TEACHER OF THE YEAR, THE POWER OF MCQUEEN, TEACHER POWER, AND POLL QUESTIONS

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I think we’ll start things off this week with a hearty congratulations. Last night, 8th grade West End Middle Prep math teacher Cicely Woodard was recognized by the TNDOE as the Middle School Teacher of the year, reaffirming something those in MNPS have known for a long time. I’ve often heard parents at Eakin ES, the feeder school to West End MS, say that they are excited by the prospect of their children getting Mrs. Woodard as a teacher, and those who have had her class confirm that anticipation.

Mrs. Woodard’s husband is former long-term Maplewood HS principal, and current Number 2 out in Maury County, Ron Woodard. I know Ron is extremely proud of his wife, and this is a great honor for the Woodard family. I’m going on record as saying it won’t be too many years before Mr. Woodard is up for Tennessee School Superintendent of the Year. Yeah, I said it.

THE CLOCK IS TICKING

Monday, the deadline for Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools to turn over student directory data to charter schools, passed without either complying with the state law. To date, State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s response has been minimal. After the deadline passed, she issued a statement voicing her disappointment with the districts’ actions and included this not-so-veiled threat: “We must consider all options available in situations where a district actively chooses to ignore the law.”

If you are one of those folks out there talking about her “lack of power” and her “over stepping her bounds,” you might be reading her lack of immediate action as validation for your position. I wouldn’t. Action is coming.

McQueen has no option, I believe, other than to issue a strong, decisive response that, unfortunately, inflicts some pain. You see, she’s got Chattanooga sitting on the sideline watching all this unfurl. McQueen, for good or bad, is in the process of bullying Hamilton County Schools (HCS) into participating in the new concept of a partnership district. HCS has, to date, been less than thrilled with this option offered by the state, and any sign of weakness may result in their bolting from the process.

Last week, the TNDOE was able to use a big stick to persuade HCS to continue forward with talks to form the partnership zone. That commitment was in question all the way up until the actual vote. The only reason it went forward was because HCS thought they had no other options. But let them see both Nashville and Memphis start succesfully bucking the TNDOE, and you watch the options that start to spring up as the fear dissipates.

Nope, McQueen is bringing the hammer. The only question is what is that hammer going to look like? Rumors say it might not be a fine. The fact that she’s being very measured in her response should be a source of concern for those involved.

As part of its strategy to deal with the district’s chronically underperforming schools, HCS also announced this week the formation of its own “Opportunity Zone.” According to the Times Free Press, new District Superintendent Bryan Johnson had this to say:

“The way we see it is the Opportunity Zone is a broader umbrella that encompasses 12 of our schools right now. The Partnership [Zone] fits within it concurrently to support these schools at a deeper level.”

Johnson said the implementation of the Opportunity Zone is about making sure that students get what they need immediately.

“We don’t have the luxury of having a year to plan.”

This bears further watching. I’m sure it’s going to get plenty interesting.

PAPERING THE HOUSE

Back when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I had a friend whose band went out on the road opening for Bon Jovi. Upon returning from the first leg, he told me a tale that has always stuck with me.

Bon Jovi was managed by the legendary Doc McGee. McGee joined the band out on the road for the first show. Well, that show wasn’t particularly well attended and that didn’t sit well with McGee. He pulled everybody on staff together immediately after the show, divided the remaining dates up among them, and informed them, in no uncertain terms, this was never going to happen again. Every show from here on out was going to be a sellout or somebody was going to be unemployed, and it wouldn’t be him.

At this time, Bon Jovi was touring in support of an album that wasn’t being particularly well received. This had no bearing on McGee’s edict. You either put butts in the seats, by whatever means, or put yours in the unemployment line. Miraculously, every show after that was a sellout.

I tell this story because I can’t help but think this is going to be the case with the upcoming MNPS Educator Voice meetings, the first of which starts next week. They are designed for MNPS leaders to hear from teachers. But here’s the thing: It’s week nine. Grades are due. Infinite Campus is still not working properly. There has been little effort to actually forge a relationship with most teachers. To get to the meeting, which starts well after school is out for the day, teachers would have to drive to a separate location in their quadrant during rush hour traffic. There has been no evidence presented to demonstrate that they won’t just be props in a staged publicity event. They’ve already sacrificed enough personal and family time in order to implement the district leadership’s poorly designed and communicated plans.  In other words, what is the impetus for teachers to go to these meetings?

I’m getting an unexpected answer though: anger. The amount of work added to teacher’s plate without clear direction has lit a fire that’s threatening to become a conflagaration. Lesson plan’s that took weeks to plan suddenly have to be abandoned and new ones created because previous plans didn’t align with the districts poorly communicated vision. Grades painstakingly entered in Infinite Campus randomly disappear and have to be re-entered. These are just a few examples of what’s got teachers so angry that papering the house may not be necessary.

In talking to several people across the district with daily access to teachers, I’ve come to believe that I may be underestimating the level of anger currently being felt by teachers. I knew y’all were angry, but I just assumed that teachers would do what they always do, which is to internalize the anger, shut the doors, and teach to best of their ability. Now I’m getting the drift that there may be something else in the air, that teachers may be reaching their boiling point, and I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t thrill me. Without their voices nothing will change.

I firmly believe that the Scope and Sequence for literacy combined with poor communication and direction from district leadership has put our teachers and principals in an untenable position. A position that is so severe, I am not sure we have a moral right to ask them to navigate it. Teacher’s already sacrifice so much in order to provide the best educational experience possible for all children. These sacrifices affect their marriages, their relationships with their own children, and their health and now we are demanding more. At what point do we realize that we have morally crossed a line and have raised the bar too high?

I liken it to football players and concussions. At some point society realized that concussions among NFL players had grown to epidemic portions and that it was having a negative impact on their lives away from the game. As a society we knew the game had to be made safer and through rule changes and new safety equipment it has become much safer. The same needs to happen with teaching before we destroy all of our best players. I’m well aware that all of that sounds hyperbolic, but believe we reacher a stage that things need to get a bit hyperbolic because nobody is listening.

Some of the policies currently being implemented – homework, grading, literacy – are not rooted in currently recognized best practices. I can’t grasp for the life of me why we are implementing a literacy plan that utilizes research from the late 90’s as primary justification. Yet, here we are. So much of the required texts, though the district argues that they are just recommendations despite being labeled required texts, are unavailable or inappropriate. Somebody needs to communicate that to district leadership. That message needs to be communicated by those who know best, those who take care of our kids daily, those who have been largely ignored – our teachers. Here’s hoping that Doc McGee’s strategy won’t be needed and teachers show up of their own volition demanding to be heard.

Going back to Chattanooga for a quick minute – their transition team met this week and some of the quotes that emerged from that meeting are very refreshing. For example, David Steele, co-chairman of the postsecondary readiness sub-group and vice president of policy education for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, said this:

“We’ve got lots of best practice here in Hamilton County,” said David Steele, co-chairman of the postsecondary readiness sub-group and vice president of policy education for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. “You don’t need binoculars to find awesome.”

And in a moment of self-introspection of a level MNPS leadership could use, he added:

“When we found awesome stuff, our first thought should be, ‘How can we spread this?'” he said. “And instead, we look at it and say, ‘That’s awesome’ without taking further action.”

Knowing Dr. Joseph’s penchant for “bus” references, I chuckled at this one by LaKweshia Ewing, a local entrepreneur and co-chairperson of the communications and stakeholder engagement panel:

“There are some tools that already exist in the district that can be universal, that are being used by a subset population of the district,” she said. “There are a lot of good pieces on the bus, they may just be on another part of the bus.”

Have any statements even remotely similar arisen from MNPS meetings? Not that I’ve heard.

QUICK HITS

MNPS is making an effort to get the official Parent Advisory Committees back up and running. Yesterday they held the first of two orientation meetings. I welcome this revival, but based on some of the slides… I’ve got some questions.

I’m not sure that securing test proctors is the role of a parent advisory committee. I question the proposed close alignment between the PAC and PTOs/PTAs. The goal of giving a voice to parents also seems to be a low priority. But everything has to start somewhere, I guess. I must admit, the following exchange from the meeting gave me a chuckle:

Parent question: Do we can have a budget for the PACs?

Answer: No. But we do have a director of schools who is willing to help us.

Well okay then.

The next meeting is on October 3rd at 11:30 AM over on Charlotte Avenue.

Nashville-based blogger Vesia Hawkins has an interesting piece out this week. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

If you haven’t read my piece from earlier in the week on the drinking water in MNPS schools, you need to read that one as well.

Check out the latest from the Equity and Diversity University for learning opportunities during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Congratulations to IT Creswell MS for being awarded an amazing music grant from VH1’s Save the Music!

McMurray MS had standing room only this morning for its parent meeting. Way to represent!

The football Powder Puff tradition continued this week at Antioch HS. The senior girls recorded a victory over the junior girls. Rah! Rah! Boom!

In case you were wondering, October 5th is a full day of school. October 6th is a teacher work day. Fall break is October 9-13. And everyone returns to school on Monday, October 16.

POLL QUESTIONS

I thought we’d have a little fun with the poll questions this week. The first one is about the upcoming Educator Voice meetings. If you are a teacher, I’m curious to what your approach as a teacher will be.

The second question revolves around the many different consultant groups we now have working in our district. Who’s your favorite?

The last question reflects back on the many people who have left the district over the last 13 months. Who do you miss the most? Who do you wish was still here?

That does it. You can email me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

 

 

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NO. THE WATER AT MNPS SCHOOLS IS NOT SAFE.

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On Monday of this week, Phil Williams, an investigative reporter at News Channel 5, produced another damning report on lead levels present in the water at Metro Nashville Public Schools. I believe this is the seventh such report that he has produced on the subject, and all of them have been equally damning. The reports do not include speculative information nor reports that are open to interpretation. What is reported are actual numbers from water tests produced by people hired by MNPS. Numbers that can be easily interpreted by a simple Google search.

MNPS took the commendable action of having the water tested in its oldest buildings 2 years ago. Predictably, results came back that showed high levels of lead in several of our older schools. Schools that are made up of children from immigrant and impoverished homes. Schools like my children’s school.

Instead of taking these numbers, acknowledging the problems, and rectifying them, the district chose to issue a press release that disclosed none of the results and served as a congratulatory letter for merely testing the water. When they were challenged on the results and the lack of action, they issued another statement that claimed “The drinking water in the district’s oldest buildings meet all federal and state lead drinking water standards.” Sounds great, huh?

Let’s take a deeper look at that statement. The EPA has set a level of 15 ppb as an action level. Does that mean everything under that level is considered safe? Not according to the EPA, and I quote a recently produced Lead and Copper Rule Revisions White Paper:

Although public discussion often mistakes the action level as having significance in terms of health impacts, EPA has consistently emphasized that the health-based maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for lead in the current LCR is zero and that there is no safe level of lead exposure.

Well, that seems to take the question out of the debate. But what kind of health impacts are we talking about? We all know that these days, everything is dangerous. Once again, a simple Google search shows the following:

Lead is toxic, and if it makes its way into the still-developing brains of young children, many of the effects can be permanent. Lead can change how signals are passed within the brain, how memories are stored, even how cells get their energy, resulting in life-long learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and lower IQs.

Well, that doesn’t sound good, does it? In light of this, I refer to the press release issued by MNPS in response to Mr. William’s latest report:

The water testing that our district began in the summer of 2016 was a new and untested process for us as a district. Every step of the way, we have worked in tandem with water quality experts to obtain samples, review the data and implement best practices. This entire program has required learning and adjustments as we go since there are no requirements for school districts to test for lead and there are no standards in place for school districts.

I’m not sure who wrote this, but surely they didn’t think this through before releasing it. Yes, it’s true that the district has never tested water districtwide in the past, but to suggest that the process of testing water for lead is some kind of cutting-edge science is disingenuous at best. It’s been a recommended action for over 15 years that schools test drinking water for lead, and while many schools chose to ignore that recommendation, use that pesky Google search again and you’ll find that schools across the country are now confronting the issue. MNPS is not Neil Armstrong taking a stroll on the moon here.

The whole “learning and adjusting” claim is just ludicrous to me. What is there to learn other than the actionable level and the safe level? What adjustments are needed? It’s a simple equation: lead levels over 1 ppb equals bad and requires rectifying. Simple. Why would we possibly need a “standard” to dictate what is safe and unsafe?

There is no standard in place for my child to play in traffic either, but common sense tells me that if I allow them to do so, they run the risk of getting hit by a car. So, I assess the situation, and I rectify it. I don’t adjust by saying, “Well if he plays in traffic in the early afternoon or mid-morning, he’ll probably be all right because traffic is only heavy in the early morning or late afternoon.” No, I don’t let him play in traffic at all, and we shouldn’t let our children drink poisoned water at all either.

Last week, I received a copy of the results from the summer’s testing at the old Tusculum ES, which is now the McMurray Middle School Annex. It appears to me that there are a whole lot of results over 1 ppb in this report and several double digit numbers. Based on what we know, do you think that water at McMurray Middle School Annex is safe to drink? I know, it is below the federal action number, but do you believe it is safe?

In their press release, MNPS felt it important enough to inform us of this:

We are parents. We work in these buildings. We send our children to these schools. Above all else, the safety of our students and our staff has always been and will always be our first priority. It is a trust we do not take lightly. There is no way we would knowingly leave a potential safety risk to our students and staff uncorrected.

So I have to ask, as parents, would you drink from these fountains? Would you allow your children to drink from these fountains? If so, you and I have a very different interpretation of what’s safe for children. If not, what are you doing to rectify it?

Last week, State Representative Mike Stewart held an impassioned press conference denouncing the state for potentially putting children at risk by sharing their data with charter schools. MNPS Board Chair Anna Shepherd signed her name to a strongly worded editorial decrying the risk to students if the district complied with state law and shared students’ directory data with charter schools. And yet there is not a peep from anyone, save State Representative Jason Powell, on the very real danger of high levels of lead in student drinking water. Apparently fighting charter schools takes precedence over keeping our kids safe.

When I shared the above numbers with a high ranking district official last week, their reaction was to voice concern because Phil Williams was seen at a local school filming kids on the playground.

“Stop poisoning our kids, and he”ll stop filming,” I responded.

“But you can’t film our kiddos,” they explained.

Apparently, though, it’s all right to expose them to the dangers of lead, as long as you don’t film them.

Kudos to Phil Williams for continuing to pursue this story despite the collective shrug by city leaders. Mayor Barry has not issued a single statement on the issue despite issuing several statements that promised to protect immigrants and their families. The Tennessean has largely ignored the issue. Even the Nashville Scene, despite its writers recognizing the severity of the situation, has offered very little coverage.

UPDATE 9/28: Phil Williams did was able to ask Mayor Barry about the MNPS drinking water situation yesterday. She vowed that, “Whatever they need to make sure that this will be safe drinking water is what we’ll do.” The entry of the mayor’s office into the conversation is a very welcome development and one that gives me optimism that something will actually be done.

The district released a beautiful, heartfelt public statement in response to recent policy changes initiated by President Trump over the summer. In the statement they reaffirmed that “Metro Nashville Public Schools wants to reassert our belief that all school-aged students should have access to an excellent education, and thus access to enhanced opportunities, without regard to their immigration status or the immigration status of their parents.” Take a look at the demographics of those schools with the highest levels of lead in the drinking water and ask yourself is MNPS walking the walk or just talking the talk?

MNPS has got to take action and fix this issue. We are making our most vulnerable students even more vulnerable, and it should be objectionable to everyone. I can’t say it enough. This quote from the Center for Disease Control reiterates it as well:

The adverse health effects of lead exposure in children and adults are well documented, and no safe blood lead threshold in children has been identified. 

MONDAY MORNING BLUES

I’m rarely glad to see a Monday morning  arrive, but after this weekend, I’m willing to make an exception. Over the weekend, two stories took center stage. Stories that are sure to enter into the classroom this morning and will present teachers with a unique challenge in how they are addressed. The first is a local tragedy, while the second involves the next chapter in our country’s ongoing conversation about race and inequality.

On Sunday morning, gunfire erupted in a small church in Southeast Nashville. One person was killed and 6 more wounded before a heroic member of the congregation, Caleb Engle, was able to disarm and subdue the assailant. Among the wounded was long time educator Joey Spann and his wife. It is hard to process an incident of this magnitude. A house of worship should always be a place of sanctuary and safety. Unfortunately, the list of places where we can expect to be free of violence grows shorter and shorter. Please keep the victims and their families in your prayers.

Also on Sunday, in response to President Trump’s attack on football players who chose to take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem, 204 NFL players took a knee. The taking of a knee is a symbolic gesture designed to draw attention to the racial inequality currently embedded in American society. Many of these athletes are heroes of our children. Therefore, I’m sure their actions are resonating with our students, evoking many emotions and questions. I suspect they will come into the classroom with those questions and emotions in an effort to seek counsel from adults they trust.

I spent a great deal of time on Sunday engaged in social media conversations on both the gesture and what it represents. There are good points brought up on both sides, and while I went to bed on Sunday short on solutions, I was long on things to think about. These are conversations we cannot shy away from. The inconvenient truth for my generation is that we had our shot. We did what we could to find solutions. In some areas, things got better, and in others, not so much. Now it’s the next generation’s turn to lead, and we should empower them to do so.

The next round of solutions will come from the kids who are sitting in our classrooms today. We owe it to them to share our experiences, while not imposing our will, in a manner that will empower them to seek solutions that will move the ball farther down the field. We often speak of the importance of critical thinking. Now is the time to put our money where our mouth is because out of critical thinking arises the ability to have difficult conversations in order to challenge established beliefs – ours, as well as other’s. Conversations that my generation has often sought to ignore.

Personally, I believe there are many ways to honor our country and demonstrate that love of country. Challenging your country to be the best that it can be is every bit as respectful as standing during the national anthem with your hand over your heart. Too often we use the shade of patriotism to shield us from addressing inequalities that affect our fellow citizens in a negative manner. Honoring your country should be a daily occurrence lest we, to co-opt a popular church saying, become a man looking for repentance for what he did yesterday and what he plans to do tomorrow.

Stand, sit, kneel, bow… what happens in those three minutes before a football game is so much less important than what happens in our daily lives and our daily interactions with each other. Know your history, all of it. Strive to treat all of your fellow Americans as you would desire to be treated. As they say in AA, work your own program, not someone else’s. Try to remember that there is a thin line between love of country and national hubris. Keep in mind the words of MLK’s daughter Bernice King: “No form of protest, even nonviolent direct action, will be approved by people ‘more dedicated to order than to justice’ or by the unjust.”

DATA WARS: THE DEADLINE LOOMS

It’s a big day today on the data war front. Here’s a quick thumbnail sketch in case you haven’t been keeping up:

A state law was passed last spring requiring school districts to share student directory information with charter schools.

Memphis and Nashville said, “Hell no!”

State Education Superintendent Candice McQueen said, “Hell yes!”

Tennessee State Attorney General Herbert Slattery III said, “Hell yes.”

McQueen said, “By Monday the 25th.”

Today’s the 25th, and Memphis and Nashville show no signs of complying with the TNDOE’s order. How this will all end up is anyone’s guess, but I don’t see McQueen taking a conciliatory tone. Especially in light of her efforts to get Hamilton County to move forward with the proposed “Partnership Zone.”

Certain elements at MNPS are not-so-secretly hoping that this is all going to end up in court. Which, if you couple this with the other 5 lawsuits facing MNPS, you might get legal service at a discount. I’m not trying to be facetious, and I’ve been slow to comment on those other lawsuits because of their gravity, but I continue to feel we’ve got more important issues that require our focus rather than fighting with the state over data that, if you’ve ever been on Facebook, is readily available.

TALKING TO TEACHERS

Good news MNPS teachers, Director of Schools Shawn Joseph will see you now. A series of “Educator Voice” sessions have been scheduled for the first week of October. One will be held in each quadrant. Sounds great, huh? But I’ve been thinking about this over the weekend, and I’d like to make some observations if I may.

My biggest question is who is going to attend these shindigs? Most of the teachers I’m in contact with are so covered up with trying not to drown that they would probably schedule a root canal before they entertained the thought of getting in their car during the last week of the first quarter, during rush hour, to drive across town to a meeting that may or may not have tangible results. If I’m a high school teacher, I would have 2 1/2 hours to kill after school ended in order to attend said meeting. At least the root canal would have a definitive tangible result.

Beyond the question of “What teachers are going to show up?” is the question of “What will they say when they get there?” It’s no secret that the district suffers from a lack of trust on all levels and that very little has been done to counter that situation. People don’t tend to give honest answers when they don’t trust you. It’s easier to take the path of least resistance and just smile, nod, and say, “I’m fine.” What is the impetus for teachers to make the trek and share their true thoughts? Why would a teacher risk potential backlash or, even worse, no reaction, by speaking about their true observations?

The cynic in me believes that district leadership knows this and is counting on it. These meetings are just checking the box. Low turn out and less than honest feedback will allow them to go before the board the following week and say, “We’ve met with teachers and we’ve got challenges but the majority support what we are doing. We plan to continue this dialogue.” The board will smile, nod, and commend Dr. Joseph on his transparency and the presentation of a wonderful report. Meanwhile, teachers will continue to try and survive, let alone thrive, under less than optimal conditions.

Unless of course, that doesn’t happen. If the sessions are well attended and teachers speak honestly on the challenges they are facing, it would be tough to ignore them. By presenting a united front, teachers could make it very difficult to spin their story.

But then again, maybe the stories I hear are just representative of a small sample size. Maybe things are really better than ever. Maybe the district really is setting up teachers for success. Maybe job satisfaction is at an all-time high. Maybe all that is needed is a few tweaks. I don’t know. I’m not a teacher and those are stories only teachers can tell.

QUICK HITS

Channel 5’s Phil Williams will be doing another follow-up report tonight at 10pm on elevated levels of lead in drinking water. Please keep in mind while watching that 15 ppb is the actionable number, not the safe level. What is safe to say is that we continue to expose those who have the most to risk.

There will be an informal meeting of what was once the Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Committee today at the Tusculum ES library at 6pm. The purpose of the PAC is to explore methods to make the Overton cluster even stronger and to serve as a vehicle for parents to find answers to their questions.

MNPS is formally re-establishing the PAC later this week. Tonight’s meeting is in anticipation of that formal construction and to help parents have a greater understanding of how they can make a difference. Hopefully, all who can attend will.

Congratulations also goes out to Overton High School for having the highest graduation rate in the district.

Remember that “blue-ribbon Transition Team” that met at the beginning of last year? Well, apparently one prominent member may be transitioning himself, as the Baltimore Sun reports that former Baltimore Director of Schools Dallas Dance is currently under investigation. Apparently there are questions surrounding Dance and an outside company that did business with the Baltimore School District. Diane Ravitch has even more insight into Dance, and I urge you to read the comments as well as the article itself.

Here is your agenda for the MNPS board meeting on Tuesday September 26th. There are a couple of things to look at on the consent portion of the agenda that don’t have further explanation. There are a number of legal settlements needing approval, as well as proposed contracts with Education Based Services and Blackboard Inc. that probably should have come with a little more information.

Henry Maxwell Elementary School recently honored their neighborhood first responders by inviting them to have lunch with students. Attendees included members of the police department, fire department, EMTs, and active duty military. Hats off to these dedicated servants.

Former Eakin Principal Tim Drinkwine is traveling the world with his family this year. You can keep up with their travels via his blog. Follow it and you won’t be sorry.

POLL RESULTS

Time now to turn our attention to the weekend’s poll questions. Question 1 asked, “What are your thoughts on recently released TVAAS scores?” The answers here should be music to Dr. Joseph’s ears, as the leading answer with 46% of the vote was, “Junk science produces junk results. I don’t put much stock in them.” The next two most popular results, at 22% and 15% respectively, were “just one more thing going wrong” and “I find them concerning.”

I happen to agree with all the top answers. TVASS is junk science and to use it to evaluate educators and schools is just wrong. By the same token, it is the law of the land, and this administration’s inability to produce even marginal success stories after 13 months should cause some concern. At some point you have to take the rules of the game you are given and produce.

Here are the write-in answers:

In HS, the EOCs haven’t counted for 2 years. Kids don’t take them seriously, and they were different tests 1
I’m not afraid of evaluation, but can we get some transparency? 1
Not surprised with Dr. J and Maryland leading the 1
I was a 1. I stopped caring about state tests & became a level 5 1
sigh… 1
My scores were great. Followed State not district

Question 2 asked for opinions on MNPS’s discipline policy, and the answers here are a bit concerning. The number one answer with 38% of the responses is that discipline is worse than ever this year. An additional 31% responded that the policy seems to translate to “don’t suspend children of color.” Twenty-five percent indicated that there was little change. Only 5% acknowledged things were improving.

In my humble opinion, the concept of “Restorative Justice” garners universal approval. Many speak to its transcendent qualities. Virtually everyone agrees that suspending fewer kids is important. Unfortunately children of color have borne the negative impact of past discipline policies and are suspended at higher rates. The need for change is recognized, but it’s the implementation and lack of adequate supports where the policy loses support. I’ve heard many teachers express their frustration and, in some cases, their concern for their physical safety due to the shortcomings of our discipline policy. I’ve long said adjustments need to be made. Interestingly enough, there were no write-in answers to this question.

The last question asked for your opinion on allowing schools to be governed by anything but an elected body. Sixty percent of you thought this was a terrible idea. The second leading answer with 17% was “It can’t lead to a worse board than we have now.” I’ll refrain from commenting on that one and allow y’all to draw your own inferences.

As for an appointed board, I think that option could produce catastrophic outcomes. Look at the proposed board in Chattanooga. It would be 7 members, with 4 appointed by the state and 3 appointed by the district. Hmmm… wonder how all those votes will come out?

The current method at times produces less than stellar governing bodies, but representative governing bodies nonetheless. It also allows for a method for citizens to voice their dissatisfaction. Every couple of years you get a chance to head to the polls and change the make-up of the current board. I firmly believe that’s a right that should be fiercely guarded.

Here are the write-ins:

Ugh. Can we get a more narcissistic board? 1
At least we could blame/hold mayor accountable

That does it for this update. I’m sure I missed a few things. As always, check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page and you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Thank you for all you do.

OF GOATS, PLAYGROUNDS, TVAAS, AND POLLS.

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Happy Friday to you. Some more sad news this week. Woodbine is a neighborhood here in Nashville where my family lived for 10 years before moving further down Nolensville Road. It’s a neighborhood that is a mixture of long time residents and new Americans. Lately young families have begun to discover its charms as well. Needless to say, it’s a neighborhood with a lot of personality and a piece of my heart will always reside there.

Over the last several years it hasn’t been uncommon to drive through the neighborhood and witness a man walking a goat. If a man walking a goat in a neighborhood just a couple of miles from downtown Nashville doesn’t produce a double take and a smile, little will. Zoey, the goat, developed into the neighborhood’s biggest celebrity. That’s no small accomplishment in a neighborhood whose residents include the legendary Brenda Lee, local music guru Mike Grimes, and Americana Artists like Irene Kelley and Rick Shell. No small feat indeed.

This week it is with great sadness that I report that Zoey the goat has passed on. She will not soon be forgotten and I’m sure neighbors will tradel stories of the times that they came across Zoey out walking her human for many years. Thanks for the smiles Zoey, you definitely left your mark on the neighborhood. Thank you Amanda Haggard for the excellent obituary in the Nashville Scene.

At Tusculum ES there was cause to celebrate this week. After

(Old Tusculum play area)

at least a year, the older kids now have a play ground. This is huge. If you’ll remember, last year’s play area was a barren patch where kids often played with tires. Getting this playground completed is a bit of a surprise in light of all the other construction going on in the district. A big shout out to whomever made it happen.

SCHOOL HAPPENINGS

Let’s take a quick trip down to Chattanooga where last night a historic vote took place. The Hamilton County School Board voted 7 -2 to continue the conversation about creating a partnership zone with the Tennessee Department of Education. In case you are not familiar with the Partnership Zone plan, it’s the latest quick fix scheme developed by the TNDOE because people have started to catch on to the dumpster fire that is the Achievement School District. Under the Partnership Zone plan, both the county and the state would work together to improve underperforming schools in the district.

The plan calls for the a creation of an appointed board that would oversee the Partner Zone. This creates a bit of a conundrum. Under current law, schools governing boards can only be elected entities. So this would require a change in legislation. A change that could open a virtual pandora’s box because what’s to stop other districts from switching to an all appointed board, a hybrid, or turn control over to the mayor or other appointed officials?

The term partner is a little bit of a misnomer. The state is making it perfectly clear who wears the pants in this relationship right from the out set. The HCS Board was told that they could choose not to pursue the “Partnership Zone” but if they didn’t State Superintendent Candice McQueen would take all 5 of the priority schools plus two more schools and dump them in the Achievement District. If this is in fact a threat she was prepared to follow through with, it’s a little troubling and a clear sign that she’s willing to play politics with kids. The ASD is an unmitigated failure that should be ended this legislative session not used a stick to ensure district compliance.

McQueen seems to be wielding a big bat these days with several moves that could be perceived as bullying the state’s urban districts. There’s this action with Hamilton County and the battle over data with both Memphis and Nashville. It’s a little interesting considering that she may be coming to the end of her tenure. Chattanooga District 3 board member Joe Smith raised that very question last night, “In a year from now, we will have a new governor and maybe a new [education] commissioner,” he said. “That scares me.”

That got me thinking about where the candidates for governor stand on the State Superintendent position. After doing a little talking with folks in the know, I have come to the conclusion that anyone who is betting on McQueen being out the door come next December might want to reconsider that bet a little bit. She seems to have more support then some might think.

It is clear, that something needs to be done in regards to these 5 Hamilton County Priority Schools in question. They’ve been underperforming for 25 years and in that time many promises have been made and just as many, have been broken. Still, in all of this I think the words of HSB Board member Mosely Jones need to be kept at the fore front. “We do have the lives of children and their legacy and their intellect in our hands,” she said. “And we have to what is right. Morally, economically, we have to do what is right.” Amen.

CRAZY EMAIL

I often get emails from people asking me questions or alerting me to things going on with schools. At times I have no idea what they are referencing and I have to go research. I got one such email last week in reference to MNPS’s literacy scope and sequence and the texts attached to them.

Elementary schools have been told that they HAVE to use the suggested texts, even though they are unknown, little used texts.  Evidently the message in elementary is that all must do the Scope and Sequence exactly as it is.  The texts are simply not available, even from the Nashville Public Library. The only option is to purchase the texts or go against this directive.  This issue has sucked the air out of  teaching and is causing serious stress because even when a teacher can borrow one of these texts from someone, they are not engaging for students. (I am well acquainted with children’s literature and haven’t heard of most of these texts.)   Teachers simply can’t afford to buy all these. Can you look into this?

Huh? This didn’t make any sense. So I asked a couple people. Than I asked a couple more because the answers I was getting didn’t make sense. Sherlock Holmes always said “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” and that certainly is the case here.

The district is indeed demanding that teachers use texts that are not supplied by the district. Teachers have for the last several weeks been going on line and purchasing these texts. They run about $5 a piece and they are like little pamphlets. You have to have them though, because at the end of each unit is a task and you can’t complete the task unless you have the texts.

Now here’s were things get murky and and is an illustration of why I talk to a lot of different people. There is some question as to what’s mandatory and what’s not at the Middle School level. Some people told me that use of texts was required and some others told me they were merely recommendations. Some people told me that the IFL units were to be done by the letter of the law and that texts were not required. In other words, there is some confusion.

Here are some things that everybody agrees upon. The texts are not readily available. You can not complete the tasks with out the texts. The tasks will be evaluated but there is no common rubric in which to do that evaluation. The evaluation will probably count for something someday but nobody is sure what or when. The literacy scope and sequence, despite having input from some very talented and respected educators, is…dare I say…god awful.

I can not grasp the concept of requiring someone to do something and not providing them the tools in order to complete that requirement. I’ve gone through all my leadership books and I can’t find on what page that concept is covered. If anyone can help me here, I would certainly appreciate it.

TVASS

I know, the sub-title is a misspelling. I just like spelling it that way because I’m not a big believer. TVAAS is a system created for agriculture purposes and has no place being used in Education. Andy Spears does an excellent job in a recent post explaining why we shouldn’t put too much stock in the results. But for the sake of argument, lets’s heed the words of Memphis Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson, “Notwithstanding those questions, it’s the system upon which we’re evaluated on and judged,”

TVAAS data was released this week and MNPS didn’t fare so well. They received a composite score of “1”. The lowest score possible. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the new regime.

Director of Schools Dr. Joseph often says that when he arrived the district was in a state of crisis. Of course he never offers by what measure, but I thought just for fun I would look at TVAAS scores for the last three years. To keep things simple, I decided to just focus on High Schools. The TNDOE web site only has 3 years available but it’s enough to raise some concerns.

If you look at the composite score, 3 years ago – the last year under Dr. Register – MNPS scored an average 2.91. In 2016 that dropped to 2 and last year – the first year of Dr. Joseph – the average dropped to 1.75. In Literacy the trend was from 3.30 to 2.75 to 2.41. In Math, the average went from 2.58 to 1.33 and remained at 1.33. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Antioch HS was a 5 for two years running and dropped to a 1 last year. The current principal was brought from Maryland last year by Joseph and he claims she’s doing good work despite a lack of empirical evidence.

TVAAS is supposed to be the friend of urban districts who face huge challenges due to poverty, english learners, and other social issues. It’s supposed to take some of the focus off of achievement and and focus it on the impact that urban districts are making on their children. It doesn’t appear that, based on these numbers, that the narrative of the district being in crisis upon Joseph’s arrival holds much water. On the contrary, if you are someone who puts a lot of stock in these number, the narrative that we are in a crisis now seems to have some merit.

MORE TVAAS SHENANIGANS

Over in Knoxville, teacher Lauren Hopson recently shared a scenario where a teacher had been with the same school system, at the same school, for 15 years, the last 3 of which, she received 4’s as her summative eval score. She went on leave of absence for two years and, upon return to her previous school, was told that administrators had been directed to treat her as an apprentice teacher and would give her 4 evaluations due to the fact that she had no growth data for the previous year ( even though, as a third grade teacher, she would have had no growth data anyway)

After  a little research, Hopson found out that KCS is following state policy and they are in trouble for being out of compliance for not requiring 4 evaluations all along when there has been no growth data for the previous year. Seems a little hinky if you ask me.

Hopson is vowing to fight this policy, declaring that it is about respecting teachers as professionals, not discriminating against those who take short term leadership roles in education, not discriminating against women who go on leave to have and raise families (or men if that is the case), not subjecting those with a long term illness to this kind of stress and disrespect upon their return, and stating LOUDLY that a test score says very little about who we are as teachers! She can count on DGW joining in.

QUICK HITS

Word on the street is that Teacher planning days are being converted to professional development days. This is not a good thing and hopefully MNEA and PET are burning up phones fighting it. Initial word is that blame falls at the feet of the state. We’ll be watching.

Teachers likely received an email from State Superintendent Candace McQueen about their scores in TNCompass. MNEA is encourageing everyone to ask the math experts at TVAAS how the math was calculated for your situation by filling out this short help request link embedded inside Dr. McQueen’s email.  Please forward any response you receive to MNEA.

JT Moore is planning a spirit week (Oct 16 -20) focused entirely on Hillsboro HS called “Hillsboro Spirit Week: From Hillsboro to Anywhere.” They are looking to highlight Hillsboro Alumni, from any year, who are doing great things either in college or their professional life. They really want to know where alumni attended college, what they are doing now, and how their time at Hillsboro HS impacted their future life. If you would like to share your experiences, contact the JT Moore contact Wendi Dalby at wendidalby@gmail.com

I had a great time at Croft MS this past week attending their monthly ProjectLit book club. The book was Towers Falling and it was fascinating to talk about 911 with kids who weren’t even born when the events transpired. Croft ProjectLit will do it again next month and I hope to see you there.

The latest #MNPSVoices features Pearl-Cohn teacher Chad Prather who helped organize students recent trip to Charlottesville where students performed an original song inspired by recent events.

John Early Middle Museum Magnet opens their latest museum exhibit, “A Matter of Black and White,” to the community. The new exhibit focuses on the desegregation of Nashville public schools. Check it out if you get a chance.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2017-2018 Blue Ribbon Teacher Awards Program. The program is designed to recognize excellence in teaching and will identify up to 50 extraordinary teachers who will receive a $1,000 award.

Last year, Metro Nashville Public Schools announced it will open Eagle View Elementary School, a new school in the Cane Ridge Cluster to alleviate overcrowding at Cane Ridge Elementary School. This means that some families from Cane Ridge Elementary will be rezoned to Eagle View Elementary starting in the 2018-19 School year. MNPS presented a draft rezoning plan to Cane Ridge Elementary families in August 2016.

On Sept. 26, the draft rezoning plan will be presented at the Board of Public Education meeting for Board members’ initial input.

There will be an opportunity for public comment at the Oct. 17 Board meeting, and the Board will vote on the rezoning plan on Oct. 24.

The informal Overton PAC will meet on Monday at 6 at the Tusculum ES library. Hope to see parents there.

KNOW YOUR CONSULTANT

In an effort to familiarize you with the consultants working in MNPS. With all the new faces it’s hard to keep track, so DGW tries to bring you a thumbnail sketch of a new company every week.

This week we focus on assessments. Luckily last spring MNPS convened an Assessment Task Force to examine the current set of assessments in use across the district. The task force was composed of several principals and district office staff from various departments and facilitated in conjunction with the Achievement Network (ANet). ANet began when in 2004, recent Harvard Graduate School of Education graduates Marci Cornell-Feist and John Maycock began talking to a number of Boston-area charter schools about what they needed to help all their students achieve at the highest levels. What they heard, repeatedly, was teachers’ frustration with the assessments available to them: They weren’t as rigorous as the state summative tests; and results arrived too late for teachers to take action in response. ANet was born to meet that need.

In Nashville and Memphis the work is overseen by Vaughn Thompson. Thompson has been a champion for education even from his roots in Brooklyn, NY. After graduating from Clark University, he returned to NYC and began a career in finance. After working for several Wall Street firms, he decided to pursue the dream of his life and join a field that was short on praise, but more personally fulfilling—education. He became a principal in New York where he found things a bit challenging. In his own “DOE gave me a bank-issued credit card, known as a Procurement Card or P-Card, to use for certain categories of purchases related to the legitimate educational and/or administrative expenses of my school. I understood that purchases that are personal in nature were strictly prohibited.  From September 20, 2008, to February 2, 2009, I used the P-Card to make multiple personal purchases totaling approximately $9,000, which were charged to DOE.” He paid them back and was promptly banned from NYC Public Schools. I wonder if ANet has access to directory information.

Welcome to Nashville ANet!

Who needs teachers when you have an endless supply of outside consultants to employ.

POLL QUESTIONS

As always, Friday means poll questions and this week is no different. Our first question wants to get your reaction to the recently released TVAAS scores. Do you put a lot of stock in them or just ignore them?

Question 2 asks who is this years discipline policy working out. There have been reports that suspension rates are down but is behavior truly improving?

The last question is about changing legislation so that schools can be governed by an appointed board and not just an elected body. Good, bad, somewhere in-between, what do you think?

A BIT ABOUT ME, A BIT ABOUT SALARIES, AND SOME POLL RESULTS

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(Colin Hay)

The weekend sure went by fast, and here we are at Monday morning again. Last week was the Americana Music Fest here in Nashville, and I had the pleasure of working shows on all four days. If you were in Nashville and got out to any of the shows, you saw some great entertainment. A personal highlight for me was seeing Men At Work frontman Colin Hay do a stripped-down version of their monster hit “Land Down Under.” I never realized the song was so poignant.

HOW IT ALL WORKS

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit of an urge to explain myself a bit, to kinda pull back the curtain and reveal a bit of how this all works. By all, I mean the Dad Gone Wild blog. Some folks seem to have a bit of misconception about the process that goes into producing a DGW blog. They seem to think I spend most of the day sitting around throwing darts at pictures of my perceived enemies until someone calls me up and tells me what to write. First of all, you’ve got me confused with someone else, and secondly, that’s not how it works at all.

I am married to a teacher. She’s a 10-year veteran of MNPS, and I am extremely proud of her. For the first 8 years of our marriage, I watched how hard she worked and how hard outside forces worked to make her job more difficult. Realizing that she couldn’t really speak up on certain issues, I started crafting the DGW blog. As the blog grew in popularity, out of necessity, we had a to create a separation of church and state at home, so to speak. I never write about her personal experiences, unless they are positive, nor do I ask her for information on things I may write about. She never questions me about what I write, and to be honest, while she is extremely supportive, I’m not even sure she reads much of what I write.

Initially, I focused on the privatization efforts of corporate reform groups and their attacks on public education. This was at a time when not many people were questioning the reform movement. People were lining up to see Waiting for Superman and treating it like gospel. I was lucky to be part of a small group of resistance fighters who did the research – man, we did the research – and realized that the majority of what was being pushed on our schools was not beneficial, and in fact, was extremely detrimental to public education. I am extremely proud of the work I did at the time and the people I came to call friends. I shudder to think what things might look like without people like TREE, Momma Bears, Andy Spears, BATs, SPEAK, and some others I’m probably forgetting.

Last year, I reached a point where I was beginning to question where I wanted to go with the blog. To be honest, I’d grown a little weary of writing what was starting to feel like the same old, same old. We were winning the war, but it didn’t seem like there was a plan to win the peace. That really started to weigh on me. Besides, there were other people doing a better job of writing about the evils of corporate reform than I was. People like Diane Ravitch, Peter Greene, Steven Singer, Anthony Cody, and Jennifer Berkshire, to name a few.

It was about this time that Metro Nashville Public Schools got a new Director of Schools. It didn’t take long for him to start exhibiting some of the worst traits of the corporate reform folks – lack of transparency, exorbitant perks, cronyism. The question became, how could I demand others be held accountable while defending the actions of the new administration just because they represented “Public Schools?” It seemed a little hypocritical to me. Unfortunately, over the last year I’ve witnessed a whole lot more hypocrisy.

The result was that I started diving in and researching our district like I had previously researched corporate reform. What I found wasn’t pretty, and to be frank, challenged a lot of my preconceived notions. I found myself returning to the motivation that lead me to start writing in the beginning: the telling of stories that others couldn’t tell. To do that, I had to start really focusing on talking to people and building relationships, two things MNPS’s current administration should have been doing themselves upon arrival.

Let’s be perfectly clear: nobody has “leaked” anything to me. I never write anything based on one person telling me something. Things come up in conversations, and then I go research them. That research is followed by more conversations. Over the years, I have found MNPS to be populated by some of the most dedicated and intelligent professionals you could imagine. Earning their trust has resulted in access to a virtual treasure chest of knowledge.

Sometimes the subject is above my pay grade. There are things that I don’t think are right, but I don’t have enough of a grasp on them to convey information in a meaningful manner. An example would be MNPS’s advanced academic programs. There is some really good work being done, but there are also some fees associated with the programs that I believe may hinder access despite the best efforts of administrators. I’m still talking to people and researching the subject, and hopefully at some point I will be able to write something meaningful on that subject. If not, it won’t be due to lack of trying by folks overseeing the gifted program. They’ve been extremely open with me. My goal has always been to inform, not to create hysteria – despite some equating me with TMZ.

Earning the trust of educators requires work. It requires not using them to forward an agenda. Listening to what is important to them. Talking to them at times and through methods that are convenient to them, not me. It means being willing to admit it when I had a wrong perception. I’ve talked to people at 7 AM as they got ready to get out the door. I’ve talked to them at midnight. I’ve talked to educators on their commutes, and I’ve talked to them while they prepared dinner. I’ve talked to current teachers, retired teachers, administrators who’ve left for other districts, and some who are still employed by MNPS. I’ve talked with principals, assistant principals, librarians, family engagement specialists, parents, bus drivers, and custodians. A common refrain around my house is, “Are you on your phone again?” But I’ve always believed that the more people you talk to, the more accurate picture you’ll get.

I do think, though, that I’m going to get t-shirts made that say “TC who?” because unfortunately, most of the conversations start with or include the phrase, “Don’t say you talked to me,” or “Don’t mention my name.” That alone should be troubling to folks. Because the people I talk to aren’t looking to tear down MNPS. Quite the opposite, in fact. They are dedicated to making it the best district in the country. Nothing they are doing should be considered “state secrets.” After all, it is PUBLIC education. The intense focus on who tells me stuff, instead of proving me wrong or fixing the issues raised, is very troubling to me. Not acknowledging problems does not make them go away; it merely causes them to fester.

I don’t have a lot of heart these days for the charter school vs. public school debate. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important; it’s that I think improving all our schools needs to take precedent. And besides, I need off the hamster wheel. In talking to people, I’ve had conversations with really smart, dedicated, caring people who didn’t agree with me on how to improve all our schools. They didn’t have spiked tales and horns, just different opinions. That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn from them. I appreciate them for looking beyond my horns and hooves as well. We need to focus on policy, not personality.

I appreciate you allowing me this little indulgence. I want to give a heartfelt thank you and much respect to all of you at MNPS who have tried to educate this college dropout. Y’all truly are amazing. Hopefully someone besides me will dedicate themselves to talking to you, learning your stories, and giving you the props you deserve. There is a lot of talent in this city. It’s past time we started fully accessing it.

RANDOM NOTES

Over the weekend, the buzz on Social Media was about the recently released annual chart of the salaries of the Top 50 highest paid Metro Nashville employees. Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph came in 3rd. His Chiefs were ranked 17 – 20th. And the Mayor of Nashville? She was ranked 28th.

Interestingly enough, I put in an open records request about 2 weeks ago for copies of Dr. Joseph’s evaluation of the Chiefs’ performance last year. Here’s the response I received: “The evaluations for the chiefs are not completed at this time. I would suggest you request them again in a few weeks.” Not a bad gig if you can get it, huh? Is anybody getting evaluated these days besides students, teachers, and principals?

It’s interesting that while MNPS Board Chair Anna Shepherd and Board member Will Pinkston show little interest in the evaluation of MNPS leadership, they are extremely concerned with how LEAD Academy evaluated their former director. Pinkston found the subject to be important enough to file an open records request for the emails surrounding the exit of then-CEO Chris Reynolds. And what, you might ask, did these emails reveal? That the LEAD Board was doing their job. In case you are keeping score at home, the board’s evaluation of Dr. Joseph was due back in June.

It’s often said that the past is the best predictor of the future. With that thought in mind, I decided to re-read the article written in the Boston Globe after current MNPS Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse left the school he was principal of in Boston. The whole article is worth reading through the lens of what we now know. The most telling quote comes from a former school worker:

“We were the NBT school — the Next Big Thing school,” said the educator. “Whatever the buzz was, that’s where you found us — same-sex classes, uniforms, ninth grade academy, curriculum initiatives. But there was no input from anyone — no research, no training, no evaluating, and therefore no effective implementation.

“It was change without progress,” he said.

Here’s another quote worth noting.

In all, 79 teachers and administrators left the school under Narcisse, generating enough bitter former faculty members to form a busy Facebook group, the English High Exiles.

 Then there’s Narcisse’s response:
“No one ever feels good that they have to do that job,” said Narcisse. “But the reality on the other end — it’s like the NBA, right? Doc Rivers has to put their best team out on the court. It’s about wins and losses.’’
Interesting. My question would be, wins and losses for whom? And now, in Nashville, are we just repeating history?

(Tusculum students for Walden Puddle)

Moving on.

We always preach the need to increase critical thinking and real world applications when it comes to our children’s education. Tusculum 4th graders practiced both when they took to the streets last Friday to raise both awareness and resources for Walden’s Puddle, an organization that provides care and treatment to sick, injured, and orphaned native Tennessee wildlife. The kids will be accepting donations of items such as trash bags, paper towels, liquid bleach, jars of baby food, dry dog food, unsalted walnuts and pecans, and birdseed until Wednesday, September 20. Help if you can.

The 14th annual International Bullying Prevention Conference is coming to Nashville November 5-7. It’s open to school counselors, administrators, teachers, school social workers, mental health coordinators, and student service coordinators. The IBPA conference will feature national presenters and new opportunities for learning and networking. Attendees can learn strategies for positive school climate, receive tools for student engagement efforts, discuss strategies for reducing social emotional barriers to increase student learning, and gain access to resources. Those who register before September 15 save $100. Register here: https://ibpaworld.org/events/conferences/.
Here’s one to put on your radar. In Denver, there are now 104 traditional district-run schools and 117 charter and innovation schools. Keep in mind that over the last couple of years, members of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, Nashville Council Members, and members of the MNPS School Board have all made trips to Denver. I’m not saying… but I’m saying.
The hits keep coming for the Tennessee Achievement School District. A new report in Tennessee Chalkbeat shows a dramatic drop in their enrollment figures. I don’t see those numbers improving anytime soon. They also have a profile of who’s now in charge, in case you are interested.
POLL RESULTS
Let’s now turn our attention to the poll results from the weekend. We had a great response this weekend and as always, I appreciate it.
The first question was in regards to MNPS’s stated initiative to diversify its staffing. The takeaway from this question is that diversity is important to you, but equally so is excellence. 78% percent of you responded in a manner that signified that quality was equally as important as diversity in MNPS’s hiring practices.
Here are the write-ins, and I urge you to give them some thought. They could serve as a basis for a much needed robust conversation.
Mnps is engaging in racial profiling 1
using only one qualification is a bad idea, period 1
important but quality comes first, not convinced we have a diversity issue 1
It will be difficult to ensure diversity when they can’t fill the current jobs. 1
Race vs quality is a false choice. I support affirmative action so I support this 1
It should be part of what we consider about an application.
Question 2 asked how you feel about each cluster/quadrant having a select number of seats at district magnet schools. Thirty percent of you thought that magnet school admission should be solely based on academic merit. The second leading answer with 22% was that this plan would promote equality but not equity. It would really help if the district supplied a definition of equity. After 13 months, I don’t think that expectation is too high. Only 11% of you thought it was a fantastic idea.
Here are the write-ins:
This doesn’t solve the core issue. 1
magnet schools promote cronyism and should be abolished. 1
Do away with choice & go back to community schools 1
Do away with academic magnet schools 1
Is it possible to have select seats and be based on merit? 1
Some who qualify will always be turned away. Improve all schools. End elitism. 1
Magnet schools are a detriment to efforts to create greater equity. 1
Would transportation be provided

The last question was about high school football games. It is with great sadness that I report that 60% of you do not plan on attending a single game this year. Twenty-six precent of you will attend 1-3 games. I know time marches on and we are all assaulted by so many time demands these days, but I do long for the days when people from the community would socialize on the weekend at games. Perhaps it’s different in rural communities.

Here are the write-ins:

All 1
I love to watch the bands at half-time. 1
Too tired from working so hard as a teacher 1
Out of county games

That does it for the week. Here’s a shameless plug for the new record by Prophets of Rage. It’s all killer, no filler. Though you might not want to listen to it around the kids. Just saying.

You can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com or check out the Facebook page for Dad Gone Wild.

THE BAD, THE GOOD, AND THE UGLY

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This week is a prime example of that old adage, too much to write about and not enough time. I hope you got a chance to read yesterday’s piece on teacher recruitment and retention. If not, please check it out. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response it has received. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that teachers are frustrated. Apparently though, it does take a rocket scientist to deduce the need to listen. The Atlantic has a great piece on why teachers need their freedom that I strongly recommend as well.

Before we get into things, I would like to express my sympathies to the family and friends of Those Darlins founder Jessi Zazu who succumbed to cancer this week at the much too young age of 28. Zazu was a former attendee of the Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp. Her spirit, intellect, and talent will be greatly missed.

THE BAD

Earlier in the week, I received an interesting private message from an MNPS parent. Initially she was interested in the ever-evasive TNReady scores, but then she wanted to know if this message that she had received from her child’s school seemed normal to me:

“While progress reports are scheduled to be sent home next Wednesday, September 6th, there are some factors to consider. Many elementary students are new to school or are still adjusting to school learning expectations and classroom procedures at this point in the school year. We have also been administering MAP-Reading, MAP-Math, FastBridge, and Text Level Assessments to provide a baseline of information so each student can have specific learning needs met going forward. These factors can limit clear and accurate information related to student learning 4 instructional weeks into the school year. Therefore, schools will not be issuing the standard progress reports and will be communicating differently with families. XXX will be sending home information about assessments that students have taken as soon as all of the results are available. Additionally, teachers will communicate with individual families if there are students at risk of not being successful this first quarter.”

I replied, “No it doesn’t.” So of course I did a little digging, and lo and behold, I found some strange doings indeed. Apparently this was a template that MNPS administrators had suggested principals utilize due to the district being so far behind in training staff on the new grading policies. Many principals, though, realized that when the calendar said that progress reports are coming home on September 6, parents actually expected them to come home on September 6. So they sent progress reports home on September 6.

What this translates to is that parents at some schools received progress reports while parents at other schools received something entirely different and a few other schools got something even more different. What it also means is that after 13 months, this administration is still incapable of producing a consistent progress report across the district. To me, that is completely unacceptable, as it should be to anybody who cares about kids’ education.

This administration, as well as members of our school board, talk so much about equity, yet seem to lack an understanding of what that means. You can’t have equity until you demonstrate that you are capable of executing the day-to-day functions of the district. In fact, failure to execute those tasks means that the quality of each child’s education is then placed upon the shoulders of the school level leadership and their ability to navigate the shortcomings of the district leadership. This is an extremely tenuous position to put our principals in, especially our newest principals.

We talk endlessly about the need to find more educators who “look like the kids they are serving.” While that is certainly an important consideration, it can’t supersede quality. I would argue that by focusing on color of skin over quality you actually increase inequities. I’m not accusing Dr. Joseph of purposely pursuing such a strategy, but I do think he needs to add a focus on quality to his message. Furthermore, I would challenge him and anyone else to name me one central office hire over the past year who is a marked improvement over the person they replaced. I can’t do it. Closest I can come is Dennis Queen. That’s a problem.

If the progress report debacle wasn’t enough, yesterday, administrators sent out this message to teachers:

Important Change to K-4 Grade Book

 In grades K-4, MNPS used a temporary Progress Report in September. This temporary report required that teachers post grades. Because grades were posted, “In Progress” grades at the reporting category and term level stopped calculating.

To allow “In Progress” grades to calculate in all standards again, MNPS will remove all posted grades in K-4 grade books Thursday, 9/14/2017. This will allow the grade book and family portal to show an accurate and current “In Progress” grade for students. 

If posted progress report grades are needed, Executive Principals can request copies of the Q1 Progress Reports and/or a school wide list of posted grades (organized by teacher) by emailing grading@mnps.org.

Thank you for your patience. Please continue to read communications to ensure that you have the information you need to provide families with accurate grades.

I don’t think I need to tell you how that email went over. Teacher’s do not have time to enter, re-enter, re-reading directions. All this memo does is reiterate the impression that central office’s agenda trumps everyone else’s.

I could write 1000 words about the mis-steps that MNPS continues to make, and former teacher and dear friend Mary Holden has written a few of her own, but the only words that seem to fit are, and I know I shouldn’t talk like this, can the district please get it’s head out of it’s….

THE GOOD

This week, a tweet from the students at Maplewood High School involved with ProjectLit brought a huge smile to my face. They were kind enough to send me a thank you note for attending their monthly book club. Truth is, I should thanking them for letting me be a part of it.

MNPS has brand new feature on their Children First blog, #MNPSVoices. They will be highlighting various heroes from across the district and telling you a little more about them. The first one features West End Middle crossing guard Teresa Hunter. I look forward to more of these.

Eighteen MNPS students are among the approximately 16,000 National Merit Award Semi-Finalists recently announced. That is cause for celebration. Here’s wishing all of them luck and letting them know they make Nashville proud.

(Smith Springs ES Watch D.O.G.S)

Smith Springs ES held the kick-off meeting for their Watch D.O.G. S. chapter this week. I’d say by the size of the crowd they should expect a huge year this year. Looking forward to hearing more.

MNPS will be hosting a College Fair on September 21st at TSU. It’s a good place to start to seed some of those dreams.

It is football season. I keep hearing from folks who have recently attended their first high school football game in a long time. Every one of them tells me what a great time they had. There’s kind of a big one this week, Glencliff visits Hillsboro tonight at 7:30PM. As much I like my Burro peeps, my heart does live in South Nashville. If you can make the game tonight, I certainly encourage you to do so.

Students and educators from Hillsboro, Overton, and Pearl Cohn High Schools will be heading to Charlottesville this weekend, where they will be performing a song they wrote inspired by recent events. Safe travels and know that Nashville is proud.

(MNPS educators and students going to Charlottesville)

THE UGLY

The Data Wars show no sign of letting up soon. At last week’s marathon school board meeting, the MNPS board voted to not share student information with the ASD. Of course, State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen wasted no time in pointing out that this was an illegal action:

“We are disappointed MNPS has chosen to adopt a policy that conflicts with state law. T.C.A. § 49-13-132 is clear that districts must release students’ contact information, as allowed under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), to a chartering authority or charter school. The department has sought to proactively collaborate with MNPS and has taken several steps to clarify and establish protections that ensure that student contact information is not misused or shared against the wishes of a parent. We have allowed the district additional time to ensure parents received a second communication about the rights they have always had to opt out, and we have sought additional clarity from the attorney general.

The school board’s vote ultimately represents a decision to limit information to families about their public school options as they make decisions about what is best for their children – especially families who have students in the district’s Priority schools or lowest performing schools.”

Since irony seems to be lost on the masses, MNPS board member Will Pinkston fired back by accusing the Commissioner of “overestimating” her authority. Hey, I only write the punchlines, I don’t inspire them.

To further complicate matters, the Tennessee Attorney General issued a ruling this week that runs counter to Mr. Pinkston’s assertions. He ruled that requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators doesn’t violate Federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.” McQueen wasted no time putting both Shelby County Schools and MNPS on notice:

“If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law.”

Yeah… this ain’t going to end well. As always, Andy Spears at TN Ed Report offers further insight, and asks the question, where do the current candidates for Governor stand on protecting student data vs. providing marketing information to competing districts and schools? Maybe while they are at it, they could give us their thoughts on the ASD as well.

POLL QUESTIONS

Here are the questions for this week. I think I have some interesting ones.

The first question goes back to what I stated earlier, that MNPS has made a firm commitment to hiring more people of color. How do you feel about that?

The second question has to do with magnet school entrance requirements. Some voices across the district have been calling to have magnet school seats designated by either quadrant or cluster. For example, if there were 100 seats available, every quadrent would get 25. How does that sound to you?

My last question has to do with high school football and how many of you plan to attend this year.

That about does it for another week. Remember to check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page for good things happening around the district. If you need to get a hold of me, it’s norinrad10@yahoo.com

 

 

TEACHERS, TEACHERS, WHO’S GOT TEACHERS?

17

After sitting through 2 hours of a 4-hour school board meeting earlier this week, I feel compelled to offer some additional insight on the portion of that meeting that related to teacher recruitment and retention. As a side note, I’m a firm believer that if a meeting lasts over an hour, you need another meeting. Research has shown that people’s attention spans drop off dramatically after 30 minutes, so imagine the drop off after 4 hours. But I digress.

One of the biggest challenges facing Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) is teacher recruitment and retention. To be fair, it’s not just a local issue. Districts across the country are grappling with the same challenge. In my mind, that exacerbates the problem because it allows district leadership to shift blame elsewhere and not look at the role they play in the crisis. And I do believe it’s a crisis.

Chief Executive Officer of Human Resources Deborah Story gave a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting to the MNPS school board that I found quite interesting. She acknowledged last year’s shortcomings by saying “We didn’t see the growth that we’d like to have,” and that they’d have to work harder this year. She then proceeded to present a number of slides that illustrated data pulled from exit interviews with teachers who had left the district.

Before we get into those slides, it needs to be noted that only 17% of exiting teachers, up slightly from last year, participated in the exit surveys. Why is that, you ask? According to Ms. Story, a major reason was a fear of reprisal if they decided to return to the district at a later date. Wait… what you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?

Did I just hear the Head of HR acknowledge that there is a culture of fear at MNPS that keeps teachers from speaking their mind? But several board member have dismissed such claims over the years. Some board members have asserted that the culture of fear has dissipated over the last year. Yet, here you have the Head of HR saying that only 17% of teachers LEAVING the district responded to exit surveys with fear of reprisal being a leading reason given. Draw your own conclusions.

Moving on. Story produced a slide that compared the number of teachers leaving the district during the last two school years by their years of experience teaching. She noted that we had decreased the number of teachers exiting in their first and second years of teaching. She did acknowledge that by year three, there was a slight uptick, and that they were looking into it because they weren’t sure why those teachers left in slightly greater numbers than before.

Story then went on to praise the value of the new teacher academy and mentoring programs and the positive impacts they were having. Both are worthy of accolades, but let’s back things up for a second.

Take a look at teachers with 4 through 10 years of experience. We almost DOUBLED the amount of experienced teachers we lost from the year before. Yikes! That is pretty serious, and I bet that you’re thinking surely a board member or two questioned those numbers! Nope. They just moved on to the next slide.

More time was spent discussing the demise of transitional licensing than discussing why we saw this huge uptick in veteran teachers leaving the district. In my humble opinion, those numbers are another indication of a culture problem. Because if you go back a slide, district research showed that the vast majority of teachers leaving are heading to another district. So what you have is teachers who understand the requirements of the profession and have accepted them, but feel that another district would be a better place to practice their profession. Has anybody asked why?

To be fair, sometimes the reason for moving to another district can be as simple as a desire to cut down on commute time. But with that many educators making the move, coupled with the low exit interview participation due to fear of reprisal, I would be doing some digging. Though you can’t really dig into things if people don’t trust you. If I don’t trust you, it’s easier to take the path of least resistance than to give you meaningful answers. I realize that creates a bit of a Catch-22, but it is what it is.

At this point in the meeting, Dr. Joseph decided to speak about the threat of other districts poaching our teachers. He noted that at the beginning of the year, we lost 30 to 40 teachers to other districts, and it really hurt us. Other states have legislation to curb teacher poaching, and he felt like it might be something that Tennessee needs to explore. I guess nobody told him that Tennessee is a right-to-work state controlled by Republicans. Furthermore, MNPS has a bonus plan that pays teachers up to $6K if they join the district after August 11th. A plan that is designed to… wait for it… poach teachers from other districts.

I just keep going back to the elephant in the room: culture. We’ve all heard the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and it is absolutely true. If you don’t think the culture in MNPS is toxic, then you are not paying attention. Dr. Joseph himself has acknowledged such to me personally and even went as far to admit that he’d probably made it worse by bringing in so much outside leadership at the beginning. While I appreciate his candor, what is being done to fix things now?

I know, this is where people tell me that there has always been a culture problem at MNPS. Here’s my response: “I don’t care. The past should not be the sole justification for the present.” If it’s bad, it’s bad, regardless of who’s responsible for it. At some point, somebody has to own it and take steps to improve things. It drives me absolutely nuts when people shrug off a bad situation because it’s always been like that. As if a bad culture is an inherent part of the system.

If you watch the first 90 minutes of Tuesday’s board meeting, you’d be left with the impression that the district’s problems are minimal. In discussing this with a dear friend, she made the comment that she feels by and large, despite the deeper problems in the district, which she’s not discounting, there is incredible work being done. That kids are being engaged and teachers are closing their doors and doing transformational work behind them.

I certainly don’t disagree with that assertion. But, I would ask, at what cost? We celebrate all these feel good stories but we never ask to see the price tag. We never ask the cost to teachers’ health. We never ask the cost to their mental health. We never ask the cost to their family relationships. We never ask their financial cost. It has become expected that teachers will pay whatever cost it takes to produce quality learning opportunities for their students. They will do whatever it costs to ensure that every child has a shot at the best educational experience possible.

It’s very commendable of teachers to be willing to pick up the tab, but is it moral for us to just accept it and allow it? Many of us would bristle if, when out with a friend for a meal, they tried to pick up the tab. Yet we feel perfectly fine with allowing teachers to go into their pocket for classroom supplies. We have no problem expecting them to work on weekends for no pay because we’ve heaped so many responsibilities upon their plate. We don’t even feel compelled to make sure that they make enough money that, if they desired, they could afford to buy a house in the district where they work.

Instead we talk about alternative licensing, principal leadership programs, certifying teachers through the district, working with community groups, creating websites, and other ideas that may make a dent in the issue, but won’t touch the root. I’d argue that unless we get to the root, it’s akin to just throwing kindling on the fire. You may increase your numbers, but to utilize business speak, are you utilizing the right KPI’s – Key Performance Indicators?

Story talked a whole lot about teachers leaving the district. In my opinion, those numbers tell an incomplete story. If we are going to understand the full scope of the crisis, we also need to look at the number of teachers transferring within the district. Those numbers might give somebody a heart attack, but I believe you’d find that transferring schools is often a precursor to leaving the district. Those numbers may allow you to prevent further exodus from the district.

Towards the end of Story’s presentation, Board member Christiane Buggs asked, “What can we do for you?” Story responded that they needed two more recruiters at minimum. She went on to say that the current recruiters were drowning under the volume of the work and were highly stressed out. In her words,

“You can see it in their eyes that they are stressed out. If they get too stressed out, you start to lose people. Sharon and I have to spend a little bit of every day giving them some love.”

The irony in that statement is not lost on me. I wonder if we could get that statement on a T-shirt and present it to Dr. Joseph.

ANOTHER START TO ANOTHER WEEK

We’ve been starting to0 many weeks as of late with prayers. This week prayers continue to go out to the folks in Florida. Yesterday Hurricane Irma tore through and today the damage assessment begins. It’s my prayer that everyone is safe and that the damage is as manageable as possible.

Today also marks the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers. I can still remember that day vividly. I was at work at the Exit-In early and RJ, Kristin, and I watched the news unfurl in the little upstairs office on a tiny TV. We were so moved and taken aback that the only reaction that seemed appropriate was to pause, join hands, and take a moment for prayer. To this day that stills seems like the most appropriate action and one that it would’t hurt to emulate today.

Today’s post is going to be a little random, as I’ve got no over arching theme to hit but a lot of random things I want to touch on. Today’s writings will be written to the cool sounds of New Edition, Lavert, and Earth,Wind, and Fire, closing out with XTC.

REINVENTING HIGH SCHOOL

Like me, on Friday you might have been flipping through the channels around 7pm and found the same thing on every channel. It was a program produced by XQ and funded by Luarene Powell Jobs – yep, that Jobs – telling you about the reimagining of High School.  I’ll be honest, I only lasted 5 minutes…ok, 2 minutes…alright,30 seconds. But what I saw was enough to know that this was another slick package designed by well meaning people guaranteed to catapult education of our kids into the next stratosphere.

I’m not going to get into a critique, much smarter people than I have already done that and done it well, but I am going to make two observations. One, in despite of the fact that we’ve never actually committed to doing public education right – fully funded, empowered teachers, emphasis on research proven best practices, fully involved parents, transparent policies – we are endlessly searching for new ways to “fix” things.

It’s like that serial adulterer who leaves his wife for his mistress. He never fully committed to his first marriage so what makes him think the second, or third is going to be any different? In AA we have a saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” It means sometimes you have to acknowledge, that you are part of the problem.

We know what works with schools. Teachers that are empowered, and adequately  compensated, implementing programs that are fully funded with parental and community support in a transparent manner. Imagine if we did a show that addressed those tenets.

You could start with Mark Zuckerberg coming out and earnestly looking at the camera, “I really don’t know anything about education but I got lots of money and it seems like a good vehicle to get you to like me and thinking I’m a benevolent soul. But I decided to do something a little different. I decided to started talking to professional educators.”

Than you could have a former superintendent of schools come out and say, “I used to get together with all my fellow supes and we’d hire each other to be consultants for our respective districts. It was a great gig and we were all getting cars and swimming pools. Than I realized, this wasn’t helping kids. Money invested in people in our district, and the programs they created, would allow us to do more with less and we could put that extra money back into the district. It was an epiphany!”

Next up would be Jay-Z, and he could talk about how 1 in 7 children in America will be born into poverty. He could talk about how this creates trauma in these kids and the effects that trauma has on their learning. He could tell a few stories about how he grew up hard but was able to get a better life. Kayne West could come out and talk about his mother and her commitment to public education. Young Buck could tell tales about being at Jere-Baxter MS – hey, they got Hume-Fogg, it’s only fair we get Jere-Baxter.

Ryan Reynolds could talk about how his parents always supported his educational endeavors and how they communicated with his school and were always at his sporting events. Matt Damon could then walk out and give him a big bro hug and they could talk about all that Matt does for public education. Maybe they could get together with Ethan Hawke and Norman Reedus and pledge to do a show where they tour American schools on motorcycle. Imagine the four of them showing up each week to a different school and showing us what really happens.

The whole show could end with everybody walking out on stage arm and arm with actual students across the country singing the Beach Boy’s Be True To Your School. I can hear it now,

When some loud braggart tries to put me down
And says his school is great
I tell him right away
Now what’s the matter buddy
Ain’t you heard of my school
It’s number one in the state
So be true to your school now
Just like you would to your girl or guy
Be true to your school now
And let your colors fly
Be true to your school
It’d be awesome. But unfortunately it’ll never happen. Because we can’t keep our mind off that flirty young thing that just started over in the IT department. Again, wherever you go, there you are.
It does bear pointing out that this group has learned from previous reform groups. They understand the power of the local school board and in a clear case of if you can’t beat them join them, they’re providing resources so that everybody can run for school board. Isn’t that civic minded of them? Keep your eye on this one and lets see much it raises the financial bar on running for school board.
RANDOM THOUGHTS

(SE Quadrant community meeting)

Reports out of SE Nashville tell me that quadrant superintendent Adrianne Battle and District 6 school board representative Tyese Hunter hosted a well attended and very informative quadrent meeting on Saturday morning. Kudos to them and I regret not attending, but I’m sure there will be more opportunities, as they seem committed to keeping community informed.

One of my favorite education writers Grace Tatter has left us for the crimson and black. But not without some reflections on her time spent in Tennessee. My favorite,
I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.
There is a MNPS school board meeting tomorrow. In looking at the agenda, I’m particularly looking forward to the public comments section. The following are signed up to speak.
  1. Mary Holden – District Leadership and Homework
  2. Laura Benton – Educator Concerns/Request
  3. Chris Moth – Please Honor the Transition Team Report
  4. Gerald Grubb – Vocabulary Spelling City
  5. John Cummins – Salary Increases
  6. Amanda Kail – Safety for Immigrant Families
  7. Kelly Lockridge Zaimah – Nashville Classical
  8. Halima Labi – Purpose Prep
  9. Monique Fisher – Intrepid
  10. Yousef Husseini – Intrepid

Donelson teacher John Cummins is  going to challenge Dr. Joseph, and the school board, to commit to a 25% ACROSS-THE-BOARD SALARY INCREASE FOR ALL CERTIFIED AND NON-CERTIFIED EMPLOYEES, to be phased in over the next five years. In his words, NASHVILLE HAS THE MONEY – IT’S TIME TO PAY SCHOOL EMPLOYEES A FAIR WAGE FOR HARD WORK! Please come out and support if you’re able

Some make take exception to the number of parents speaking to the board on behalf of their children’s charter schools. I am not one of those. In looking at the names listed, it’s clear that these parents are representatives of our immigrant communities. The very fact that they are willing to engage in the public school system is cause for celebration as far as I’m concerned.

One more note on the agenda, why are we no longer doing the student performances before board meetings? It seems to me we should have more interactions with students not less.

We have our first school board campaign event kicking off this week. Anna Shepherd is announcing her intent to retain her seat at a fundraiser on September 14th. I guess that means it’s also the kick off for starting the rumor mill. I’m hearing two previous entrants are looking at running this years.

(Nashville School of Arts/Lady A)

Talk swirls that former board chair Cheryl Mayes is considering reclaiming her seat in district 6. Over indistrict 8 rumor has it that Becky Sharpe is considering another attempted run. I have heard rumors that Gina Pupa-Walker of Connexion is weighing options also in district 8. Remember those are just rumors.

Saturday night saw Nashville School of the Arts students taking the stage with Lady A. Kudos to their amazing Music Teacher Glenn Fugett and Principal Gregory Stewart for making it happen.

If you are on Twitter, do yourself a favor and check out Aunt B’s fascinating thread on the history of desegregation in Nashville and the bombing of Hattie Cotton. Her handle is @AuntB.

(Outdoor classroom at Madison Middle)

Over at Madison Middle School they are enjoying their brand new outdoor classroom.

(Alex Green ES students)

At Alex Green ES, they celebrated a week of behavior with NFL Day!

(KIPP student)

KIPP on Friday, had kid’s spend time writing letters of encouragement to fellow kids bracing for Hurricane Irma getting ready to hit Florida.

POLL RESULTS

Time now to take a look at the results from this weekends poll. As always the answers continue to be fairly unpredictable and very thought provoking. Thank you for your insight.

First question was in relation to MNPS’s recently released statement about Trump’s action on DACA. This one was an interesting one because throughout the weekend results tended to go back and forth between the leading votes. In the end, “I wish they’d focus more on kids and less on politics” slightly edged out “It made me proud”. In my opinion, this was a good reminder that our public schools are made up of all kinds of people and we do our best to always keep that in mind.’

Here are the write-ins.

Would have appreciated it more if I knew it would be backed by real action 1
Mixed emotions

The second question  was on outsourcing and for the first time ever, the write ins won. Thirty-six percent of you chose to write in your own answer. In reading them, it’s interesting that y’all seem to be on the same page. In my opinion, you sent a pretty clear message.

None 5
Too many already 1
Someone to babysit Will Pinkston 1
Nothing 1
Attending weekly academy & content meeting so teachers don’t lose 2 plan pds/wk 1
None! C’mon! 1
Trick question? None! 1
Central office 1
None. Outsourcing is an admin dodge of responsibility. 1
Chief Academic Officer 1
collecting the check they no longer work to earn 1
Maryland Central Office imports 1
Superintendent and chiefs 1
Administrators & Central Office Administrators Evaluations 1
Maintenance. 1
None, quality always drops with outsourcing to for-profits. 1
None of the above 1
Hiring director of schools 1
Director & Chief positions…. 1
Director of schools 1
Director of Schools 1
District 7 leadership. 1
none 1
Any job that can be evaluated by someone from Maryland.

The last question had to do with the pending vacancy at Tennessee’s ASD. I’m sad to report that Snowbird just edged out board member Will Pinkston for the job. It was a tight race and could have gone either way but in the end, Snowbird prevails. Here’s your other votes.

Amy Frogge 1
Close it down 1
Nobody! Get rid of it! 1
No one. It should be done away with. 1
There shouldn’t be an ASD. 1
Someone who was an actual teacher 1
Doesn’t matter, state’s quietly dismantling it. 1
Me 1
Abolish it! 1
Dr. Felder 1
TC Weber

There you have it. I hope you have a great week and we’ll touch base throughout. As always if you need to send me a message, norinrad10@yahoo.com is the way to do it. Also check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY!

6

Temperatures are dropping outside and school activities are rising. Being a large urban district means that there is always a lot going on. I’m going to try and hit as much of it as possible. Lord knows I’ll probably forget a few things though.

BEST WAY TO START THE DAY

(Book Club at Maplewood HS)

My day began over at Maplewood HS with the years first Project Lit community book club meeting. In case you are not familiar, Project Lit was started by students at Maplewood HS and their teacher Jared Amato. Last September he presented an article about book deserts and challenged them to come up with ways to combat the issue. What resulted was a true Project Based Learning effort.

Students started by designing a plan to address the lack of books in their neighborhood. The book club grew out of their success in creating a book drive. Each month a YA title is chosen and community members are invited to read the book and come discuss it in student facilitated groups. This month the book was American Boys, a story centered around a police beating of a young Africa-American male told through the eyes of the African-American boy and a white boy who witnessed the event.

I joined a group that consisted of 5 AA young men and Tara Scarlett, who was gracious enough to attend. Listening to these young men talk was quite informative. So often we think that we can predict people’s thoughts and feelings, but when we talk to them we find that people are much more complex creatures then we give them credit for being. I’m extremely grateful for the willingness of these young men and Tara to share their thoughts with me this morning.

Next month the book is The Hate U Give. The Maplewood book club meets will meet on October 20th. However, one of the great things about Project Lit is that other schools are starting to open chapters – pun intended. Croft MS’s Project Lit book club will hold it’s second meeting on September 21st at 7:30 AM. The book will be Towers Falling. Do yourself a favor, get cracking reading, and show up on the 21st.

MEET YOUR CONSULTANTS

On Monday I introduced you to a brand new consultant group that would be securing substitutes for 24 of our district schools. In keeping with the spirit, let me introduce another new player to the field, Concentric Education Solutions. Concentric is a company out of Maryland – I know you are shocked – publicly endorsed by our number 2 man, Sito Narcisse. We are paying Concentric $98K to conduct home visits in 4 priority schools.

(Student Services and School Operations.)

You might be scratching your head right now thinking, “Don’t we already have a department for that kind of thing?” Indeed we do, it’s called the Student Services and School Operations. SSSO is one of the largest shops in MNPS and it’s chock full of councilors, social workers, family engagement specialists and the like. You know, people that would be good at conducting home visits.

They are not part of this though. This is being run through the priority school office and executive director LeTricia Gloster whom, hold on to your seat, is also from Maryland.

(Concentric Application)

Just so you understand how this works, the priority school office is engaging a company from their home state to manage 1099 employees from Nashville to go into the homes of families from 4 priority schools – Joelton MS, Jere-Baxter MS, Madison Middle, Napier ES – whose children have been flagged for attendance issues.Thinking that sounds like a neat job and you wonder if you are qualified? All you need is a HS or Bachelor Degree, business attire, and a cell phone with a GPS apps and you could be doing the work of professionals.

Anybody see any problems here? How about access to student data? What happens when this pilot grows? What are the ramification on the department of SSSO if the pilot grows? How do we measure whether Concentric is successful or whether they are benefiting from the work of MNPS’s social workers and family engagement specialists who are already doing the work? Is anybody coordinating to make sure that both MNPS and Concentric are communicating the same message when interacting with the public? Is there no other company in the country doing this kind of work and if there is, why did we not engage a company with roots in Tennessee or the very least the south? I could go on, but I’ll let you come up with your own questions.

THE TRAGEDY OF DACA

Wednesday saw President Trump make, in my opinion, a horrible decision to retract protections for our undocumented students by repealing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) act. The possible repercussions of this action could impact nearly half of the students at my kids school, including many of their personal friends. For my family, and for the teacher’s and other families across the district, this is not a hypothetical exercise but a very real crisis.

MNPS released a strongly worded public statement rebuking the action. While I certainly support the sentiment of the statement, I’m always hesitant of the district taking a political position.

First of all it sets precedent. Eventually there will be an administration that does not share my values and an issue that I may support will come up and they will release a statement voicing opposition. How will that make me feel? They will use this to defend that.

Like it or not, Trump is President because enough people who agree with his policies voted for him and many of them send their kids to MNPS. I think a public institution must be very careful that it always remains neutral. Advocating for children is one thing, staking out a political position is another. Does this statement do the former and not the later? I don’t know.

The second issue that always gets me is that the district is forever willing to make bold political statements for our EL kids but fails to back them up when the cameras fade. Most of these kids are still housed in inadequate facilities. ELL funding was not increased at all this year despite the excellent work being done by the department.

The district continues to explore turning over responsibility for some of our newcomers to a charter school overseen by people with good intentions but no where near the qualifications of MNPS’s EL department. Imagine the reaction if the district considered turning a portion of the their special education kids over to a charter school with no proven track record in special education, merely a passion for it. So rather than issue an overt political statement, I would prefer to see the district put some walk in its talk and really step up their game in meeting our immigrant children’s needs..

QUICK HITS

Tennessee Achievement School District Superintendent Malika Anderson submitted her resignation this week. I can’t say that I was surprised to hear it. Anderson is someone who I philosophically disagreed with but I can confirm that she did not have two horns on her head, nor a pointy tail. I found her to be very passionate and I do hope she doesn’t leave education. Over the past couple of years I’ve become very conscious of our inclination to try and run people out of the conversation instead of getting more people into the conversation.

Chalkbeat has an excellent interview with Malika and I urge you to read it. One portion of the interview that I think needs highlighting and then hung up over at Central Office is her quote in response to the question “What’s your advice for the next leader of the ASD?”,

Know and honor the history of the communities that you are serving. There is a hell of a lot of good there, right? And there are warriors who have been fighting this battle on behalf of their kids for generations that should be included instead of us coming in as white knight to save the day.

Amen sister, amen.

Gary Rubinstein, a NJ blogger who has always covered the ASD better than anyone, has two great catches in a recent blog piece. He notes that with Anderson’s departure no one is left from when the ASD was originally created with the goal of moving the bottom 5% into the top 25% with in 5 years. A goal that was ridiculed at the time and one that the ASD has dramatically failed to reach. The second point is that Anderson had become a Chief for Change. I failed to catch that one. I knew that State Superintendent Candice McQueen had accepted membership but not Anderson. I’d be a little worried if I was McQueen because it seems that failure is a pre-requisite for joining the Chiefs.

The Tennessean has a interesting article today on the financial crunch facing Williamson County Schools. Seems people move to WC for the excellent schools and the low property taxes. It looks like one of those is going to have to give.

Here’s a fun little game to play. To the left is a hand out given to literacy coaches at this weeks meeting. Can you spot the grammatical error? Sigh…freudian slip?

This week 33 Nashville Council members signed a letter supporting MNPS School Board in their Data Wars. My only question is, where were these 33 when MNPS children were exposed to lead in the drinking water? SSSShhhhh TC…stop talking about that! As always, TNED Report’s Andy Spears explores things a little deeper.

The Overton PAC meeting that was scheduled for next week has been rescheduled to Monday September 25th at 6:30 at Tusculum ES library. All are welcome. The Hillsboro PAC kept right on going last year and we are hoping to emulate their success.

(Hillsboro PAC)

The Country Music Hall of Fame is now offering free admission to all Davidson County kids under 18.

More than 250 High School students participated in alumni led Ambassador training this week.

(Ambassador Training)

Even though we are not supposed to look at recently released ACT scores yet, the rumor I’m hearing is that Metro Nashville Virtual School blew the doors off.

Local blogger Vesia Hawkins has a post out this week in which she encourages parents to not get distracted by shiny objects and to instead stay focused on what matters, your child’s achievement. I encourage you to read the whole piece. I try not to read too much into things but coupled with Sharon Gentry’s remarks on the board floor last month…I think a message is being sent.

Has anybody seen that definition of equity that MNPS is using? Surely after 13 months they’ve written it somewhere right?

Since once you are one of us you are always one of us, Dr. Bryan Johnson has identified his transition team. Nice to see that it has some parents on it and far as I can tell nobody from out of state. His areas of focus seem solid as well.

POLL QUESTIONS

This week, as always, I’ve got questions. The first one involves MNPS’s statement on DACA. Do think it went too far? Not far enough? What are your thoughts?

The second question relates to the hiring of consultants. Since the district seems to endorse outsourcing as much work as possible, what else do you you think should be outsourced?

Last question relates to the job opening at the ASD. They need a leader and Dad Gone Wild knows people, so who do you think should be the next head of the TN ASD?

That’s a wrap for the week. May your football team win this week, unless of course they are playing my football team. If you’d like to send me a comment please do at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

 

DATA WARS, SUBS, AND POLL RESULTS

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I hope everybody had a glorious Labor Day. We had a nice one here. Though I must admit I do feel nostalgic for the Labor Days of my youth when the holiday meant nobody labored. It used to be that you had to stock up on Saturday because come Sunday and Monday, everything was going to be closed.  Driving around this year and it was hard to find anything that was closed, which kind of defeats the whole point of the holiday, but what are you going to do?

DATA WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

Watching the Tennessee Department of Education and the states two largest school districts, Nashville and Memphis, wrangle over student data continues to resemble WWE’s Summer Smackdown – lots of posing coupled with little substance. Quick recap, in case you are new to the game, new legislation passed last spring that School Districts have to share directory data with charter schools and Memphis and Nashville don’t want to do it.

Over the last couple weeks just everybody, including council members and state representatives, have wrapped themselves in the flag and strode to the podium to talk about the injustice being perpetrated by charter schools mis-using the data provided, despite evidence of a wide spread threat. The districts arguments are that sharing the data is a violation of a federal rule amended in 2011, and that the intent of the state statute was to exclude the data from being used for marketing purposes. The holes in those arguments are that their is dispute about whether the federal rule contradicts open records laws and that whatever the intent of the new legislation, explicit language excluding recruitment purposes was not put in place.

In the center of this is the the Tennessee Achievement School District. They are like that prom queen fallen from grace. Once they were everybody’s darling and now they can’t buy a friend. In talking to people in Memphis, an important element in the fight is the fact that for years the ASD unwarrantedly bullied everybody else and now that they are weakened, turn around is fair play and this is one more way to quicken their exit towards the door.

I’ve long said the ASD needs to go. ASD director Malika Anderson has always been forthright with me and I believe her heart is the right place, but let’s face it, founder and former ASD head Chris Barbic handed her a defective product when he left. In fact, if it was a used car, I think she’d have a case under the lemon laws. So, this part of the argument I’m good with it. It’s the posturing and hypocrisy with the rest of debate that loses me.

It was reported last week that Board Chairwoman Anna Shepherd sent a letter to State Superintendent Candice McQueen pushing back on the state requirements. Let me rephrase that, at the conclusion of a meeting with Ms. McQueen, in which everybody had the chance to air and discuss grievances, MNPS presented a letter raising issues never raised in the meeting. You can read for yourself how that went over in Ms. McQueen’s response letter. In the immortal words of Keith Moon, like a lead ballon.

In my eyes the whole argument boils down to opening another front in the battle against charter schools. Which would be fine, and welcomed, if somebody actually was able to describe what happens when the war is won. How are you going to ensure that all kids have access to a quality school once district is free of charter schools. That’s where I’d like to see the focus – eradicating demand instead of supply.

I suspect the goal here is less about getting rid of all charter schools and more about making sure only the ones certain board members like survive. The privacy issue in my eyes is just a piece of a strategy to get to that place. A strategy not all that dissimilar to the one employed by President Trump to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, starve it and then decry its failures.

I’m not down playing the seriousness of student privacy. Peter Greene has an excellent post and interactive map highlighting the seriousness. It’s a vital issue, which is why I hate to see it hijacked for political posturing. I asked people in the know how many outside companies does MNPS provide directory information. While I haven’t been able to get an official response yet, estimates run between 50 and 75 third party vendors. McQueen herself in her letter mentions companies selling class rings, yearbooks, and photographs. Those popular MNPS call out? Third party vender provided directory information. Charter schools are just a small portion of this issue.

A larger conversation about student privacy would be a good thing. I think that an annual review of policy to ensure that everything is being done to protect student information should be a priority. But it needs be an honest conversation, not one cloaked in hidden agendas. In an NPR interview Shepard let the cat out of the bag about what’s driving this fight, “I think that we are at a saturation point. I know we are at a saturation point monetarily,” McQueen is kind enough in her letter to point out that under the new state law MNPS should recoup about a million dollars in costs associated with charter schools.

SUBSTITUTE

Over the last several years MNPS, along with many other school districts, has been besieged by a shortage of substitute teachers. It’s a huge problem and one that has a direct impact on student learning. Recognizing that sub pay was long over due to be increased, MNPS did so at the end of last school year. Apparently that has had little effect because they have now gone to a favorite tool of theirs, an outside consulting agency.

The district is in the process of finalizing arrangements with Education Solution Services to address the needs of 24 schools selected to pilot their services. Education Solution Services is a company based out of Knoxville that specializes in school staffing. Wilson county employs them to mixed results, great service at increased expense. This week an email was sent out to begin the recruitment process in Nashville. It read,

Metro Nashville Public Schools is excited to announce the launch of its partnership with Education Solutions Services for the provision of substitutes. Effective for the 2017- 2018 school year, Education Solution Services will begin working with a select group of schools to grow our substitute base. Education Solution Services is a national provider of substitute employees and has most recently partnered with Wilson County Schools in a

similar capacity to increase the district’s substitute teacher fill rates. By partnering with Education Solution Services and aligning their resources with the Metro Nashville Public Schools HR team, we hope to improve the substitute employee experience and increase the overall program success.

The schools Education Solution Services will support are provided as an attachment. Education Solution Services will begin recruiting for these schools immediately. Any current or new substitute candidate, who plans to work in one of the selected schools should submit an application with Education Solution Services through their website at www.essgroup1.com. For current MNPS substitutes, new background checks will not be required. MNPS substitutes who wish to remain in the other locations not listed in the attachment, will not notice any change to the process. Substitute pay, including incentives, will remain the same for all substitute employees regardless of the school in which you choose to work. SmartFind will continue to be utilized as the Substitute Management System across all schools.

For those substitute employees working in our other MNPS schools, you will continue your work with MNPS as usual.

If you have questions about Education Solution Services and are interested in working in the select schools, please contact the Education Solution Services Onsite team at 615- 483-1326. If you have questions that are MNPS specific, please feel free to reach out to me at 615-259-8678 or via email at amber.tyus@mnps.org.

The schools chosen to pilot the program are:

Margaret Allen Middle, Antioch Middle, Apollo Middle, Jere Baxter Middle, Buena Vista Elementary Caldwell Elementary, Carter-Lawrence Elementary, DuPont Tyler Middle, John Early Middle, Gra-Mar Middle, Harris-Hillman Johnson ALC, Issac Litton Middle, Madison Middle, McKissack Middle McMurray Middle,  J.T. Moore Middle, Murrell School, Napier Elementary, Park Avenue Elementary Robert Churchill Elementary, Rosebank Elementary,Two Rivers Middle, Warner Elementary

I called ESS and talked to a very nice woman who was only too happy to give me what details she could, but admitted the list was a bit random. For whatever reason those were the schools selected by the district. Let’s see how this one works out. It should be noted though that we continue to pay large salaries to administrators and then outsource the work. The job at central office seems to have morphed into one of managing consulting companies and not district employees.

QUICK HITS

If you are a parent, educator, or a community member in the Overton Cluster, there will be an informal Parent Advisory Committee meeting on Wednesday September 21 in the Tusculum ES library at 6:30. Under previous administrations the PAC was a vehicle for parents in the whole cluster to be informed about what was going on in schools. Last year PAC was not officially active but the Hillsboro cluster continued to meet. Maplewood also met a few times. This is an attempt to emulate those two clusters. All are welcome. Come share the positive news of your schools.

Its neat seeing Whites Creek Students featured in this video from Ford Steam Day.

You are invited to a Southeast quadrant meet and greet with school board member Tyese Hunter and Community Superintendent Dr. Adrienne Battle on September 9 at Southeast Community Center.

Gower ES PTO held a spirit night at the Dairy Queen on HW 70 last week. Looks like a great time was had by all.

Waverly-Belmont is looking for some parents or community members to help out in the library. If that might be you, come to the meeting on September 9th to find out how you can engage.

POLL RESULTS

Once again we had good response to the poll questions and I am very appreciative. Thank you for your continued support. Let’s look at results.

The first question asked for your thoughts on closing schools. The number one answer with 35% of the vote was that we should close charters first. The district should take heart in that the number 2 answer at 30% was “I wish we didn’t have to but…”. This shows that people recognize the need and if the district communicates it’s intentions clearly they should find some willing partners. Closing schools and rezoning is hard work and requires as many partners as possible.

Here’s the write in votes. There are often ideas worthy of further exploration in these “other” responses.

5th graders belonged in elementary to begin with! 1
Needs to be thoroughly studied and considered 1
I am hopeful MNPS will use their buildings in the best way possible 1
Investigate why schools are underenrolled 1
Merge JB and Gra Mar! 1
Why are we paying for execs’ doctorate degrees? 1
Rezoning is preferable to closing schools. Too bad either is necessary, but it is 1
No opinion 1
If closed, public land should stay in public hands 1
id go with rezoning to balance numbers. 1
look at out of zone students. Some legit some costing $$$ and issues! 1
Community should be engaged every step of the way in something like this.

The second question was in regards to the IFL units included in the new Advanced Literacy policy. If you are confused, and poll results indicate many of you are, don’t feel bad. This policy has been implanted as a shining example of building the plane while you fly it. I’ve never understood why people invoke that phrase with a sense of pride, but I digress.

The top two answers, with 20% of the vote each, were “Haven’t been given enough information to form an opinion.” and “Getting awful close to scripted lessons aren’t we?” That doesn’t bode well, especially when you consider the number 3 answer, “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m not using them.”

I’ve been turning that 3rd answer over in my head all weekend. What are the consequences if teachers do ignore the IFL units? What is the district going to do? They can’t afford to fire anyone because they don’t have enough teachers as it is. I tend to think that the ones who would ignore the policy would be the older more experienced teachers. When you consider that the majority of teachers in our priority schools are young teachers, how does this impact equity?

Literacy coaches are evaluated on part, I would assume, on adherence to district policy. However, they don’t have any power to enforce adherence. I would think this puts them in kind of a precarious position and let’s not forget the district had to open up applications for that position twice last year in order to get enough applicants. Seem’s like we are running the risk of a negative impact here if we are not careful.

Logic would tell me that when rolling out an initiative of this size you might want to spend some time informing and securing the support of veteran teachers before implementing. You might also want to develop clear instructions and a rubric for evaluating end of unit tasks. In other words, you might want to build the plane before it takes off. Here are the write-in answers and there are a lot.

Stop buying junk/stop changing scope and sequence and content a last minute! 1
No opinion 1
Felder and Lashley need to go 1
DNK 1
Ours haven’t been distributed yet 1
I haven’t had enough planning time to even look at them. 1
I equally need to pick useless to me/too close to scripted/don’t tell Imnotusing 1
Flat, uninteresting, not innovative, counter to previous initiatives 1
Couldn’t the units MNPS teachers wrote been used and saved us a ton of money? 1
3rd grade is good, but the partner work is advanced for this time of the year 1
wastw of money-again!!!!!! 1
No experience with them. Yet. 1
Feels like big brother micromanaging. Everyone becomes mediocre, art of ed lost.

Question 3 asked for what song best summed up the first month of school. The number one answer with 30% of the vote was Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” whose chorus is,

Running on, running on empty
Running on, running blind
Running on, running into the sun
But I’m running behind

Again, you wonder if anybody is listening.

Here’s the write-ins:

Vivaldi Four Seasons – especially Summer and Fall 🙂 1
She’s Crafty 1
Not the Nationwide jingle! I feel like policies are being made w/o teacher input 1
Maniac (From Flashdance)

That’s it for now. Please check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, and if you’d like to give me feedback you can send me a line at norinrad10@yahoo.com.

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