WHERE DO I START?

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Where do I start? That seems to be the question I face every Monday and Friday when I typically write new blog entries. It seems like there is a never ending flood of issues and sorting through and figuring out what should take priority can prove to be a daunting task. This week is no exception, so let’s get to it.

TENNESSEE AND ESSA

If you’ve been following national education news, you are probably aware that the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states with a unique opportunity to rewrite their education plans. Under ESSA states are required to submit their revised plans to the state for approval. Tennessee is among the first states to do so.

The evaluation of Tennessee’s plan has been mostly well received, save a few provisions. Tennessee’s plan includes the use of super-subgroups as an accountability tool. They are the only state to propose lumping black, Hispanic, and Native American students into one group when assessing schools. They are also the only state that plans to use a threshold of 30 students who are are underperforming and are poor, non-white, or have a disability to trigger intervention.

TNDOE justifies the use of super-subgroups with the argument that if black students are doing well in a school then it’s likely that Hispanics are as well. The higher threshold also prevents a small sub-group from tainting the picture of a large school that is doing well in all other areas. You decide if that’s an argument you want to buy.

This is one of the major issues I have with the way we treat data. We continue to act as if a poor kid is a poor kid is a poor kid and that all minorities are the same, and that’s just not true. The state is promising to do a deeper dive into the super-subgroup numbers, but again I’ll let you decide if you are buying that one as well. Keep in mind the state’s recent actions in regards to English Learners.

MNPS UPDATES

MNPS continues to morph into our own little version of the Trump White House minus the vitriolic rhetoric. I know that seems a little harsh, but there just seems to be an endless stream of half-baked and poorly communicated policy changes coupled with a leadership that seems to be deeply removed from what’s happening in the classroom and community.

Early this week, Channel 5 did a report on construction at Overton HS. As I mentioned previously, there were questions in the community about whether or not the school would be ready to open on time. Everybody from MNPS gave assurances that it would. Board member Will Pinkston even got a little testy with a long time Overton parent who dared question the timeline a week ago.

Guess what? It won’t be open on time. I know you are shocked. The semi-plan is that it will be ready by Wednesday but that’s another thing I’ll let you decide how much you want to believe. Color me a little skeptical.

MNPS should not be held accountable for the construction being behind schedule. It happens and there are a lot of factors that are beyond their control. By every account I’ve heard, David Proffitt is doing everything in his power to get this project completed. What MNPS should be held accountable for is not recognizing that construction would not be complete and then formulating and communicating a Plan B. There was no shortage of folks telling them not to believe the hype and that Overton would not be ready. It should also be pointed out that had the district kept to its traditional Wednesday half-day start of school with the following day off schedule, they might’ve had a little more flexibility in which to deal with these issues. The McMurray annex, Pennington ES, and several other schools are also facing construction issues.

This week also saw the district release new homework guidelines. A quick glance at the MNPS Facebook post announcing the guidelines makes it clear that this one isn’t going over well. Parents overwhelmingly oppose the proposed guidelines, and who can blame them when research done 14 years ago is offered as primary support. Once again, the district also thought they could release a study and nobody would read it. Parents did read the research and realized that the study contradicted the district’s proposed guidelines.

Personally, I’m not a fan of homework and really object to over 60 minutes a day no matter what the age. Think about a middle schooler who goes to school from 8:30am to 4pm and doesn’t get home until 4:30-5pm. If they have any extracurricular activities, it might be as late as 6pm before they get home. Dinner takes another hour. Then it’s homework and time for bed. That leaves little opportunity for family time or pursuit of individual interests.

I’ve heard the arguments about getting ahead and learning more, graduating early, getting scholarships, but where does it all lead? Once they are out of school, it’ll be the constant churn of trying to get to the top followed by the struggle to stay on top. I guess there is always retirement to look forward to. That is, if you don’t get hit by a bus or struck with cancer or some other medical condition.

I’ve long served under the blue collar flag. Nobody was going to get to work before me and nobody was going to leave after me. Sixty hour weeks have often been commonplace in my life. When I think back to all the things I’ve missed because of this relentless work ethic, I cringe. It’s not what I want for my kids. Hard work and dedication are valuable traits, but so is balance. Kids need to learn that lesson growing up because they won’t suddenly acquire it at a later age. Alright, I’ll step down from the soap box now.

Two years ago, Constance Hayes was the principal at Charlotte Park ES. Jocelyn Dinwiddie Adams was the AP. To call that situation a train wreck gives a bad name to train wrecks. Things were so bad that Hayes was removed 2 weeks before the end of school. Chew on that for a minute and then fast forward to 2017-2018 and Adams is now the new principal at Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet ES. Rumor has it that Hayes has been named the 120-day AP. Of course that couldn’t be true, right? Because district leaders do their homework, right?

The latest on Eclipsegate 2017 is that high school students and pre-school students will have a half day on August 21st. Of course that news thrills middle and elementary school teachers and administrators. Don’t worry, though, there is still plenty of time to alter plans again.

This morning local blogger Vesia Wilson-Hawkins posted a guest blog by Shani Jackson Dowell called Back to School Nashville: Parents Got 99 Problems…The Type of School Ain’t One. While I have qualms with a lot of Dowell’s arguments, I do agree with the sentiment. Members of our board are obsessed with the marketing efforts of charter schools when clearly there are bigger issues.

All of these missteps by the administration may all work out in the end, but if you don’t think they contribute to the perception of the quality of education in MNPS you’re fooling yourself. No parents ever received a flyer from a charter school and thought, “My school is safe, the district is acting in a transparent manner, I feel included in decisions about my child, there is no teacher and administrator churn… I think I’ll try this charter school.”

This inability to properly communicate, organize, and manage schools is going to end up having an irreversible affect on our district. Families will leave. Whether it’s private school, charter school, home school, or out of the district doesn’t matter; it all has the same consequences. I feel as if there is ample evidence that we are entering a crisis phase, but others would argue differently. What can’t be argued is that we are undercutting the hard work of our teachers. Their skills and dedication continue to mask the district’s gaping wounds, but for how long? As Steven Singer pointedly points out in a recent blog post, they are good, great, even, but they are not super heroes. At some point, somebody, somehow, has to get better at doing school.

I’d like to harken back to my restaurant days for a moment. When you manage a restaurant, all kinds of elements come into play on whether or not people will continue to frequent your establishment – cleanliness of bathrooms, quality of staff, decor, music selection, portion size of food, etc. If people stop coming, they rarely inform you why. They don’t come up and say, “You know your bathrooms aren’t that clean, your servers aren’t that informed, and the music kind of sucks.” They just stop coming and when you see them months later and ask them where they’ve been, usually they’ll offer a polite response, “We’ve been busy. We’ll be by soon.” But soon never seems to arrive.

GOOD NEWS, BECAUSE THERE HAS TO BE SOME

Congratulation to Allison Buzzard for winning the 2017 Nashville Emerging Leader award in the education category. Well done.

(Tennessean’s David Plaza)

Love this picture of the Tennessean’s David Plaza discussing librarians and journalists working together. Way to continue to be involved, David!

It appears that national education news magazine Chalkbeat recognizes good writing when they see it. Mary Jo Cramb’s recent Dad Gone Wild guest blog post has been selected for national circulation and we couldn’t be prouder. Way to rock it, Mary Jo!

(Parent U offerings)

MNPS parents, make sure you mark August 12th on your calendar and double circle it. That’s the date for this year’s Parent U. It’s from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Trevecca Nazarene University and there is something included for every parent.

Everybody’s favorite former principal has a brand new blog called Drinkwine at School. I encourage you to get on board for the ride.

POLLS

This week we are going to return to a more traditional format. with three poll questions, including one we’ve asked before.

The first question has to do with the recently completed MNPS districtwide professional development. I’ve already heard some feedback, but I wanted to get even more. So if you are an MNPS teacher, what did you think?

We did a poll last week and quite a few of you indicated that you have concerns heading into this new year. I wanted to dive in and try to get a handle on exactly what concerned you the most.

Last question is a repeat. Earlier in the year, we asked who you were leaning towards for the governor of Tennessee. Well, the field has clarified a bit and I thought we’d see if anything has changed.

That’s it. Enjoy this last weekend because come Monday, it’s game on in Nashville.

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One comment on “WHERE DO I START?

  1. rebeccads says:

    I still don’t get the concern charter families have about 2-3 Board members scrutiny and skepticism about charter schools. The State Board has the final say..they really have no authority over the charter schools. For years, most MNPS families have had to endure the scorn of the city in discussions about our schools and our childrens’ futures. We have never felt supported as MNPS parents by the Nashville community.We’ve resigned ourselves to putting on Teflon suits and working from within for our schools. The charter schools have the support and blessing of the most influential business and political leaders in the state. Why do they care what Board members say about them?

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