I’m going to ask for your forgiveness today. I usually try to put out only two posts a week, so as not to inundate people with my blather. However, this week has brought an overabundance of news, and I felt if I didn’t break things up into 2 pieces, I’d either leave stuff out or shortchange things. Hopefully the quality will validate your indulgence.
FIFTH GRADE AIN’T GOING NOWHERE
Back in February, Director of Schools Shawn Joseph’s transition team came back with a list of recommendations for the district. The idea garnering the most positive response was that of moving 5th graders back to elementary schools. The idea would more closely align MNPS with surrounding counties, and the thought was that it would slow down district attrition because it would alleviate parental concerns of student safety. At the MNPS Next meetings conducted this summer, parents indicated they were supportive of the idea, but what they really wanted was quality schools no matter what the configuration. Seems like school board member Sharon Gentry was listening.
On Tuesday at a work session after the regularly scheduled board meeting, Gentry raised the subject of quality schools during a presentation on MNPS Next by Chief of Staff Jana Carlisle. She raised the specter of the high risk that unintended consequences may have a negative impact on the district’s push for equity in pursuing this policy. Gentry then made a statement that I believe people have been waiting 6 months to hear. She called for the board and district leadership to recognize that they may have enough already on their plate and warned of the perils of adding more to that plate.
“We have enough on our plate right now with things that are in play right now that need to go well. We have a number of things right now that must go well this year. And burning calories on other options before we stabilize may not be our best use of resources. We need to quit doing things that take our attention away from the ball. We keep taking our eyes off the ball to chase hypotheticals and potentials that won’t get us what we need in the short term. Because we need some short term wins that we are chasing right now.”
Gentry goes on to point out that last year saw huge changes in central office and in resources allocated. And therefore, this should be the year spent demonstrating that those changes were the right moves and that they will have an impact down into the most important arena, the classroom.
This was certainly not a rebuke of district leadership, but I think it should be viewed as a transition point in how the board was going to relate to Director of Schools Shawn Joseph going forward. It signified that members of the board recognized the crossroads we are at and were no longer willing to just serve as cheerleaders. Not quite a put up or shut up meme, but definitely notice to start producing tangible results. That it came from Gentry, in my opinion, put some teeth in it, and for district families and employees, should bring some positive acknowledgement. I found it extremely heartening.
Fellow board member Mary Pierce followed up Gentry’s comments by acknowledging that they had heard the people’s voice and that the quality of schools was their primary concern. Pierce argued that if changing the re-configuration of just one grade was not going to make substantial improvement, it probably wasn’t worth pursuing and that we should refocus on the primary objective of improving all schools. Wow, a “hell yeah” for both Gentry and Pierce in one post? What has the eclipse wrought.
Carlisle attempted to take the two in stride and move on with her presentation. But the board wasn’t done pushing back. Gentry again brought up that there was “more on their plate than they could say grace over.” She also raised the issue that we need to really dive into what equity actually looks like across the district because she wasn’t sure it was a shared definition. Again, something that aligns with my priorities and something I don’t believe has been significantly defined. So kudos again.
In a surreal moment, Carlisle asked if this meant that the board wished to communicate that “We’ve considered it [moving 5th grade] and ruled it out.” Board members nodded, prompting Carlisle to ask if those nods were being recorded as yes votes. After some feedback from Board Chair Anna Shepherd that seemed to signify that they should be interpreted as such, Carlisle asked if “the TV could record the nods.” The decision to move on was then reached.
While I welcome the renewed focus, and the decision to move on, this is symptomatic of the issues that plague this leadership team. It should not have taken a whole summer to recognize that this issue was cost- and capacity-prohibitive to pursue. All they had to do was ask people already in the district, and they would have gotten the same feedback – that it’s a good idea but not feasible. You don’t always have to be a pioneer. Sometimes you can trust the work of your predecessors.
Last week, I wrote about the teacher shortage at Antioch HS. Parents had received a letter telling them that there were not enough certified teachers, and therefore students would be forced into a digital learning environment. Apparently, a similar situation exists at both White’s Creek HS and Cane Ridge HS as well. It was brought to my attention by several readers that I needed to clarify that these schools were utilizing the services of a company called Edgenuity and not the MNPS Virtual School.
There are some very large distinctions between the two. A student enrolled in MNPSVS still has access to a certified teacher despite attending classes online. There are also activities and events related to the coursework that students can physically attend through MNPSVS if they so desire. Furthermore, MNPSVS comes with a proven track record of excellence. I’m sorry if I contributed to those lines being blurred.
I’m hearing word that a tool that was very effective in preparing kids for the ACT is not being made available to HS principals this year. From what I’m told, this tool was an accurate predictor of how a student would perform on the ACT and was able to give pin point areas where a student needed to focus in order to improve their score. Needless to say, it was a very popular instrument with HS principals, and I’m not sure why it is no longer available, but I’ll dig more into it.
I’m also digging more into Cambridge, IB, and Advanced Academics programs. Specifically the fees associated with each of these programs and the potential unintended consequences on equity. Look for a post on that next month.
There is a trio of Hume-Fogge students that need your help. They have an idea that was selected from thousands of applicants as a finalist for an international scholarship competition that aims to foster ideas to reduce waste. Students Erna Hrstic, Kristi Maisha, and Jake Peters have an idea which uses an algorithm to select environmentally friendly building materials. If they get enough votes, they could win a $5K award.
The groundbreaking for the new Hillsboro High School took place yesterday. The 89 million dollar project is destined to produce a school borne of the community’s ideas of what a school can look like. Very exciting. Hopefully we’ve learned something from this summer’s construction projects that will ensure that disruption by construction is kept at a minimum.
The first meeting of Croft Middle Prep’s Project Lit book club will be August 30th at 4:30 pm. This month’s selection is All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds. Attendance by community members is encouraged.
Here’s a great report by Channel 5 on post-eclipse instructional activities at West End Middle School.
Has anybody seen any TNReady results? I thought I saw some over at the unicorn barn earlier in the week but could be mistaken. And the state wonders why educators don’t find value in TNReady.
Applications for FACE Teacher Institute is now open. FACE is offered through MNPS’s Equity and Diversity University, which is described as a series of professional development courses for school professionals on the topics of cultural awareness, equity and diversity, and family engagement. They are a program of Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Office of Equity and Diversity. Interested teachers may apply in cohorts of 2-4. The deadline to apply is 8/28/17.
If you haven’t bought Nashville native Will Hoge’s new record, do yourself a favor and rectify that.
I need to give a quick shot out to the Pencil Foundation. They do a tremendous job of utilizing local businesses to help provide resources for teachers’ classrooms. Around our house, it’s almost considered Christmas morning when my wife gets to make a visit. Please support them.
Glencliff HS is having pastries with the principal tomorrow. Starts at 6:45 AM. Come in through the gym entrance.
Some of you who pay attention may have noticed a divorce in the education community. Andy Spears and Zack Barnes will no longer be sharing the same byline at the TN Ed Report. This is a change that’s been coming for awhile, but I hate that it comes at a time when Zack’s writing has improved and that our relationship has thawed. There are probably all kinds of nefarious motivations that can be attributed to both parties if someone has that desire, but I think the simple truth is Andy owned the domain and did most of the writing and therefore wanted more control of the site. It’s been my experience that other than family and close personal friends, most things in life come with an expiration date. I personally look forward to reading upcoming pieces from both writers and wish both luck, though they’ll never rival Dad Gone Wild. (That was a joke.)
That does it for today’s episode. You’ll want to tune in tomorrow, not just because I’ll have poll questions, but I’ll also take a deeper look at at charter authorization, data wars, and the declaring of heroes and villains. You can reach me at email@example.com and check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where the sun is always shining.