This week ends, as too many have this year, with the mourning of yet another recently departed friend. This week, it is songwriter and front man of The Smithereens Pat DiNizio. I only spent time with Pat a handful of times, and half of those times he was mad at me, but I always counted him among my friends. And those encounters were always memorable. I recall the first time we spent any time together, and he gave me his home number in New York. “Call me sometime,” he said. I sat that number on top of my dresser and for years looked at it, wondering what I was supposed to do with it. After all, he was a world famous musician, and I was simply a punk rock kid in Nashville. Over the years I came to realize that the number really held no mystery, just a simple invitation to call.
Last time I saw Pat, he was in town for Tin Pan South, and I was bartending a couple doors down from a venue where he was attending a show. Upon finding out that I was nearby, he immediately popped in, and we spent a couple hours reminiscing and cutting up. There were maybe 8 people in the bar at the time, so we were uninterrupted for the most part, and I was able to introduce him to my future bride. Pat was his usual charming self and when he saw I had a guitar behind the bar, he immediately picked it up and proceeded to play us a private show.
After a couple tequilas, or more, but who was counting, he began to put The Smithereen’s songs on the jukebox and play along. Ribbing him, I inquired, “Isn’t this like wearing your own band’s t-shirt on stage?” Pat didn’t take that joke well and ended up storming out. I just chuckled because that’s how our relationship had always been. He was the most generous of people with a sensitive side that he hid with his gruffness. I always thought that someday soon, he’d be walking through the door again. Unfortunately, that’s not going to ever happen again, and Pat DiNizio is never going to get mad at me again. Knowing that makes the Christmas season a little duller. Give them hell, Patty, wherever you are.
With all the craziness happening locally, and we’ll touch on that shortly, we almost overlooked a couple statewide stories that bear noting. This week, the Tennessee State House Government Operations Committee held a meeting to look into the state’s most recent problems with the its standardized test for grades 3-11, TNReady. The last few years have seen one issue after another arise with standardized testing, and many legislators, including Committee Chair Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), are starting to lose patience. In Faison’s words, “If the Department of Education was up for evaluation, along with Questar, there are things that you all would get threes, fours and fives on. But, I would say you’d get a one on some things, too.”
Areas that Faison feels would warrant a “one” – teachers receive scores between 1 and 5 based on results of TNReady, with 1 being the lowest – are communications and testing company Questar’s ability to get results and accompanying data out in a timely manner. Faison went on to criticize the Department by pointing out that their failures were having a negative impact on teachers across the state and promised to take action this coming year:
“What we’re doing is driving the teachers crazy. They’re scared to death to teach anything other than get prepared for this test. They’re not even enjoying life right now. They’re not even enjoying teaching because we’ve put so much emphasis on this evaluation,” Faison said. “So I think you’re going to see movement in the legislature this year to detach the evaluation portion of the TNReady test from the teachers and the students.”
This is welcome news and news that, as evidenced by responses in previous polls, DGW readers support. It’s time to admit that we don’t have all the bugs worked out in order to test students with fidelity, and to use inaccurate data to rate teachers is just not a fair practice. Andy Spears dives into things a little deeper over at the Tennessee Education Report.
This week, former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen announced that he would be seeking the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Bob Corker. Corker recently announced that he would not be running for re-election. This is good news for Democrats, as Bredesen did exemplary work as both the mayor of Nashville and the governor of Tennessee.
However, it didn’t take long for speculation to start running rampant about what role current MNPS school board member, and former Bredesen advisor, Will Pinkston would have in both the campaign and going forth should Bredesen win the election. Pinkston is widely recognized for his prowess in opposition research, but equally derided for his political tactics. Many feel that he has been extremely degrading to female politicians from both parties over the past several years and will bring a plethora of baggage to the Bredesen campaign. Personally I believe that we have a president who ably demonstrates what a “win at all costs” philosophy looks like and that recent events in Alabama indicate a desire for a return of decency to governance. Time will tell what happens here.
IT IS ALL LOCAL
The fallout from last week’s News Channel 5 interview with former MNPS official Mo Carrasco continues. Instead of taking the bull by the horn and sitting down with Phil Williams, Director of Schools Shawn Joseph opted to take a safer road and stage a press event with the Tennessean and News Channel 4. Both outlets proceeded to toss softballs at the Director and the Tennessean even edited out the portion of an earlier version of the story where Joseph fails to acknowledge that bringing Carrasco to Nashville might, in hindsight, be considered a mistake. To their credit, Channel 4 left the exchange intact.
There are a number of things that concern me at this juncture. First and foremost, neither MNPS School Board Chair Anna Shepherd nor Joseph himself appears willing to make a strong statement that sexual harassment in the MNPS workplace will not be tolerated. The best Joseph can do is a tepid promise to “investigate if brought forward.” The Blankenship and Carrasco incidents are not the lone charges brought forth this year either. A district principal recently returned to work after being out on administrative leave while similar charges were investigated. I think it’s imperative for MNPS leadership to issue as strong a response on sexual harassment as they did in response to President Trump’s immigration policies. A safe workplace has to be a primary concern.
On Thursday, Joseph sent his response to the Williams/Carrasco interview via email to district staff members. He began his response by quoting Friedrich Nietzsche, noted philosopher, cultural critic, and scholar: “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power.” He omitted the remainder of the quote, “and not truth.” That changes things a bit. I’m not sure that in trying justify my actions or inspire people that Nietzsche is the philosopher I would turn to. Maybe he should have quoted Plato instead: “And isn’t it a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are.” Even Richard Bach would have been better:
“There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go.”
In his communication, Joseph defends his policies, saying:
We have rigorous hiring practices. Over the past 18 months, we have hired for many positions. The majority of administrative hires have come from within MNPS because we have strong candidates who were able to fill the jobs. When we create interview panels, a diverse team is established and the top candidates are sent to a chief or to me for the final decision. All panels understand they are making a recommendation, not a decision. The only time there has been a “preferred” candidate is when I have decided to present one person to a panel or I have chosen to interview one candidate for a position because I feel that candidate brings the experience, training and personality required for a position. Otherwise, we do our work on the front end to present a strong slate of candidates for jobs and we ensure there are objective processes for principal and senior level selections.
He goes on to say:
We have an ambitious strategic plan and we have established clear key performance indicators. Now, we have the difficult work of executing this plan. We are working to build the capacity necessary to execute effectively in many areas, including literacy, pre-k, STEAM, social and emotional learning, English learners, special education, and performance management, to name a few key areas. We have a lean Central Office, and as a result, we have strategically used consultant support to accelerate some of our more complex work.
It should be noted here, that once again central office is under renovation. What? You say, “Weren’t those offices renovated just last year?” Yes, they were, but I guess a lean staff deserves its posh digs.
What most concerns me is the Director’s inability to admit a mistake. As mentioned earlier, when asked if bringing Carrasco to MNPS was a mistake, he replied, “No.” I don’t think anybody would find fault if he would simply look at the camera and say, “Considering that multiple charges of sexual harassment have been brought forth and he’s on TV trashing our work, I think it’s safe to say that I’m certainly entertaining that notion.” But instead we continue to get the shield of infallibility. Perhaps this would be a good place for a Winston Churchill quote: “All men make mistakes. But only wise men learn from their mistakes.”
On a positive note: The district has agreed to increase its efforts at lead reduction. You’ll remember that over the summer, a number of schools were showing high levels of lead in the drinking water. Previously, MNPS set a goal to have all fountains show a lead level of less than 15 parts per billion. They have now lowered that number to 5 parts per billion. A welcome change. The district will replace older bubblers that seem to be part of the problem. Those are fixtures that turn classroom sinks into water fountains. In addition, after the winter break, it will begin a process to flush all water lines to get rid of any lead that may have built up. All very welcome moves, and better late than never.
Speaking of apologies, here’s a couple from me. Sorry about the misinformation on the date for the Chamber of Commerce’s Education Report Card. It is this Tuesday at 10:00 am at the downtown public library. Thank God that Marc Hill sent me a correction before I got in my car and headed down there last Tuesday.
Last week, I was sent a picture of the band recital for McMurray Middle Prep, and I fully intended to share it today, but due to my chaotic life, I’ve misplaced it. I apologize for that and promise I will share it as soon as I find it. McMurray is still rocking it despite the challenges.
Lots of potential questions to ask here, but I think I’ll go with the elephants in the room.
For the first question, I want to know your thoughts on the potential involvement of Will Pinkston in Bredesen’s senate race. I know I risk unleashing the Kracken here, but I truly just want to know your thoughts. Will he help? Hinder? You tell me.
For the second question, I want to get your impression of the interview that Phil Williams just conducted with Mo Carrasco.
The last question is for MNPS employees. What is your response to Dr. Joseph’s response to the Williams/Carrasco interview?
That’s it for now. 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 – Ms Goodenough. 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.