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.

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