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.

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One comment on “A BIT ABOUT ME, A BIT ABOUT SALARIES, AND SOME POLL RESULTS

  1. jtmcs says:

    Thanks for spreading the word on the small tweak to the magnet lottery program that was proposed by the Transition Team, namely to allocate slots by cluster. A lot of people in Nashville believe that a “2 high school model” is written in stone for Nashville, for enternity, and that there can be no alternative structure.

    Your repeated use of the word “merit” was interesting.

    The notion that we should assess the “merit” of a child in 3rd grade, and route them to a series of school buildings which excludes less-meritorious children is fixated in Nashville culture.

    But, it flies against a fundamental ideal of public education that it should strive to educate all children. I hope this issue will get some review at the School Board. In the process of that, it would be wonderful for our School Board to answer the super-simple question:

    “Why do we have taxpayer funded score-segregated schools in 2017?”

    I’ve been asking that question for 5 years at least – and no answer has come from Bransford Ave – none.

    Setting aside the question that will, I assume, continue to go un-answered….

    A few of the many reasons we should consider the recommendations of the Transition Team include:

    1) Only one in 9 kids in Hillsboro cluster elementary schools arrive at Hillsboro high school for 9th grade. The flight of our families is beyond stunning. Hume Fogg slots are dominated by Hillwood, Overton, and Hillsboro families. In fact, in Hillwood cluster, every morning, 500 kids wake up, and heat out to Hume Fogg, MLK, and Hillsboro. That’s 1/2 a high school of kids clogging our streets. Why?

    2) Across the entire district, upon departure from 4th grade, our district sends home a brochure “Here are your options – good luck getting out of here with our lotteries” We see a per-grade enrollment drop, across the district, of about 40%. The contrast with magnet-free, charter-free Williamson County could not be clearer. There, per-grade enrollment _increases_ magically on transition to middle school.

    3) So long as we put all our eggs in one basket – the 30 AP courses at Hume Fogg and MLK, and shrug off – somewhat – academics at so many score-integrated high schools – we are going to drive the long waitlists, drive parent frustration, and clog our streets with folks running from each other.

    4) Meigs magnet has 100+ students from JT Moore Middle’s geographic zone. JT Moore is the #1 supplier of kids to Meigs. Even more students from JT Moore’s geographic zone leave for choice-segregated Valor charter (which, roughly like Meigs, serves few if any children in public housing). The right side of the aisle says “Stop whining and fix your zoned school” But, they forget that integrated JT Moore is the _highest_ performing zoned middle school in the district (by all their myopic measures).

    “Allocate magnet slots by cluster” (and simultaneously, the other critical recommendation to ensure a minimum set of college-prep academics at all zoned high schools) is a last chance for this administration to show that they have any interest whatsoever in supporting the hard work at integrated high schools.

    Chris Moth

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