Which is it? How many total people are in Central office? How many people does Tasby supervise? How many people does Gonzales supervise? Hopefully some of those answers will be forth coming. As it is this chart does little to give a complete picture of what’s going on throughout the district. Here’s it is if you haven’t seen it.

(MNPS Org chart)

The Tennessean has an article on the District’s efforts in regards to teacher recruitment and retention. I’ll let you decide about how effective it’ll be but I would suggest they read Peter Greene’s thoughts on teacher recruitment and rentention as a starting point. As a side note, I am hearing that you can add Maxwell ES to the list of MNPS schools suffering from chronic teacher turnover.

HAPPY THOUGHTS

The Bellevue Middle School Family will be holding their “Mighty Owl Welcome” for new 5th grade families. It is August 3, Thursday from 4:30-7 PM. All the info you need is on face book. Should be very informative.

There is a Project Lit book club meeting this week. It’s July 26th from 9-10 AM at the Maplewood HS Library. This month’s book is The Hate You Give by  Angie Thomas.

Upcoming Kindergarten and 7th grade students need to submit immunization records to MNPS. To help parents prepare their students to go back to school, Metro Public Health Department will be extending their immunization clinic hours at the following locations:

Woodbine Public Health Clinic
224 Oriel Ave, Nashville TN 37210
Regular Hours – Mon through Fri, 8am until 4pm
Special After Hours Clinics:
7/20, 7/27, 8/3 and 8/10 until 7pm

Lentz Public Health Clinic
2500 Charlotte Ave, Nashville TN 37209
Regular Hours – Mon through Fri, 8am until 4pm
Special After Hours Clinics:
8/1 and 8/8 until 6pm

Word has it that both Matthew Nelson and Dr. Russell Young are off to good starts at Eakin ES and West End Middle Prep respectfully. Tusculum’s ES has a new AP, Chris Holmes, that has hit the ground running and we are excited to have him. I also hear good things coming out of Maplewood with Dr. Keely Jones-Mason returning. Any idea when they are going to take the title “acting” away from her?

POLLS

I want to have a little fun this week-end. The district has gone a little acronym crazy heading into the new year. Which can make things a bit confusing. I’m going to give you three of the leading new acronyms and we’ll see if you can tell me what they stand for. If you are not sure what they stand for,  feel free to follow the districts lead and just make one up. I can’t wait to see the creativity. Let the games begin.

A PARTNER ZONE, ECLIPSE-GATE2017, AND A RECAP

3

Happy Monday to you. Hope your week-end was half as good as mine. I have to admit to being thrilled with the number of poll responses we got this week-end. Some of you really brought out the creativity when responding to the questions and I love it. We’ll get to those answers but first a few news items.

DANGER DANGER WILL ROBINSON

Everybody is pretty well versed on the Tennessee Achievement School District and it’s ever increasing issues. What you might not be familiar with is the TN Department of Education’s latest scam, I mean plan, affectionately known as the Partnership Zone.

Chattanooga has 5 chronically under performing schools: Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Woodmore Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Orchard Knob Elementary. Each of these schools, shockingly, have a large percentage of students who live in poverty. Instead of turning these schools over to the ASD, the state is creating a Partnership Zone. Details are a little thin as to what this zone would look like but in Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s words, “”It would be innovative. It would be different in terms of how we’ve done school turnaround in the past.”

Personally I’m not a fan of the term “turn around” as it relates to schools. In my eyes it’s a concept that benefits adults more then kids. When is a school considered “turned around”? Is it 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? If a school comes off the naughty list and then slips back onto it 4 years later, was it ever turned around? I wish we would just focus on making quality, equitable schools instead of try to create resume content for adults.

That said, I do believe that you can’t just let schools and their families continue to struggle. You have to find ways to get them the resources that will set them up for success. In doing so though, we have to constantly be aware of unintended consequences. In reading about the Partnership Zone in the Times Free Press I see one big red flag that should be setting off alarms everywhere. Per the paper:

McQueen said in the Partnership Zone, the five schools would be placed in a separate mini-zone with its own director and board, giving the schools increased autonomy and support.

But that would require a change in state law to allow students to be represented by an appointed, rather than elected, school board.

McQueen said she’s spoken with Hamilton County lawmakers and plans to pursue legislation that ensures the Partnership Zone can legally move forward.

Did you get that? My question would be, if the state law is changed, what is there to prevent districts across the state from changing the make up of their school boards? This is a potentially slippery slope and I urge advocates across the state to to keep abreast of these developments.

I especially like how McQueen says, “We didn’t want to come here with a stick. We didn’t want to come here with some misconception around what this was about. And we didn’t want this to be seen as us not being true partners.” Yet she also states that unless the schools post higher- than-expected academic growth, it’s likely at least some will be taken over by the state if the Partnership Zone is not approved. Kinda of setting the partnership parameters early aren’t they?

ECLIPSE-GATE2107

Parents continue to struggle to get information pertaining to the Great American Solar Eclipse. MNPS originally scheduled students to be out of school that day and for it to be a professional development day for teachers. That decision was reversed last week and students will now be in school.

The last minute change has left many parents and teachers extremely frustrated. In their response to criticism, board members’ have attributed the decision to a request by the Mayor. Why they feel the need to pull her in to the e controversy is a mystery to me. If it’s the right decision just own it and allow people to vent their justifiable frustration. If it was a popular decision and people were celebrating, would they highlight the mayors involvement? This is the second unpopular move in almost as many months that MNPS leadership has tried to make the mayor accountable for. Here’s a tip, in looking for a scapegoat, you want to find someone with a lower approval rate then you. Not someone who approval factor eclipses yours. Pun intended.

(Revised 2017 – 2018 calendar)

To compound things, despite the schedule change being approved, MNPS has inexplicably not made the revised schedule publicly available. What the thinking here is beyond me. Word I get is that the professional development day will be the Friday before Labor Day, thus creating a 4 day week end for students.

MNPS’s STEAM department headed up by Kris Elliot has been very busy making sure that the upcoming event is fully taken advantage of. Last week a update on actions was released.

 

 

 

QUICK HITS

MNPS has a Parent University coming up. The date is Saturday, August 12 at 9 AM – 3 PM. The event will be held at Trevecca Nazarene University. Some of the things parents will learn about:

Parent & Youth Learning Sessions
Health Screenings
Community Resources
MTA Transportation
School Supplies
Free Childcare & Learning Activities
Parent Connections

Ride the MTA at no cost when you mention Parent University to the driver. To pre-register for the conference and childcare, please visit,www.eventbrite.com/ParentU2017 Or fax registration form to 615-298-8056 or email form to parent.university@mnps.org

Board member Amy Frogge has an editorial in today’s Tennessean talking about how corporate ideas and public schools don’t mix. She points out, “The influx of business and investment ideas into one of our most valuable and precious public institutions has proven disastrous for public education, causing excellent teachers to flee and students to suffer. Nevertheless, corporate ideas remain popular among those whose own children don’t attend public schools and who therefore have a limited understanding of what actually occurs in our neediest schools.”

I’m not sure of the impetus of this article but as always she makes some salient points and I encourage you to read her piece.

The Brentwood Community continues to explore the idea of splitting off from WCS. The idea is not a new one but purportedly this time the catalyst for the new grassroots effort was when the Williamson County School Board introduced a district-wide rezoning plan in the spring that would have sent students from Brentwood schools to Fairview, Franklin and Nolensville. Read and decide for yourself.

There is a new coalition in town. This ones called the Trailblazer Coalition and their tagline is: Preparing a more diverse teaching force for Nashville. The Trailblazer Coalition is a group of nine teacher preparation programs in Middle Tennessee working
together to address teacher diversity in Metro Nashville Public Schools. The Coalition work is supported
through a grant project of Conexion Americas’ ​Education Policy Team​. On Tuesday at 2:45 PM at Casa Azafrán, 2195 Nolensville Pike, Nashville, TN 37211, they will release a report on its first year of work at a press conference next Tuesday. The report is titled “Fixing the Broken Pipeline: Teacher Diversity and the Classroom.” Following the press conference, community partners will be invited to participate in working group discussions to brainstorm solutions aligned with the main areas of focus in the report.

The last weekend in July has been designated as a tax free weekend in Tennessee. So mark your calendar.

POLL RESULTS

As I mentioned earlier, this week we had a great response to our poll questions and some of you answered quite creatively.

For the first question, I was interested in getting a better idea of exactly how you found new updates of the Dad Gone Wild blog. Not surprisingly it is predominately through social media. 36% of you utilize Twitter and 27% of you discover updates through Facebook. I was happily surprised that some of you mentioned Peter Greene’s Curmudgucation blog. I’m a huge fan of his. Some good write-in answers on this one:

the whistle 1
In an MNPS classroom since Dr Joseph & team never comes in 1
Curmudgucation blogroll 1
The hidden link in Forward Focus 1
Bathroom stall graffiti 1
peter greene’s site 1
private browser to avoid central office trackers 1
It’s one of my Favorites in Safari. I read it daily. 1
Can’t help but see it as many times as you repost links 1
While pissing.

The second question asked what is the number one trait a leader must possess. 31% of you answered authenticity. Which was reaffirming for me, as it is something I preach. All the other traits are important, but if people don’t believe in you, it’s all meaningless. People have to believe that you are going to act in the manner you speak. It’s a lesson current MNPS leadership has failed to grasp much to their detriment. Hopefully 2017-2018 will be the year of the awakening. Great write in answers for this one as well.

Ability to fire people with ease and no guilt 1
be truly collaborative 1
All of the above 1
The ability to trust & listen tohis/her employees 1
How good you are in bed (happens in education too) 1
Someone who ignores whiners like TC 1
Excellent communicator-reciprocal, verbal/nonverbal/written 1
Courage 1
Manipulation 1
Must have buy-in from those s/he seeks to lead 1
Wisdom 1
Consistency 1
Someone opposite of our current administration 1
Must like people and want to help them 1
situational leadership 1
appreciation 1
Manipulating both sides of an arguement against each other 1
Servant’s heart, mind, and attitude 1
Charisma, Uniqeness, Nerve, and Talent

The last question asked for the best burger joint in town. It did my heart good to see old Nashville favorite Rotiers take it with 25% of the vote. Second went to a personal favorite Gabby’s. I urge you to try both of them as well as other mentioned joints. The Pharmacy won the write-in votes.

Pharmacy 2
ML Rose 2
The Pharmacy!!! 1
Bur Bun– Exquisite Whiskey and Hamburgers at Hilton Brentwood 1
Riverside Grill Shack 1
Only hypocrites eat meat 1
Best black bean veggie burger-The Pharmacy 1
Bobbie’s Dairy Dip 1
M. L. Rose 1
McCabe’s Pub 1
The Burger Joint 1
M.L. Rose 1
Farm Burger 1
Burger Shack 1
Farm Burger (family says 5 guys 🙂 ) 1
The Pharmacy 1
Sportsman’s 1
Burgerfi

There you have it. Only 3 more weeks to school. We’ll keep you up to date as we get more news.

A COMMENT WORTH HIGHLIGHTING

1

I’m the guy who writes the blog but sometimes the comments are better than anything I’ve written. Sometimes the comments reek of such authenticity that you have to push back form the computer and reflect. When I get those kinds of comments I have a fear that they’ll just get lost in the shuffle and the thoughtfulness, courage, and hard work that went into crafting them will go unnoticed.

This weekend I received such a commit and I decided that I wasn’t going to just trust that people would see it. I decided I would make it it’s own blog post. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the author in crafting it. I have no idea who wrote it, nor do I have any desire to know. I have worked hard to create a space where people share their thoughts free of the fear of retribution. As I told some one this week, y’all’s trust is something I hold as precious and there is nothing I would ever do to compromise it. The only reason this blog is successful is because of everyone’s willingness to share. Thank you.

If you know anything about last year at Metro Nashville Schools you can physically feel the authenticity in this post. Agree or disagree, there is a lot to think about in this post.

Our current leaders are more about perception than anything else, and the lack of an ability to actually get anything done is mind boggling. The latest Eclipse snafu is just the latest example, and I know that I speak for a great deal of teachers when I say that the lack of accountability is shocking. All we hear about are Strategic Plans and Transition Teams, and it’s just the same stuff being packaged in a different (and more expensive) package.

The last group of leaders was certainly not the best, but the way that Dr. Joseph and his team act as though they are all about the kids is extremely frustrating. They continue to pull resources away from students and into consultants and administrative salaries. The number of people in high level positions is unbelievable, and I’m just not understanding why no one on the School Board will say anything. For every “Chief,” there seem to be a large number of people under them that make at least $100,000, and many of them more than that. There are so many positions that are completely unnecessary, and the people that are in those positions seem to just spend endless hours in meetings, thinking up things that they can pass down–and then abruptly change from year to year. I’m also confused about how all of these people on the MNPS payroll need help from so many different consultants to put things into place.

As far as leadership at the school level goes, there are a few great Principals, but a great deal of our schools are being led by people that are really better at interviewing than anything else. The new “Principal Pipeline” is just a continuation of that (being led by two people who make over $100,000 each). Once these Principals get into schools, the same clichés and buzzwords they used to get there are the same ones that they use while running their schools. For teachers like me who just keep their head down, work hard, and actually care about and enjoy what they do, it’s terribly disheartening.

I guess it all comes down to whether or not we speak up, or we just watch as good people keep leaving. Most teachers that I know absolutely love working with the diverse group of students that we have, and they do everything they can to meet the needs of those students. When they are consistently pulled in a million different directions, it gets to a point where enough is enough and they just decide to leave. I’ve had many colleagues who have taken pay cuts to work in other counties, and it’s not because they can’t “cut it” in an urban school district.

Like many in our district, I was excited to get an energetic and authentic leader for our students, but I just can’t help but feel as though we really got hoodwinked. Again, it’s all about perception, and as long as outlets like the Tennessean refuse to push back, his entire team appear to be free to do what they want, without any fear of reprisal.

OF HOT MESSES AND POLL QUESTIONS

5

It’s Friday and that means it’s time for an update and another round of poll questions. So buckle up because we have a lot of ground to cover before we get to the reader participation portion of the program. To say that this has been an eventful week would be a bit of an understatement.

ECLIPSE-GATE 2017.

On the 21st of August Nashville is set up to experience a once in a lifetime event. Nashvillians have been afforded the opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse. In this case it will be a complete blackout. Many of us have experienced an annular eclipse – where there is a ring of the sun visible – very few of us have experienced a total eclipse.

MNPS has recently embarked on a district wide STEAM initiative. STEAM places an emphasis on science and it counts project based learning as a major component. Hmmmm….rare eclipse…science…project based learning…sounds like a perfect storm coming together. Unfortunately that is not how district leaders saw things back in September. In spite of recommendations to remain open and create a district wide learning experience, district leadership decided to create a professional development day on August 21. The day was included in the calendar, the calendar was approved, and people made plans off of that calendar.

Fast forward to this week. Apparently, as the day approached city leadership realized that being an urban district, with high poverty levels, having kids out of school during the eclipse presented a safety issue. Also not having school that day created some inequities at a time when we are making erasing inequities a priority. The school board agreed, they voted, and the decision to be closed on August 21 was reversed.

There has been a rush to liken this decision to a snow day.

“Hey it’s hard to predict these things.”

“You have to be flexible.”

“It’s a decision that nobody will be happy with.”

That is not an accurate description and it is not the decision that is the issue. It is the fact that a schedule was approved and distributed. Teachers made plans off of that schedule. Families made plans off of the schedule. The district reversed itself without ever acknowledging those facts. In other words they sent a message, again, that their priorities were the only ones that mattered. They compounded that message by not redistributing the revised schedule in a timely manner. To date there are still many teachers and families that don’t even know that the schedule has been revised because the new schedule hasn’t been published. Somebody needs to realize that there is a big difference between a hard decision and a poorly planned one.

LOVE  THAT DIRTY WATER

Back on June 30th MNPS issued a press release on what great people they were in testing the water in our schools. They included none of the findings in the report and in fact, acted as if nobody would ever read the report. Well somebody did: Phil Williams and Channel 5 News. They found some disturbing numbers in the report and have aired several stories on lead in our schools’ water. MNPS countered by issuing more  press releases about how great they were for testing. They even wrote an open letter to MNPS families and employees to tell them how great they were.

In the letter they state, “At no time in this first phase of sampling were there any concerns raised for the safety of our drinking water.” Odd, because the report shows that at DuPont ES 45 out of 55 samples tested at more than one part per billion and at the MS 54 out of 83 samples surpassed the lead level that pediatricians say is safe.  Pediatricians say that anything over 1ppg should be considered unsafe. The federal government sets a thresh hold of 15ppg. I’ll let you decide who’s levels you buy, but encourage you to read the raw data for yourself. To date MNPS has still not done what Dupont-Hadley MS parent Stephanie Cooksey asked for, to first, admit there’s a problem, then develop a specific plan and tell parents what they plan to do. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

IF IT CALLS FOR 17 BAGS OF CEMENT, LET’S USE 15.

If you look at the assignments of the EDSSI’s you will see that the Executive Director of Innovation Schools Letrecia Gloster – that’s right innovation schools not L5 schools – has all priority schools assigned to her under the Northwest quadrant. Under the revised assignments that came out this week Hunter’s Lane and White’s Creek which were previously in the southeast quadrant are back in the northwest quadrant with their feeder schools. Still, the northwest quadrant is under staffed as they only have 2 official EDSSIs.

Now you are probably thinking, “That doesn’t seem right. Why would they do that?”

It seems that they cut one EDSSI position in order to find the funds to ensure that all teachers got a 3% raise. Sounds noble, but it’s also ludicrous. Why would you cut a pillar of your new organizational structure straight out of the gate? Is that really the only place you could find to secure an extra 150K? (I’m adding salary plus administrative costs.) This was being sold as an essential change, yet it’s already being under resourced. It’s like laying the foundation of a house and it’s calling for 16 bags  of cement but you decide to just use 14.

(Revised EdSSI assignments)

To be honest with you, the revised schedule makes even less sense then the original chart . For example, Lilly Lefler  now has schools assigned to her in both the Northeast and the Northwest Quadrant. Seeing as Community Superintendents are allowed to structure their quadrants as desired I can’t wait to see how schizophrenic this gets for Lefler by the end of the year. And which community superintendent takes precedent? Bring your decoder ring because things are getting interesting.

TEACHER TEACHER WHO’S GOT THE TEACHER?

One item that was pulled off of this week’s consent agenda was the approval of a contract expansion for Teach for America involving summer school/teacher training.  The request was for the following:

A sixth Amendment to the contract, adding compensation to support
the 2017 Summer School program for new MNPS Teacher candidates. Summer School
support from MNPS funds learning materials, Contractor’s staff, and Certificated nonMNPS
teacher-mentors. Summer School classes will be conducted at Buena Vista
Elementary School and Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School.

Board Member Amy Frogge pulled it from the consent because her and fellow board member Jill Speering had some questions. Questions that the Chief Executive Officer of Human Resources Deborah Story and number 2 man Sito Narcisse struggled to answer. Among the questions they couldn’t answer:

  • Was this money for work already completed or future work?
  • Were the teachers who were getting trained, MNPS teachers or TFA teachers?
  • Since this was part of a pipeline being built, were we building our own pipeline or would we be continuing to work with TFA?
  • Were we utilizing MNPS teachers for training new teachers in this program?

In the end the this contract extension proposal failed because it was only able to secure 4 aye votes. (Brannon, Shepherd, Hunter, Pierce voted yes, Frogge no, Speering abstained. Three board members were absent.) Pierce pointed out a majority of the board was required for motion to pass, not a majority of the board members present.

This bears watching for a number of reasons:

  • Will it pass at next meeting?
  • Will leadership continue to ask for money after work has already been completed? This has transpired a number of times this year.
  • What will next years TFA contract look like. Speering has already gone on record as saying she wont’t support another extension and I believe Frogge feels the same way. However, Story made a comment about there being a fierce battle for talent and gave the impression that she valued TFA as a source for recruiting talent. Keep in mind that TFA itself has shown an inability to recruit the kind of numbers needed.

Speaking of teachers, I’m being told by several principals that finding talent is very difficult this year. Looking at the help wanted on MNPS’s site bears that out as we have nearly 300 openings with less then a month till school starts. I guess nobody got the word out about the JCrew discounts.

POSITIVE STUFF

I was recently accused of not thinking anything is good enough, a charge I categorically deny. There are several things going on that meet that threshold.

I think Shuler Pelham and his team at Hillsboro HS are poised to knock it out of the park this year. They have spent the last several years assembling the pieces and I think this is where it’s all going to drop in to place. I look forward to watching it unfold.

West End Middle Prep and Eakin ES are also looking poised for great years ahead of them. There is no reason not to believe that Inglewood ES and Whitsitt ES won’t continue the upward trajectory started last year. Those are just a few examples of the great work happening. Gary Hughes and Sue Kessler would probably hold it against me if I didn’t mention their always solid schools, J.T. Moore and Hunter’s Lane.

The work that the EL department is doing is so far above and beyond anything going on that I can’t praise it enough.

The Lipscomb/Nissan Fundamentals BisonBot Robotics Camp, a one-week summer camp, sounds like pretty darn cool experience for middle school students. The camp experience includes a tour of the Scott Fetzer Electrical Group (SFEG) manufacturing plant in Fairview. Here students get to see collaborative robots, or cobots up close. This is the third year for the robotics camp, sponsored by Lipscomb University and Nissan, and the second year the group has visited the Fairview facility.

Jared Amato’s Project Lit looks like it’s going to be bigger then ever.

There are a lot of good things happening but things are being held back from soaring by district leadership. I know I sound like a broken record, but if this whole thing is going to work out, Chiefs need to start listening, thinking things through, and validating people. Otherwise we are just going to continue our slide in to Pedro 2.0. Who, as a side note, was the last superintendent who proposed a schedule that started with a full day on Monday and continued with full days the rest of the week. Ask somebody who was here how that worked out.

Join Metro Schools for the 10th Annual Parent University Conference on Saturday, August 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.at Trevecca Nazarene University in the Boone Business Center. This is an excellent resource for parents.

 

NATIONAL NOTES

Here’s a couple of things nationally I’m watching.

I’ve never been a fan of reading levels. As far as I concerned they reinforce the wrong kinds of literacy behavior and actually hinder the creation of life long readers. Now it seems that I’m not alone in this view. The American Association of School Librarians has  noticed some of our undesirable trends and has issued a statement on them:

It is the responsibility of school librarians to promote free access for students and not to aid in restricting their library materials. School librarians should resist labeling and advocate for development of district policies regarding leveled reading programs that rely on library staff compliance with library book labeling and non-standard shelving requirements. These policies should address the concerns of privacy, student First Amendment Rights, behavior modification in both browsing and motivational reading attitudes, and related issues.

Candace Jackson, Betsy Devos’s choice to lead the Office of Civil Rights demonstrated how qualified she is this week when she made this comment on college rape accusations to the New York Times,  “Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.” The comment was later walked back but still.

POLL QUESTIONS

This week’s question’s should be fairly easy and uncontroversial.

First question is about how you access the Dad Gone Wild blog. I’m trying to evaluate distribution and I’m curious as to how you find us.

The second question is about leadership. I recently had a conversation about leadership and we discussed the number one trait a leader needs to have in order to be successful. I’m curious as to what your opinion is.

Lastly, I wanted to ask you about hamburger, or cheeseburgers if you prefer. If you had a friend in town and you wanted to take them to just one burger joint, where would it be.

As always, thanks for your help and see you on the other side.

RECAPPING AND FORWARD LOOKS.

I hope everybody had themselves a wonderful weekend. The summer in Nashville is rapidly approaching its conclusion. Teachers report back in about 3 weeks, with kids reporting the following week. This year school starts on a Monday, August 7th, with full days right from the beginning. A bit of a change over previous years.

If you are the parent of a kindergartner, MNPS has a bit of a check list for you to prepare your child for kindergarten. There is some helpful information on that list, though I hate to see too much pressure put on kids entering their first year of formal schooling. Kindergarten’s main emphasis should be on play and socialization.

STRUCTURE, STRUCTURE, WHO’S GOT STRUCTURE

MNPS has released a quadrant chart for the 2017 – 2018 school year. It raises a few questions. Apparently all of the magnet schools are in the Pearl Cohn cluster now. This includes Carter Lawrence which previously was in the Hillsboro Cluster and a feeder to JT Moore. I’m not sure if there are any other changes.

As previously mentioned assignments were recently announced for the newly created Executive Director of School Support and Improvement hires. Keep in mind that this change was made in order to enhance community. Per an MNPS press release,

(EDSSI assignments)

“The new structure will better equip the district to mobilize local resources to support students and families through expanded collaborations with civic, community, business and faith-based organizations.” 

I’ll let you decide if these assignments lend themselves to that intended goal.

A couple things do stand out for me. All of the elementary schools and middle schools for the Hunter’s Lane and White Creek’s cluster are in the Northwest Quadrant, yet the high schools are in the Southeast Quadrant. Also all the priority schools(L5) are in the Northwest Quadrant while the other schools in their clusters are scattered through out the other quadrants. So, if you are a family in a priority school do you not warrant the same consistency throughout your time at MNPS as non-priority school students?

TEACHERS

Nashville continues to have problems with teacher recruitment and retention. Andy Spears has an excellent piece up at Tennessee Ed Report that addresses one aspect of the issue – teacher pay. As Andy points out, “The salary to live comfortably in Louisville is $49,000. Teachers in Louisville hit that pay rate by year 5. A teacher in Nashville isn’t making $49,000 even after 10 years of experience. The pay scale in Nashville simply isn’t moving up quickly enough.” I encourage you to read the whole piece. By the way, it takes a salary of $70,150 to live in Nashville today.

CHARTER SCHOOL WARS.

Over the weekend I had a very interesting and enlightening conversation with a dear friend. She was concerned about a couple twitter conversations I had last week with Matt Pulle and School Board member Amy Frogge. She felt that my end of the conversation with Ms. Frogge gave the impression that my criticisms were personal and that some of my positions could be construed as dismissing the importance of the fight against the forces which seek to privatize our public school system.

I appreciate her raising these concerns with me. First and foremost I hate sacred cows and the discussion on public education seems to be rife with them. If you are a charter school supporter you are never supposed to entertain any criticism of charter schools. And if you are a traditional school supporter you never acknowledge that our system is not meeting all the needs of all our children. Clear cut lines like that, just don’t work for me. The world is full of grays and our discussions should reflect those.

I do believe that nationally, and to some extent locally, there are people that wish to privatize and further segregate our public schools. That is their goal and it has little to do with kids. Agree or disagree, that’s up to you, but I’ve seen enough evidence to know that it is indeed fact. By the same account there are people that support traditional schools that are more concerned with upholding a system than they are with making sure our schools are truly meeting their mission of educating all kids. Again, agree or disagree, that’s up to you, but I’ve seen the evidence with my own eyes. Unfortunately the folks on the far extremes are the ones controlling the conversation forcing people who just want quality schools to choose sides. It’s not that different from national politics.

It reminds me of professional wrestling to some extent. The masses are led to believe that Hacksaw Jim Dugan and the Iron Sheik are mortal enemies. They all get emotionally involved in these wrestler’s battles and meanwhile the two are tooling down the highway together sharing recreational drugs. Before anybody gets crazy, I’m not accusing anybody of recreational drug use. I’m just saying what we need is a little less hyperbole and a little more sanity. Too often we think our experiences are universal experiences. We need to open ourselves to listening to the experience of others. We may go to the best traditional/charter school in town. That doesn’t mean all traditional/charter schools in town offer the same experience.

My comments were a response to Ms. Frogge’s comments directed, via Twitter,  at Wendy Tucker that referred to her as a bully. I initially chuckled to myself at the irony and started to move on. However, I couldn’t let it go because Ms. Frogge has implicitly supported one of the biggest bullies in Nashville for years. Not once has she publicly called him out on his behavior, which has gotten more and more abhorrent over the years, yet she wants to castigate Ms. Tucker for defending herself against an argument that she felt was unfair. That’s a little hypocritical and that’s why I made the comments that led to me being blocked by Ms. Frogge on Twitter. There was nothing personal about it and if they were taken that way I apologize. I will add this caveat, getting blocked on social media does feel a bit juvenile to me but…so be it. Everybody should have to play by the same rules. If we don’t like bullies on the other side, we can’t enable bullies on our side.

Matt, like Amy Frogge, is someone I have the utmost respect for and who’s opinion I value. In my conversation with him I was merely trying to point out that he was calling for an investigation into a charter school to protect parents who signed a letter he didn’t want to acknowledge. Am I setting myself up as the arbitrator of the hypocritical? That’s not my intention and I fully acknowledge that I can often fall into that trap myself. That’s why I feel that its so important that there are no sacred cows. That nobody is free from criticism. That we focus on finding solutions instead of culprits. I appreciate Matt accepting things in the light they were meant. We may not agree on everything but the doors never close.

All of this year I have heard from teachers and central office people that are hurting. This is real and lasting hurt, not philosophical and potential.  Teachers are looking for support and people to recognize their contributions – current and potential. I really need to see as much passion invested in addressing in those issues as I’ve seen expended in the charter school fight.

The big take way from my conversation with my friend was that all of this is very complicated and that there are no easy answers. I’m also glad that I have friends that will push me to go deeper into a subject. Friends that will force me look at all angles of an issue. Friends who ignore the raised voiced, the wild use of hands, and continue to push the conversation forward while also evaluating their position and adjusting when compeling evidence is presented.  We could all use more friends like that.

POLL RECAP

This leads us right into a recap of poll questions. On the first question, what MNPS’s charter school policy should be, I must admit to being a little shocked at the number of people that chose, “close them all and send the carpetbaggers packing.” It was the number 2 response with 24% of the vote. Just falling short of the number 1 answer – add no new ones but attempt to integrate existing schools further – which received 28% of the vote. 53% of you did answer in a way that indicated a greater desire for further integration of charter schools.

Getting back to the number 2 answer, my position on charter schools is well documented through the archives of this blog, but he issue I’m wrestling with these days is what is the plan if we do away with charter schools. I’ve yet to hear one.  Would we create a choice system where the only options are traditional schools. That has drawbacks and would fail to make all schools equitable. I can’t say it enough. The impact is the same whether a family chooses to home school, go to a private school, attend a charter school, or attend an out of zone school. A choice system will always, no matter what the options, create schools that people choose and those left to educate those with no choice.

That said, how do you put choice back in the bag? It’d be like going back to the caveman and saying, “Yea, that fire thing is good for some but it’s almost impossible to control so we are just going to stop using it.” That wouldn’t have worked then and it’s not going to work now, Taking away an option does not take away desire. That’s why, in my opinion, increased integration is so vital. We have to find out exactly why parents are choosing to explore other options and then address those issues in a meaningful manner. No offense to my charter school friends, but I just don’t believe y’all such good marketers that you’ve hoodwinked all parents who’ve chosen charter schools.

Charter school and traditional school supporter both need to be willing to face up the short comings of their particular model. Professor Julian Vasquez Hillig has a great post on things that would improve charter schools while Nancy Bailey has some insight on some of the shenanigans Dallas Dance has been pulling Baltimore schools. I guess my point is, let him with no sin throw the first stone. Dragging someone else down will not elevate us.

Here’s the write in answers.

Strategic plan/growth test for new. Fair accountability & collaboration w/existi 1
Sigh…

Question 2 sought to get your opinion on Teach for America. Not surprisingly, the number one answer was, “Some are good. Some are bad. But over all the organization hurts the system.” That was the choice of 41% of you and one that I agree with. What scares me is that using TFA has become a crutch for addressing the problems with teacher retention. Earlier in the year the board renewed their contract for 2017/20178. It bothers me that this item is on the consent agenda for this week’s school board meeting:

VENDOR: Teach for America, Inc.

SERVICE/GOODS: Sixth Amendment to the contract, adding compensation to support
the 2017 Summer School program for new MNPS Teacher candidates. Summer School
support from MNPS funds learning materials, Contractor’s staff, and Certificated nonMNPS
teacher-mentors. Summer School classes will be conducted at Buena Vista
Elementary School and Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School.
TERM: January 15, 2014 through January 14, 2019
FOR WHOM: MNPS Teacher candidates
COMPENSATION: This Amendment increases total compensation under the contract by
$90,892.
Total compensation under this contract is not to exceed $3,340,892

The last question asked whether or not kids should be in school for the upcoming solar eclipse. I think there is a lack of understanding on just how rare an occasion this eclipse is. As my father-in-law, an associate dean of engineering at Vanderbilt, explained to me, very few people in their lifetime are afforded the opportunity to see a total solar eclipse. A lot of factors need to align for that possibility to occur. This is a really unique event and one that I think, in light of our STEAM iniative, it’s imperative we take advantage of. 56% of you answered in a manner that indicates you think kids should be in school. 27% answered that kids should be out.

It was also brought to my attention by an educator that there is a safety factor involved in having out kids in school. Especially for our kids from lower income families. To look directly at an eclipse is extremely dangerous. Many of these children would be at home alone since it is a work day for their parents. If they are in school, staff can monitor that they are observing the eclipse in a safe manner.

Rumor has it that the board will be voting on a schedule change tomorrow. Once again potentially walking back another decision. Here’s the write-in answers for question 3.

If kids are out teachers should be off too. 1
I’d need to hear their reasons for closing to evaluate. 1
Closed for all! Including teachers and staff 1
absolutely, and not added as makeup day

STEM PREP

That does it for the poll questions. There is one more item on this week’s agenda that I would like to bring to your attention.

ENDOR: STEM Preparatory Academy
SERVICE/GOODS: Contractor will provide specialized education services,
through its Newcomer Academy, to approximately one hundred (100) MNPS English
Learner (EL) students in grades five through nine, with the expectation that the students
in the program will achieve significant gains and advance in their college and career
trajectory.
TERM: August 1, 2017 through June 30, 2020
FOR WHOM: Selected MNPS EL students
COMPENSATION: There will be no compensation under this contract other than the
normal pro-Vrata share of the MNPS Operating Budget and eligible Federal Fundsallocated to Contractor under the terms of the Charter School Contract previously
executed with Contractor.

For whatever reason, I’m told it was a paperwork issue, STEM Prep lost their Newcomer Academy contract last month. I’ve long taken exception with STEM Prep and their labeling a program a “Newcomer Academy” when the program is populated by students that have already been through MNPS’s Students w/Interrupted Formal Education(SIFE) program. Our SIFE program is a shining star in our school system and their work should be supported and strengthened. We do not need an independent program supplementing the fine work of our district SIFE teachers.

STEM Prep was originally awarded a newcomer academy as a political move by former district number 2 man Jay Steele. He was attempting to integrate charter schools more with the district. While that was a wonderful idea, that is not how it has worked out. STEM Prep has painted their work as being more advanced and successful then their district counterparts. An assertion that is false. I have no problem with the contract being renewed but it should be brought off of the consent agenda and the caveats should be added that STEM Prep’s program is brought under the purvey of the ELL department and is actually made up of level 1 students.

That’s all I got. Have a great week.

CATCHING UP AFTER THE HOLIDAY

We are bbbbaaaaacccckkkk!!! Now it’s time to climb back in the saddle and get after things again. Before we get into news and polls, I just want to comment on what a wonderful summer trip we experienced. DGW and family  went from the wilds of the Pocono’s to the wilds of NYC. We camped outside Blacksburg, Virginia in a idyllic campground that unfortunately had a train track running down the middle. A fact we were made aware of at 2AM when we felt like we were sleeping on the tracks with an oncoming train bearing down.

While home I learned more of my families history. I always knew that my mother was a refugee from Russia who’s family fled to Germany during WWII. What I didn’t know was that my grand mother’s family were Mennonites, who were caught between Russia and Germany during World War II and forced to flee or be killed. They were peaceful people who had worked hard to build new lives after emigrating from central Europe only to be persecuted when Lennon rose to power. I need to research more but it certainly makes our current situation resonate even more with me.

(Me and the kids at the PSU Lion)

On the way back from the Pocono’s to Nashville I was able to visit State College for the first time in 25 years. Walking those streets again opened a vault of old memories. God, I love State College. We stayed over night in Morgantown, West Virginia and enjoyed another fine American college town. I really couldn’t have asked for a better trip and am grateful for the opportunities and reflections it provided. My family also make excellent traveling companions.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Do you remember how last week I was talking about how Tennessee’s ESSA report was receiving rave reviews despite having some obvious holes? Well as always there is more to the story. It seems that Louisiana’s Education Plan was getting the same rave reviews despite having the same holes. This raised a flag for the writer of the blog Educate Louisiana. They did a little digging and found “the praise given by the various education reform groups has little to do with the plan’s actual adherence to the ESSA law and its ability advance our state in the quest to climb in educational rankings. Put simply, they praise the plan because of its strong resemblance to the previous waiver acquired under the No Child Left Behind law. The same plan that after a decade (the last five under Supt. White’s waiver plan) still leaves Louisiana’s educational ranking at the bottom.” I encourage you to click the link and read the whole piece.

Betsy DeVos continues her quest to be the most unpopular US Secretary of Education ever. This week two lawsuits were filed against the Department of Education and DeVos in regards to the Borrower Defense Rule aimed at protecting post-secondary students from abuses of deceptive, predatory post-secondary institutions. One of the lawsuits were filed by two individuals, the other by 18 state attorney generals. Wonder if DeVos’s actions had anything to do with her bosses experiences with the Borrower Defense Rule?

In the ever expanding language manipulation category I’ve got a new one to add to your lexicon, personalized learning. Per usual, it doesn’t mean what you think it does and also per usual, Jennifer Berkshire and Peter Greene are on top of it. I’d recommend you listen/read what they have to say because I predict you’ll be hearing the term a lot this year.

LOCAL HITS

MNPS recently released it’s strategic framework. Not to be confused with the strategic plan, which comes later. Music educator Walter Bitner takes a deep dive into and finds it lacking. I can’t say I disagree with his observations and I encourage you to read what he has to say in his blog post titled, MNPS Neglects Music Education in Strategic Framework.

We’ve spent a fair amount of time this year discussing Scholastic, inc. There was the trip to Amelia Island for a literacy conference. They were supposed to get a large contract with the district but had to settle for a smaller one to furnish teachers at select schools books for individual classroom libraries. Word on the street was that their contract with the district was not going to be renewed, but apparently their services are still available upon request to schools in the bottom 10%. Now we have a new Director of Literacy, Barbara Lashley, who comes to us via Scholastic where she was/is a Regional Literacy Consultant. I’d like to say was, but her LinkedIn profile indicates that she is still employed by Scholastic. Normally that would raise any flags, but due to the abnormally cozy relationship between certain MNPS staff and Scholastic it calls for clarification. Lashley earned her doctorate from Argosy University Sarasota. 

Mark your calendars for August 21st. That’s the day that a rare, total solar eclipse will sweep across the continental U.S. for the first time since 1918, and Nashville is the biggest city in its path. This is truly a once in a life time experience, as the next visible eclipse in Nashville will be in 2566. Being that this is a school day and MNPS is engaged in a STEAM initiative I am confident that the district will be taking full advantage of this unique opportunity and will have extensive activities planned….what…kid’s are not in school that day….The district decided schools should be closed…oh…I’m sorry…carry on.

The Country Music Hall of Fame has announced that it will be offering free admission to area students. This is a huge deal and makes the museum available to many students that might not ever get to experience it’s riches. Thank you CMHOF and we salute you!

(Upcoming Project LIT Schedule)

More big news. Project Lit has announced it’s schedule for August and September. I’m so looking forward to attending these two up coming book club meetings. I strongly encourage everyone to get involved in this initiative.

(ELL summer school students at Adventure Science Museum)

Kudos need to go out to MNPS’s ELL department. Too often summer school is utilized as an extension of the school year and poor and non-English speaking students are forced to endure more direct instruction while their wealthier counterparts are out having more hands on experiences. This year the ELL department made sure that wasn’t the case. In addition to extra instruction students also got to go to the Nashville Zoo and several museums as well as being offered ample opportunities to engage in artistic and athletic activities. Well done guys! These kids lives will be so much richer due to your work and dedication.

(ELL summer school students visit Nashville Zoo)

 

The Nashville Scene published a look at the status of charter schools in Nashville this week. Apparently charter school supporters are a little quieter this year since several high profile leaders have left town. I would argue that one of the inherent problems with charter schools is that they have a tendency to be personality driven. Would Valor be Valor without Todd Dickson? I don’t know. Often the schools thrive under dynamic leadership only to struggle and close once that leader leaves.

Charter supporters could argue that the same holds true for traditional schools and this year several of those schools will get the opportunity to find out if they will be the same school without their dynamic leader. There is no doubt that strong leadership is an essential ingredient. My two takeaways from this article are, one, that again we are having the wrong conversation,  focusing on the strength of one sector vs the strength of the whole system. The question we should be asking is, are schools measurably better this year then last year? Furthermore, do we have a better understanding of why parents choose charter school options?

My second take away is that, for what it’s worth, in the short term I’ve known her Wendy Tucker has never shied away from saying “charter school” and Jon Rybka is a genuinely nice guy trying to navigate a political landscape that is beyond his scope of experience. To paint them as Boris and Natasha cooking up a plan in the corner is to put it politely, a bit of a stretch. But hey, we boogy men sell and I can probably be accused of creating my own.

At some point we also need to recognize that the whole choice system contributes to the inequity of schools. A parent choosing to send their child to an our of zone school has the same impact as that parent opting for a charter school, private school, or home school. As much as I don’t believe in charter schools I find it hard to fault parents for taking advantage of options that a system provides for them. Charter schools are just a branch and until we are willing to have honest conversations about the whole tree, there will continued to be increased inequity.

Anybody seen any TNReady results?

POLLS

It’s Friday so that means I have questions. My first question has to do with charter schools. The local wars have heated up again and  I’m curious as to what you think policy should be.

Looking at the MNPS employment page, I see that we have just shy of 400 certificated positions open. I wonder if Teach For America will be approached to help with this short fall. After all, the premise of their contract renewal was based on an anticipated teacher shortage. Whether we further utilize TFA or not, I thought I’d ask your opinion of the organization.

The last question has to do with the pending solar eclipse. MNPS has decided to close schools that day. What’s your opinion? Is that the right choice or the wrong?

There you have it. Feels weird already wishing you a great weekend but I’ll do it any way. See you on the other side.