THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS

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Welcome back to school and hopefully everyone had a wonderful holiday. Personally, I’m a little melancholy today as over the holidays, I received news that one of my favorite high school teachers, Mr. Demarest, passed away. He was a good, hard working, deeply caring, self sacrificing individual who had a profound impact on my life.

Back when I went to school, Pocono Mountain High School didn’t have a soccer program. Mr. Demarest was instrumental in establishing the sport as a varsity offering. I’m proud to have played on the school’s very first varsity team, though we were a pitiful bunch. He wasn’t the head coach, but as the assistant coach, he did as much as anybody to impact the growth of the sport at Pocono Mountain High School. The head coach had a fiery temper, but Mr. Demarest was alway cool and collected with a dry wit. He maintained a similar disposition in the classroom. Godspeed and thank you, sir.

Today’s offering is going to be like Thanksgiving leftovers. A little of this and a little of that mixed together and thrown in the microwave. Just because it was the holidays doesn’t mean it was quiet.

STATE BUSINESS

Over the holidays, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that for the third time she would be convening a testing task force to evaluate and make recommendations on Tennessee’s testing policies. It seems that task forces are the go-to method of crisis management these days. Something failed? Are people calling for your head? Convene a task force. It’s the perfect vehicle to appear as if you are taking decisive and measured action while actually doing nothing.

Perhaps this new task force will discuss the public relations plan where parents were encouraged to take their TNReady results with them to parent/teacher conferences. Only problem with that is that it’s nearly December, and parents still don’t have those results. Perhaps they’ll be here in time for parents to take those results with them to holiday parties. I think they would make great starters for the yule time log.

Meanwhile, over here in parent and educator land, we’ve already convened a de facto task force – since none of us will be asked to participate in an official capacity – and we have some recommendations. And no, I’m not referring to the secret plan. Though I’m not dismissing those suggestions outright either. Parents and educators, for the most part, would like to see testing untied from accountability for at least three years, though preferably permanently, so the state can actually create some untainted, meaningful data that can be released in a timely fashion.

If McQueen would let parents and educators run the task force meeting, we could knock it out in an hour, take some great press photos, and then head on over to the Gerst House for lunch. If you needed us to, I think we could even put on our deep thinking faces for the photos. Instead, I’m sure we’ll get another postulating press release filled with more back slapping and promises of future success, reminding us that 4 years ago we were the fastest rising state in the country. Oh… you thought that fastest rising state in the country meme was new. Nah… that was from 2013, and we’ve been riding it since despite newer results being not quite as laudatory.

Keep your eyes peeled during the upcoming Tennessee State Governor race for the educational advocacy group Tennesseans For Student Success. They are vowing to be very active in the upcoming election. They recently released their Legislator Scorecard. I could do an in-depth analysis of the scorecard, or I could just tell you that they gave Jim Tracy, Brian Kelsey, and Glen Casada an “A,” Fitzhugh a “C,” and Stewart a “D.” That should about tell you everything you need to know about this group.

NASHVILLE NEWS

I came across this interesting bit of reading this past weekend. The name of the article is The HR joke is on us and it was printed in the News-Gazette. In it, the author references a recent court case involving a long time MNPS employee named Vicky Crawford. Her boss, Gene Hughes, was accused of sexual harassment. Crawford never filed a complaint, but when the district conducted an investigation, she verified the accusations along with two other women. The district fired all 3 women. Vicky Crawford got paid.

For over a year now, I’ve been pointing out how similar Dr. Joseph’s reign is to that of former director of schools Pedro Garcia. A year ago I wrote a piece comparing the two, and this weekend I re-read that piece, You Can’t Bottle up the Truth. I have to say I think what I wrote almost a year ago continues to be borne out, and I urge all of you to re-read it. And since you new folks to the district don’t really read history, I’d study that Crawford case a little bit before you go too far down the road in regards to these latest allegations.

Does anyone know what’s going on with MNPS’s current director of STEAM? He’s been out on administrative leave for over a month now with no commentary from the district or resolution of issues. Seeing as the district is involved in a STEAM initiative this year, we probably ought to get that resolved. Hard to be the fastest improving when you don’t have all of your players.

Tuesday is an MNPS School Board meeting. The second day after a major holiday is always a good time to reward consultants by putting things on the consent agenda. Everybody is tired after a long weekend, and therefore the agenda doesn’t usually garner a lot of scrutiny. Imagine my shock when I looked and saw three new items relating to The University of Pittsburgh (dba as the Institute For Learning, or IFL) on the agenda totaling… wait for it… $1,110,457.

In case you are not familiar with IFL, they are the folks behind the units attached to this year’s disastrous literacy scope and sequence. They are behind the units designed for math as well. The University of Pittsburgh, coincidently enough, is where Dr. Sito Narcisse, the district’s number 2 man, earned his doctorate. There is also some money on the consent agenda for The New Teacher Project (TNTP). Which should give all of you heading out on Thursday to protest Betsy DeVos something to talk about.

Speaking of Dr. Narcisse, has anybody seen his wife, Executive Director of Equity and Diversity Dr. Gonzalez, this year? Just asking. Maybe she’s been out helping Community Outreach Specialist Allison Buzard with the ongoing Parent Leadership Institute.

There is an exciting event taking place this Wednesday at Croft Middle Design Center. What the difference between a Middle Design Center, a Middle Prep, and a Middle School is I don’t know, but Croft Middle Design Center will introduce a virtual learning initiative that expands its 15-year partnership with Nashville Zoo and introduces educational partnerships with T-Mobile, Vanderbilt University’s Department of Teaching and Learning and the Center for Science Outreach, Dell Computers, and Discovery Education.

That’s the verbiage coming from the official release, and what it’s basically saying is that on Wednesday, Croft will be unveiling some cool stuff. Something they do on a fairly regular basis because they are a damn good school under any moniker. The event is at 10AM, and I’ll be there, so if you get a chance, say “hey.”

There are 49 Teams in Division 6 TN HS Football. The Cane Ridge Ravens are one of two playing for the State Championship! Congratulations Ravens! Congratulations also to Pearl Cohn who are playing for the Division 2 Championship.

The Adventure Science Center is currently accepting applications for its Youth CR3W program, a volunteer youth engagement program for 9th-12th graders who are interested in gaining real world working experience in a science or museum setting. Apply:

Each week I publish all the write-in votes. Occasionally there is a write-in that makes me a little uncomfortable sharing. But I think it’s important that people recognize the polls are a true and unfiltered way to share their opinion, so I always publish all answers.
Before I share this week’s though, I want to put a few disclaimers in. One of the Title IX lawsuits recently filed accused former Maplewood Principal Ron Woodard of attempting to cover up the offenses. It should be noted that this is an open lawsuit and due to its serious nature, comments are best left unsaid until it’s been tried. Once it goes to court, facts will emerge and at that time it will be facts, and not supposition, open to commentary.
Here are the write-ins:
That Ron Woodard’s cover-up/victim blaming exposed 1
Project LIT successes 1
Children are learning. 1
Project Lit 1
MNPS teachers: dedicated & resilient. 1
Project Lit- hands down! 1
Narcisse & Felder gotta go 1
The coffee shop in the wellness center. Must be nice to work in Berry Hill. 1
None…results are horrible in schools 1
the sheer determination of teachers where I teach, regardless of the chaos 1
Community Achieves and Pearl HS winning national awards of excellence 1
Lead results ignored 1
Dr Felder resigning…oh wait, nvm
Question two asked what the main course of your Thanksgiving feast consisted of. I was a little surprised that Turkey ruled the roost by as large a margin as it did. 78% of you answered that the bird was the word. Only 4% of you replied that you chose a vegetarian option.
I’m willing to bet that the lone write-in vote voiced an unanimous sentiment:
A great day of not working.
Before we look at the results for the last question, I want to bring up Mike Munchak. Munchak, if you’ll recall, was the HC for the Tennessee Titans. The Titans didn’t do so well under his tutelage and many thought it was because of his assistants. Munch, as he was affectionately known, was offered an opportunity to stick around if he would just get new assistant coaches. Munch refused and Mike Mularkey is now the coach of the Tennessee Titans.
Why the story, you ask? Well, it’s because 38% of you said that given the opportunity to address Mayor Megan Barry, you would tell her, “We have the wrong people leading our schools.” Draw your own inferences from that. The number 2 and 3 responses were in regards to teachers: Teachers need help and they need more money.
Every week I get a couple of super positive pro-Joseph responses. This week there were two of you who answered, “Our schools are doing great and we need to keep to the path Dr. Joseph has laid out.” So I’m trying to figure out who else Dr. Felder and Dr. Hunter got to participate in the weekly poll this week. Thanks for playing.
Here are the write-ins:
splitting classes due to no subs!!!! 1
Don’t talk to me about harassment until someone does something about Pinkston. 1
1, 5, 6, 7 1
Several of these: violence, capital improvements, raises, also family leave for 1
All above except getting out of Joseph’s way… 1
Wrong people leading & wrong people hiring them!! 1
weak school and community discipline = crime 1
Student behavior, teacher concerns, curriculum needs, parents need to know 1
Clear out the school board & central office. Overpaid & underqualified. 1
We need money! Salaries AND capital improvements 1
You’re not the chairman of the FCC, so stop ignoring the people.

 

 

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THANKSGIVING MNPS RUMINATIONS

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I’m going to go ahead and write Friday’s blog post tonight because, well frankly, I have the time. We spent this Thanksgiving at my wife’s parent’s house. The celebration this year was especially joyous as my mother-in-law is on the road to recovery after a severe health scare several months ago. Tomorrow I’ll take the boy to some Black Friday events and then we as a family will head to Henry Horton Park for some hiking, have lunch with family friends, with the afternoon reserved again for family.  In other words, it’s now or never.

This past Tuesday was a microcosm of the way the year has been going for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). The morning started with a staged affair between the MNPS School Board, Director of Schools Dr. Joseph, and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, where board members read from a script – excuse me, talking points – written by Board Member Will Pinkston informing the mayor of how marvelous things have been going. The day closed with reports of a key staff member in MNPS’s central office being accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and a fight at Overton HS that resulted in 14 students being detained by the police. I suspect that somewhere in the middle of these events is where you’ll find the true state of MNPS.

Being that today is Thanksgiving and all, one of the items near the top of the grateful list should be that Nashville is fortunate enough to have the quality of people who work in our schools. There is a lot that is not working currently in MNPS, but our teachers and principals continue to find a way to serve our kids despite the obstacles. Teachers may be going home every night feeling frustrated and defeated, but somehow they find the strength everyday to provide meaningful experiences for students. Principals may feel like they are failing and questioning their abilities to lead effectively, but daily they are opening the doors to positive, life-altering experiences. It really is amazing.

If you look around MNPS, you’ll see some really amazing things happening. You’ll see that the Hunters Lane HS marching band is in Detroit this holiday season participating in The Best Bands in America Parade. You’ll see that Overton High School’s Cambridge program so impressed the head of Cambridge that he hopped on a jet from England to Nashville, just to observe for himself the great things that are happening. You’ll see West End Middle School teacher Cicely Woodard win the Tennessee Teacher of the Year award. You’ll see Maplewood High School teacher Jared Amato win the Penguin Publishing Teacher of the Year award as ProjectLit continues its expansion into other schools across the district. You’ll see how Croft Design Center Middle Prep is rocking project-based learning through its collaboration with the Nashville Zoo.

If you went over to Park Elementary School and observed a lesson utilizing our Reading Recovery resources, you would be amazed at the progress of some of our most at-risk readers. Tusculum ES held its first school-wide musical performance in six years, thanks to the new stage in the new building finally offering a space for them to perform. Cane Ridge and Pearl Cohn HS’s are both competing for state football championships. Community Achieves continues to make a difference in schools across the district, with schools like Inglewood ES and Whitsitt ES demonstrating just what is possible through the community schools model. And two students at Pearl Cohn HS recently won 1st place in the Student/Mentor Music Video category of the 2014 MY HERO International Film Festival.

I can keep going. The Hillsboro Globe, one of the only Associated Press-accredited student papers in the country, is training future journalists. Whites Creek HS’s Academy of Alternative Energy received a $10,000 grant from Duke Energy. Students at JT Moore Middle are creating works every bit as moving as professional artists. I hear that there has been really great work done through collaborative conferencing between the district and MNEA that will have extremely positive effects on teachers and therefore students. I could literally do this all day long.

These are all things the MNPS School Board could have shared with the mayor. These are things that they should be the most proud of. Instead they chose to once again talk about the Arbinger Institute training that the Board undertook last fall. They talked about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that they have put in place to evaluate each other and Dr. Joseph. They talked about updating the school board policies. They gushed about Dr. Joseph’s leadership, despite the fact that he’s never taken a point on an issue yet. They talked about suing the state over BEP funding. They talked about talking about students and teachers, but they never actually got around to talking about students and teachers.

After their presentation, Mayor Barry asked the board which of the things they’d each spoken about would have the biggest impact on achievement. There was a brief pause, everybody kind of looked around the room to see who would speak, and since it was his show, Will Pinkston commenced to speak about the extensive work that was being done on the evaluation process for individual board members. In other words, “Enough about me, let’s talk a little more about me.”

That, in a nutshell, is the biggest challenge that MNPS currently faces. There is too much focus on the boardroom and not enough on the classroom. Beyond a handful of members, there are not enough people involved in a meaningful manner who have an understanding of what actually happens in the classroom. Dr. Joseph himself has never demonstrated a firm grasp of understanding exactly how his policies translate in the classroom. This disconnect has serious consequences for MNPS and is a serious contributor to the current toxic culture. That’s the elephant in the room. MNPS has a toxic culture and the good that is happening in the district is in spite of leadership.

Somebody at Tuesday’s meeting made a comment about having an honest conversation. You know when somebody says that, it is almost always a sure sign that you are not about to embark on an honest conversation. And what followed was anything but an honest conversation. There was no talk about the number of students receiving digital instruction due to a shortage of teachers. There was no mention of the number of students attending schools in dire need of capital improvements. There was no talk about a literacy program that runs counter to what we know works when it comes to teaching children to read. There was no talk about a formal plan for parent engagement still struggling to get off the ground. There was no talk about approaching management of human resources with a deficit mindset because nobody in leadership had actually taken the time to forge real relationships with the people doing the work every day.

Educating children, like most things in life, is all about relationships. Relationships between administrators and principals. Relationships between principals and teachers. Relationships between teachers and students, teachers and families. Relationships between schools and communities. Without these relationships, it doesn’t matter how many programs you implement, how “good” the board is, nor how many KPI’s you use to evaluate. It’s in the development of these relationships where Dr. Joseph and his team have fallen short and the board has failed to insist upon.

Relationships take time to develop. It’s a lot like tending a garden. You don’t plant seeds and then instantly reap the harvest. You water, and fertilize, and weed, and tend to, and eventually, if you do it right, your seeds will bear fruit. There is no rushing the process or taking shortcuts. Your returns will usually equal your investment. It’s hard to make the kind of necessary investment when you are laboring under a mission statement centered around being the “fastest growing.” Do farmers ever advertise the fastest growing vegetables, or is it alway the best vegetables you’ll find anywhere?

At some point we are going to have slow down and focus on what happens in the classroom. We are going to have to actually inventory the state of our district. We are going to have to actually define our terms. What does equity mean? What does advanced academics look like for all schools? We throw around this phrase “2 out of 3 kids aren’t reading on grade level,” but we never really examine what that means or if it is even a true statement. According to the recently sent home MAP results, my second grade son is reading at a level slightly behind national norms. Does that mean he’s failing? His mother and I don’t think so. His teachers don’t think so. In working together, we are all actually quite pleased with his progress. Yet that doesn’t fit the prevailing narrative, or should I say agenda.

If we were having an honest conversation, we would acknowledge that MAP, and other assessments, are merely a snapshot of where kids are at that particular moment. We would put an emphasis on relationships over accountability. We would start looking at what we can take off teachers’ plates so that they could better do their jobs. My fear is that by the time we have that conversation, we will be emulating retail stores touting huge sales that reduce prices by 30%, when the reality is that over the last month they raised prices by 40%. If we are having an honest conversation, we will acknowledge that our poorer kids’ low attendance rates are linked to our inadequate facilities and that both contribute to low test scores. If we ever decide to have an honest conversation, people won’t need to read pre-written talking points because they’ll be speaking from the heart.

There are a couple things I think need to be said in regards to the events that closed the day on Tuesday. I don’t want to say too much about the sexual harassment complaint that was filed because it is currently under investigation. Guilt or innocence need to be ascertained. What does not need to be ascertained is that Mr. Carrasco behaved in some manner, intentional or unintentional, that made not just one woman, but several women, so uncomfortable that they felt a need to come forward and file a complaint.

All behavior has a root; our dealings are not unmoored and random. Women do not just wake up one morning and think, “Today’s the day I’ll throw my professional life into turmoil and open up my personal life for intense scrutiny.” Something happened, most likely over a prolonged period, that led these women to a point where they felt like they had no other alternative, and we owe it to them to discover what that was. There is no upside for a woman in making these accusations. Often they will be painted in an unflattering light, their motivations will be questioned, and they will be forced to endure a long period of emotional turmoil.

Ask Anita Hill about what it meant to bring accusations against Judge Clarence Thomas back in 1991. Ask the women who have come forward about Judge Roy Moore or Senator Al Franken how enjoyable it is to voice a complaint. I’m willing to bet that none of them will paint it as a highlight of their life. I’m willing to bet that they will admit to often wishing they’d just never said anything. But think about what the world would be like if they never did. Think of how little would have changed without their courage to step forward with the truth.

People are shocked about the number of women who have come forward of late and they try to dismiss both the validity and the pain associated with their complaints. I’m not shocked nor dismissive. Let’s have one of those long overdue, honest conversations. It’s going to require a little self-evaluation.

To men of my generation, women were often viewed as objects. It was often denied, but that was the reality. I have never been personally accused of sexual harassment or misconduct, but I’m not without guilt. How many times over the years did I tell a female friend to “just let it slide”? How many times did I write off a fellow man’s aggression towards women as simply the actions of a “player”? How many times did I make jokes or comments about a woman’s anatomy and treat it as my right to do so? That’s not okay. It’s way past time we start having these conversations and we all acknowledge our roles.

These conversations are part of a necessary purge in order for us to evolve as a culture. I know as a young man, society constantly reinforced the image of women as being sexual playthings. Just look at our idols. Whether it was Mick Jagger or Teddy Kennedy, Steve McQueen or Joe Namath, their sexual prowess was an element of their hero status. Because of the mass of women who have come forth, we are being forced to re-examine our thinking, and that can only make the world a better place.

The flip side of the narrative is that it was long engrained in women that boys are ruled by their sexual appetite and that a little crossing of the lines was not only to be tolerated but expected. After all, how harmful was a slap on the ass, or a comment about your breasts, and if there was an expectation of more, the woman had a choice, right? But did she really?

We have all heard the claim that women who accuse men of sexual harassment are “men haters.” I call bullshit. Who hates men more, women who are willing to write them off as simpletons incapable of controlling their base urges, or those who hold them to higher expectations?

I hope that MNPS understands that not all education takes place in the classroom. Young men and women will be watching to see how both the accusers and the accused are treated. They will be taking cues on how they should behave in the future. Some social mores may be reinforced, while some hopefully will be broken. Let’s not forget our obligation is to provide the best education possible in preparing students for life, and that includes modeling a template for future relationships and conduct.

I’ll close things out with comments on the fight at Overton HS. Fighting in schools is a national problem. A story in Pennsylvania about teachers working in fear just went national this week. NYC has been wrestling with the implementation of restorative practices for several years. It is clear that this is not merely a school problem, but a societal problem. It seems to me that at Tuesday’s meeting, when Mayor Barry asked the board and Dr. Joseph what they need, an honest answer would have been help with student discipline issues. But that wasn’t in the talking points, and we weren’t having an honest conversation. Maybe someday, but until that day, I just pray that conversation doesn’t come after a child or teacher loses their life. Because fights are a lot like honest conversations – once engaged, you never know what the end result will be.

POLL

Let’s see if I can’t come up some decent poll questions.

For my first question, I’d like to ask what is your favorite MNPS story for the year so far. I’ve come up with some I thought of, but feel free to write in yours.

Second question, for Thanksgiving dinner… turkey, ham, fish, or something else?

Last question, if you had a chance to brief the mayor on the state of things… what would you tell her? Again I put down some ideas, but feel free to write in your own.

Hope every one has a fantastic holiday! If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. Have a great Thanksgiving, and we’ll see you on the flip side.

 

 

 

THANKSGIVING WEEK KICKOFF

This being Thanksgiving week and all, I thought I would start the week off by saying thank you to all the wonderful public school educators who have really helped me over the past year get a better understanding of how policy translates from the boardroom into the classroom. Then I remembered, nobody wants it to be public knowledge that they talk to me, so I best make that a general thank you. Y’all know who you are and please know how appreciated you are.

I do want to publicly acknowledge all of the hardworking professional reporters who deliver daily coverage of education issues. Writing this blog has taught me a whole lot about what a difficult job reporters have, especially since I started writing with a self-imposed deadline of Mondays and Fridays. Writing on a deadline means writing often when you don’t feel like you’ve fully grasped all of the elements of a story but know that it needs to be told. It can mean that some things get missed and some things get over-covered. It’s a delicate balance and better executed by those who make their living delivering the news.

We, as readers, often feel that our passions don’t get enough coverage or that the coverage afforded is biased. Writing this blog over the last four years has taught me that covering issues in a timely manner that captures all of the nuances and complexity is a difficult task. I’m extremely grateful for the men and women who take up the challenge daily and would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to them for their efforts.

CHARTER SCHOOL REPORT

The Network for Public Education released an in-depth study last week on the subject of charter schools and their impact on the educational landscape of America. It is 50 pages long, well written, and provides as complete an argument as any you’ll read on the downside of charter school growth. If you’ve been even marginally involved in the charter school debate over the last several years, most of what’s included will be familiar to you. The depth of the research presented here should be evidence enough to warrant proceeding with caution when considering charter schools as a method for improving educational outcomes. That said, I don’t find this report without fault.

As is so common in the fight over charter schools, with guilt attached to both sides, parents are, for the most part, underemphasized. Sure, evidence is cited about how parents are mislead, ignored, duped, taken advantage of, etc., but where is the study on why parents initially made the choice to explore a charter school option? We have lots of anecdotal stories about charter schools’ marketing plans and deceptive practices, but little insight into why parents were open to these strategies.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep reiterating it, nobody ever was satisfied with their school options, even marginally, and upon receiving some marketing material thought, “Hmmm… things are good at our kid’s school, but this unknown entity sure sounds good. Let’s give it a try.” People don’t like change. As much as we talk about the allure of the new, people are creatures of habit and unless there is real impetus to change, they are perfectly content to continue with the same patterns. So in order for the charter school movement to have taken root and grown, that impetus has to exist, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a real conversation about what it is and how it influences demand.

I don’t know the answer. I used to believe it was about nefarious forces setting out to destroy our democratic institutions. But then I actually started talking to parents that have made the choice to send their children to charter schools, something that the MNPS School Board can’t seem to bring itself to do, and a different picture emerged. In talking to parents, I discover few of them have malicious intent. Most tell stories of their children not getting what they need at a traditional school and therefore creating a need to find an alternative solution. Few have the means to move housing or arrange transportation to an out-of-zone school, so they act based on their options. Options that wealthier families explore every day.

All you have to do is look where school board members and other district officials send their kids. Sure they are in zoned schools, but that’s a lot easier when you can buy a home in a wealthier neighborhood. Furthermore, nobody likes to hear this, but if you chose a traditional district school over your zoned school, the impact on the zoned school is the same as if you had chosen to send your child to a charter school. MNPS’s current “choice” system allows wealthier families to be champions of public education while still fleeing our high-needs schools. So even if charter schools were eradicated tomorrow, the system would still be tilted to the benefit of the wealthier families over poorer families. The only real solution I see is to fight to ensure that all schools are offering the same opportunities to all kids.

Yesterday I came across this letter from parents at a Los Angeles area elementary school. In it, parents respond to a proposed survey by calling attention to the aspect of LAUSD that rankles them the most:

The format of this survey epitomizes the aspect of LAUSD education that we are LEAST satisfied with: an apparent obsession with numerical, rather than qualitative, data. Willingness to sacrifice expression and genuine engagement in the name of standardization and check-box “accountability.” In short: standards = standardization = standardized “tests” = LAUSD/Ed Department hears only what it wants to hear (positive or negative, depending on the hearer’s love of charter schools).

I encourage you to read the whole letter. It should serve as a call for our public education leaders to actually engage in a real conversation and not just toss around words like “parent engagement” and “parent voice” which in reality translate into nothing more than another tool to push personal agendas. We are so quick to look for boogeymen in the charter school wars that we neglect to examine how the state of public schools and leadership plays into parental decisions. The Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Committee recently asked a charter school parent to come talk to us about why they made a choice other than their zoned school. It was very eye-opening. Which high school their elementary school kid would attend, safety, and course of study all played a role in their decision. Destruction of the public school system did not. Maybe if we sat down and actually talked with parents who have explored the charter school option, we would find that they are overly swayed by misinformation. But that would be a conclusion based on conversation and not assumption.

This past weekend, I listened to an interview about race and patriotism with Ta-Nehisi Coates on NPR. In the interview, he talked about patriotism a la carte – picking and choosing the parts of history you want to celebrate. In his eyes, this form of patriotism does a disservice to our country and we need to adopt a patriotism that resembles our personal relationships. We need to love our country like we love our spouses and our spouses love us. Our spouses love us in spite of our faults, but they never ignore them. They don’t pretend that we are infallible. They don’t blow smoke up our ass when we are not living up to our potential. Being critical does not translate to being unsupportive. I was struck by just how much this holds true for our schools as well. We need to love our public schools and push them like we are loved and pushed by our significant others.

QUICK HITS

Tomorrow, November 21, at 9AM, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry will be sitting down with the MNPS School Board to “report out” on forward progress the board has made over the past 18 months since hiring Dr. Shawn Joseph as the Director of Metro Nashville Public Schools. Board members will brief the Mayor on their “Building a Better Board” initiative, including the development of a new strategic framework to guide MNPS into the future, intensive professional-development efforts between the board and senior management, identification of key performance indicators that will allow the board and the public to better monitor organizational performance, design of new board and superintendent accountability systems, and an overhaul of the board’s governing policies in partnership with the Tennessee School Boards Association. Got all of that?

(Jared Amato/Jason Reynolds)

The event is open to the public, and I’m weighing my attendance based on whether it’ll be an actual conversation or just another love fest that ignores some of our very real issues. It will most likely a game time decision.

Maplewood HS teacher Jared Amato continues to reap accolades for his work with ProjectLit. Congratulations to him for being named Penguin Random House Teacher of the Year.

Congratulation to the Pearl-Cohn and Cane Ridge High School football teams. Both won their games this past weekend and will advance to the next round of State playoffs.

At McKissack Middle School, the football champs spent some time learning about the science of football. That’s right, I said science. It’s all connected.

Please don’t assume that because I’m not talking about the rumors that I am not aware of the rumors. Timing is everything.

(Dupont-Tyler’s Young Men of Distinction)

Over at Dupont-Tyler Middle School, last Tuesday was tie day for the young men of distinction. Looking good guys! Young Men of Distinction is a mentoring group for high-risk young men. This is an opportunity for young men to learn life skills, including how to treat women. 

Croft Middle Design Center folks spent the weekend planting trees and working in the community garden. The commitment to community at Croft is part of their core philosophy and is just one of their admirable qualities.

Last Friday I was invited to watch a Reading Recovery session. Afterwards I was asked my opinion. My answer was that it looks like good teaching to me. I know there is some question of Reading Recovery’s value to students diagnosed with dyslexia, but the session I observed utilized several different elements and was extremely keyed in to what a child’s needs were. I was very impressed by what I saw and look forward to seeing more sessions.

(Croft Middle Design Center)

Hundreds of books were delivered on bicycles to Dodson Elementary thanks to the nonprofit group Ride for Reading. The program was started by a MNPS school teacher back in 2008 and has grown into a nationwide campaign that’s delivered more than 300,000 books to students across the country.

 

(Read and Ride)

 

POLL RESULTS

Let’s turn now to this week’s poll results.

Our first question asked for your thoughts on the recently sent home MAP test results. I shouldn’t be surprised that the number one answer was “Don’t we have enough tests already” with 42% of the answers. I understand that many district educators feel that MAP is a valuable tool, but parents have been sending a message for the last several years that there is too much testing not that we need another tool. Only 5% percent of respondents answered in a positive manner.

Here are the write-ins, and there are quite a few:

Should have been sent with the explanation you suggested, or not sent at all. 1
They sent home color copies -costly due to color ink!!! 1
Only 6 pts growth expected over whole year. 1
What’s the point of sending them home? Do they tell parents anything? 1
It’s actually the most helpful data I’ve received since joining MNPS 1
Good to know national comparisons 1
It doesn’t match State Standards so what’s the point 1
The test is crap. 1
MAP is a great and very valid test; however, from the info — implementation?? 1
Uh, I’m a teacher and my school didn’t send them out 1
We didn’t get any results! I have kids in 2 MNPS schools and nada. 1
Advanced academic kids don’t take them. No scores here.

 

Question two was about AP’s becoming the “Acting Principal” for the first 6 weeks of the first quarter after winter break. The logic of this program appears to be lost on DGW readers with 32% of you responding that it was the dumbest thing you ever heard of and 25% of you asking if this was a “Prince George’s thing.” Only 3% of you thought it was a fantastic idea.

Lots of you had write-in thoughts though. A couple cringeworthy ones, but I always print them all. Here they are:

The AP pool and pipeline system is total crap. 1
Who will teachers really be accountable to for those 6 weeks??? 1
Wonder how my inept AP got in the program. 1
Great in theory but whose AP and principal are actually a great team? 1
Who gets paid what? How about someone does my hard job while I sit around? 1
Ours isn’t ready, so why give her the chance to fail? 1
Should have had someone “acting” instead of Ron Woodard

The last question asked for your thoughts on NOAH’s recently-held forums on restorative practices. Most of you, 29%, indicated that you would have liked to attend but were unable to. The second leading answer, 23%, wrote the forums off as more liberal BS. When coupled with the 23% of respondents who indicated that they had no desire to attend, I would say there is a need for an informational campaign on restorative practices.

Once again, we got quite a few write-in entries, many of which back up the above assertion:

I don’t even know what this is 1
What is it? 1
I didn’t even know about it. 1
Good info, but Elementary schools were not discussed. 1
Is this org blaming schools for poverty trauma? 1
The practice doesn’t work–period. 1
I was unaware 1
It CAN be an effective program 1
Didn’t know about them

That does it for the week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. Have a great Thanksgiving and we’ll see you on the flip side.

TESTING…1…2…3…TESTING

I remember when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up. Adults got to do cool things and go to cool places. They got to hold these really interesting conversations. Adults seemed so worldly and so wise. I couldn’t wait to be just like them.

These days, I can’t imagine a kid looking outward and watching adult interactions and thinking they want to be a part of that world. It seems like over the last several years, a mist of meanness has settled over our society. Instead of focusing on being kinder people, we focus on being so-called tougher people. Being “right” has superseded being moral and being compassionate. We point to other people’s ill behavior as justification for our own unjustifiable behavior. Here’s a news flash that should be on the wall of every building in every community: lowering your opponent does not elevate you. If I am a kid looking for an adult who behaves in a manner that I’d like to emulate, I better be ready to cast a wide net.

Oh sure, there are people in communities doing selfless, great work, but more and more they are pushed to the background. Last year, then First Lady Michelle Obama laid out a challenge for us all to go high when others go low. I can find fault with that advice, yet very few of us have heeded that call and several have mocked it. Instead we attack, attack, attack.

Women who step forward and identify those who have sexually harassed them in the past watch their credibility and personal lives become fodder to discredit. Minorities who come forward and demand to be treated equally are accused of wanting specialty status. We demonize people on social media and in the press whose only crime is daring to have different opinions than ours. We use the most despicable terms to describe each other and never pause to think about who’s listening and the effect our words are having. It’s like we’ve all adopted former NBA player Charles Barkley’s words “I am not a role model” as our personal mantra.

If adulthood used to be the nightclub we were all dying to get into, I don’t blame the kids of today one bit for choosing to park it at the coffeehouse down the street. This being an adult thing, it ain’t nearly as enticing as it once was.

This morning I read an article about Silver Silverman ruminating over the actions of her friend of 25 years, Louis CK. Now I got to admit, Silverman isn’t normally someone I would look to for life guidance. But when she says, “It’s a real mind [expletive] you know because I love Louis but Louis did these things. Both of those statements are true, so I just keep asking myself, ‘Can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them?'” I think that’s what is at the root of all of it. Can we hold people accountable without vilifying them? Can we love someone and disapprove of their behavior simultaneously?

Silverman goes on to say, “I hope it’s okay if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged and the culture that enabled it, and also sad because he’s my friend, but I believe with all my heart that this moment in time is essential. It’s vital that people are held accountable for their actions no matter who they are. We need to be better. We will be better. I can’t [expletive] wait to be better.” That’s what’s at the core of my thoughts today. How can we be better?

TNREADY FUN AND GAMES

TNReady seems to be a never ending source of amusement, and I mean that sarcastically. This week, ChalkbeatTN published an article about the $25.3 million dollars we potentially owe the last testing vendor, Measurement Inc. If you’ll remember, their administration of TNReady state testing was such a fiasco, it gave fiascoes a bad name. The testing was stopped and started numerous times, and then the state suddenly switched to paper exams. The end result was no reliable results and the state of Tennessee canceling their contract.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. The TNDOE decided that since they deemed Measurement Inc.’s performance unacceptable, they shouldn’t have to pay them. Measurement Inc. says, “Whoa, not so fast. You had a hand in this being a dumpster fire so you shouldn’t get to walk out on the tab.” Andy Spears over at the TN Ed Report makes a pretty good argument on why the state shouldn’t pay Measurement Inc. It’s a compelling argument – they didn’t deliver a test, their past record indicates that they weren’t qualified, and they never accepted blame. But I would make the same argument against the state of Tennessee.

An IT guy told me a couple of years ago that we take technology for granted and are always upset – and shocked – when things go wrong. The reality is that there are so many pieces involved in the process and so many ways technology can fail that we should flip our perspective and celebrate when things actually work.

So let’s look at the role of the TNDOE in the testing fiasco. The first issue is that they made the stakes associated with the test so high, they created an all-or-nothing environment. They never tried to make the transition a scalable process. They never allowed Measurement Inc. to work through their failings, i.e., adding servers as demand mandated them. Instead they imposed their own crisis management and subverted the process. I’ve always been taught there are three major components to every undertaking – planning, execution, and review. Please point to the area that the TNDOE exercised a high level of competence in relation to standardized testing.

What if they would have identified a handful of districts that standardized testing had the least potential impact on and allowed them to transition first while fully allowing the vendor to work through issues as they occurred in real-time? Then the next year they used the same formula but doubled the amount of schools. And so on, until the entire state was transitioned to the new platform? And then AFTER the transition was completed, they attached accountability. This approach would have potentially required granting certain districts exemptions during the transition period, but when complete would have produced greater confidence in the process. Would those waivers have led to teaching and learning coming to an abrupt halt? Not likely. I know many don’t believe that any accountability components should be attached to TNReady, and I’m not saying I disagree, but at least transitioning in this manner would have made the accountability features more justifiable. As it is, we now have a process that nobody, save for the TNDOE, has a lot of confidence in.

If I go out and buy my 5-year-old a 10-speed bike before he’s ever ridden a bike, and he wrecks it several times while trying to learn to ride, do I get to go back to the store with the damaged bike and demand a refund? Couldn’t a case be made that I should have started with a more basic bike, with training wheels, and then worked my way up? That’s the problem with creating goals like “fastest improving” and “greatest growth.” Those are terms that benefit adults and do not always have children’s best interest at heart. We race to finish the penthouse while neglecting the foundation, and without that foundation, that penthouse ain’t worth a damn. In other words, pay the man and try to learn from your mistakes.

MAP TESTING

This week, MNPS parents received copies of their children’s results from this fall’s administration of MAP testing. MAP testing is something that MNPS leadership introduced last winter. It’s given three times a year, and unlike TNReady, it is a nationally normed test. What that means is that kids get a score and that score is compared against kids from across the country. That means parents are looking at a score based not on an arbitrary standard, but rather on how kids of the same age performed on the same test.

MAP is also an intuitive test. So when a student answers a question they are given a harder or easier question based on the previous answer. Testing is done via computer and takes upwards of an hour depending on the number of right answers the student gets. Like any standardized test, it’s meant to be a snapshot of where a child is at that day. It’s not intended to be used as an accurate reading of a child’s level of learning. Nor is it meant to be used as an evaluation of schools or teachers.

Now with that said, while it can’t be officially used in the evaluation process of a teacher or school, I think there is a real danger that it could be misused in that manner. I don’t believe for one second that the district has invested millions of dollars in an undertaking of this magnitude for it not to have an indirect impact on teachers and schools. One of the benefits of MAP testing is that it allows a teacher to get a feel for where they are being ineffective or effective in their instruction and to adjust it accordingly. While that’s certainly a benefit, it also opens a door for a teacher whose students don’t show growth to be criticized for not fully using the tool.

I can easily envision a situation where Dr. Joseph is speaking to the Chamber of Commerce in several months and wants to use MAP results as evidence of effectiveness of his policies. But alas, several schools show low growth rates. “Sito! Get in here!”

Sito then summons the Community Superintendents and explains the situation. The Supes, who have demonstrated that they are not afraid to micromanage, bring the edict to the EDSSI’s, who in turn, lean on the principals. What do you anticipate the next step will be? I would also argue that if you didn’t intend for MAP testing to be used as an evaluation tool, why are you sending the results to the parents? I promise you that if I’m a parent already on the fence about a teacher, and I get a MAP test showing a lack of growth by my child… I’m evaluating. Is that right? No. Will it happen? Yes.

Which leads to my second complaint, the manner in which the reports are delivered. Most importantly, reports were not even delivered in a consistent format to every school. Some schools got the actual MAP report, while other schools received a school-tailored report. Remember that equity thing?

Secondly, schools sending home the actual reports sent them with little explanation and a key. At my kids’ school, some of our immigrant families struggle with the concept of compulsory attendance. How are they expected to fully understand this report? The instruction is that they go talk to their child’s teacher. That’s not quite as easy as one would think when a parent is working two jobs, at odd hours, and they have limited access to transportation. Why were FAQ’s not created that anticipated questions parents might have? For example, if your kid’s score is here and their report card grade is this, how do they correlate? I could list examples all day long, but no FAQ’s were provided and I think that’s inexcusable.

Once again, we have a policy that seems centered in justifying what adults value over benefiting kids. Adults are able to stand up and point at the tremendous amount of growth that they’ve supposedly facilitated, while families and their children are left to decipher what it all means as best they can. It should be noted as well that MAP is not without controversy. Several years ago Seattle teachers staged a walkout to protest opposition to the test.

ANOTHER FANTASTIC IDEA

This year, MNPS created a Principal Residency Pipeline program. The goal of the program was to begin the development of a principal pipeline by using assistant principals that are already employed by MNPS and have shown an aptitude for leadership. It’s intended to be a rigorous three-year program that will increase the number of highly qualified principals employed my MNPS. A noble idea, right?

Well, this week the head of that program sent out notice that after winter break, AP’s in the residency program would assume the role of “acting principal” while the current principal would cover their duties. Mind you, this comes prior to the administration of TNReady and those scores would still impact a principal’s evaluation.

I have to ask, what kind of leeway are these AP’s being given during their stint as “acting principal”? For example, one of the AP’s is at Antioch HS. If that culture gets altered during the AP’s reign, does it revert back after the 6 weeks? What if the AP is aware of policies that run directly counter to their training and belief system; can they change policy? What about when it comes to students and their relationship with a principal; who becomes the final arbitrator? A lot of questions here.

To me, this idea is crazy. It’s like Nick Saban saying, “I want to make sure you get a quality football coach after me, so I’m letting my offensive coordinator coach games 8 and 9 of the year. Hopefully they’ll do well, and we still win the national championship.” I don’t see principals embracing this practice anymore than Nick Saban would. And once again, I would ask how it’s benefitting kids.

POLL QUESTIONS

Looks like I’ve written too much already, so let’s get to this week’s poll questions.

My first question is about the MAP test results. Great? Terrible? Confusing? You tell me.

My second question is surrounding the idea of an AP serving as an “acting principal” for 6 weeks while the principal assumes their duties.

Recently, the Nashville Organization for Action and Hope (NOAH) held a series of quadrant meetings focused on restorative practices. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t able to attend. But I think NOAH does some extremely important work, and I’d like to know if you attended. If so, what was your takeaway?

That does it for the week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

 

SURVEYING THE EDUCATIONAL LANDSCAPE

Sorry about the delay in getting this one out. I just felt that focusing on the well written comment from over the weekend by an educator was more important than getting a typical beginning of the week post out. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so. It nails it in the way only someone who’s in the trenches can.

The countdown to Thanksgiving is picking up steam. It’s hard to believe we are under 10 days and counting until feasting commences. Meanwhile, more testing has already commenced as winter MAP testing is now under way. You know what they say, you can’t lose weight if you don’t use a scale. Yea… I know… but let’s take a look at what else is going on in education news across the state.

GUESS WHO IS COMING TO DINNER

The Foundation for Excellence in Education announced this week that Betsy DeVos will address its summit on Nov. 30 after Jeb Bush opens the gathering of education leaders from across the nation. In response to the announcement, education activists from across the state began forming plans to protest her arrival. DeVos, rightly so, has been a lightening rod for controversy since her appointment as the nation’s education chief back in the spring of this year. Apparently it was Jeb Bush who is responsible for unleashing DeVos upon the nation’s educational system, so her appearance at his shindig is a bit of payback.

According to Chalkbeat TN, “DeVos will face a friendly audience of mostly like-minded reformers at the Nashville summit, but the reception she will receive outside is less certain; the city last year voted mostly for Democrat Hillary Clinton, even as the state gave Trump a solid win.” Ignoring the fact that neither party is particularly good at education policy, this statement raises a number of questions for me, the first being who in Nashville would be considered a “like-minded reformer”?

The vast majority of school choice supporters I interact with detest DeVos as much as I do, making me a little baffled by where Chalkbeat assumes this support would come from. I suspect there is a little false equivocation going on here. Just because you are a charter school supporter does not instantly translate into you being a supporter of Betsy DeVos. That’s an important distinction to make.

The second question that arises from the aforementioned paragraph is in response to the line, “but the reception she will receive outside is less certain.” Really? Chalkbeat is really uncertain about what kind of response she’ll receive outside the venue? Let me clarify then. It will be large and loud and it won’t be in support of her. And herein lies the conundrum for me.

There is nothing I like about Betsy DeVos. I worked hard against her confirmation, and I continue to work to oppose her policy propositions, but I do question the value of large organized protests against her. What’s the end game here? What are we hoping to accomplish? And why are we protesting against a national leader who has marginal impact on our educational system when we have local leaders that I would argue are doing more harm to our school system than DeVos, while we allow them to continue unencumbered?

Before you get really mad at me, hear me out. If DeVos quits or gets fired tomorrow, what will be the outcome? Will Trump suddenly appoint someone more qualified and palpable? Will he suddenly make Linda Darling Hammond or Diane Ravitch the Secretary of Education? What about all those Trump supporters? Are they going to see the DeVos protests and consider changing their positions? Or are they going to say, “Look at her piss off them liberals. Hell yea!” and double down on their support of Trump and, by default, DeVos?

I would argue that time standing outside a meaningless education summit protesting an incompetent and malicious Secretary of Education could be better spent campaigning for Craig Fitzhugh for Governor and James Mackler for Senator. These are people who will ensure that people like DeVos never cross the threshold to power. Getting them elected will accomplish more than getting DeVos removed.

We also need to make sure that we are holding our local leaders to the same level of accountability that we demand from Betsy DeVos. I ask you, what is doing more to drive charter school growth, Betsy Devos’s support of charter schools or a literacy program so bad that it is contributing to teachers being driven from the district? I’d argue that very few families are exploring charter school options because they read that the Secretary of Education said they are cool. It’s a lot more likely that families are opening themselves to the charter school option in response to the deficiency in the quality of the programs at their local school, and if you don’t think that MNPS’s literacy policy, and the IFL units associated with it, are deficient, then you need to take a closer look.

As yesterday’s blog post showed, there are real issues in MNPS right now. God bless MNEA, they have been working hard to address teacher issues through the use of collaborative conferencing. And from what I’ve heard, they’ve gotten some big concessions, but their work barely scratches the surface. I brought this lack of questioning at the local level up several weeks ago and was told parents just don’t know what a good Scope and Sequence is and what not. I counter that most parents didn’t recognize the failings of Teach for America initially either, but they educated themselves. I challenge local activists to bring the same kind of focus forth and talk to teachers. Educate yourself on local issues in the same manner that led to becoming an expert on national issues. Nashville’s children need your voice and passion.

After the Trump election, I thought the protests were extremely powerful in uniting people and letting people know they were not alone. But at this point, the battle lines are drawn and everybody knows where they stand. There is only a limited amount of time in a day and energies really need to be focused on where there can be the biggest payoff. We have to be diligent in that we don’t allow ourselves to focus so intensely on winning battles that we lose the war.

WHEELS OF THE BUS

Thump… Thump… Thump… do you know what that sound is? That’s the sound of former Maplewood Principal Ron Woodard being the latest principal to get thrown under the bus. In today’s Tennessean, MNPS School Board Chair Anna Shepherd is quoted in response to recent sexual misconduct allegations: “I can’t speak for Mr. Woodard, what he knew and didn’t know, but being a longtime educator, I would be surprised if he didn’t know what the right courses of action,” Shepherd said. “I have no idea why anybody has a difficult time doing what they know is legally or morally right.”

I’m assuming that in talking about legal obligations, Shepherd is referencing Tennessee Statute 37-1-605:

(1)  Each report of known or suspected child sexual abuse pursuant to this section shall be made immediately to the local office of the department responsible for the investigation of reports made pursuant to this section or to the judge having juvenile jurisdiction or to the office of the sheriff or the chief law enforcement official of the municipality where the child resides.

Maplewood HS has two Metro police officers on duty and they were immediately made aware of the accusations. But that withstanding, I don’t understand Ms. Shepherd’s desire to speak out on these allegations while legal action is still pending, and she admittedly is not fully informed on the situation. In the article, Ms. Shepherd notes the plethora of lawsuits and admits there may be issues beyond sufficient training, and she pledges to ask Joseph about what can be done during the board’s Tuesday night meeting.

There are 5 lawsuits that have been filed in the last two months, and she’s just now getting around to asking Joseph about them? This is very similar to the case of high levels of lead in MNPS schools’ drinking water. It took multiple reports from Phil Williams at Channel 5 News before Shepherd broached the subject on the board floor. And then, it was only briefly, with no follow-up. I would strongly argue that a school board chair should be well briefed on these incidents as they are developing and not wait until they reach crisis level before asking questions. I also think that when making statements like, “If a seasoned educator didn’t do something he was supposed to do, can you imagine what a new or newer educator might or might not do?” they should be well versed in the case. Our principals are already in a precarious enough position in these types of incidents, and by all indications have followed the rules of the law, there is no justifiable reason to turn them into punching bags just because you haven’t done your due diligence.

Furthermore, I would suggest that when asked to comment about ongoing litigation, school board members heed the words of Ben Franklin: “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” 

QUICK HITS

A teacher at New Vision Academy, has been placed on indefinite suspension after someone removed a student’s hijab in a classroom. A meeting with the teacher is pending.

Are you an MNPS student and need help with homework? Try the Homework Hotline! Free one-on-one tutoring and homework assistance is available by phone and online to all Metro Schools students, grades K-12 in every subject area and in multiple languages. Teachers are available from 4-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday until May 2018. You can access the Homework Hotline by calling 615-298-6636 or visiting www.homeworkhotline.info.

Girls from John Overton High School and Hillsboro High School enrolled in Rock The Street, Wall Street (RTSWS), visited First Tennessee Bank and HCA to close out their fall semester of learning how to budget, save and invest. The field trips included tours, panel discussions, and networking. Since August, First Tennessee Bank and HCA female financial professionals have been instructing the high school students on the value of managing their money, as well as exposing them to opportunities in finance across industries. In the spring, these RTSWS students also have the opportunity to be paired with a mentor to help with college preparedness, resume building, interviewing, and more.

One of the many cool things associated with ProjectLit is that they invite Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) to participate in a book club hosted by Maplewood HS students. Despite many of the SIFE kids having challenges with the English language, the rules of engagement remain the same. Last year, I got to attend one of the book clubs and found it to an inspiring experience. Last week was the first one held this year, and unfortunately I had to miss it, but it’s on my calendar for next time.

Three MNPS HS football teams advanced in the state playoffs this past weekend. Pearl Cohn HS in 3A, Maplewood HS in 4A, and Cane Ridge in 6A will face the next round of opponents this week in their quest to become state champions. Good luck to them. We know they have this!

Glenview ES students honored our vets with their voices in celebration of Veteran’s Day.

POLL RESULTS

As we do at the beginning of every week, it’s time to take a look at this weekend’s poll results.

Question one asked, what quadrant are you in? Not surprisingly, 31% of you fall into the Southwest quadrant. That’s the one my children are in and those are the schools I know the best. Second, with 20%, was, very surprisingly, the Northeast quadrant, and I thank you for your support. The Southeast came in at 18%, with the Northwest at 9%. I promise you folks in the Northwest quadrant that I’ll try to give your schools a little more love, and SE, you always have my support.

Here are the write-in responses:

International 1
Teach in NW, live in NE 1
Nashville 1
Magnet

Question number 2 asked about whether or not you plan to attend a ProjectLit book club meeting. I must admit, this is one where the answers made me sad. The number one answer was an even split between “on my calendar” and “just not interested.” I don’t know what is muting the interest, but I beg of you to reconsider. If you attend one, you won’t be sorry. The number two answer at 16% mentioned that none of the meetings were at a nearby school, which I know for a fact is being worked on. Several of you also referenced inconvenient times, which is also an issue being addressed.

Here are the write-ins:

My school has a great program already in place. Kids read 1000+ pages a quarter 1
I went this summer, ya’ll GO! 1
Creating a book club intiative on our own 1
Just not going 1
Want to, but can’t.

The last question asked you to speculate on whether or not MNPS would see an exodus of teachers over winter break. The number one answer, with 25%, was “maybe slightly more than last year.” The number two answer, at 22%, was that most would wait until the end of the year. The number three answer, at 19%, was “in droves.” Two people answered “no, teachers are more committed than ever.” Two. The conversations I’ve had over the last couple weeks have taken a decided change in tone. Where teachers were once angry, they are now more resigned. To quote a teacher who has been with the district for just about 20 years, “TC, I think I’m done after this year. I never thought I’d say this but I don’t want to do this anymore. The last 3 years have been so bad, especially this one, that I’ve just decided I want to do something else.” To be honest with you, the resignation concerns me more than the anger.

Here are the write-ins:

Definitely more than last year. 1
yes I suppose as things seem to become more and more desperate

 

That does it for the week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Thanks to the Cautious Pessimist for kicking things off with a $5 pledge. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

FROM THE COMMENTS TO THE FRONT PAGE

5

One of the factors that motivates me to continue this blog is that it has become a voice for Nashville’s professional educators. They say that those who can’t, teach. I say those who can’t, start blogs and hope that teachers and other educators will sometimes share their thoughts. At times, those thoughts get shared through guest blog posts and sometimes via comments on a particular blog post.

This weekend, a comment came in that I felt was too authentic, and too important, to be relegated to just comment status. I don’t know who wrote the comment, and frankly it doesn’t matter, but it obviously comes from someone who knows from whence they speak. Yesterday I read the comment to several local educators, and they all nodded, shrugged, and said, “Pretty spot on.”

At some point, we are going to have to wake up and speak up. Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about the pending visit to Nashville of Betsy DeVos, but if somebody doesn’t make drastic changes to MNPS policy soon, it won’t matter if the public education system in Nashville is privatized or not. We currently have a literacy policy that is neither rooted in best practice nor developmentally appropriate. We have policies that make teacher recruitment and retention an impossible job. We are on a course that threatens to set Nashville’s education system back 10 years. But those are my words, and today I want to focus on a Nashville educator’s words.

So without further adieu, here is the comment:

The situation at Antioch HS seems to be emblematic of the problems throughout MNPS, and it is proof that the continued free pass that Dr. Joseph and Co. are receiving is ruining our school district. They continue to hire and/or put into the “pipeline” people who have absolutely zero business leading a school, and the idea that the community has any real say in the selection of Principals is laughable. School level issues are just the tip of the iceberg, because at the district level, those that are in charge are making decisions that are completely detrimental to student and teacher success.

Let me say this about a large majority of the teachers that I know in Nashville: They genuinely care about the students and families in MNPS, and they work each day to serve their interests. They don’t do things because they are easy or because they garner attention. They don’t want to be involved in political back and forth. They just want to be able to do their jobs.

For a teacher who works at a school with a pretty good representation of our district, from both a demographic and a socioeconomic standpoint, this is the environment that is being created by the current administration:

Teachers are diligently meeting to plan, but they are struggling with the new Scope and Sequence. The texts that they’re told to use as anchor texts are creating several big issues: they don’t all have them, and they aren’t always appropriate or engaging for their students. They also don’t always adequately cover the state standards laid out for that period of time. Teachers at other schools are being told that they aren’t a mandate, but for others they are – this is very confusing. This week, the Anchor and “Suggested” texts for the third quarter were released, and in one grade level where they are learning about seasons, two of the suggested texts are about autumn (and yes, the third quarter begins in January). The IFL (Institute for Learning) units are ridiculously scripted, and they are most definitely not what’s best for students. For 3rd and 4th grade, there are no pictures in the text. For second grade, there is one picture in the text on the first page. I’ve been told that one of the texts for second grade was originally written for students in fourth grade. The activities that are designed around them are not conducive to student engagement, and while focusing on writing in and of itself is a great idea, this particular “program” has little to no value. They are also using a phonics program that is based on whole group teaching, even though their students’ abilities in that area differ wildly. In short, the methods and programming being used by the district go against everything that has ever been taught about teaching reading to children, both from a research and a practical perspective.

Their idea of “rigor” is not only ineffective, but it’s an insult to teachers throughout the district, because it presumes that they all have low expectations for their students. Why would you give a student at a second grade level something at a fourth grade level just to prove a point? Using difficult texts for certain things is great (Read Alouds, etc..), but when the text that is being used for the core instruction (Shared Reading) is not meeting students where they are in any way whatsoever, what point is it proving? To me, it only illustrates what happens when you put people in charge who have made a career out of being consultants. Over the next couple of years, I think that those both inside and outside the school district will begin to see one thing: their current framework is succeeding only in driving effective teachers and leaders away. By the time people in power decide to really speak up, it’s going to be too late.

And when it comes to literacy, everyone is tired of hearing people talk out of both sides of their mouth. You can’t downplay test results when talking about how they didn’t go up during your first year as a district team, but then use those same results as a way to make it sound as though our education system is the only element of society responsible for the welfare of our children. I am tired of hearing about how only 1 in 3 children read on grade level, when that information is based on a single test. It is at least worth asking, once and for all, what these tests are telling us about students’ true abilities? If I have a student in my class who is – by every other measure – either at grade level or approaching grade level, am I still doing him/her a disservice by not ensuring that he/she performs as proficient on the test? I know that’s as much a state issue as anything else, but again, to hear our leadership selectively reference it when it supports their political platitudes is ridiculous.

Teachers are taking the panorama survey, but based on most experiences, the survey results from the spring have never been discussed. And based on my conversations with other teachers, they couldn’t have been very good. The only changes made at my school over the summer have actually made things worse, and the suggestions made by the staff as a whole were completely ignored. Teachers are leaving in droves, either to other counties or to schools that apparently have less drama. Because of the unicorn-like nature of those schools, each opening they have draws hundreds of applicants, which obviously doesn’t bode well for those who would like to remain in MNPS.

Discipline continues to be an issue, and while most teachers I know agree that suspension is not always going to be an appropriate response, they all agree that a response of some sort is necessary. Students act in ways that endanger themselves and other students, and even after every intervention, motivator, and clear show of compassion is implemented, those students are still not given a real consequence for their actions. This can make for awkward conversation with concerned parents, but there don’t seem to be any district pointers for that.

All this comes as people like Mo Carrasco drive to schools in BMWs with the Maryland plates still attached, and our school board members only tacitly admit that there may be some issues with leadership. Is there a tipping point? What happens when they can’t hide behind the idea that there is only a year’s worth of data around their practices? Will they be packing up to go on to the next district by then? As I’ve said before when I’ve commented here, the old guard was not the best, but at least they still gave school leaders and teachers some discretion when it came to instruction. Now teachers are not only being judged based on their results, they’re not even given a real option as to how they will go about getting those results.

To whomever wrote this, thank you. I appreciate all of your hard work and insight. See y’all tomorrow.

THE SOUND OF THE FOREST

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Today I find myself reflecting on an old Asian parable:

Back in the third century A.D., King Ts’ao sent his son, Prince T’ai, to the temple to study under the great master Pan Ku. Because Prince T’ai was to succeed his father as king, Pan Ku was to teach the boy the basics of being a good ruler. When the prince arrived at the temple, the master sent him alone to the Ming-Li Forest.

After one year, the prince was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest. When Prince T’ai returned, Pan Ku asked the boy to describe all that he could hear. “Master,” replied the prince, “I could hear the cuckoos sing, the leaves rustle, the hummingbirds hum, the crickets chirp, the grass blow, the bees buzz, and the wind whisper and holler.” When the prince had finished, the master told him to go back to the forest to listen to what more he could hear. The prince was puzzled by the master’s request. Had he not discerned every sound already?

For days and nights on end, the young prince sat alone in the forest listening. But he heard no sounds other than those he had already heard. Then one morning, as the prince sat silently beneath the trees, he started to discern faint sounds unlike those he had ever heard before. The more acutely he listened, the clearer the sounds became. The feeling of enlightenment enveloped the boy. “These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern,” he reflected.

When Prince T’ai returned to the temple, the master asked him what more he had heard. “Master,” responded the prince reverently, “when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard—the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.” The master nodded approvingly. “To hear the unheard,” remarked Pan Ku, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler. For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts, hearing their feelings uncommunicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in his people, understand when something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens.

The demise of states comes when leaders listen only to superficial words and do not penetrate deeply into the souls of the people to hear their true opinions, feelings, and desires.”

That parable should be mandatory reading for MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph, his leadership team, and the MNPS school board. Upon his arrival from Prince George’s County in Maryland, Joseph, much like the Prince in the story, went into the forest via districtwide listening tours to listen, and like the young prince, he came out thinking that he had heard everything there was to hear. Unfortunately for us, there was nobody to send him back into forest to listen some more. This lack of deep listening is most recently evidenced by a meeting between district administrators and the staff at Antioch High School held this past week.

In case you are Dr. Joseph, Dr. Narcisse, Dr. Felder, Executive Officer of Organizational Development Mo Carrasco, or one of a handful of other people who haven’t been listening, you are probably aware that for the last 18 months, AHS has been a dumpster fire. I’m sorry if that offends anyone, and I don’t say that flippantly or as a slap in the face against the teachers at AHS, but merely as a stating of the facts.

Last year, AHS lost 67 teachers. By my unofficial count, they’ve probably lost another 10-15 this year. They are still at least 6 math teachers short, and kids are taking classes via computer. There was a student walkout last spring that has been framed as a protest over the release of a popular football coach, but if anybody took the time to read the student’s demands, they would see that it was about so much more. Most of it in relation to academics.

Recently there was a fight on the field between Antioch HS and Overton HS that was so bad, the football game was canceled with 9 minutes remaining. Where were the administrators on duty during that fight? Why were they indoors? Because they were concerned that their hair might get wet?

The current principal of Antioch HS has been absent, again by my unofficial count, 10 – 15 days this year. It’s only November. Two years ago, this school was a Level 5 school. Recently released TNReady results now show them as a Level 1 school. And then there’s Antioch’s AVID demonstration school status. I was corrected when I wrote several weeks ago that AHS had lost their demonstration school status. They have not yet lost that status, but it is hanging by a thread.

AVID is going to give a school every opportunity to correct issues before removing that status. It’s not good for either party when a school loses its demonstration school status. However, a big part of AVID’s success hinges on teacher training, and when you have the turnover that AHS has been generating, that becomes a hard challenge to meet. Losing its demonstration school status would be a huge blow to AHS and would undo years of sweat and tears that went into building a very prestigious program that is a huge benefit to students.

Any one of these problems taken individually would be cause for concern, but taken collectively, they should set off alarm bells. I suppose those bells were the preamble to the aforementioned meeting that took place this week. A meeting, that to the best I can tell, was created to try and quiet the alarms.  Before we go any further, I want to emphatically state that I do believe that Southeast Quadrant Community Superintendent Adrienne Battle had the best intentions when scheduling this meeting. I truly believe that she and Executive Officer of Student Services Tony Majors were looking to use the meeting to address and correct as many issues as possible. Unfortunately, you can only control what you can control, and this situation requires involvement from those higher up on the food chain.

Here’s another free leadership tip: When you don’t have strong relationships with people and you haven’t been really listening, don’t stand in front of them and tell them to “get their shit together and fix the problem.” Now I don’t think that’s the message Executive Officer of Organizational Development Mo Carrasco, who comes with his own baggage, intended to deliver, but communication is as much about what is heard as it is about what is said. And that is what many of those teachers heard. Intentional or unintentional, blame for the current situation was placed squarely on their shoulders, and they were charged with fixing it.

Several teachers walked out after hearing those remarks. Others remained to talk with district administrators and tried to be as forthcoming as possible about the situation, and I have no doubt they appreciated the efforts of Battle and Majors. In the end, nothing was resolved, and the situation was perhaps made even worse. Reports are that Principal Kiva Wiley was not pleased with the outcome herself. There is a limit to the amount of talk sans action that can be tolerated, and I would argue that the end of the rope has been reached in this case. My favorite quote from the meeting is the one where a teacher accused central office of just trying to spray perfume around the house. It’s time to stop spraying perfume and actually clean up the mess.

Things will get really interesting next month when Dr. Battle goes out on maternity leave and Dr. Narcisse takes over her schools. Will he become just one more person who is aware of the crisis and fails to act, or will he actually take action? Right now things just fall into the category of gross negligence but they are fast heading to an immoral state. When as many people know and recognize the problems of a school like Antioch HS and fail to address the problems head on it’s inexcusable. These are years that these kid’s will never get back and those who have failed to take action, or made excuses, should be ashamed of themselves. The students of Antioch High School deserve better and I can’t help but think that if this situation was happening in a Nashville charter school certain MNPS school board members would be more fully engaged.

I believe that effective management is a lot like maintaining a checking account. Everybody comes to the position with a certain balance in their account and your actions increase or decrease that balance. Sometimes circumstances require a leader to make a large withdrawal from their account. When writing one of these checks, it’s important that a) you have enough in your account to cover it, and b) that eventually the check will lead to a growth in your account.

This week, Dr. Battle and Dr. Majors wrote some pretty big checks, metaphorically speaking. They were probably the only ones in this case who had the ability to do so, as everybody else’s accounts are running a little low. How much these checks deplete their accounts remains unclear. Hopefully, at the very least, they bought the attention of those who can solve the problem, and we should commend them for being willing to write those checks.

What is clear, is that someone needs to go back into the forest and spend a little more time listening. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review offers some insights into leadership that MNPS leaders would be wise to listen to. Since their arrival, the primary focus has been focused on strategy, while execution has not received the required focus. Writer Rosabeth Moss Cantor advises leaders to “encourage innovation, begin with execution, and name the strategy later.” MNPS has the formula backwards, and because of that, we are all writing checks.

QUICK HITS

Last week DGW had a poll on whether or not fights were up or down in MNPS schools. In light of that poll, I had conversations with several district leaders about the situation and one of the takeaways is that fighting is more of a societal problem than a school issue. We have a current generation that believes that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict. We also have a generation that, due to cuts in after school programs, has less opportunities to develop alternative forms of conflict resolution.

Kids need more activities outside of schools. As parents, we recognize that. We sign our kids up for dance, soccer, baseball, music lessons, etc. However, not all families have the resources to do provide these activities to their children. We are failing those children. The argument is made that maintaining after school programs and sports leagues are expensive propositions, yet somehow we as a city find a way to fund a new soccer stadium. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we focused as much on developing after school programs for kids as we did for professional sports teams?

The Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Committee has unofficially reconvened this year and has been meeting every two months. This week was our second meeting. A big thank you to the principals of Overton, Croft, Oliver, Crieve Hall, Tusculum, Granbery, Shayne, and Norman Binkley for making sure that they had representation at these meetings. We look forward to seeing reps from McMurray and Haywood at January’s meeting. Also, a big shout out to Croft and Overton parent Abby Trotter for facilitating this getting off the ground.

One of the interesting things that I learned at this month’s meeting was that students taking advanced academics did not count towards a school’s TNReady score. Which led me to ask, if it’s Dr. Joseph’s intention to increase student participation in advanced academics, how will that translate to a school’s state grade, which is partially based on TNReady scores?

McKissack Middle Prep held a ProjectLit meeting this week that had an amazing turnout. Huge props to them! If you are wanting to attend a ProjectLit Book Club meeting, but aren’t sure when they take place, check out the calendar and make plans.

Students at Hunters Lane High School recently used virtual reality to communicate with students in Africa. The African students had never seen that kind of technology before, so it was an exciting experience for everyone. The experience was filmed for a show “Good All Over” that will air on PBS.

Rumor has it that former MNPS Number 2 man Jay Steele was in town last week.

Please join NOAH next week for a continuation of their conversation centered around restorative practices. I can’t decide if I’m going to make Monday’s or Thursday’s meeting. This is an extremely important conversation and I urge everybody to try to make time for it. The NW and NE meetings were well attended.

MNEA wil be holding a Formal Observation Webinar for New Educators on Monday, Nov. 13 at 6 pm. If you’re a new teacher and would like to learn more about our teacher evaluation system, you should try to attend.

Sponsored by Alignment Nashville, more than 6,000 MNPS high school freshmen will participate in the annual My Future, My Way Career Exploration Fair at the Music City Center. Students from all public and charter schools will attend the event, where they’ll learn first hand about career opportunities from more than 140 area businesses and nonprofits – many of which will setup hands-on demonstrations of the work they do. The Fair will take place on Tuesday November 14th from 8 AM to 1pm at the Music City Center.

There is a MNPS school board meeting coming Tuesday. Looking at the agenda and it appears like there will be a lot of data made available and deciphered.

(Nashville Rise Parents and Nashville Teacher Residency)

This past week, Nashville Rise and Nashville Teacher Residency held a parents night out to discuss how to build a win-win relationship with incoming teachers. Sorry I missed it, but reports were that it was extremely informative.

The Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) is pleased to announce the five new Metro Nashville Public Schools that have been selected to participate in the 2017-18 Disney Musicals in Schools program. The program is an initiative developed by Disney Theatrical Productions to create sustainable theater programs in economically disadvantaged elementary schools.

The newly selected schools are Alex Green Elementary School, Glencliff Elementary School, Shayne Elementary School, Thomas A. Edison Elementary School, and Tusculum Elementary Elementary School. This is the seventh year of the partnership between Disney Theatrical Productions, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and TPAC’s education program. Kudos to my peeps!

At Westmeade ES, teachers across the building are inspiring students to have a growth mindset. Positive outlooks rule.

Tonight, Cane Ridge HS squares off against Brentwood HS in a State 6A football playoff game. Game time is 7 pm at Cane Ridge. Let’s go, Cane Ridge!

I just want to say that the record by former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher is a fantastic slab of vinyl. That’s all.

Also the newest Margo Price ain’t bad either. Consider this a public service announcement.

Don’t forget about the 3rd Annual Colts Care Gift Drive. If you want to sponsor a neighborhood student(s)/family(ies) in need by purchasing a few winter holiday gifts for them, then please fill out the form.

Before I forget, remember the MNPS transition team and former Baltimore Superintendent Dallas Dance? You’ll want to read about the ongoing investigation into Dr. Joseph’s close friend.

POLL QUESTIONS

Is it Friday already? Hmmm… better come up with some questions, huh?

I’m always trying to find out more about DGW readers, so let’s start off by asking which MNPS quadrant you all live in or if you are outside of Nashville. I know I have to do a better job of getting more widespread coverage, so this will give me areas to target.

Second question, are you planning to attend an upcoming ProjectLit Book Club meeting, and if not, why? I make no secret of it, I think ProjectLit is doing a better job of promoting literacy in this district than any other entity, and if I can help drive more people to their book clubs, I’m going to do it.

Last question is about teacher retention. Winter break is just around the corner and I’m curious as to whether or not you think MNPS will lose a significant amount of teachers this year or not. Let me know what your spidey sense tells you.

That does it for the week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Thanks to the Cautious Pessimist for kicking things off with a $5 pledge. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

TRICKLE DOWN MORALITY

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Forgive me if some of today’s post comes out a little rough around the edges, but I woke up with a serious case of the grumps this morning. Spent a lot of time this weekend talking about schools with educators, and I can’t escape that feeling I get when I am on a trip and I make a wrong turn. There’s a period of time where I’m pretty sure I’m going the wrong way, but I haven’t made the decision yet to alter direction. That feeling of knowing that I need to change direction, but not sure where I should turn around or if there is an alternate route to get back on course is what I’m feeling today.

Educating children should be a undertaking filled with wonderment and a sense of joy. Sure, there should also be some sweat and occasional disappointment, but you shouldn’t have to put on a suit of armor just to get through the day. Yet more and more, that’s becoming the prerequisite attire for today’s educators, and, indirectly, the children they are responsible for.

Wonderment and joy is sacrificed in pursuit of the almighty test results, despite ample evidence outlining the flaws in the over reliance on data. Teachers are no longer allowed to create their own lesson plans because those plans aren’t proven to impact test scores. We celebrate teachers who sacrifice personal and family time and come in to work for gratis because without that extra work, test scores may only rise a little bit and we need HUGE gains. The fact that these demands take a verifiable toll on our educators’ lives is just passed off as an inconvenience as we further ingrain in stone the meme that intense personal sacrifice is just one of the requirements of the job.

All you need to do is look at MNPS’s vision statement – which is actually a mission statement, but that is argument for another day. It reads, Metro Nashville Public Schools will be the fastest-improving urban school system in America, ensuring that every student becomes a life-long learner prepared for success in college, career and life. The two parts of the statement are at cross purposes. Furthermore, if you declare that we are in a competition, then obviously we have to have a scoring method. How else will we declare the winner? Testing becomes that de facto scoring system.

A mission statement is defined as a a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual. So in their own words, MNPS has declared that winning the race is paramount to creating good schools. The message is that MNPS educators need to focus on creating schools that produce measurable results that demonstrate we are moving faster than other districts. It’s an added bonus if we get some lifelong learners, just as long as we do it fast.

Are we creating schools where children and adults love to walk through the doors? Are we creating schools where there is a boundless wonderment and new discoveries are being made daily? Are we creating schools where students know the value of reading, not just for purpose, but for its intrinsic value? I know it sounds hokey, but shouldn’t education inspire a little hokiness? My marriage to my wife is infused with hokiness and nothing in life brings me more pleasure.

In racing to be the fastest-improving school district, I have to ask, who are we benefiting and how? We give lip service to the value of critical thinking and literacy. What promotes critical thinking more than having kids read aloud during class? It kills two birds with one stone, but reading aloud is not encouraged. Reading aloud in class takes time and we are in a hurry, so it gets sacrificed for a districtwide literacy program that comes complete with a pacing guide filled with tasks to ensure you comply. We have a race to win, though I’m not quite sure where the finish line is located.

A district administrator, in a fit of honesty, confessed to me last week that when you act out of just a sense of urgency, you miss things. That’s very much the case with MNPS. The school board, Dr. Joseph, and his leadership team raced to fix a crisis that didn’t exist, while failing to conduct an inventory of existing resources. They did so at the expense of our educators. There has never been a validation of the quality of any work done in the district by anyone prior to Joseph’s arrival by Joseph or his leadership team. In their eyes, I don’t think even the dog catchers in Nashville could adequately catch dogs.

The hubris that comes with pronouncing MNPS, upon arrival, as a district in crisis is extremely offensive in light of events of Dr. Joseph and his team’s district of origin. On Friday, an audit was released in regards to changing grades in Prince George’s County Public Schools. The audit, performed by D.C. consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal, found PGCPS “does not consistently monitor adherence to grading policies and procedures,” that “grades are regularly submitted and changed after quarterly cut-off dates,” and “a significant number of 2016 and 2017 graduates had unlawful absences in excess of 10 days.” That’s a little sobering.

What is PGCPS Superintendent Kevin Maxwell’s response? “We don’t see a problem with instruction in most cases,” Maxwell told reporters. “Again, we have kids who go to some of the finest colleges and institutions across the country. This is about checking boxes, sloppy record keeping, not teaching and learning.” Hmmmm… remember that quote about being in a hurry and missing things?

That defense isn’t carrying much weight with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. “I think that’s complete nonsense. This was a very thorough and complete investigation and so far, we’re extremely upset and outraged with the results.” I tend to agree. Especially in light of other findings by the auditors. While reviewing student records, investigators found “handwritten marking on transcripts where schools are performing math to determine the grade change required for a student to pass a class.”

Curious about what County Supervisor, current Maryland gubernatorial candidate, and recent attendee at an MNPS principal meeting, Rushern Baker III had to say about the situation? “As we suspected, the audit did not reveal any corruption or top down mandates from Dr. Maxwell’s office or other PGCPS leadership to change or fix grades. No other school district in the State of Maryland has had a comprehensive audit of its graduation records like Prince George’s County,” Baker said in a statement. Well, at least we now have a clue into where Dr. Joseph learned how to take ownership of a situation. First and foremost, you defend your vested interests, and then shift the focus on to someone else.

Couple these recent findings with the 2016 loss of Head Start money by Prince George’s County Public Schools, the high rate of PCGPS district employees out on administrative leave last year, and recent articles in the New York Times and Baltimore Sun about Joseph’s transition team member, and personal friend, former Baltimore Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance, and you start to really get a picture of the things missed when you are in a hurry.

Perusing social media this weekend, I came across a friend’s post: “I believe we are suffering from trickle down morality.” He was referring to the country, but his statement could have been about MNPS. We seem to keep further away from student needs and more invested in adult needs. Whether it be the reconfiguring of schools, the changing of the dates for the school choice festival, or even just the manner in which the daily business of running schools is conducted, there seems to be a transitioning of focus taking place.

The leadership team of Dr. Joseph, Dr. Felder, and Dr. Narcisse heap unreasonable demands with little concern to classroom impact or historical context on our new Community Superintendents. Those Supes turn around and do the same to their Executive Principals, who then put the hammer down on principals who are left with no recourse but to pass it on to teachers. All in the name of winning some hypothetical race created to further the reputation and polish the resumes of ambitious politicians and district leaders.

The impact on our schools has been the creation of a culture, in the words of veteran educators, more toxic than at any time in the recent history of MNPS. Teachers and Principals find themselves constantly at odds with each other in response to curriculum that seems designed to put them at cross purposes. Principals are chafing under increased demands and pressure from Executive Principals that ultimately prevents them from directing their focusing where it should be, on their schools and classrooms. Meanwhile, Executive Principals and Community Superintendents are being ground down by unrealistic demands on their time and lack of clear direction.

Do you really believe that all of this is going unnoticed by students? Do you think they don’t see their overtired and over stressed teachers? Do you think for one minute that they don’t take notice of their perpetually distracted principals? School becomes a drudgery and not what it should be, a laboratory to develop life and academic skills rooted in the joy of learning. Currently there is no joy in Mudville.

I will continually argue that modeling is the best form of instruction. What are we currently modeling for our kids? What is it that we are demonstrating as important? We are investing millions in converting schools to STEAM programming when we don’t even have stability with the district’s STEAM Director position. We are introducing curriculum sans buy-in or trust from teachers. I don’t know how to break this, but you can hire all the consultants and purchase all the rigorous programs you like, but without people who feel fully vested and inspired to implement that guidance and those programs, you are just pissing money away and burning through resources.

I want to share an anecdote from this weekend. It’s about JT Moore Middle Principal Gary Hughes, but I’m willing to bet that there are similar stories out there about virtually all of our principals. I bartended the recent Hillsboro HS PTO fundraiser, which afforded me the opportunity to overhear several different conversations.

One of those conversations was between some parents who were talking about their time at JT Moore and how integral to their children’s development Hughes had been. One of them testified that Hughes had practically raised her boys alongside her and that “Gary had taught my son how to properly shake hands. I love that man.” That’s the kind of stuff that gets lost in the shuffle when you are in a rush and focusing on the wrong things. But that’s also the kind of stuff that changes lives, and last time I checked, schools were supposed to be in the life-changing business.

It is way past time for MNPS to slow down and do some inventory. We need to take time to identify what is working and what is not working. There needs to be an evaluation of whether or not we have the right people in the right positions. We argue that we have to rush to show improvement on test scores, yet show no such compulsion toward capital improvement projects. Last year, Tusculum Elementary School, with 23 portables, had the highest rate of absenteeism in the district. This year, the first in a brand new school, that rate is significantly lower. It needs to be recognized that not all critical dialogue is noise and that, at some point, you need to listen to the chorus.

In case you didn’t recognize that aforementioned quote I snuck in a few paragraphs back, it’s from Casey at the Bat. A poem we used to read when I was in school. It probably won’t be on the test, but some of the words do feel appropriate:

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s look at the weekend’s poll responses.

The first question asked for your opinion on this year’s parent teacher conferences. Despite my perception of them being better this year, 54% of you rated them about the same as every year. 16% of you thought they were great. Here are the write-in votes:

I saw deeper respectful engagement of parents this yr. Numbers up. 1
Fail class. 1
There weren’t enough translators to go around so most of my conferences were ???? 1
Fine arts teacher. I saw 0 parents. Planning day!! 1
When does MNPS plan to actually partner with parents? 1
Managed to do home visits for all of my students- so worth it! 1
Student-led conferences empower students!

The second question asked your opinion on the reconstructed Parent Advisory Committee. 34% of you had no idea what I was talking about, while 31% of you felt the new structure better served the district instead of parents. Interestingly enough, nobody answered “My principal asked me to participate and I’m excited.” I would think that DGW readers would be among the most active in schools and at least one would receive an invite. Obviously the district needs to do a little bit more work here. On a side note, the Overton Cluster PAC meets at 6:30 tonight at Granbery ES. Here are the write-in votes:

Too many layers in new plan. No real access to adm 1
It is rigged, appointed not elected 1
A way to make parents thing that Bransford cares what they think 1
Smoke & Mirrors 1
If MNPS takes lead it won’t work. Has to be parent planned and led. 1
District chiefs will still do what they want

Last question was about the number of fights taking place in schools. Personally, I’ve heard a number of disturbing stories and am starting to have concerns. 38% of you echoed what I’m hearing and indicated that the number of incidents is up. 19% indicated that it was only a slight increase and 17% said things were about the same. I wouldn’t call those confidence-boosting responses, and I continue to maintain that, at some point, we are going to have to have an honest conversation about restorative practices. Here are the write-ins:

Up. Restorative practices not implemented correctly 1
We need a better procedure for discipline issues.

That’s it for this week. You can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Be sure and check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

IT WAS A WEEK

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Every Monday, I write a blog post. Once complete, I almost immediately forget about it, as my mind turns towards what I’m going to write on Friday. Mentally, I start the outline for the end of the week’s piece. Invariably what happens is that events on Wednesday and Thursday push my earlier ideas to the side as I’m forced to look at the most current situations. The outline gets totally rewritten.

I try to evaluate things as they arise. Many of the issues are extremely sensitive. Being that I am neither a trained journalist nor a licensed educator, there are some things that I probably ought to stay away from commenting on. It is not uncommon for educational issues to evoke a great deal of emotion, and it’s virtually impossible to write about them without irritating somebody. Unfortunately these are the topics that I am invariably drawn towards, and I’ve never been really good at discerning what’s best for me. At age 52, I don’t suspect that’ll change anytime soon.

This week we are going to touch on a few stories that fit those descriptions. Please keep in mind the spirit in which the commentary is given. I never pretend that I have all the answers, and my ultimate agenda is to ultimately create deeper, richer conversations.

TITLE IX CONCERNS

This fall, the district has been plagued by multiple allegations of sexual impropriety. Five lawsuits have been filed, with the latest coming just yesterday. Dave Boucher has done several articles over the last 3 months investigating how MNPS handles sexual complaints, with the latest coming this week.

I’ll be honest, based on the frequency and breadth of these lawsuits and articles, it feels like a concentrated effort with a larger agenda than just the individual incidents at the named schools. There seems to be a bit of a battle between a former prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, Chad Butler, and the current DA, Glenn Funk, on the proper protocol that should be adhered to. Their difference of opinion is a common thread in all these stories.

While I recognize that commenting on the details of these incidents is above my pay grade, I do want to make a couple observations. First off, it needs to be recognized that the reporting of these stories puts MNPS at a decided disadvantage. If a charge is in relation to an ongoing investigation, MNPS can’t comment. We need to remember that fact and realize that just because you are not reading a robust defense doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. It’s the proverbial fighting a man with both hands tied behind his back situation.

Secondly, it needs to be recognized that cases of this nature are extremely complex affairs. In regard to the story on Glencliff High School, those teachers might have been disciplined but we don’t know that their disciplinary action was tied directly to the reporting of the incident. We have no way of knowing what else transpired besides just reporting the incident.

No offense to Boucher, but in citing Wilson’s email, he doesn’t quote the whole email nor cite the context. The email referenced was sent not to staff members but to central office members and closes with the phrase, “Thoughts?” Boucher may have a copy of an email that was sent to staff, and if so my argument becomes moot, but one was not included in the emails I was shown. Based on my information, Principal Wilson was considering relaying a message with that content and was seeking feedback from district officials.

There is no evidence that shows what the message delivered to staff eventually consisted of. He may have received a phone call from central office that included revisions in the text. There is also no link between this message and the alleged sexual incident. The district contends that the two are independent of each other.

Furthermore, the district attorney’s office confirms that at present, there are no open cases involving Glencliff HS. Both teachers referenced are back at work in the district. Which leads to the question of why this story and why now?

I have a great deal of respect for Dave Boucher. He is twice the researcher and 10 times the writer I’ll ever be, but I do think it’s important not to form conclusions based solely on his articles. If you have questions, contact the district. Try to keep as open a mind as possible.

The point is that all of these allegations are extremely sensitive and complex. It is extremely difficult to capture the nuance and respect the privacy of those involved while also adhering to the law. Hopefully everyone will not be quick to judge and instead will allow things to play out to their rightful conclusion without prejudice.

In this spirit, Dr. Joseph released a letter to staff clarifying his, and MNPS’s, position, in case there was any doubt. In Dr. Joseph’s own words, “We take the reporting of suspected abuse seriously, and we want you to know that staff will never be discouraged or reprimanded for reporting suspected abuse.” I see no reason to not take Dr. Joseph at his word.

I promise an interview with Nashville Rise Board President Allison Simpson is coming. Still working on the edit. This interview thing is a lot harder than you might think.

THE YIN AND THE YANG

School board member Amy Frogge had an interesting week. Today she received national accolades by education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch for her work in curbing unabated charter school growth in Nashville. Unfortunately it wasn’t accolades she was getting mid-week after a heated exchange with national education advocate and charter supporter Chris Stewart.

For those unfamiliar with Stewart, he is the former director of outreach and external affairs at Education Post. Before that, Chris Stewart was executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), a cross-sector network of Black leaders working to develop and implement an urban policy agenda across five northwest states. Stewart is very passionate about his beliefs, and it’s not uncommon for him to be engaged in “Twitter wars” with those who don’t share his views. I think it’s worth noting that I’m blocked on Twitter by both him and Frogge, so an argument can be made that I’m not the best person to comment on their exchange, though I beg to differ.

I deeply believe that we have to find our way past these kinds of exchanges. There is a commonly held belief among Civil War historians that the North won the war but lost the peace. I think we are in danger of repeating that error in regards to the “charter school wars.” The concept of eradicating all charter schools or completely dismantling the public education system is not an exercise in reality. Choice – good, bad, or indifferent – is out of the bag and it’s not going back in the bag.

It’s like the invention of fire. After it was introduced to cavemen, there was no way you could go back and say, “We just realized that fire can be really harmful and so we are going to take it away unless you are of a certain class.” People would have found ways to procure fire no matter how much you tried to deny them access.

Choice is fueled by demand. If you curb demand, the need for choice is lessened. I’ve never seen a desire for choice lessened by taking away options. In my experience, the option that meets the most needs is usually the primary choice. Want people to choose your option? Then make it the best beyond argument.

With all my fiber and being, I believe that a child’s zoned school is the best choice in most situations. Yes, I said most. In talking to charter school parents, and admittedly I don’t talk to as many as I should, rarely do I hear them cite a need to destroy public education as a reason for their choice. Invariably they cite a need that wasn’t getting met. That’s why I believe it’s imperative that we discover those needs and address them. Cut demand and you won’t have to worry about supply.

In talking with charter school parents, I think many of them have realized that charter schools are not the nirvana once promised. That over time, the challenges become very similar to those in traditional schools. It’s because of this that some families have returned to zoned schools and some have decided to stay with their charter school and try to improve it.

I’m am going to say that while parents may have a somewhat pure motive, I don’t believe that all charter operators can lay claim to the same purity. Many are motivated by intentions – prestige, money – other than what’s best for children. Unfortunately though, the same can be said for some district school administrators. So I don’t want to get bogged down in those arguments. You can’t make yourself better by pointing out other’s weaknesses. Being able to point out the shortcomings of your opposition does not result in instant improvement. The better of two bad options shouldn’t be the best option.

My point remains that none of that matters if we focus on what’s important – making all schools the best they can be. My 7-year-old son often asks me why people do certain things. My answer is always the same, “I have no earthly idea. I just try to do things the best that I can and take care of my own actions.”

These vitriolic exchanges serve none of us well. I know Amy Frogge to be a knowledgeable, passionate, and compassionate school board member. MNPS has been positively impacted by her tenure on the board. She is worthy of the accolades heaped on her by supporters and peers. Now, though, it’s time to lead the district to the next level and help elevate the conversation. We know what the war looks like; what is the peace going to look like?

One last thing. I salute any writer who finds a way to get paid for their writing, and I challenge you to find me a way to get paid. These damn things take more than a minute or two to write and baby needs some new shoes.

PARENT TEACHER MEETINGS

Wednesday was MNPS’s district-wide parent teacher conference day. In reading through social media posts and talking to parents, I think this is one that goes in the win column. Participation was up throughout the district and several people commented that it was actually fun this year. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the conferences I had about my children.

One of the things I believe Tusculum’s principal, Alison McMahan, doesn’t get enough credit for is her ability to place students with the right teachers. Every year, for the past 3, my children have been matched with exactly the teacher they needed, and every year that teacher becomes their favorite teacher. That’s an art form that needs more recognition.

I left both parent/teacher conferences this Wednesday with the reaffirmation that my children are right where they need to be. Tusculum Elementary School may not produce the highest test scores, but I’ll tell you what, there is not a school out there that can touch them for teachers and administrators and for helping children to grow into better people. These are years we will treasure. I don’t say thank you enough.

QUICK HITS

Thanks go to Andy Spears. He is never afraid to tackle the hard questions about TNReady and state policy. Make sure you read his latest, where he dives into the answers to ChalkbeatTN readers questions to the TNDOE.

Speaking of ChalkbeatTN, a recent headline proclaims, “A harder English curriculum arrives in Memphis elementary schools next week.” When did the words “harder” and “better” become interchangeable? This excerpt struck a funky chord with me as well:

“This is going to afford our students the opportunity to see the same type of information and questions every day that they’re going to be tested on in the spring,” said Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin. “We feel really good that exposing the kids to this curriculum will not only help them master the content but that we’ll see those results in a couple of years in our data.”

I thought tests were created to measure learning, not to drive curriculum. Silly me.

Despite less than 10% of families choosing to opt out of having their data shared with charter schools, Memphis schools decided this week they they would join Nashville in not following state law. Obviously this doesn’t make State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen very happy as she allowed Memphis, in good faith, additional time to comply. Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to court we go.

Local blogger and former MNPS employee Vesia Wilson-Hawkins has an op-ed piece in this week’s Tennessean expressing concerns about Nashville’s literacy initiative. I can’t say I disagree. If the Mayor’s Literacy Council is serious about its commitment to increased literacy levels, I have a challenge for them. I challenge each member to attend a meeting of ProjectLit’s Book clubs. ProjectLit is in multiple schools now so you don’t have to trek out to Maplewood HS to hit one. There is no better way to increase literacy than reading books and then talking about them with kids.

Is the new MNPS Director of STEAM out on administrative leave? No official word but that’s the scuttlebutt.

Shout out to Amqui ES principal Latoya Cobb, whose quick actions saved a child from choking this week. MNPS principals really are superheroes!

Remember the story in the Nashville Scene about the assistant principal who got himself in hot water over the use of district email to solicit campaign donations? Riddle me this: what’s the difference between using the email server to solicit support and using a mandatory principal’s meeting to solicit support for your friend who’s running for the governor of Maryland? Just trying to wrestle with that one.

This coming Monday at Granbery ES at 6:30 PM, the Overton PAC will be meeting again. As always, we’ll be discussing how to make the best cluster in Nashville even better. Love to see all parents there.

Is this the week that things start to get fixed at Antioch HS? Big meetings next week. Let’s see what happens.

The Nashville Predators again prove why they are the best franchise in sports. Through their foundation, they recently completed building their 7th playground for a school. The team placed its newest playground at KIPP Nashville College Prep Elementary School.

POLL QUESTIONS

As always, Friday means questions and today is no different than any other Friday.

My first question asks for your thoughts on this year’s parent/teacher conferences. Better than previous years? Same? Who does that kind of nonsense? I want to know.

Years ago, MNPS established the Parent Advisory Committee. Dr. Register used it with varying degrees of effectiveness to promote his policies and garner input. Last year, it was pretty much inactive. This year, the district is attempting to resurrect it. They held a couple informational meetings earlier in the year and they’ve begun to solicit names of parents for the quadrant PAC’s. I wanted to know what you thought.

Last question is about the number of fights occurring in our schools. Anecdotal data says the frequency is up. Does your experience support that, or is it just the opposite? I’d like to know.

That does it for this week. Remember you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Also check out Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.