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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.