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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 email@example.com or add them to the comment section. Whichever you are comfortable with.
That’s it for now. Enjoy the week-end.