REFLECTIONS ON A CHILLING WEEKEND, THE FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL, AND A LOOK FORWARD

I, like many of you, spent a good portion of this past weekend following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. I recoiled in horror as the images and stories emerged from this little Virginia town invaded by groups of white nationalists. The purported reason for their presence was to oppose the removal of a statue of Civil War General Robert E. Lee. What transpired was an open display of our worst angels, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.

Heyer was a 32-year-old paralegal who chose to stand against these groups before she was struck by a car deliberately driven into the crowd by a young man with white nationalist sympathies. Her last post on Facebook ironically read, “If you are not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

I am not going to pretend for one minute to understand the romanticizing of the Civil War. You can argue all you want about what it really was fought for and what it symbolizes, but the bottom line for me has always been that it was an insurrection. Growing up a military brat lead me to a greater allegiance to the country versus the individual state we happened to reside in. To me, the Confederacy will ever remain a group of individuals fighting to create a separate union, which, at its core, promoted the buying and selling of human beings. A practice that has left a indelible stain on our great nation. One that continues to have repercussions today.

There have been charges leveled that those trying to remove memorials to Civil War generals are trying to erase history. My only response to that accusation is to call bullshit. Nobody is calling for the closing of museums nor the erasing of these stories from print. History can continue to live on sans the protecting of monuments and statues that reflect a time where many of our fellow Americans were treated as less than human.

Symbols matter. If you doubt that, I encourage you to read Joseph Campbell. Monuments and statues should exist to reflect our aspirations. When I look at a statue of a Civil War general, what is the moral standard that reflects my aspirations? Is it one of bravery? Perhaps, but I don’t build a statue to the man who rushes in to save children from a fire he started. Every heroic act committed by these generals during the Civil War ties back to the fact that had there been no desire to secede from the Union and no choice to defend the practice of slavery, there would be no need for the celebrated heroic acts. Heroic acts that resulted, at the very least, in the deaths of thousands of American citizens.

It wouldn’t hurt us as a nation to display a little more empathy.  We need to stop thinking that our life experience is the universal experience. It wouldn’t hurt if we also recognized that talking to one African American, one Muslim, or one Hispanic didn’t give us that race’s or religion’s universal story.

You may look at a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest and see a noble Southern gentleman defending his home. One African American looking at the same statue may see a man defending the policies that ripped his family apart and created a system where his forebearers were treated as second class citizens for decades after the Civil War. Another African American may look at that same statue and see nothing but an old man on a horse. The point is, we all need to take a second and realize ours is not the only interpretation, and if it’s something that’s offensive to a large percentage of our population perhaps it’s time to succumb to change.

Many of these Civil War monuments were created at times that would make one question their purpose. As an article in Atlantic Monthly points out:

timeline of the genesis of the Confederate sites shows two notable spikes. One comes around the turn of the 20th century, just after Plessy v. Ferguson, and just as many Southern states were establishing repressive race laws. The second runs from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s—the peak of the civil-rights movement. In other words, the erection of Confederate monuments has been a way to perform cultural resistance to black equality. 

Here’s my thought. I’ll help you preserve your Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee statues and monuments if you’ll help me construct a Santa Anna statue in downtown San Antonio and a General Sherman statue in downtown Atlanta. After all, it’s about preserving history, right?

I’d encourage you to read Vesia Hawkin’s blog and the words of Sheila Norton to get a deeper appreciation of this weekend’s events. Xian Franzinger Barrett has a piece on how teachers can incorporate the weekend’s events into their lessons. Many people this weekend lamented the swamping of social media feeds with discussions on the Civil War and race. I, on the other hand, don’t believe we’ve even begun to have the discussions needed.

GONZALES’ MUSINGS

In July, a new law went into effect in Tennessee stating that school districts must provide basic contact information of students within 30 days of receiving a request from a charter school operating at least one school in the district or a chartering authority. The basic information includes student names, ages, addresses, dates of attendance, and grade levels completed. Not surprisingly, districts are balking.

Charter operators use the lists to inform parents of their availability, what some of us refer to as marketing. You can see where this might lead to issues. Jason Gonzales of The Tennessean outlines those issues in Monday’s newspaper. This one will bear watching and will probably eventually involve the courts.

This past weekend, Gonzales also wrote a story announcing the new STEAM director for MNPS. Semi-buried in the story is this nugget about departing director Kris Elliot: “Elliott leaves the district for a job at Oregon State University but said in his resignation letter that he left due to the decreased opportunities for him to advance after the district began to require certain central office employees have administrative educator licenses.” Hmmmm…….

I’ve heard that several administrators who serve in support roles are facing similar requirements. Requirements that were not in place at the time of their hiring and require a significant investment of time and money from those designated educators. My question would be, who is making those demands? Sara Gast, spokeswoman for the TNDOE says, “We do not believe we made any recommendation on a position with the title of STEM director. The district may have made their own determination. The department has been providing some guidance to MNPS about the types of positions that should hold administrator licenses.”

Hop in the wayback machine with me and you’ll recall that in January, MNPS got a rebuke from TNDOE about administrator licensing. The majority of the licensing issues involved principals and administrators that new Director of Schools Shawn Joseph had imported. At the time, Gast was quoted as saying, “The state is requesting that the district clarify the roles for each of the new hires and how often they handle instruction.” She added that the district had made initial determinations of its staff, but the state would continue to review the roles.

Interestingly enough, if you search the TNDOE’s online license data base, it appears that two of the individuals mentioned specifically by the state as being in question, Charter Schools Director Dennis Queen and Executive Officer of Diversity and Equity Maritza Gonzalez, are still not licensed. Both come from Montgomery County, Maryland. In all fairness, the district argued back in January that neither met the threshold for licensure. It would be interesting to see written district policy depicting where that threshold falls.

QUICK HITS

By all accounts, Parent University was a big hit again this year. Kudos to all those involved for their hardwork.

(Parent University 2017)

Thursday is the ribbon cutting for the brand new Tusculum ES. Festivities are scheduled for 11AM. Please come see our jewel.

Antioch HS continues to be dysfunctional. While all students now have schedules, they don’t all have the right schedule. The school also is understaffed. MNPS leadership owes it to these kids to fix leadership issues. To date, they’ve shown no desire to do so. Two years ago, Antioch HS was a 5-star school. Since then they lost almost 70 teachers, and issues have risen to the point where students walked out last spring. To allow things to deteriorate to this level is inexcusable, and those families deserve better.

Tune in to Channel 5 tonight at 6 for another report on lead in our schools’ water. This will be the 7th such report that has lead to zero discussions on the School Board floor. I’ll have more this week as this one is personal.

Eclipsegate17 is apparently not over either. Tomorrow there will be a specially called board meeting to approve the proposed schedule changes. Hopefully at that point there will be some clarification on the PD day scheduled for the Friday before Labor Day. At this time there is no posted agenda for the meeting.

POLL RESULTS

Lots of folks had opinions to voice this week in response to our questions. As always I thank you for taking the time to participate. Let’s dive in to the results.

The first question asked for your opinion of the new schedule. This was the first week in years that MNPS started with a full day followed by a full week. Previously, school would start with a half day on a Wednesday, followed by a PD day, and then students would be back for a full day on Friday. This gave everybody a chance to sort things out before getting down to the serious business of learning.

Looking at the poll results could lead to the conclusion that this was not an overly popular change. The leading answer, with 30% of responses, was, “It would have been more manageable if I’d had more time to prepare.” The number 2 answer, at 27%, was, “It was awful. The kids and I are exhausted.” 17% of respondents embraced the change and thought it was great.

If the district decides to continue with this schedule, perhaps it will reconsider how it schedules districtwide PD and instead provide more time for teachers to get ready for the year. I have to point out again that every school I drove by this weekend had cars in the parking lot. I can only believe that they belonged to teachers and administrators using their own time to further prepare for the year. Thank you teachers and administrators, but that is not a sustainable demand that we can continue to make.

Here’s the write-in answers:

The school was completely unprepared 1
Schedule issues interrupted classes all week 1
A cluster ____! I went to bed at 7pm every night. 1
Prefer the previous schedule, but adapted. 1
The day off after the first day helps 1
I’m old school T.C. I don’t think middle school should start until 7th grade 1
Scheduling was a hot mess and not completed and refined

The second question asked for you to assign a grade to the first week of school. The majority of you, 42%, gave it a “C.” 32% gave it a “B.” Now while that’s not exactly exceeding expectations, I don’t think that’s too bad either. Last year was a “D” at best, so this shows improvement and it should be noted that there were no bus issues reported this year, which plagued last year’s first week. So while a victory lap probably isn’t in order, a thumbs up should be awarded.

Here’s the write-in answers:

Central office support was great. 1
E for Eclipse! 1
Great…sans loaded firearm found in parking lot!

The last question was asked a bit tongue-in-cheek. I had asked, “What other day should MNPS cancel because employees aren’t planning on showing up?” The number one answer was, “TSU Homecoming Friday” with 32%. I was shocked to find out last year that this was the largest absentee day of the year for district employees. While I’m very aware of the cultural significance of TSU and Homecoming festivities, I am unclear how it warrants a mass exodus that day. Hopefully plans are in place this year to address the situation without taking central office folks away from their responsibilities.

The number 2 answer was the Friday before Labor Day with 20% of the vote. I can only suppose that those respondents will be paying close attention to Tuesday’s special board meeting.

The write-in votes are once again where the fun comes in. A couple I had to edit, but I will explore further. Here they are:

1
Friday before spring break. It is a PD day. 1
None. Everyone needs to stop complaining about having to work on work days! 1
The 2nd day of school, if it’s a Tuesday 1
You are being too snarky for this to be a useful poll question. 1
1
SEC Tourney Championship 1
Will Pinkston retiring and moving to Guam. 1
TSU Homecoming and Day after Labor Day 1
Hoping for a federal disaster declaration. Then the day won’t count. Ha! 1
“Whenever someone disagrees with me.” — Will Pinkston 1
The day they do nothing to stop classroom interruptions. 1
That doesn’t sound very professional to me.

That’s all I got. For those of you who don’t know, my name is TC Weber and the views expressed here are for the most part my own. Any grammar or spelling mistakes are definitely all mine. I always welcome your feedback. If you don’t want to leave a comment here, email me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Peace out.

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