I must admit that I contemplated taking the weekend off. But then I remembered that I am now a professional blogger. Last week, I finally reached the threshold on WordAds where the ads generated enough to warrant them cutting me a check. It’s only 100 bucks, but it does signify a monetary reward for my words, and for that I thank all of you. Your support is always appreciated.
In light of having been elevated to the status of professional, I decided to use today’s blog post as a catch up and clear out. Here are a few thoughts and stories rattling around at the end of the year. Do with them what you will.
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?
It is the end of the year, and if you are like me, you are a getting a flood of emails from non-profits looking for end-of-year donations. One of the more interesting ones I received came from MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph on behalf of the Nashville Public Education Foundation. If you’ll remember, NPEF played a large role in Dr. Joseph securing the position as head of MNPS.
In his fundraising email, Joseph makes the following pitch for NPEF:
We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the leadership of the Nashville Public Education Foundation. They are the spark that ignites all of us to work harder, think bigger, do better and rally together.
While we have made a lot of progress together in the last year, we still have a long way to go. But with this community — the friends of the NPEF — I am more convinced than ever that we will get there.
When you donate to support the NPEF, you are committing to public school excellence and showing how Nashville rallies together for our kids and our school system.
That is quite the ask. But it also raises a few questions for me. Where exactly are we and what exactly has NPEF’s role been in us getting there? Is it the creation of a Literacy Council that doesn’t have a teacher on it? Is it the creation of the largest retail discount program in the Southeast? Is it the hosting of the annual Hall of Fame Dinner that this year took place at the Omni hotel? All are worthy of accolades, but do they rise to the level of being worthy of enticing a pitch from the Director of Schools?
Off of the top of my head, I can think of a number of non-profits doing equally essential work. ProjectLit is doing actual hands-on work to improve literacy rates throughout the city. Metropolitan Nashville Education Foundation has a scholarship program for MNPS graduating seniors who are interested in studying to pursue a degree in education. The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition continues to fight for MNPS students. Music Makes Us takes advantage of the unique resources afforded by Nashville to improve educational outcomes for our students. I cannot begin to even mention all the churches that regularly go into our immigrant communities when school is not in session to ensure children have safe activities to participate in while getting food and clothing if needed.
My point is, not to disparage NPEF, but there are a lot of worthy charities who toil in the shadows but have a larger impact on our children’s lives than NPEF does. A message of support for those organizations as a whole, instead of pointing out one politically connected organization, to me would have had a larger impact. It’s not like Dr. Joseph has any problems asking for money either. The Mayor herself has noted on several recent occasions that every time she sees him, he brings up funding needs. And to hear the two of them talk, she sees him a lot.
It should be noted that Dr. Joseph has never been shy about asking for money in his role as Director of Schools, whether it’s the Seaford School District or here in Nashville. Increased funding has to come from somewhere, and with a much needed and well thought out transportation plan already on the table, as well as funding for a soccer stadium, some financial fatigue may be setting in for Nashville residents. I’m not quite sure that a large increase of funding by the city would go over well at this juncture. Perhaps that’s why Joseph is out pitching for NPEF.
AN INTERESTING DEFENSE
Perusing social media postings the other day, I came across an interesting public post questioning whether or not the criticism of Shawn Joseph was personally or racially motivated or not. It’s a valid question, and I think one that needs to be repeatedly asked in order to keep everyone honest. I will say a reply by school board chairman Anna Shepherd bothered me quite a bit though. Shepherd wrote in response:
I completely agree with you regarding the criticisms of Dr. J. As a community and “It” city, we pat ourselves on the back but, truth be told, we are not that “It” when we can’t accept the fact that we have a person of color at the helm of our school system.
If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the last few years, I’ll think you’ll recognize that I try to be very sensitive to racial issues. Race, on some level, influences everything. I agree that the city of Nashville needs to have a deeper conversation on race and that we haven’t done enough in the past to address racial inequalities in staffing MNPS. The fact that we are unclear of what is a racially motivated criticism and what is a legitimate criticism would indicate to me a need for a deeper conversation. I am also willing to accept that in order to balance things out, the pendulum probably needs to swing further in the other direction. What I do take exception to is an administrator’s race trumping what’s good for kids.
Demanding that kids attend schools that don’t put them at risk for lead poisoning has nothing to do with accepting the fact that we have a person of color at the helm of our school system. Is Shepherd inferring that parents would be more willing to have kids poisoned if the Director of Schools was not a person of color? Yes, by testing the water, Dr. Joseph did more than the previous administration did, but that doesn’t change the fact that kids were knowingly put at risk for over a year before MNPS acknowledged that yes, they could do more.
Questioning a literacy program that is near universally rejected by teachers shouldn’t be blunted because the Director of Schools and his Chiefs are African-Americans. Calling attention to the fact that there are 182 open positions for certified instructors at the mid-point of the school year is not an unfair criticism. Nor is questioning a response to a holiday party that included extravagant gifts. There is a disconnect when you continually ask for more money but are able to secure a slew of high dollar prizes to give away. People have a right to question this and any other of a Director of School’s actions. It’s one of the reasons why a Director is paid $300k a year.
I understand that in the past, the community might have been slow to question the moves of the Director of Schools. That’s part of the learning curve. Look at how the last several Directors’ tenures ended. Pedro Garcia was only removed upon the State’s takeover of the district and was a mess for a long time afterwards. Dr. Register’s reign ended with open warfare between large portions of Nashville’s community and mixed reviews. Do we really want to repeat those situations? Perhaps by being more vigilant we could avoid those mistakes of the past and work towards better outcomes.
It’s been said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same old actions over and over and expecting different outcomes. By that definition, this past year has been riddled with evidence of insanity. I can’t speak to the motivations of other critics, but all I’m asking for is an honest and transparent conversation. One we seem incapable of having. Are we really benefitting anybody by failing to openly address legitimate concerns? I’m hoping that in 2018 we get a little more sane.
It appears that vouchers will take a back seat during this year’s state legislative session. The lawmakers who have driven proposed legislation in the past are indicating that this year they will focus on boosting resources for the state’s public schools. Rep. Harry Brooks, who was a sponsor of this past legislative session’s school voucher bill, said he wants more money for teacher pay, school technology, and for staff to help guide Tennessee’s Response to Instruction and Intervention program. This all bears watching, but on the surface is very welcome news.
After the holidays, I believe the campaign for Governor will really start to heat up. Democratic candidate Karl Dean has been out in Memphis drumming up support. He recently did an interview with the Tri-State Defender and talked about education. It’s worth reading.
I recently came across an article in the Harvard Business Review from April called “What To Do About Mediocrity on Your Team.” I found a whole lot of the article to be relevant, but for me the following was the money quote:
When you ask a group to step up to high performance, you are inviting them to a place of stress — one where they must stretch, where failure is possible, where interpersonal conflicts must be addressed. Rather than step into this uncomfortable place, some will watch for hypocrisy in you in order to excuse their retreat to safety. How you handle these crucial moments will either amplify or eliminate your influence.
I encourage you to read the whole thing and if you know anybody that could benefit from it, please share.
Nashville education blogger and Ebony-published writer Vesia Hawkins has a new post out with her plans for next year, Four Things That Must Stay in 2017 and the Boss Behavior Required for 2018.
The Tennessean has been doing excellent features on the changing makeup of Nashville neighborhoods. Nothing impacts public schools like housing.
Things are jumping in Chattanooga. New Superintendent Brian Johnson has proposed a name change to of Hamilton County Schools to The Public Schools of Hamilton County, installing Future Ready Institutes in High Schools, and has hired Dr. T. Nakia Towns Edwards as the Chief of Staff. The Towns hire is the most interesting, as she doesn’t show up at your door baggage free. Stops in both Knoxville and at the TNDOE did not go without controversy. Some may view her exit from the TNDOE as a case of either she goes or TNReady goes.
Time now for a couple of questions. The first one I want to ask is what you plan to focus on in the new year. Eating better? Reading more? Reducing stress? I’m curious to find out.
Here at DGW, I often focus on the negative but try to look at the positive. I’d like to know who you think the district’s MVP is. Who is the one person you don’t think the district could afford to lose? This one should be interesting.
What elected official do you consider the most knowledgable when it comes to education issues? Let’s see how this one turns out.
That’s it for now. I hope everybody has a safe and festive New Year. 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.