This was a week. It ran the gambit from positive to negative and back again. As always, the positive was supplied by the hard working teachers, students, and administrators in every building. Y’all suit up and show up every week. This week was no different. Before we get started with today’s update, you might want to get yourself a cup of coffee and a snack. We are going to be here a bit longer than a New York minute. I recognize there is a lot of negativity in the beginning of the post, but unfortunately I think there are some negative issues that we ignore at our peril. Sometimes we have to do the heavy lifting.
REASONS FOR CONCERN
There were a number of things last week that crawled out of the woodwork that concern us. The week started off with Channel 5 News doing their 7th report on lead contamination in our school’s water here in MNPS. Apparently the age of the standardized test has led us to a place where simply testing is cause for celebration. There is no need to have a discernible action arise from the test, as we now consider testing itself a sufficient action. Hey, if the Tennessee Department of Education can go into the next school year before releasing test scores from the previous year, why should MNPS actually have to take action on bad water test results?
At Tuesday’s board meeting Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson spent 18 minutes explaining how great the administration was for testing the water – frequently mentioning that it was not required by law and that it was expensive. MNPS was even kind enough to issue a press release that I can only assume was aimed to counter concerns raised by DGW. Interestingly enough, the press release never lists the exact levels of lead from the water readings.
During his presentation, Henson made a couple of assertions that were questionable at best. He frequently referred to following EPA standards. Board members asked some good questions, most of which Henson danced around. The one question that nobody asked, and that Henson glossed over, was why the district didn’t adhere to the EPA’s public notification rule. The EPA is quite clear on what should transpire if water tests at a level potentially harmful to consumers. Perhaps MNPS thought the notice should come from Metro Water Services or some other entity. Whatever the case, at the very least, notification should have gone out within 30 days and included the following information taken from the EPA notification rule:
- A description of the violation that occurred, including the contaminant(s) of concern, and the contaminant level(s);
- When the violation or situation occurred;
- The potential health effects (including standard required language);
- The population at risk, including subpopulations vulnerable if exposed to the contaminant in their drinking water;
- Whether alternate water supplies need to be used;
- What the water system is doing to correct the problem;
- Actions consumers can take;
- When the system expects a resolution to the problem;
- How to contact the water system for more information; and
- Language encouraging broader distribution of the notice.
Henson referred to the process as a learning experience. Dr. Joseph told the school board that MNPS was like the “pioneers” in this process. Yeah, not so much. A simple Google search reveals that school districts across the country are tackling water issues, some better than others. Since Henson seems to have had trouble discerning proper protocols, allow me to offer a belated tutorial:
- Once you get your test result report, Google “Lead in Water.” See that CDC site at the top of the list? It is a good place to start.
- You see where they mention the EPA action level is 15 parts per billion? That means if your lead levels are higher than 15 ppb, you are putting people at risk. Here’s an example: a water fountain at Tusculum ES tested at 28 ppb. That is higher than 15 ppb. Therefore, you have a problem. Go ahead and read the rest of that site – there is a lot of useful information there.
- Back to Google now. Google “School Districts tackle problems with lead in drinking water.” You’ll see that states from New Jersey to California are wrestling with the issue. Some are doing a better job than others. USA Today has an article from earlier this year that provides a good overview.
- I would suggest looking closely at Bergen County, NJ, and San Diego, CA, schools to get an idea of a proactive response to the issue. I know it’s going to cost money and that might mean district leaders only get to take 3 trips each as opposed to the much higher amount they took last year. We might also have to trim a few consultants. But these are our kids.
- Google “Portland Public Schools to Hire First Latino Superintendent” to get an overview of what happens when a district doesn’t act appropriately.
Now, moving on. Things continue to unravel at Antioch High School. This is a school that 2 years ago was a level 5 school. Last year the school lost 67 teachers. They’ve already lost 3 this year. Students last year staged a walkout in response to a number of issues directly related to leadership at the school. MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph defended principal Dr. Wiley, whom he brought in from Prince George’s County in Maryland, where she was an assistant principal. In his eyes, she’s been doing good work. This week, a letter went out to parents informing them that the school currently had teacher vacancies in the areas of Math, CTE, and Special Education. Students who are enrolled in classes that do not have qualified, Tennessee-licensed teachers will be enrolled in an online course called Edgenuity. A substitute teacher will monitor progress of the children enrolled in the virtual school. Now help me here… where does this fall under “Exceeding Expectations”?
Channel 5 did a story tonight on Antioch HS. The questions fell a little bit on the softball side and Community Superintendent Adrianne Battle really didn’t have any good answers. What also wasn’t mentioned is that Battle was recently a successful principal at Antioch HS. She knows that community and what it takes to be successful there. This situation needs to be fixed.
Recognizing a challenge in recruiting qualified teachers, MNPS announced this week a new initiative to fill open slots for the 2017-2018 year. According to the press release, joining MNPS right now could make a teacher eligible to receive a bonus of up to $6,000 per school year for high-quality instruction in these high-need subject areas:
- Math (7-12)
- Science (7-12)
- Exceptional Education (K-12)
- ESL (K-12)
I’m wondering if anyone thought through how this would sit with teachers already employed by MNPS? Or how many high quality teachers were sitting at home unemployed during the second week of August? Or how this might sit with teachers new to the district this year who have already absorbed moving costs? Can’t see this contributing to a better MNPS culture, but to be fair, Chief of HR Deborah Story did tell me they were getting a lot of interest from out-of-state teachers. So if it does result in students not having to attend virtual school, it may be worth it in the end. MNEA has issued a statement opposed to the bonus plan. I would suggest that a good place to find new teachers would be to review those recently non-renewed and considered non-eligible. Perhaps all those teacher weren’t legitimately labeled as ineffective.
Both Hillsboro HS and Pearl Cohn HS have reported incidents involving guns on campus during the last two weeks. I don’t report this to instill fear, but rather to draw a spotlight on an issue that is plaguing Nashville currently and not receiving near enough attention. It seems like almost every other week, we hear a story about another young person who has lost their life to a gun. Last week, it was a Nashville DJ, 19 years old and full of promise, who was killed when a gun accidentally discharged. Former Maplewood HS principal and current Maury County Schools number 2, Dr. Ron Woodard, has continually stressed to me the need for us to do more on this issue, and I have to concur. We have to do more and immediately.
Update 8/18/2017 8:28: A member of the Hillsboro High community wrote with some kind words and some insight into the gun incident at their school. I want to share because I think they raise a very important observation and my point is not to make a community or school look bad but rather shine a light on something that is fast reaching crisis status. Anybody who knows me also knows that I am a fan of HHS principal Shuler Pelham. I think he consistently exhibits the kind of leadership this district need. Enough rambling on my part, here’s the words:
Yes, a gun was recovered on Hillsboro’s campus, and that reflected poorly on our community. However what isn’t being talked about is how it was recovered. A student stepped up and did exactly the right action when Hillsboro needed them to. They alerted the police and the administration. As soon as the car came on to school property that morning, it was detained and searched. While I hate the news that we had a gun on campus, I LOVE that we also have students of integrity who have shown time and again that for every troubled kid there are hundreds at our school who will do the right thing. As Mr. Rogers is so famously quoted as saying “Look for the helpers.” I’m proud of HHS kids and admin for how they handled this week. Its a shame that the helpers are lost in the news of a gun.
It’s important to remember good things can happen during horrible moments.
Quick note: in case you didn’t know, the MNPS school board has once again changed the calendar. The former teacher inservice day that was scheduled for September 1 is now a regularly scheduled school day. I’m sure this thrills parents to no end. Eclipsegate17, the gift that keeps on giving.
With all these issues, what do you think our school board is planning to discuss on the board floor in the coming weeks? According to the Tennessean, it’s that MNPS could be violating the Federal law governing student records by making health care, demographics, language, and other information for its 86,000 students available to dozens of officials who shouldn’t have such access. The article, one of the most lengthy I seen recently, goes on to describe the potential violations, none of which are supported by a legal opinion. The only legal opinion cited is that in May, the Metro Department of Law wrote a legal opinion about the disclosure of student data to charter schools. It said MNPS may share directory information if it believes a charter school has a “legitimate educational interest” in the data.
It doesn’t take long to figure out what the crux of the argument is and whose personal agenda it is. Last year, the State General Assembly passed a new law that says school districts must provide a charter school operating at least one school in the district or a chartering authority basic contact information within 30 days of receiving a request. That doesn’t sit well with everybody. Especially Board member Will Pinkston, who is planning to propose a new policy to ensure the district complies with FERPA.
I fully understand the importance of protecting student data. My public record on student privacy issues should speak for itself and if you want to have an overarching conversation about ways we can ensure that data is kept private, I’m all in. But let’s be clear, that’s not what this is about. Pinkston ain’t laying awake at night fretting because of potential breaches of student data. This is just one more salvo in his personal war with charter schools. A war that distracts from the very real issues we are facing. If you can tell me how the eradication of charter schools is going to fix lead in the water, the recruitment and retention of quality teachers, or the growing gun problem, I’ll jump it to the front of the line. Until then, I consider it a serious issue highjacked by one man’s personal agenda.
I have no desire to have another in an endless series of discussions about charter schools while we ignore issues that increase the attraction of them. If we fix the challenges that face our public schools then parents wouldn’t want options. Parents want quality not choice. Choice between two inferior options never made anyone happy. In most homes children are taught that they don’t make themselves look better by making others look bad. Perhaps that’s a lesson that needs to be revisited, and that goes for everybody. If you are a charter school educating all children in a transparent manner with quality results based upon multiple scales, you’ll probably be left alone. Same goes for public schools. Now can we focus?
SOME CLEANSING NEWS
I don’t want to head to the polls with all of that negativity, so let’s take a second to celebrate some positive news.
Yesterday was the ribbon cutting for Tusculum Elementary School’s new building. Some of you might not have known that Tusculum has served Nashville for 106 years. All too many of those years in a building that was long overdue for demolition. The new building is beautiful and the ceremony brought tears to my eyes. Mayor Megan Barry showed why she’s the mayor. Her remarks were insightful and inspiring, a rare combination, and they were greatly appreciated. Thank you to City Council Member Davette Blalock for her kind words as well. Blalock was instrumental in seeing this building to completion. It was a very happy day for the Tusculum family.
The McGavock HS Chapter of the Future Farmers Of America (FFA) has been chosen as a finalist to compete for a 2017 National FFA Model of Excellence award from the National Organization of FFA. Good luck guys and keep it going!
The Nashville School of the Arts got a surprise visit from successful recording artist Hunter Hayes. That’s Nashville – you never know who will show up.
Now it’s time for my favorite story of the week.
This past Wednesday, I was in the car line at Croft MS to pick up a young man we take to Jiu Jitsu class a couple times a week. Principal Jeremy Lewis saw me and came over to exchange pleasantries. He glanced in the back seat and then remarked, “I see you have Bernadino. Hey Bernadino!” That little gesture spoke volumes to me about the commitment Lewis has to the students at Croft. Just 10 days into the school year, and he was already able to recognize and acknowledge by name a quiet, newly arrived 5th grader. That is an example of exceeding expectations.
Time now for some questions. The first one relates to how the district has handled the situation of lead in the water. What grade do you give them? The next question is about what you think needs to be discussed on the school board floor. Pretend you are allowed to add one subject to the agenda for open discussion. What would it be? The last question is about your thoughts on the letter that went home to parents at Antioch HS. Is that an acceptable action? What do you think?
That’s it for today. Hope you have a great weekend. Due to the eclipse, I probably won’t have poll results until Tuesday. Please be safe and don’t gaze directly into the sun. As always, comments and criticisms are welcome. You can leave them here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For all you do, I thank you!