LESSONS ABOUND

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I watched Sunday’s Grammy Award ceremonies. While I’m not as familiar with the top acts as I once may have been, I still enjoy the music, the pomp, and the pageantry. I found it notable that two of this year’s most powerful performances came from the artists Kesha and Miley Cyrus. Watching Cyrus, wearing a stunning red gown, perform with Elton John made me flash back to five years ago when she faced a barrage of criticism for her behavior on and off the stage. Large swaths of the public were willing to write her off as being immoral and creating art devoid of value. Similar criticism was leveled at Kesha in response to her huge club hits that topped the mainstream charts. Last night those same young ladies produced performances that will stand the test time. Performances that would not have possible without their previous experiences.

There is a learning opportunity for educators and parents here if we choose to take it. We constantly make judgements on people, but especially children, based on snapshots of their lives. We allow test scores, grades, and yes, even behavioral issues to define a child instead of just defining where they are at that moment. Kesha and Miley couldn’t have produced the performances they did last night without the shortcomings of their past. I believe it’s essential that schools don’t just focus on achievement but also on nurturing. Kids have to be given room to make mistakes, come up short, and feel comfortable taking risks in an environment that offers protection and nurturing. Those are the things that make you not just college and career ready, but life ready.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic are certainly important skills to develop, but equally important are recovery and self-evaluation. You can be the greatest reader in the world, but life is still going to offer you setbacks, and you are still going to, on occasion, make poor decisions. Without the ability to self examine and recover, mistakes in the real world can be devastating. I’d like us to look at Miley Cyrus and Kesha’s performances last night and use them as reminders that we can’t just focus on achievement. Unlocking the potential is equally as important.

MORE ON RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND SEL

In my mind, one of the most troubling trends in our society is our growing inability to admit when we might be wrong. In that spirit, I’d like to revisit the statement I made in last week’s blog post on restorative justice practices. I stated that the policies had been reduced to a message of “Don’t suspend black or brown kids.” After talking to several educators, I realize I might have cast too narrow a net. The message has been translated more to “don’t suspend ANY child” than just children of color. Unfortunately there is a disparate number of black and brown kids who get suspended, and therefore the mistaken translation. I regret any contribution I may have made to reinforcing that interpretation, though I still believe there are times when a child might need to be removed from a classroom.

Along related lines, Social Emotional Learning has grown larger and larger as a component of a school’s curriculum. One of my favorite education bloggers, Peter Greene, wrote a piece last week questioning whether SEL belonged in schools or not. His views are closely aligned with mine on this issue.

There are a lot of benefits to helping kids become better people and deal with issues in a more appropriate manner. The problem is who gets to decide what’s appropriate? If we are creating individuals who are are less likely to question things and speak out, that may be benefit for business, but is it a benefit for society? Some might say yes, but not I. Going back to my opening example, some may say Miley and Kesha have learned how to behave better and therefore they have more power to incite social change. I might argue that their behavior modification prevents them from expanding boundaries, which is bad for society, because we always need those willing to live on the fringes. The truth is, it is probably a mix of both and that’s what we often fail to grasp.

I suggest reading the entirety of Greene’s piece, but for me the money shot is near the conclusion:

SEL at its worst is about emotionally engineering humans. It’s about imposing someone else’s values on a vulnerable human being, essentially stripping that human of their autonomy and will. And worse, from re-education camps to certain cults, we know that it can be done. Because the power and wealth attached to such a massive endeavor are so great, the entire business is guaranteed to be warped and twisted by those who stand to profit. At its worst, we are talking about crafting human beings to order and harvesting both them and their data in the service of those with power. We are talking about pushing them to be the people who someone else thinks they should be. This is not just bad policy, inappropriate pedagogy, or culturally toxic– this is evil.

The last thing I want to share on the topic of restorative justice practices/SEL comes from a reader. I sometimes get comments from readers that are just to good to leave relegated to the comment section.

This weekend’s post produced one such comment:

With respect to restorative here is my diagnosis. The Joseph team came in seeking the actions with best bang per buck. They have (intentionally or not) underfunded restorative efforts to be able to fund STEAM. Although more schools have shifted to restorative, schools can still largely choose their model for SEL work and some choose a PB (positive behavior) and might include carrots (reward tickets) and sticks, instead of restorative. Schools haven’t been told to get all teachers trained in restorative if they are following that model, and the training and support office has been underfunded, plus schools wishing to get all teachers trained might not have been able to do so due to having to attend STEAM days.

Schools that are in year 2 or 3 of restorative even find that there is a small segment of (usually ACE-impacted: adverse childhood experiences) students that don’t respond to restorative no matter what. They end up having to use some version of PB or other approach with that most challenging group (say 5% of students) that drives perhaps 50% of the classroom disruptions. You should interview the principal of Fall Hamilton on the incredible work done there using a grant to fund a truly trained social worker type of position to restore but also putting in place various checks and balances via PB for his most challenged students. This case study shows what everyone probably needs to do, and funding it would be a challenge. I can name other schools that also have funded support positions out of their flexible spending which has been a major challenge, but my other examples do not include an explicit PB piece that is systematized for the most challenging cases. These other schools are having difficulty employing restorative within the framework that Joseph has laid out.

The problem is NOT an edict to suspend less black and brown kids. The problem is the edict to suspend less kids. If mostly black and brown kids are who is getting suspended, though, then the effect is similar. Considerably more thought and resources and time need to go into unwinding the disruptive behavior cycle. We could have the ability to rise to that, but our current SEL paradigm isn’t allowing for real counseling to occur. I’d like to see more thought put into this because there’s no easy recipe that will work everywhere all the time.

Ok, I lied, I do have one more comment to make on discipline practices and SEL. If we are serious about curbing youth violence and increasing social emotional learning, why is the district not putting more focus on the ProjectLit book clubs? Two recent novels, Dear Martin and The Hate U Give, both have the issue of youth violence at the center of their themes. What better way to address these issues then through discussion of a literacy work that accurately reflects who kids are? What better way to promote literacy than by connecting it to real world applications? I learned a lot about the man I wanted to become through the books I read. We need to give all kids that same opportunity.

This weekend I watched All Eyes On Me, a movie about the life of Tupac Shakur. There is a scene where he is in the prison visiting room with his mother. Tupac is despondent over his life and where it’s headed. His mother is trying her best to reassure him, but nothing is working until finally she looks at him and says the following:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

Tupac raises his head and you can see him draw strength from the words. “Shakespeare,” he says, nodding. Literature is a powerful thing. That power needs to be demonstrated to kids so that it can be used as such for a lifetime. It’s not just about raising test scores so adults can check that box. We owe it to kids to help them unlock the power of literature and to use it to help understand and cope with the feelings they have inside. ProjectLit book clubs are the perfect vehicle for that unlocking. It’s like the cave story I shared from last week: how deep do we want to go into the cave?

QUICK HITS

There is an article in this morning’s Tennessean sure to produce pearl-clutching as it proclaims that More Nashville public schools rank in bottom 5 percent, according to state data. Apparently in addition to a priority school list, the state has a “cusp school” list. Nashville has 21 schools on this cusp list. While not downplaying the seriousness of the issue, I can’t help but question the timing. Per the article, “The Tennessee Department of Education Cusp list, obtained by the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee, was released to school districts in October to help flag academic issues ahead of the state’s official Priority list.” That was four months ago with TN Ready testing looking to begin in 2 months. So what’s the benefit of sounding the alarm now?

One thing I will say is that hopefully this serves as a reminder to district leadership of the importance of TNReady. Over this school year, there has been a keen focus on MAP testing. At last week’s MNPS school board meeting, Executive Director of Research, Assessment, and Evaluation Paul Changas gave assurances that there was a close alignment between MAP scores and TNReady. I hope that is true because doing well on MAP and underperforming on TNReady won’t be good for anybody. If I was the kind of person that believed in hidden messages, I might take this article as a thinly-veiled reminder of the potential consequences of underperforming on TNReady.

Speaking of the Tennessean, can anyone explain to me why, despite being a subscriber, I have to constantly battle pop-up ads and embedded video just to read an article?

Opportunity NOW, a youth employment initiative launched by Mayor Megan Barry, is now accepting applications for summer jobs and internships. The initiative links thousands of youth and young adults to paid job opportunities with the goal of embedding youth employment into the fabric of our community. This year more than 10,000 jobs will be available for young people in Nashville ages 14-24 through Opportunity NOW’s online job portal.

This has nothing to do with education but I still want to share. Owner Story: “My neighbor walks her guinea pig with her two other dogs. Yes, it follows her when she whistles…”

McKissack Middle Prep received a generous donation of books from News Channel 5 last week for their Girls Inc. & AMEND programs! Rockin like Dokken.

I keep an eye on what’s happening in other states as a way to be prepared for what might possibly wash up on our shores. There is a lot going on in Colorado, positive and negative, that we can learn from. On the positive side, I love this concept of science education.

Indianapolis is starting to play around with the idea of giving more autonomy to principals. This is an idea Nashville has toyed with, but as of late we’ve begun to pull back on. Last year, principals were allocated more money than before, but they were given more mandates on how to use their individual school budgets. As we head into budget season, I’m interested to see how things play out this year. The rumblings I’ve heard to date don’t indicate a relaxing of control by central office.

Nashville will have a new elementary school next year, and now that school has a principal. Metro Nashville Public Schools announced Mr. Shawn Lawrence as the first principal of the district’s newest school, Eagle View Elementary School. The elementary school will serve the Cane Ridge Community with a capacity for 800 students. Mr. Lawrence was previously the Principal at Apollo Middle School. Before that, he was at Neeley’s Bend Middle. He is a recognized turnaround specialist. So I have to ask… why is a turnaround specialist for middle schools the perfect fit for a new elementary school? Is middle school no longer a high need for MNPS, and if it is, why are we moving proven MS leadership to the ES level? Just the kind of stuff that goes through my head.

Unknowingly, too many of us operate from an inward mindset—a narrow-minded focus on self-centered goals and objectives. When faced with personal ineffectiveness or lagging organizational performance, most of us instinctively look for quick-fix behavioral band-aids, not recognizing the underlying mindset at the heart of our most persistent challenges. Through true stories and simple yet profound guidance and tools, The Outward Mindset enables individuals and organizations to make the one change that most dramatically improves performance, sparks collaboration, and accelerates innovation—a shift to an outward mindset. I plan to put this book on my list.

POLL RESULTS

Very interesting results to this week’s poll questions.

On the question of where MNPS teachers live, suprisingly to me, the majority (65%) of you still live in Davidson County. I figured the high cost of living had chased you all out. The runner up, with 12%, was Williamson County, which is more expensive to live in than Davidson County. Only 4% of you indicated that you live in the area where your school is zoned for, which I think is a shame. There weren’t any write-ins for this question.

Here’s where things got really interesting for me. For the second question, on the number of years working in education, the majority of you have put in over 10 years. Yikes! I can’t tell you what an honor it is to have educators with that much experience as readers. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Nobody spots bullshit like a veteran teacher, and to have that many of you as readers speaks volumes.

Here are the write-ins:

20+ 2
30+ 1
More than 25 years 1
33 1
20 plus 1
35 years 1
24 1
25+ years 1
21 years 1
45

The last question referenced the indictment of former Superintendent of Baltimore Schools Dallas Dance. Many of you were not aware of either who Dance was or why I was referencing him. Dance is a close friend of Nashville Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and was appointed a member of Joseph’s transition team. We provided travel and hotel expenses for him to come here and aid in Dr. Joseph’s transition to MNPS. Many of the companies that Dance interacted with are also active in MNPS. It’s all worth keeping an eye on.

Thirty-six percent of you responded that “you were judged by the company you keep,” with an additional 22% indicating that you were bothered by the association. Only 2% of you indicated that you didn’t care. I’m coming to believe that Dr. Felder and Cumberland Principal Carolyn Cobb have made a Sunday habit of reading Dad Gone Wild. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Here are the write-ins:

Not shocked one bit. 1
Monique Felder is right behind him 1
What about the new Eagle View principal? 1
Has anyone looked at MNPS’ non-bid contracts (tech & PD consultants) 1
who cares about Dallas. Fire Monique- the one doing damage to our district

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. 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.

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A CRITICAL SITUATION

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This week, WKRN ran a story by reporter Stephanie Langford on the number of MNPS students who have lost their lives in the past year. According to her report, 36 kids died in the 2016-2017 school year. That’s the highest number in over a decade. In the middle of the week, the community group Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) asked for Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and the school board to set aside funds to train and support teachers in reducing punitive discipline practices that greatly impact minority students. At this week’s school board meeting, Dr. Tina Stenson presented data on the just-completed districtwide climate survey. In explaining how survey questions were selected, she explained that the ones for teachers were taken from focus groups conducted by the district. In those focus groups, teachers’ main expressed concerns were with leadership relationships and safety/discipline.

I think it’s safe to say that the Nashville community is starting to awaken to the fact that we have reached critical mass when it comes to child safety. The question then becomes what are we going to do about it? I tend to agree with Dr. Tony Majors, Executive Officer of Student Services for MNPS, when he states:

“I don’t want to believe that we are at the point where a child has conflict and immediately chooses to access a gun, but if that’s the case, then the question would be how are we addressing the accessibility of illegal weapons in our community as well. That’s not a schools systems conversation, but it is a conversation that the school system should definitely be involved in because we are seeing some of the impacts.”

The solution to this issue can not be solely school-based. We have to ask ourselves what we are going to do as a city to curb this trend. Part of the issue stems from Nashville’s rapid growth over the last decade. As we’ve focused on convention centers, sports team, stadiums, and attracting businesses, we’ve become less focused on things like community centers, libraries, and transportation. Those on the lower end of the economic chain have become more and more marginalized. That’s one of the reasons why groups like NOAH have risen to the forefront.

In all fairness, we are fortunate at this point to have a mayor who understands this need. And I mean no disrespect to previous mayors in praising Nashville’s current mayor. As Mayor, Megan Barry has met often with NOAH. She’s created a summer jobs program, Opportunity Now, that this year will make over 10,000 jobs available to kids aged 14-18. She’s making a valiant attempt at solving transportation woes which will improve the quality of life and open opportunities for all of us. She gets it. But we all need to get it.

Over the past several years, MNPS has moved towards the implementation of Restorative Justice as a primary pillar in its discipline policy. That’s the pillar that NOAH would like to see widened.

Here’s where I might make some people mad, but in the interest of having a wider and more honest conversation, I’m willing to walk out on that ledge. Restorative Justice has not been successful on a large scale in our schools. Somehow it has been translated into the message of don’t suspend black or brown kids. I know, some will bristle at this insinuation, but talk to teachers and principals and you’ll find that tenet has some veracity. For some students, that translates into the perception of a lack of accountability. Some take advantage of it and exploit it for their own benefit, thereby creating an unsafe environment for other kids.

The majority of discipline issues come from a minority of kids. Yet we focus on the impact of that minority. Shouldn’t the kids not being disruptive deserve as much consideration as those causing the disruptions? I understand the need to fight to keep kids from falling through the cracks and fully support any method that will address their unique issues. However, teachers are not trained social workers and psychologists; they are trained educators. If we continue to try to force them into serving two masters simultaneously – a child’s academic needs and social emotional needs – we run the risk of them being successful at neither.

The idea of restorative justice is intended to give teachers more tools to help more students, and I believe if fully implemented in can have a game changing impact on kids. That said, I see two major obstacles on why restorative justice practices have not reached that potential in MNPS. The first reason is simple: it has never been fully funded and implemented. We have not, as a district, dedicated the resources and the personnel necessary to fully adopt restorative justice. In order to be successful, there has to be dedicated personnel in every school, extensive training, and a culture shift. That ain’t free. So NOAH is on the right track when they call on the district to dedicate more resources to restorative justice practices.

The second part is the need to erase the negative connotation of removing a kid from the classroom. Kids come to MNPS having experienced such trauma that sometimes that classroom is not the right place for them, both for their benefit and the other students. That’s why we have to have the hard conversation about what happens to a child when their removal is necessitated. Is there a dedicated space in the school? Does there need to be classes held at individual sites throughout the cluster where these students can attend and receive services until they can return back to their assigned school? What do required services look like and how do we ensure that students receive them? (I know, that’s already happening, but remember that need for an honest conversation.)

When a child’s suspension is necessitated, school administrators should be approached by district leadership in a supportive manner, not in an accusatory way. Each instance should be evaluated individually based on its unique circumstances. Once again, people are going to tell me that this is already happening and I would counter with this: then why is safety and discipline a leading concern of teachers as acknowledged by the district’s own researcher? This is too important a conversation to have thin skin. In the words of Bill, we must employ rigorous honesty.

There is a story that is told about a cave of truth. Some people heard of this cave and thought, “We need to check that out.” So they set off to find it. After a long and arduous trip, they finally located the cave. At the mouth of the cave was an old man who served as the guardian. They approached him and asked, “Is this the cave of truth?” “It is,” he replied. “May we enter?” asked the townsfolk. The guardian replied in the affirmative and asked them how far into the cave they would like to go. The townsfolk huddled together and after a brief conversation, turned to the guardian and responded, “We would like to enter and go just deep enough to say that we’ve been there.”

That’s been our approach over the last several years and it’s gotten us to where we are now. I’m not disparaging anybody’s work to date, but this isn’t a job for one person or even one school district. It’s a job for a whole city. We have to commit to keeping all of our children safe. As Tony Majors says in the WKRN story:

“I really do think we’ve reached a point in the city of Nashville where we have to really ask a tough question, and that tough question really centers around what type of life experience do we want for our children and what is it going to take to get our students involved in very positive proactive activities.”

QUICK HITS

Last week MNPS held its School Choice Festival. As a general rule, I’m not a supporter of a choice system. No matter how it is set up, it inadvertently leads to the creation of winners and losers, and those losers are typically those with the most to lose. What I am in support of, though, is an opportunity for parents to come together and learn more about MNPS and the schools that comprise it. In that light, it appears that the MNPS communications department delivered a much appreciated event. Congratulations to them.

Speaking of parents, I encourage you to check out the latest in the Dad Gone Wild interview series. This time out I talked with Nashville Rise’s Allison Simpson, a conversation that I really enjoyed and gave me a lot to think about. We need to constantly remind ourselves that those with different opinions aren’t our enemies, just people with different opinions than us.

Word on the street is that Eakin ES is once again on the hunt for a new principal.

On the subject of school choice, my friend Ezra Howard has recently resumed blogging and he has some views he’d like to share. I always find his views to be informative.

I would also like to acknowledge that in her presentation on the climate survey, Dr. Stenson chose to address “community concerns” that results were being used in any way other than formative. She wanted to make sure that people knew that results were not being utilized in a punitive manner. We appreciate the clarification and are appreciative that Dr. Stenson reads Dad Gone Wild.

Last week was the first Gubernatorial debate. This one focused on education. I could do a long wrap up on it, or I could just turn the mic over to Vesia Hawkins. Her summary about says it all.

One of the things being talked about during this year’s Tennessee Legislative session is a change in how schools are funded. As always, TNEd Report breaks down one aspect of the discussion for us.

Some of you may wonder why I haven’t written more about the recent resignation of MNPS central office employee Mo Carrasco. Truth is, I’m staying away from it because I don’t want his actions to undercut the discussion on his observations on the district. His actions were completely unacceptable, and thankfully he resigned, but there is a lot of truth in his evaluation of the district. Close observers and those employed by the district know the truth. For Dr. Joseph to insinuate that he and Carrasco were nothing but principals together in the same district is a bit disingenuous, and denies the long history the two have together that dates back to Joseph’s participation in Carrasco’s principal-training side business.

Speaking of friends, look what happened in Baltimore this week. Former Baltimore Superintendent and current MNPS Transition Team member Dallas Dance was indicted on 4 counts of perjuryIf you look about 3 paragraphs down in the linked article, you’ll see reference to a company called ERDI. Then take a look at MNPS’s Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder’s financial disclosure from last year, and you’ll see that she declares no outside compensation, but did do work for a company called Education Research & Development Institute. Hmmm….. move along. Nothing to see here. That was for 2016. 2017 is due at the end of the month.

Word on the street is that things got a little heated at a parent/district meeting last night at Sylvan Park ES. Last year, if you’ll remember, there was concern about high teacher turnover at the school. Earlier this year, I asked a parent if things were improving. “I don’t…” they responded, “I don’t know anybody anymore.” Last night’s meeting contained commentary on those recently departed teachers. Hmmmm…. that’s all, just hmmmm.

MNPS announced today one of its students, Youli Yao, who attends Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School, has been named a prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar. Youli Yao was Tennessee’s only semifinalist out of 300 nationally. Pretty impressive.

Unknowingly, too many of us operate from an inward mindset—a narrow-minded focus on self-centered goals and objectives. When faced with personal ineffectiveness or lagging organizational performance, most of us instinctively look for quick-fix behavioral band-aids, not recognizing the underlying mindset at the heart of our most persistent challenges. Through true stories and simple yet profound guidance and tools, The Outward Mindset enables individuals and organizations to make the one change that most dramatically improves performance, sparks collaboration, and accelerates innovation—a shift to an outward mindset. I plan to put this book on my list.

Listening to John Prine’s Sweet Revenge this morning. Since I frequently see him around town, I always forget just how good he is. Check it out.

POLLS

Time to put forth this week’s questions. The first one was brought forth by a reader and it concerns where MNPS teachers reside. It was in response to the question about snow days, but I do find it an interesting overall.

Next, I’d like to get a feel for how long teachers who read the blog have been teaching. So if you are an educator, I like to know for how long. And that includes principals.

Lastly, I want to ask for feedback on the Dallas Dance indictments. Does it bother you or not?

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. 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.

A CONVERSATION WITH NASHVILLE RISE’S ALLISON SIMPSON

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I decided to start doing interviews with people involved with education in Tennessee because I felt that in arguing over policy, we’d lost sight of personalities. Education is such a passionate subject that we often forget those we argue against are people who have arrived at their opinions based on their own research and experiences. We tend to think that our experience is a universal experience, and therefore policy should be shaped to fit that experience or a slight variation of it. What I’ve discovered through my conversations with folks over the last couple years is that everyone has a story and everyone’s story is different, sometimes to a degree that makes finding the touchstones difficult.

Allison Simpson is someone I never really thought I would be sitting down with, let alone enjoying our conversation. She is a parent leader with Nashville Rise, an organization that was initially a part of Project Renaissance. In my eyes, Simpson had a sympathy for charter schools that was the antithesis of my own beliefs. During the last school board election, we found ourselves on opposite ends of a very vitriolic battle. Since then, I’ve begun to focus less on fighting against schools and more on fighting for schools. I’ve realized you can’t impact demand if you don’t lessen desire.

Recently, Nashville Rise has broken off from Project Renaissance and formed its own independent 501(c)(3) organization. Those involved say that this has always been the plan, while those with other agendas paint a different picture. I am not as much concerned with the politics as much as I was with the story of those involved. Whether criticism leveled against them is warranted or not, there is no denying that Nashville Rise has been successful at getting previously unheard parents to step to the microphone at school board meetings. That itself is worthy of praise.

Allison and I sat down at Flatrock Coffee and Tea for a conversation on personal experiences, school choice, and parent involvement. We didn’t reach total agreement, but hopefully we uncovered a few mutual touchstones that will lay the grounds for future collaboration.

DAD GONE WILD: Good morning, Allison. Glad you were able to find the place all right. I appreciate you doing this.

ALLISON SIMPSON: My pleasure.

DGW: Now your official title is Chairman of the Board for Nashville Rise, correct?

AS: Correct.

DGW: Now what exactly, in your words, is Nashville Rise?

AS: We are a parent advocacy organization. Our main work is focusing on empowering parents to elevate their voices around improving our schools, thereby increasing great schools for all kids.

DGW: Let’s take a look at the history for a moment. Project Renaissance was founded in part by former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean who was a supporter of increased options for kids, charter schools and TFA specifically. Were you on board right from the beginning?

AS: I joined the team in November of 2015, along with my coworker Ariba Qureshi. I know that prior to me being hired, there were several key people who were relationship building and engaging parents. (Courtney, Wendy, Justin and Jay). We officially launched Nashville Rise June 23, 2016 when we hosted our school board candidate forum. This informative session served as an opportunity for parents to ask questions and engage school board candidates prior to the August 4 election.

DGW: What was your background at the time, and how did you become involved in Nashville Rise?

AS: When my daughter was in the fist grade, I did a lot of volunteering at her school. I was volunteering for a field trip, and prior to us getting on the bus to go to the zoo, a lady came in who was talking about Project Renaissance and how they were trying to engage and organize parents. She spoke about the importance of parents realizing they had a voice and elevating that collective voice to improve Davidson County schools.

That ladies name was Courtney Wheeler and I will never forget the moment I heard her speak. She spoke with such passion and when she talked, it was like she had been reading my mind! She was stressing that parents are important and their voices are important. She spoke of the importance of kids getting a great education regardless of zip code, having a safe place to go, and all families having equal access to great schools, all things that resonated with me.

She told our principal that they were looking for an organizer. People at the school said, “Ma’am, Ms. Simpson is looking for a job, you should talk to her.” I met Courtney for coffee. We had an amazing conversation. I then met Jay Mazon, who was our director at the time, and I got hired.

I had been working at a mental health facility. I was tired and burned out, and I just didn’t feel like I was really making a difference. I thought that I wanted to do more. I think God just aligned all these things in place for me to be able to do this work.

DGW: How have things changed since then?

AS: Tremendously. We have about 500, give or take, parents who are regularly involved in a multitude of ways. Some are engaged through social media. Some attend events. Some speak at school board events. We have about 20-30 parents who are just always on the ground. I could call them right now and be like, “Hey, I need you to do this,” and they’re on it.

I feel like we’ve reached a lot of different parents. But from day one, we have had a lot of partnerships at charter schools. That is just because they were more welcoming. I’ve developed a lot of relationships recently with some additional schools. I’ve been really intentional about expanding out who we work with, because I feel like we are all public schools and we all need to be in this fight together. I just really want to open up the lines of communication and get to the root of the disconnect and why we are always at war with each other.

DGW: Have you figured that out yet?

AS: (Smiling) No. But, as far as fighting for progress, I’m in there. And I hear things like, “Okay, this lady isn’t so bad. She literally is trying to get us heard. She’s really is legit. She’s really fighting for us parents.” Some people are starting to realize that we are trying to improve all schools and not just take kids from your school. That’s where we’ve the seen the most progress. Where we’ve actually been able to make inroads with the school system.

I was just checking my email, and a principal over in Madison had sent me an email inviting us to an event that they’re having. That kind of thing really wasn’t happening before, but through our efforts and boots on the ground, people are starting to realize that we want to help everyone improve. A private school wants us to come and empower their parents, and I’m cool with that. We want to empower all parents. Now that we’ve broken away and formed our own entity, we are like 110% parent-led. Our board consists of five people, all parents.

DGW: Hold on. Let’s back up one second, I don’t know that a lot of people know that Nashville Rise has separated from Project Renaissance and are now their own independent entity. Tell me a little bit more about that.

AS: So, we were incubated by Project Renaissance. Project Renaissance was formed to ensure that all kids had access to a great school. Under their umbrella, there were separate initiatives, the teacher talent piece was one and the parent involvement piece was another. Project Renaissance conducted tours to spread the word about different schools and the things that they were doing. This was done to promote collaboration. But all initiatives acted separately.

DGW: So the breaking out of individual initiatives was always part of the plan?

AS: It was one part of a five-year plan, but it kind of happened faster than five years. I think basically we were just ready to transition and that is pretty much the reason why it happened now. I know that NTR, the Nashville Teacher Residency program, is also breaking off. Project Renaissance was really meant to be the incubator.

DGW: So you now have your own board, independent of Project Renaissance.

AS: Correct. Nashville Rise is now its own entity with its own board.

DGW: And who makes up that board?

AS: It’s parents, five parents. Me, I’m a board chair. We have a vice president, who is also a parent. We have a communications person who also, like me, works with other parents.

DGW: Is the board on salary or is it all volunteers?

AS: (chuckling) No. We are all volunteers. So I am currently unemployed.

DGW: I know that feeling.

AS: I am a volunteer just like the parents. Prior to that, I was getting paid a salary, but since we broke off into our own entity, we don’t have resources yet for a paid position. And that’s totally fine with me because I don’t need to be paid to do this work. I have a passion for it. If you asked anybody else who knows me, they will tell you the same thing. Now, I am freaking out a little bit because I do have two kids, but at the same time, I feel like everything happened in this order because it’s God’s plan and He has something greater for me. So whether He’s building this magical position for me or not is immaterial. All my bills are paid, we still have a house to live in, my kids are eating. So, yes I am a volunteer, and the other parents are volunteers. We’re all volunteers.

DGW: Impressive. Are you a Nashville native?

AS: No. I am from Cincinnati and I got here by way of college. I actually followed my daughter’s dad here. I hate to say it aloud but it’s true.

DGW: There’s always a boy involved.

AS: Right. I went to Auburn and graduated in 2007. I needed a job and this is the very first place I found a job. I moved here and that was it.

DGW: So Nashville Rise was created and you started recruiting parents. Where did they come from?

AS: They came from us just going to PTA meetings. I went and talked about Nashville Rise at my daughter’s school. I went to community events. We did movies in the park. Any opportunity for us to reach people. I talked to a lady at the grocery store once.

DGW: One of the things that I’ve been impressed by recently is that your ability to reach parents who normally wouldn’t speak out and get them to speak in front of the school board. Previously, I’ve raised the question of how much is indoctrination versus teaching parents to speak out, but in all fairness, at this juncture there does seem to me that at this juncture there’s less indoctrination and more empowerment going on. How do you get those parents to step up and be bolder?

AS: My coworker Ariba and I worked together in doing this. It was funny because Ariba is not a parent, but she had a huge passion for the work we were doing. If you ever get a chance to talk to Ariba, you should, she has an amazing story that stems from watching her parents come to America from Pakistan and sacrifice so much so that she and her sister would have equal access to a great education. Her passion, along with my passion, and our ability to build relationships and be nonjudgmental has paved the way. We just sit down with parents and talk to them. First and foremost we ask, “How’s your day going?” We stress that we are really here to take the time to get to know them. I go on a lot of luncheons. I go to a lot of coffee houses. I go to sporting events and school events because I think it’s important for people to know that you really care and that I’m not here just saying, “Hey, sign up, join Nashville Rise.” For me, I know how great it feels when other people have taken their time to just care about me and my kids, and I want to spread that feeling to others.

In my opinion, that’s how we’ve done it. I think just being sincere and just being transparent are the keys. Just letting people know that there’s no hidden agenda and that this is what it is. We don’t do any coaching and we try not to tell parents to “say this, don’t say this.” It has always been just “tell me your story. Sit down, talk to me, tell me your story, the good, the bad, and the ugly. What do you want me to know? Tell me.” Okay, thanks. Then I ask questions and I say, “Now, why don’t you go say that in a room full of people with your back to the majority of them? You’re only looking at nine people who are just like you, and tell them what you told me.”

Some of our parents have trouble with English, and they don’t really understand email. They ask why do they have to sign up with email. They get frustrated and say, “I’m not going to do it.” So, you know, we could make things a lot more convenient for parents. It’s not an easy task.

DGW: Right.

AS: You’re telling me that you want a PTA or that the ceiling in your building is falling down. Nobody’s going to know that until you speak about it. My mom once told me that a closed mouth never gets fed and I’ve tried to always remember that.

So when you explain it like that, yes it’s hard, but at the same time it makes sense. They click. I want my parents to shine. I want my organization to shine and I want people to see the great work that we’re doing. I mean that’s it.

DGW: Do you guys rehearse beforehand at all?

AS: No.

DGW: That question is a compliment by the way, because all of your parents speak so confidently. They’re speaking authoritatively. They’re speaking knowledgeably. If you can get a parent out in front of a school board talking about… whatever, you’ve earned my admiration. I think that getting parents to voice their opinions is, in itself, an achievement because so many parents don’t feel empowered to speak up. So the fact that you’re empowering parents, period, let alone that the majority are minority parents, is remarkable.

AS: Right.

DGW: I think it’s fantastic.

AS: It wasn’t an easy task. When we told parents that one of our goals would be to get parents to speak there was some skepticism. Another challenge was that school board meetings are not at a realistic time for many of our parents. The meetings are at five, and they don’t have the option to leave work early or transportation is an issue. You can’t do a video conference. So that was another issue that had to be overcome. The time is just inconvenient for working parents.

DGW: That’s a good point. If the meeting starts at five o’clock and if I’m a parent working from 9 to 5, facing rush hour traffic, the odds of me getting there in time are slim. Maybe that’s why they’ve moved the public participation piece to later in the agenda.

AS: Perhaps, but I honestly still don’t think that they make a real effort to accommodate parents.

DGW: I don’t disagree.

AS: The meeting is at 5 o’clock, they’ve changed the way that parents can sign up, and you need to email your request to speak. Some of my parents didn’t have email addresses. So then it becomes a matter of me sitting down with them and creating an email account so that they can sign up. That’s so inconvenient.

Some of our Middle Eastern parents have trouble with English, and they don’t really understand email. They ask why do they have to sign up with email. They get frustrated and say, “I’m not going to do it.” So, you know, we could make things a lot more convenient for parents. It’s not an easy task.

DGW: This is an area where I am highly critical. We say we want more parent involvement, but do we really? It feels like it’s a very specific type of parent involvement that we are looking for – reading to classes, making copies, raising money. If that’s not the case, why do we raise barriers instead of lowering them? It feels like the district just wants parents to join the PTA and not dive any deeper than that. Don’t ask those questions we don’t want to answer. It all seems very geared towards the district setting the agenda instead of parents. How do you see Nashville Rise lining up with district initiatives? Is there a vision where all can entwine or are you focusing on getting parents you work with as involved as possible and letting things fall where they fall?

AS: In a perfect world, we would love to have a partnership with the district because I feel like there are things they can do to help us, and things that we could do to help them. There is Parent University, you have your Community Schools – these are all empowering parents. But I know there are things that they are not doing. That’s where Nashville Rise comes in. We have our parent empowerment sessions were we train parents and give them information that they may not be getting anywhere else, information that allows them to be more proactive in their children’s education.

We’ve consciously tried to narrow our focus. When we first started, I was on social media all the time just getting out the word. And I thought it was so important that I fight back against every criticism. But I came to the realization that I can’t focus on the attacks from certain school board members and other critics. My time is too valuable and I need to be focused on parents and their issues, as well as my own children. I’m a parent myself. My one-year-old is teething and running around the house. I can’t take away time from my kid’s needs and my parents’ needs to try to debunk every false accusation that comes along. I have to let the work speak for itself. So that’s where our priorities are at these days.

DGW: It’s interesting that you mentioned that, because I’ve been on a similar journey myself.  When I first started writing the Dad Gone Wild blog, four years ago, I interacted almost exclusively with advocates. Now, I engage a lot more with educators, and it’s given me a deeper sense of what’s happening in our schools. Not discounting the advocates, because without them things would look a whole lot different and I still share the majority of their views. For me personally, I just had to shift my focus. I got to the same point about two years ago as you did. I couldn’t, just couldn’t, spend all of my time fighting against things. I had to look deeper at the roots.

You and I are sitting here talking, and through our conversation, I’m getting a better understanding of why you have made the choices you have made. I don’t have to agree with them, but I need to understand them if I’m going to ensure that I’m doing everything possible to make our schools better and there are things I can learn from you. I feel where you are coming from. I just don’t have time to be arguing the same things over and over. My positions haven’t changed dramatically, but my focus has, in a way similar to yours: let’s focus on making things better.

AS: I think I’ve grown a lot over the last couple of years. I’m proud of the work we do. Recently I had our parents in a room and as I looked around, I realized that these parents had become friends. These parents are sharing ideas and they are talking about when they attended our first training and how the information that we gave them was so impactful. I remember I had one of our parents say, “Oh my gosh! I didn’t even know that APF (Academic Performance Framework) existed. I didn’t even know they invite parents to school. I didn’t know this information was out here and like now that I have this information, I’m going back to my school tomorrow and asking my principal, what do I need to do? And then I’m coming back to you, Alison, and I need you to let me know how to do things once I’ve figured out what needs to be done. I need you to let me know how to organize this.”

So that’s where I’m at now, and I’m working with passion. Sometimes at our meetings, I just sit there and look. We have such a diverse group of parents, parents from all races and backgrounds. This is our moment and these parents are so strong and their stories are so amazing. They have such great ideas and they are searching for someone to listen and I think that should set the stage for a MNPS/Nashville Rise partnership. We would also like to reach more fathers, so if you have any ideas on that please share them!

DGW: It would be nice if we had more fathers involve and to be fair over the last several years their involvement has grown. It’d be nice if grew even more.

Advocacy is always such a journey and I reflect how I’ve grown in its pursuit. In the past I was much more adamant that my way was the only way. I reflect back and think about how I tried to drive people with different views than me out of the conversation. And I’m not the only one, on either side. It seems at times the desire to drive those with opposing views out of the conversation becomes our primary focus instead of trying to reach a deeper understanding. I look at some of the work being done by people I disagree with, and I have to give credit where it is due, some of it is really good.

You are a strong proponent of charter schools. I think they are a detriment to public education. Now we can focus on drawing a hard line on that issue and just going to war over it or we can step back and realize that we both feel parental involvement is essential and something we can collaborate on. There was a time I would’ve tried to put an end to Nashville Rise. And I have to think, what if I had been successful at that, who would have been the beneficiary? I think we need to keep things in perspective.

AS: Right.

DGW: All that would have been lost. All of those parents, even if it’s just one parent, who got involved in their kid’s school through Nashville Rise, would’ve been lost because nobody was ready to take up the challenge, and to some extent nobody else is currently. There is a great deal of criticism towards Nashville Rise, some may be warranted, but I still have to ask of people who criticize, “Okay. If we don’t like Nashville Rise because of their perceived attachment to the privatization movement, who then?” It’s the same question as, “If we get rid of all charter schools, what happens then?” So, that’s one of the areas that I’ve tried to mellow a little bit and shift the focus to the actual work.

I take bits and pieces of conversations with people and use them as touchstones. Last year I had a conversation with Patrick Frogge, School Board member Amy Frogge’s husband, and it wasn’t a great conversation for either of us, but in the midst of it he said to me, “The reason I love Bernie Sanders is because he never compromises. The reason I get frustrated with Bernie Sanders is because he never compromises.” Patrick may be shocked, but I’ve made those words part of my daily checklist. I ask myself, is this a place to compromise or one to be unbending? The answers vary, and I’m not sure I always get it right. But I am more cognizant than in the past. I doubt you are reading this Patrick, but if so, thank you.

AS: I’m always open to communicate. I feel like, if you want a relationship to work, you have to have communication. In order to get this work done, no one person can do it alone. We have to collaborate. So, I’m more than willing to sit and talk, but I’m not going to engage in the game of social media feuds anymore. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to fight. I’m not going to argue. If you want to sit down, you want to hear my story, you want to learn about me, great. Call me and say, “Meet me at the coffee shop. What’s up?”

DGW: I get it.

AS: I just look for ways for us all to work more together. The angry arguments are counterproductive. We don’t all have to agree, but think of what we could do if we focused all of that negative energy into something positive. We’d be the talk of the country and for something we could be proud of.

DGW: Last question before we go, what are your short term goals for Nashville Rise?

AS: Short term goals? Just continue to reaching more parents.

DGW: Simple as can be – just reach more parents?

AS: Yes. We are really just getting started as a board and as an organization. I’m just trying to figure it all out like, “What are we going to look like now?” I mean, our mission, our vision, our core values are still going to be the same. How are we going to get to that end goal? So right now, our focus is just parents.

DGW: Cool. Thank you.

AS: Yes. Thank you.

We paid our tab and walked out to the car together. I found myself really liking Allison. We obviously have different opinions on things, but I don’t know if that’s surprising or not because we have different life experiences. Her life experiences are ones that I could only guess at prior to sitting down and really talking to her, and I’m extremely grateful for her candor. MNPS is a big district with a wide variety of hopes, dreams, expectations, and opinions. We cannot afford to fall into the trap of thinking ours are the only ones that matter. We have to spend more time listening to each other.

 

A PACKED SCHEDULE

I hope all of you in Nashville are planning to get to bed early tonight, because tomorrow is going to be a busy, busy day in the Nashville education world. MNPS will be holding their annual School Choice Festival tomorrow night at the fairgrounds starting at 5 pm and ending at 7 pm. At 7 pm, there is the Tennessee gubernatorial education debate. If that’s not enough, tomorrow night is a MNPS school board meeting with an agenda packed full enough for 2 or 3 meetings. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

This morning I took a look at the agenda for the school board meeting, and then I proceeded to spend the rest of the day on the phone asking questions. To say there is a lot packed into the agenda would be an understatement. I would say several things on it could drive their own meeting. Let’s see if we can’t unpack some of the items and give you a few things to look for as the action unfolds tomorrow. Make sure you keep the agenda handy because I’m going to refer back to it a number of times in this article.

The biggest agenda item to me is the one scheduled to come at the end of the meeting, MAP testing results. Last winter the district began implementing MAP testing as a benchmark. The test is given three times a year, so to date, we have results from 4 testing periods over the course of a year and a half. MAP will be administered again in a couple of weeks for Spring 2018. For whatever reason, the presentation for tomorrow’s meeting only shows results for this year. Those results show a 2% drop in literacy and a 1% drop in math between Fall and Winter 2017.

Let’s step back, though, and look at all 4 results combined. For the purpose of brevity, and because that’s where our focus has been, I’m only looking at literacy today. MAP testing results are divided up into 5 quintiles, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. For the MNPS presentation at tomorrow’s board meeting, the charts group the numbers in the 4th and 5th quintiles together. When results were presented in October of this year, quintiles 3 -5 were grouped together. For the sake of comparison, I’ve also grouped quintiles 3-5.

Winter 2016 showed the 3-5 quintile at 51.3%. Over half of our kids were scoring on par or above kids in the rest of the country. Spring 2017 showed a drop to 46.3%. Fall 2017 testing, given a few weeks after kids returned from the summer, saw us bounce back to 50.3%.  Winter 2017 showed a drop back down to 47.1%. Taken as a whole, these results warrant a few questions.

First question should be why are kids doing better after summer break than they are when they are in school? My next question would be why are we not moving the needle at all? As one education advocate pointed out to me, these results are like my gas tank. I put a little in. I take a little out. Four tests, four results, and no trajectory.

It’s very troubling to me that with all the focus we’ve put on literacy, and all the resources dedicated to it, we are still not even as high as we were when we first began MAP testing. Clearly the vaunted scripted curriculum is not having the desired impact. I suspect that the lack of impact is the impetus for district leadership doubling down on the IFL units at the recently-held curriculum update meetings.

The argument could be made that teachers are not implementing the literacy plan, and without fidelity to the plan, increases won’t be seen. However, leadership continues to fail to grasp that you can’t get fidelity without trust, and there is no trust.

There are a limited number of hours in a day, and as a teacher, am I going to focus on MAP testing and sacrifice on TNReady test prep? The district says MAP and TNReady are aligned, but what evidence does a teacher have of that? If it turns out the two tests are not as close as advertised and a teacher’s students’ score well on MAP but bomb on TNReady, there could be a real devastating effect on a teacher’s career. That’s not a risk/ reward equation that compels participation.

In looking at individual school results, some other questions emerge. I don’t want to get too deep into those individual school results, but I do think some things need to be highlighted. First up, how do you accurately compare a school with 103 kids taking the test to a school with 432 students taking the test? With apologies to Dr. Young at West End Middle School, who is doing a fantastic job, let’s compare West End Middle to Oliver Middle, specifically 7th grade, in order raise further discussion.

West End has 48.5% of their students in the 4-5 quintile (the highest quintile) and 24.2% in the 1 quintile (the lowest quintile). Oliver MS has 47.5% of their students in the 4-5 quintile and 18.4% of them in the 1 quintile. Both are solid results, but West End is doing it with 493 students, while Oliver is doing it with 900. Both very solid numbers, but is it a fair comparison? Again, I only bring this up to further discussion.

We talk about how parents should opt to keep their kids in a zoned school instead of choosing an academic magnet, but if I am at the Choice Festival, I’m going to ask Meigs Magnet for their MAP scores. If the answer is 91.2% in the 4-5 quintile and 0% in the 1 quintile, where do you think I’m going to try to send my kids?

I know I’m not even touching on the growth scores, but to be honest, I need more instruction on interpreting them. In further fairness, all my interpretations may be wrong. I would argue, though, that the way I see the results is the way the average parent would interpret them. Therefore if the problem isn’t with the scores, then there is a problem with the messaging.

The next major item on the school board agenda is a discussion on the recently-released results of the climate survey. I’ve spent a fair amount of time diving into individual school results, and the biggest takeaway I have is the disparity in participation. My recommendation going forward would be to put some kind of participation threshold in place, say 70-75%, and if a school doesn’t hit that mark, the results would be nullified. As it is, you are comparing schools with a 50% participation to schools with 85% participation. I don’t believe that is a recipe for fair comparisons.

At some point, there should be a deeper conversation on what the purpose of the climate survey is. Is it to get an idea of how policies and initiatives are being translated and impacting the classroom, or is it to back up a pre-conceived narrative? I’ve heard reports that not all teachers received the same questions and that some received an abbreviated survey. I’ve also heard that climate survey results and MAP scores are being used as the sole criteria in giving some principals sub-par evaluation scores. With a nod to Three 6 Mafia, it’s hard out here for a principal.

Once again, Smithson-Craighead Academy is on the agenda. This time, the district has created a presentation sure to convince the most soft-hearted school board member that the school should be closed. I believe it probably should be closed as well, but this presentation raises some concerns.

There are survey results incorporated into the presentation that I assume come from student responses. But there are only 20 – 23 respondents per question, and the school has 189 kids. So… I’m confused.

There is also a chart on a non-branded slide that lists all the district charter schools and their “success rate.” MNPS is listed with a success rate of 31.1%. Smithson-Craighead is listed at the bottom at 6.8%. What catches my eye, though, is that there 8 other charter schools listed below MNPS. There is no context given, nor further explanation.

If there are indeed 8 charter schools with a “success rate,” whatever that is, below MNPS, I would think that warrants a larger discussion. We probably ought to take a hard look at what’s happening in those schools. If this is not an accurate representation, then I think it’s disingenuous to just throw this chart out there without explanation or context.

Just the aforementioned items would be enough to constitute a full night’s work at the school board, but there is more on the agenda. The capital improvement budget plan is being shared. It’s only a $348,824,762 request that includes money for new schools in the Antioch, Cane Ridge, and Overton clusters, and a new School of the Arts.

Last, but not least, the board is scheduled to approve new board policy in regards to fiscal management. Under Fundraising Activities, it appears that there will be tighter control placed on individual teacher-created GoFundMe campaigns. I understand the need for tighter regulation, but I have some trepidation when it comes to limiting the methods teachers can use to address some of the fiscal shortcomings they encounter.

This agenda asks for a heavy lift from board members, especially in light of the other activities taking place in the district. Every one of the aforementioned agenda items requires the full attention of all members of district leadership, so who will be representing leadership at both the School Choice Festival and the gubernatorial education debate? Somehow I can’t help but think that something, or someone, is going to get shortchanged, and in the end, students and their families will pay the price.

QUICK HITS

Denver, a city that has a lot in common with Nashville, is seeing many lower income families squeezed out of the city. That means fewer lower income families enrolled in DPS. Now KIPP is looking to possibly follow those lower income families out to the suburbs. Could it happen in Nashville? A KIPP school in Mount Juliet? A Rocketship in Spring Hill?

Look for the Dad Gone Wild interview with Nashville Rise’s Allison Simpson later this week. It’s been a long time coming, but I think well worth the wait.

Former Eakin ES principal Tim Drinkwine has been writing a blog to chronicle his family’s yearlong trek of the globe. His latest entry is a harrowing one.

Steven Singer is a public education teacher who has written a new book called Gadfly On The Wall: A  Public Education Teacher Speaks Out On Racism and Reform. It is a worthy read.

Sometimes you just have to go old school, and today I’ve been listening to a little Tony Toni Tone. Getting my 90’s New Jack Swing on.

SURVEY SAYS

I’ve yet to figure out just what makes one poll question garner more answers than another. This week’s questions certainly didn’t rise to the challenge, but we still got some interesting results.

The first question asked for your opinion on the idea of allowing individual schools flexibility on snow days. The overwhelming answer, with 69% of the vote, was that it was a recipe for disaster. Several of you brought up reasons that I hadn’t considered – open enrollment zones, kids in multiple schools, number of teachers who live in district.

Here are the write-ins:

Needs to be done through quadrants 1
Won’t work because of many open enrollment zones 1
Stats bureaucracy might prevent it 1
Families have students in multiple schools

Question two looked for your response on NPEF giving seats on their board to the prison management company CoreCivic. The idea didn’t sit well with y’all as 33% of you found it completely inappropriate. 30% expressed reservations toward NPEF independent of the seating of the CEOs. I really hope NPEF rethinks this action.

Here are the write-ins:

Inappropriate and furthers my concern with NPEF 1
Why not? MNPS schools are already like prisons 1
More crookedness from Dr Joseph

Last question asked which city council person you trusted the most on education issues. If you count the write-in votes, the number one answer was… no one. Coming in at number 2 was Dave Rosenberg, closely followed by Russ Pulley. For some reason, this one garnered considerably less votes than the other questions, but it did get the most write-ins. Like I said, I haven’t figured it out.

None 2
Jacobia Dowell 1
Not sure 1
None! 1
None? I’ve become skeptical of all leadership 1
One that will fire Dr. Joseph 1
Snoopy 1
CMs in my experience lack knowledge/expertise re:education 1
None of the above 1
No one! They aren’t in today’s schools!

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. 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

TIPS FROM A CM

2

I was casting about today looking for things to write about. A week of snow days, and an extra edition, translated into fewer new things to share. Luckily, Nashville’s 19th District is home to a Council Member (CM) who is deeply invested enough in public education to keep his finger on things and raise questions when appropriate. Today I have two items to bring to the forefront, courtesy of CM Freddie O’Connell, and for that, I am very appreciative. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all CM’s were as involved in public education as he is?

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Back over the Christmas holidays, I wrote about MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph making a questionable call for donations to the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF). In my eyes, there are a lot of non-profits doing exceptional work in the district, and the students of MNPS would be better served by Dr. Joseph making a broad appeal for giving, instead of singling out just one charity. Many of you indicated that you held a similar view.

Things have since gotten even more interesting with NPEF. Today it was announced that the head of private prison giant CoreCivic — formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America — will join the NPEF Board of Directors. According to NPEF’s president and CEO:

“We know that large employers have a lot at stake when it comes to Nashville’s public education, for both attracting and recruiting employees and for building their future pipeline,” said Shannon Hunt. “That is why it is so important for us to expand our board to include these two business titans, who know that the success of Nashville’s business community is dependent upon the success of our public schools.”

That’s a beautiful statement. Since CoreCivic’s business is the operation of jails and prisons, I think it’s safe to say that they have a deeply-vested interest in the success of our public schools.

Private prisons were an idea hatched back in the 1980’s. That was the heyday of getting tough on crime and having fiscal responsibility. The drug war was in full swing and Republicans had discovered that getting tough on crime was a message that resonated with voters. Turning over prisons to private contractors allowed the building of more prisons at less cost to taxpayers. Currently, private prisons oversee about 8 percent of the country’s total prison population.

A recent article in Mother Jones Magazine, written by a journalist who went undercover as a guard, outlines how private prisons get paid:

Whatever taxpayer money CCA receives has to cover the cost of housing, feeding, and rehabilitating inmates. While I work at Winn, CCA receives about $34 per inmate per day. In comparison, the average daily cost per inmate at the state’s publicly run prisons is about $52. Some states pay CCA as much as $80 per prisoner per day. In 2015, CCA reported $1.9 billion in revenue; it made more than $221 million in net income—more than $3,300 for each prisoner in its care. CCA and other prison companies have written “occupancy guarantees” into their contracts, requiring states to pay a fee if they cannot provide a certain number of inmates. Two-thirds of the private-prison contracts recently reviewed by the anti-privatization group In the Public Interest had these prisoner quotas. Under CCA’s contract, Winn was guaranteed to be 96 percent full.

Now how do you think a state makes sure that it’s not making payments for beds it’s not using? By making sure that legislation is reflective of the need to keep filling beds. Who is going to make up those beds? Why, the poor and undereducated, of course. So more than any other business in the district, CoreCivic’s bottom line is affected by the quality of our schools. I would say that makes for strange bedfellows.

I must say, though, that NPEF has never appeared to be particularly concerned over their bedfellows. If you’ll remember, shortly after Dr. Joseph arrived in Nashville, Ms. Hunt was trying to set up meetings between the newly-arrived Director and the Gates Foundation. This was in spite of a just-held school board election where voters expressed little interest in increasing private involvement in the public school system. It seems that wherever there is a check to be had is where you’ll find NPEF.

Now if NPEF was just one of a handful of education-related non-profits floating around on the outer edge trying to peddle influence on education policy, none of this would probably matter. But over the past couple of years, the relationship between the organization and MNPS has become increasingly entwined. Originally, NPEF was hired to help fund the search for the new Director of Schools, and they also served as a vehicle to prevent the over scrutinizing of the search, since they weren’t susceptible to Sunshine Laws. Along with the donation ask from Dr. Joseph at the end of last year, principals were greeted upon return this year after break by an NPEF survey soliciting their opinion on principal meetings. Several principals were told that their responses were mandatory. Now why is a private entity soliciting feedback on district employees’ feelings on employee meetings?

I’m sure that in exchange for seats on the NPEF Board, the CEO of CoreCivic wrote some fair-sized checks. After all, that’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? You help us with our much needed makeover, and we make some resources available to you. The question is, what are those resources going to be utilized for? I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. Remember that Sunshine Law thing? I think there is more than a little to be concerned about here. Thanks to CM O’Connell for raising awareness on this one.

SNOW DAY DEBATES

The other issue that O’Connell has drawn attention to this past week is the use of snow days. This past week, MNPS students were out the whole week due to snow conditions. Invariably when this happens, questions start to surface as to why the whole school district has to close and why don’t we allow individual schools the flexibility to make that decision. These were the questions that CM O’Connell was asking this week. I think they are very reasonable questions.

My concerns with such a system would be one of equity. Those schools that would seldom be forced to close would be more appealing than those in areas that needed closing more often. O’Connell entertained the idea of allowing schools to grant “snow absences.” That would be a fine idea in schools populated by wealthier students, but in our poorer schools, every hour of every day is essential and inadvertently those who most needed the schooling would be the ones who amassed the absentees.

MNPS is a large and diverse district. A snow day presents a unique challenge to all those involved. Often we tailor our decisions towards the neediest, but equal consideration should be given towards our working parents. Joseph’s team deserves credit this go around for making announcements in a timely manner so that parents had adequate time to plan. But could some of the weekdays have been spared if some schools had more flexibility? And what should that flexibility look like? I think that is a valid conversation.

Perhaps we should turn the question back to Metro Council. Activist John Little pointed out on Facebook that MNPS posted pictures of roads that were still trouble spots. If those roads were trouble spots today, then they would probably be trouble spots in the future, and maybe somebody from MNPS could get together with Metro Government and develop a plan to address those streets. Maybe all that’s needed is the simple purchase of a couple additional salt trucks and a re-prioritizing of which streets to clear first.

I would also suggest getting together with community centers and seeing what it would take to make them more accessible to working parents during snow days. I know that borders on offering free day care, but is that such a bad thing? Perhaps MNPS could partner with the Chamber of Commerce and explore different ways that individual businesses could ease the burden on working parents during snow days.

Everybody loves a task force. Seems like this would be a perfect opportunity for one. At the very least, it’s a conversation worth having. Hopefully one that won’t remain relegated to social media pages like the conversation on later start times for high school students has been. Like how I did that?

QUICK NOTES

We have all heard the clarion calls on the dire state of public education in America. We are constantly reminded that two out of three kids are not reading on grade level and we are sufficiently alarmed by that. My question, though, remains. What does that statistic really mean? How is “grade level” even derived?

Interestingly enough, this week saw the release of a new study conducted jointly by the National Superintendents Roundtable and the Horace Mann League that concludes that the benchmarks used for Common Core assessments are wildly unrealistic. In fact, in no nation do a majority of students meet the NAEP Proficient benchmark in Grade 4 reading, and only three nations have 50 percent or more of their students meeting the Proficient benchmark in Grade 8 math (Singapore, Republic of Korea, and Japan).

In an interesting twist, Dr. James Harvey, Executive Director of the National Superintendents Roundtable states:

“The report also encourages school leaders to educate communities about the flaws with the term Proficient and how school systems abroad would perform if held to the same standard. “This report doesn’t endorse an anti-testing agenda or seek to lower standards. We believe in assessment,” says Harvey. “But in the words of a Turkish proverb, no matter how far you have gone down the wrong road, turn back.”

I encourage you to read the whole report.

Tuesday, January 23 is the date for the 2018 Tennessee Gubernatorial forum on education. Put it on your calendar and watch. It should be an indication of what to expect from the state in the future.

Have you heard the one about Tennessee teacher education programs turning out bad teachers? Andy Spears over at TNEd Report has, and he doesn’t find it very funny. Make sure you read his deconstruction of the joke.

By now, everyone should be familiar with the incredible work being done at Overton HS via their Cambridge program. Here’s a chance to take a deeper dive.

During the recent snowpocalypse, Family Resource Centers across the district opened up to get needed food to families. There wasn’t a Family Resource Center in the Donelson/ Hermitage area, so the Community Achieves Partners at Two Rivers Middle Prep stepped in to support. Nice Job!

Vanderbilt’s SSMV is looking for Metro Schools eighth graders interested in launching a career in math and science.

Indianapolis has many of the same education battles as Nashville does. Now they have a study that shows where Indiana students go when they leave a public school district. It’s an interesting data dive.

I consider James Lee Burke to be one of America’s greatest living authors. He’s got a new one out called Robicheaux, and you’ll want to check it out.

Looking for something new music-wise? Check out the latest by Glen Hansard. It provided the soundtrack for this edition of Dad Gone Wild.

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. 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.

SNOW DAY BLUES

1

What do you do when you write a blog on education issues and you are stuck in the house because of snow and ice? Why, you write a special edition blog post, of course. Unfortunately, the last two days have provided enough fodder to make that a possibility.

TRAGIC LOSS

Monday night brought the news that once again a MNPS student’s life would be cut short by gun violence. It is a story that we have heard all too frequently over the last year. Sixteen-year-old Glencliff High School student Jose Gutierrez was shot in the head while out riding in a car. He was a sophomore at GHS.

Apparently, he was with another male and two females who just dropped him off at Southern Hills Medical Center around 1 AM and then took off. The unofficial story is that someone in the car was handling a gun and it accidentally discharged. That has not been verified, though, as his associates have not been located.

By all accounts, Gutierrez was not a child prone to discipline problems. He played on Glencliff’s soccer team. Now he becomes just one more senseless death in a city that has seen too many of them. At some point, we are going to have to get serious about addressing the issues of kids and guns. I don’t know what it’ll take, but it is far past time. I’d offer a prayer that Jose be the last child impacted, but it’s going to take a lot more than prayers to make that a reality.

DECIDING NOT TO RUN

MNPS School Board elections are scheduled to be held in August of this year. Yesterday, current District 8 Representative Mary Pierce announced that she was one and done, and would not be running for re-election this year. In breaking the news, media outlets referenced Pierce as the city’s leading charter school advocate. I think to reduce her to that role belies the amount of work she did for all schools. Outside the spotlight, she worked as hard for zoned schools as she did for charter schools. Work that never seemed to garner much recognition.

Pierce certainly had her detractors, and at times I could be counted among them, but she worked hard to educate herself on issues and to advocate for all the city’s kids tirelessly. I believe that over the years, her perception grew and deepened as her experiences and knowledge widened. Too often, people stake out a position and then cling to it like a dog with a bone. Over the last year, I’ve seen Pierce exhibit a willingness to re-evaluate and shift where warranted.

It’s my belief that her position on charter schools was a combination of her personal views and being forced into being a voice for families that MNPS often ignored. Lest you think that I’m penning a love letter to Ms. Pierce and engaging in revisionist history, I do feel that she had a tendency to over rely on test data and could at times get caught up in the personality and ideology politics that have plagued this board for years. Still, that should not diminish her contributions, nor should it relegate her to just being viewed as the board’s “leading charter school advocate.”

Early speculation on possible candidates to replace her include last election’s opponent Becky Sharpe as well as Conexion Americas’ Senior Director of Education Policy & Programs Gini Pupo-Walker. Pupo-Walker is an interesting challenger in that she would have the deep pockets of Conexion Americas assumedly backing her in a district that is predominately white and one of the more wealthy districts in the city. This would create an interesting dynamic as her work over the last several years has predominately been focused on the Hispanic community. Sharpe is deeply ingrained in the community and has remained active despite failing to secure a seat on the board in the past.

Pierce’s decision, along with an earlier announcement by District 6 Representative Tyese Hunter, means that at least two seats will change hands next go round. Word on the street has long been that District 2 Representative JoAnn Brannon also will not be seeking re-election. District 4 Representative and current Board Chair Anna Shepherd announced late last year that she intends to seek re-election. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also bring up rumors that District 7 Representative Will Pinkston is seeking a graceful exit in order to dedicate his time to the Senate campaign of former Tennessee Governor and close friend Phil Bredesen. A glance at Pinkston’s recent attendance record at board meetings and his social media silence would seem to lend credence to those rumors.

That means that come September there could be as many as four new board members in place. When questioned about what he cites as a success during his first 18 months as Director of Schools, Shawn Joseph touts the work done on improving the school board. To facilitate that work, there were numerous trips, several consultants employed, and some reworking of policies. What happens to that work once the new board members are seated?

Much of the work was centered around individual board members in an effort to increase their ability to work together. Do we now spend another year molding old and new members into a cohesive unit? What if the previous work is not embraced by the newly-elected board members? What happens to all the money spent on the work last year? It’s one of the reasons that I questioned the focus on the boardroom versus the classroom in the first place.

In Prince George’s County Public Schools, 60% of the school board members are appointed, which mitigates turnover. A situation that, last I checked, wasn’t working out so well for them and was raising questions from state legislators.

Early indications are that Dr. Joseph plans to play an active role in the upcoming school board elections. To be fair, to date, there have no open endorsements of favored  candidates, but apparently there has been a fair amount of backroom chatter about his preferences. I’m not sure that getting involved in politics is a good strategy for Joseph. During his last foray as a superintendent in Seaford County, Delaware, injecting himself into local politics led to his early exit from the district.

It is still very early in campaign season, but things are beginning to take shape. I have heard from numerous people that the ugliness of the last election is having an impact on who runs this year. As a result, I don’t believe that you will see the big money that has been involved in the last couple of cycles, and hopefully there will be more focus on policies versus personalities. Time will tell.

QUICK HITS

A recent article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal is sending shock waves across the city and the state. In the article, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson of Shelby County Schools indicates a willingness to turn over priority schools to charter operators:

“We spend so much money, whether it’s philanthropic dollars, state dollars, our dollars, on trying to improve these Priority Schools over the last five or six years, and we’ve gotten some gains but certainly nowhere near the transformative results that we would like to have had,” Hopson said. “So I think we’ve got to take another shot at it and do it differently.”

This would seem to indicate a sharp reversal on past board policy. The talk has caught education advocates and SCS board members off guard. This possibility is not something that has been discussed by the school board. Let’s see where this one goes.

One of the more exciting movements in education is that of community schools. Community schools are schools that educate children but also serve to meet the school’s families’ needs. Community Schools in Cincinnati have proven to be quite successful while utilizing this model. This year, the Tennessee PTA and the Tennessee Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools has partnered with the Tennessee Education Association and other public education-minded groups across the state to advocate for the creation of transformational community schools. This model proves that parents, caregivers, educators, and the community must be involved in developing solutions to reach transformational results. Look for more information on pending legislation.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the recently-released MNPS Climate survey results. Since then, I’ve been told about a few other wrinkles. Apparently, not all teachers were given the same questions to answer. Panorama, in a response to MNPS’s desire to shorten the survey, gave some teachers abbreviated surveys. Non-classroom support staff received a slightly different version of the survey. Obviously, this raises further questions on the validity of the survey. Furthermore, what is the actual purpose of the survey? Is it to justify actions or to get an honest reflection on what’s going on in our schools? Where were the questions that evaluated the role of central office in our schools?

I’ve also heard numerous reports that the climate surveys, along with MAP scores, are carrying a greater weight on MNPS principal’s evaluation scores. Principal evaluations are based on a rubric set by the state. Climate surveys are a referenced piece, but there are some questions in regards to MAP results. Just one more thing that bears watching.

Since Nashville is in the midst of an increased focus on increasing literacy rates for students, I think it’s important that we educate ourselves on the steps involved with increasing those rates. Russ Walsh, an educator and blogger, has written an informative series of posts breaking down what’s involved with kids learning to read. His latest is on solving words, and I encourage everyone to read it. We all need to have a greater understanding into the process if we are going to have an impact.

Louisiana teacher and blogger Mercedes Schneider has written a must-read post on the relationship between Educational Research and Development Institute (ERDI) and Dallas Dance. This post is especially relevant for Nashville residents as Dallas Dance is a close friend of Dr. Joseph’s and was a member of the MNPS Transition Team.

Peruse social media pages and you will discover there is a great deal of confusion on just how many inclement weather days MNPS has used and what remains. Thanks to some of the fine folks in the Communication Department, this is what I believe to be true: We started the year with 6 available days, but 1 was immediately designated for the solar eclipse day. Therefore, the calendar states potential make-up days if over 5 are used. September 1 was an inclement day, so that makes 2 used. January 12 was the 3rd. The 16th and 17th are 4 and 5, respectfully. That leaves one remaining.

To further muddy the waters, there is a beginning of the year teacher in-service day thrown into the mix that has changed designations several times. Now I wouldn’t stake my life on it, but I do believe there is a planning/PD day owed to teachers. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Well not so fast. Hat’s off to Lillian B on Twitter for continuing to force the issue. Travel back with me to late summer. The calendar went through many revisions as the board wrestled with how to handle the eclipse day. Closed, not closed…who knows. On August 15 a final revision was approved. It designated August 21 as a inclement weather day and changed September 1 from a teacher pd/planning day to a regular school day to make up for the 21st.

So, we were out on the 21st for the eclipse but then flooding forced the cancelation of the first. But that was a make up day, so it and the 21st should count as one day. That makes January 12 the 2nd. The 16th and 17th are 3 and 4, respectfully. With the 18 being number 5 and one still remaining. Convoluted, but that is what happens when you change the schedule repeatedly. Thank you to MNPS communications public affairs officer for helping sort through things.

Now let’s see if that’s the way it gets interpreted or if we get another convoluted song and dance. But I think it’s a pretty strong argument.

Next Thursday, January 25, MNPS is hosting a community meeting at Westmeade Elementary about potentially building a new school building.

I just found out that Monique Morris, author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, will be speaking Vanderbilt’s Peabody University on Thursday, February 1! More info can be found here:  You’ll want to check it out.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love the new Tyler Childers record?

Sharing this for Nashville School of the Arts:

On the Spot Auditions for Nashville School of the Arts

What: We are actively recruiting students for the visual art conservatory at Nashville School of the Arts. Marti and Camilla would love to come out to meet you and your students to offer them an “On the Spot Audition.” We would love to make NSA a nationally recognized arts magnet and we need your help connecting with students.

We are offering “on the spot” auditions for your students on the day we come to visit. This is great for your students because they will have a chance to show us their work and practice their interview skills. We also welcome the opportunity to meet you and/or your students and explain more about our school.

These “On the Spot Auditions” are simple because students can show us work right from your classrooms which saves them the time of putting together a portfolio. Students are also encouraged to bring in other pieces and sketchbooks they have created on their own.

When: Thursday, January 25th

Cluster listed as the name of the high school your middle school is zoned for 

For clarification, we are only visiting middle schools

CLUSTER: Hunters Lane, Pearl-Cohn, and Whites Creek: sometime between 9:00 am – 11:00 am

CLUSTER: Maplewood, Stratford, McGavock: sometime between 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm

When: Friday, January 26th

Cluster listed as the name of the high school your middle school is zoned for

CLUSTER: Glencliff, Antioch, Cane Ridge: sometime between 9:00 am – 11:00 am

CLUSTER: Hillwood, Hillsboro and Overton: sometime between 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Where: We will come to you! Your classroom, the cafeteria, the hallway, the front office, the lounge – wherever you feel is the best spot. It doesn’t take anything fancy to conduct an audition; we can sit right outside your door to do this!

How:

– Email: Camille.Spadafino@mnps.org

– On the Spot Student Auditions

– Thursday or Friday – 1/25 or 1/26

– Marti and Camilla will come to your school

– Students can show us work right from your classroom shelves, drawers or cubbies

That’s it for now. Hopefully you are succesfully staving off cabin fever. 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.

 

 

 

THE RESULTS ARE IN

Hope everyone is enjoying their Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. We should all take a moment to reflect on his words and deeds while we are enjoying the time off from work. This morning I re-read his quote: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” It is a quote that resonates with me and should be at the forefront of any conversation on education, but unfortunately is all too often pushed aside.

FRIDAY NEWS DUMP

If you are a regular reader, you’ve probably heard me reference the Friday evening news dump. If you are not familiar with the term, it refers to the action of releasing bad news on a Friday in hopes that fewer people will see it. This morning I took a quick look at the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) website to check the dates on the School Choice Festival – more on that later – and lo and behold, I found a release of the results from the MNPS Fall 2017 School Climate Survey. In all fairness, it was right there on the front page, but it was added on Friday, January 12, which due to being a snow day, was the first day of a four-day holiday.

Per the MNPS website:

Unique to MNPS’ strategic framework, Characteristics of a Great School describe those elements that research and practice have shown to improve student achievement and a school’s culture and climate. In MNPS, we want every school to be a great school.

To achieve that goal, we set out last to measure school climate– to improve climate it must be measured first. We launched a survey that asked teachers, staff and students how they felt about certain aspects of our schools. For example, teachers were asked about their relationships with students’ families while students were asked about student engagement. Staff were asked a different set of questions.

Together, their answers make up the Fall 2017 MNPS School Climate Survey and we will use this information as a basis to measure our work. This spring, we will survey parents to gather their feedback and plans are for these surveys to become an annual process to allow us to track and measure progress. We know we have work to do, but now we have a roadmap to guide our efforts.

The press release then goes on to put a little spin on the results. To me, the format of the survey, conducted by Panorama, is a little odd. Each question has 5 answers; the first two are the positive responses. Those two responses are combined to give each subject a percentage, i.e., Educating All Students gets a 79%. It’s a little confusing.

In the middle of the page in tiny letters, between several graphs, is a link to see individual school results. That’s where you want to go because that’s where the meat resides.

Once you get there, you’ll find some really interesting data. The results are broken down by student responses vs teacher/staff responses. You are also able to compare individual school’s scores against scores grouped nationally, district wide, and by executive principal, cluster, and quadrant. Which will give you some useful data, but perhaps not always reliable data.

When looking at any school results, I would go the bottom and check response rates. These rates tend to illustrate a wide discrepancy among schools. For example, let’s look at the response rate among teachers for 4 different schools:

  • Cole ES – 100%
  • Antioch HS – 50.3%
  • Dan Mills ES – 50.8%
  • Tusculum ES – 77.8%

I would argue that based on response rates, you are getting a more accurate picture at Cole ES and Tusculum ES than at Antioch HS and Dan Mills ES. At the aforementioned schools, there is no way to know the demographics of the teachers who responded. Was it predominately the satisfied ones or was it the ones with an ax to grind? There is no way of knowing, and just a few from one camp or another could have a dramatic effect on the results.

Sticking with schools – I’ll get to student results in a minute – let’s take a look at a school that has long been recognized as having serious teacher morale issues, Antioch HS. Looking at the School Leadership and Staff/Leadership Relationship results, it appears things are on an upswing with scores of 30% and 50% respectfully. These scores represent a growth of 12% and 23%.

However, go into the individual survey and click on the sub-category, leadership and staff, and you’ll get an ugly picture of what last year looked like. Under the question, “How much trust exists between school leaders and faculty,” 32% responded this fall with a positive answer, an uptick of 25 percentage points. Do the math, though, and you realize that last spring that number was at 7%. The trust between leadership and staff was at 7%, and nobody at the district level deemed a leadership change necessary. Instead, district leaders tried to deflect by offering alternative reasons for problems at the school.

I think it’s pretty clear that at the heart of these issues is trust. I’m not sure how having repeated meetings covering the same ground and a chocolate fountain inspire trust. You know what inspires trust? Acting on concerns.

Now you may be saying, “Hold on. Look at the growth they made. Leadership is getting it under control.” In response to that, let’s remember that over the summer, the school lost 67 teachers. Let’s also look more closely at the school’s response rate. That 50.3% response rate represents both teachers and staff. When looking at individual questions, it shows 79 teachers responded. Is that up or down from last year? I don’t know, but it is an indication that more information is needed to make any kind of accurate proclamation that things are improving or not.

Before we move on to student results, I want to look at one other individual school, Hattie Cotton ES. If you glance at the overall picture under Staff-Leadership Relationship, you’ll see that they scored a 48%. Not great, but not horrendous. Open up that section, though, and what you will find is alarming. Responses regarding trust have dropped 53 percentage points from last spring. Last year they were at 78% and they are now 25%. On the question pertaining to support, positive responses dropped from 74% to 31%, a drop of 43 percentage points. In fact, every one of the questions asked saw a double-digit drop.

That should be very alarming to parents and district officials. The current principal, who started this fall, was previously an AP at Charlotte Park ES, where the principal was let go shortly before the end of the school year because of similar issues. She brought the old Charlotte Park ES principal on as an AP under a 120-day contract. Did anybody not see this coming?

In this case, 87% of teachers at the school answered the poll. Yep, I think you have cause for alarm. Hopefully the district will do more than they did in the case of lead in school water, where they considered merely measuring lead levels to be a significant action. To be fair, I do know that the principal has reached out to some respected former administrators for support. Let’s see what spring looks like. Hopefully this is an anomaly.

I could spend all day going through these, but I would prefer that you do it yourself and draw your own conclusions. There are some very good results in here. The schools that you would expect to score high do and should be commended. We have some very good schools in this district, and we need to replicate what they are doing right.

Going forth, I would like to see charter schools participate in this survey. For some reason, they didn’t this year. The Choice Festival is coming up, and this would be just one more tool that parents could use in making their decision. It’s not really fair to have data on your zoned school, but not on one that you are considering having your child attend.

Before I turn it over to you, I want to take a quick look at student results. Whenever we discuss the policies implemented, we always defend them by citing evidence of how they’ve made adult lives easier. I constantly try, with little avail, to get answers on the impact on kids. Luckily, we now have survey results completed by kids to get an indication.

I’d like to point out the responses in three categories that I think are probably the most important, by quadrant.

Under Student Engagement:

  • Northwest quadrant – 41%
  • Northeast quadrant – 44%
  • Southwest quadrant – 45%
  • Southeast quadrant – 42%

Under Trust and Caring:

  • NW – 44%
  • NE – 44%
  • SW – 51%
  • SE – 44%

Under Safety:

  • NW – 48%
  • NE – 45%
  • SW – 51%
  • SE – 47%

Granted, the quadrant superintendents had only been on duty for a couple of months when the surveys had been conducted. Therefore, these scores can only be used as benchmarks. Let’s see what things look like in the spring.

Again there is a lot of great information in these survey results, but there are some things missing that could help with interpretation. Things like teacher turnover rate, past response rates, changes in student demographics, and teacher demographics are among the things I’d like to see included. I’d be interested to hear y’alls’ thoughts after reading the responses.

SCHOOL CHOICE

The MNPS School Choice Festival is scheduled for Tuesday, January 23, at 5pm. I know, seems that something of this nature should be on a weekend when parents have more flexibility to attend, but maybe that’s just me. If the district is going to offer a choice option to families, they shouldn’t make it more difficult to participate.

I don’t want to get too deep into the subject of school choice because I’m not a fan, but I understand why some parents like the ability to have school choice. I would just ask that if you participate, you recognize some of the problems that arise.

A choice system means there will always be those chosen and those not chosen, i.e., winners and losers. Some schools are going to be inherently more attractive to parents than other schools. That doesn’t make them better schools, just that their positives are more readily visible. I’ve heard principals say, “I’m not competing against XY school.” That’s not true. You are because that’s the way the system is constructed. We need to recognize that.

When you choose to send your child to a school outside of their zoned school, there is a loss of resources for that zoned school. That loss happens whether a parent chooses to send their child to a different district school, a charter school, a private school, or a home school. The cost of the loss is the same regardless and none of those choices should be perceived as more “evil” than another. As long as people recognize that cost, I have no issue with whatever choice a family makes.

My desire is that parents choose their zoned schools, but I recognize that there are many factors that make that a less attractive choice. I would also ask that we recognize exactly which kind of students are being courted at the Choice Festival.

Those parents who have the means and desire to take an active role are the ones being courted. Nobody is trying to recruit the students who are chronically absent, are chronic discipline problems, or who come from families that are disengaged in their child’s education process. Those children will remain at their zoned schools and are usually not the ones at the top of the choice list. This results in an even higher cost to those schools not chosen.

Again, let me reiterate, as long as parents recognize the inherent cost of offering school choice, I don’t think those who participate should be criticized, nor should the process be made more difficult. I concede that it is a process that wealthier families have engaged in for years, and that poorer families deserve the same consideration. I just don’t believe that it sets all of our schools up for success. I also believe that it reinforces an increased focus on data instead of on relationships, where I think I the focus should be.

QUICK HITS

One of the most successful programs in MNPS may be at risk. Over the last several years, under a federal program, MNPS has been able to provide free breakfast and lunch to students. This has been a vital service. Word on the street is that the program may end next year due to Nashville not having the poverty numbers required for participation. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as I get more info. If this program were to end, it would be extremely detrimental to Nashville’s children.

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 PM Monday through Thursday until May 2018. You can access the Homework Hotline by calling 615-298-6636 or visiting www.homeworkhotline.info.

Retired teacher and historian John Thompson has written an excellent review of one of the most most important books to come out in years, Daniel Koretz’s The Testing Charade. Both the review and the book are must reads.

It seems that the boy has become hooked on Kendrick Lamar, which is creating a parental dilemma for me.

This article out of Colorado outlines a school’s policy on recess that I find horrific, Will Recess Boost Learning, One Struggling Colorado District Wants To Find Out. It’s not like there isn’t research that demonstrates kids learn better when they have regularly-scheduled breaks. Hopefully this isn’t something that gets any legs.

POLL RESULTS

There was drop in voter turnout this week, but results were no less interesting. Let’s take a look.

The first question asked you to identify what quadrant you were in. I know that this question has been asked before, but it’s important to me that I continue to make my coverage as broad as possible. I was encouraged to see that the results indicated that I was making progress in that endeavor.

The Southwest Quadrant led things at 34%, but Southeast followed closely at 29%, and Northeast at 17%. It seems I still need to do a lot more outreach to the Northwest Quadrant, as only 11% of you indicated that was your home. Not many write-ins, but here they are:

Too scared to say 1
Live in northeast, teach in southwest. but quadrant borders are weird

Question two asked for your opinion on the recently-released Transition Team Report Update. If I scored this in the same fashion as the district’s climate survey, it would receive a score of maybe 7%. That’s the number of you that responded, “We’ve done a lot but I’d like to know more about the quality of work.”

The leading answer was “More smoke and mirrors” at 48%, followed by “Checking a box isn’t enough” at 24%. Those results would indicate that you are not buying what Dr. Joseph is selling, and he probably needs to get a little deeper in his evaluations. Here are the write-ins, and they are not any prettier:

Crap 1
would love some more details or links to docs and things like KPIs 1
I think he really believes the scope and sequence is good 1
Someone should investigate how money is being spent 1
Checking boxes to add to their resume. Leave already! 1
I didn’t read it, no need to. 1
It is in my hand as I type. Wish I had a color printer. I plan to read it.
The last question was in regards to the status of heat in district schools. This question illustrated why we need to ask more questions. How many of you knew that in several schools it wasn’t a lack of heat in rooms, but rather a lack of control that resulted in rooms that were too hot? Thanks to you guys, I now know that. Too hot is just as much a problem as too cold. It’s amazing to me how much information we lack simply because we don’t ask the questions.
The number one answer was “Hit and miss. Some rooms have it. Some rooms don’t” at 39%, followed by “Working like a charm” at 22%. Here are the write-ins for this one:

 

Slightly cool, but temps were fine. 1
Classrooms pretty good, but hallways cold. 1
Check back when it’s 20 next week 1
It’s been 82 in my room all week because the heat doesn’t shut off. Feast/famine 1
always too hot or too cold, never just right 1
Teachers have no control over the temperature in their classrooms. Mine is hot most of the time 1
Thursday was 80+ in some rooms. Other rooms were in the 50s just days prior.

As always, thanks for participating.

That’s it for now. Stay warm. Stay safe. Stay home. Rumor has it there may be more snow on the way tonight. 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.

A SNOW DAY OPUS

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It’s a snow day for schools in Middle Tennessee. Now I know some of you Northerners are scoffing right now because we are only expecting 1 – 2 inches. The reality, though, is that here in the South, we just aren’t prepared for anything more than a dusting. Our cities don’t have the resources, our cars aren’t outfitted for bad weather, and our homes aren’t built for it. So scoff all you want – I’ve got a fire in the fire place, the new Black Rebel Motorcycle Club record playing, and a blog entry to transfer from my mind to paper. Today is a good day. No matter what happens weather-wise, I think Dr. Joseph made the right call. A quick disclaimer before we get started: this is a going to be a long post, but all killer, no filler.

STATE NEWS

I always like to get the state news out of the way first. As I reported earlier in the week, Tennessee legislators are back in session with a rather light schedule when it comes to education issues. Vouchers seem to be off the table, but as Andy Spears over at the Tennessee Education Report points out, advocates should never sleep without one eye open.

The big news out of the state this week was a report issued by the comptroller’s office on Educator Misconduct in Tennessee Schools Involving Students. The report, heavily reliant on a 2016 USA Today investigative report, identifies a number of ways that Tennessee is failing to offer adequate protection for kids against sexual misconduct. Among the things pointed out are a lack of policies that prevent teachers accused of sexual misconduct from moving to other districts in spite of a provision in the recently-passed ESSA legislation. The root of this problem lies in the fact that there is no uniform definition utilized across the state for what constitutes sexual misconduct.

Furthermore, there is a lack of clear uniformity in how districts expect teachers and administrators to report sexual misconduct. In 2014, Tennessee legislators passed “Erin’s Law.” As a provision of “Erin’s Law,” there was supposed to be the development of in-depth training for administrators, teachers, and students on what constitutes sexual misconduct and how to report it. This, unfortunately, runs counter to legislation passed in 2012 referred to as the “Gate-Way Law,” which puts teachers and school districts at risk if they teach anything but abstinence-based sex education. Creates a bit of a conundrum, no? Hopefully, that issue gets taken up this session.

I encourage you to read the whole comptroller’s report and don’t rely on newspaper reporting alone. The media coverage of the report has tended to be more focused on licensure issues, but I think the parts focusing on the Teacher Code of Ethics, reporting, and training are equally important. As the report states:

“(A review) of district policies concerning child abuse and neglect policies found that 118 districts’ policies provide information on how to report child abuse and neglect but do not refer to child sexual abuse at all.”

That needs to be addressed.

In late breaking news, a Nashville judge has sided with Tennessee’s Achievement School District in the fight over whether or not local school districts must share student contact information with charter networks under a new state law. MNPS has until March 16th to turn over data to LEAD Academy. At this point, there is no word on whether they plan to appeal or not. The judge set a deadline of March 16th in order to give the school district  a chance to notify parents of their opportunity to opt out and to give legislators a chance to possibly clear up any ambiguities.

WE GOT SNAKE OIL, Y’ALL

This past week, Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) Director of Schools Shawn Joseph took his act out on the road and made several stops around the district to sell his Transition Team Report Update (TTRU) and to double down on support for this year’s Literacy Scope and Sequence, which heavily relies on scripted curriculum from the Institute For Learning (IFL). To say that this new literacy plan has not been embraced by teachers and principals would be a bit of an understatement, and as I stated last week, the TTRU is nothing but an exercise in checking the box in an attempt to thwart criticism. Hence the need for the traveling road show.

The first stop was Monday at Jones Paideia Elementary School for the Northwest Quadrant Educator’s Voice Session. This was the first of four sessions scheduled, one for each quadrant. The session was scheduled for a 4:30 PM start time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this was two-and-a-half hours after high school teachers are done, but only a half hour after middle school teachers. Reports tell me there were about 50 people in attendance with most being from central office.

Dr. Joseph presented his TTRU and then took input from teachers. In all fairness, some of the young teachers voiced approval and appreciation for the IFL units. Which speaks to one of my concerns: if young teachers embrace the IFL units, what will be the long term impact on our teaching pool? Will the art of unit planning and teacher autonomy be lost, and in 10 years will the district be forced into a position of having to outsource this function because nobody in-house will be capable of doing it?

Tuesday, Dr. Joseph presented his TTRU to the MNPS School Board, and I was heartened to see some questions asked by board members. If you go to the 53-minute mark in the video of the board meeting, you’ll see an interesting exchange with Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder and Community Superintendent Pippa Meriwether in response to a question from board member Jill Speering about feedback on school walkthroughs. Walkthroughs are supposed to be rooted in 3 core actions: level of text being utilized, level of questions students are being asked, and level of engagement exhibited by students.

Felder claimed that they were getting great feedback from the walkthroughs. However, when asked by Joseph to explain the 3 core actions, she and Meriwether struggled to explain actions two and three until a computer was given to them with information on the core actions. Now I’m not an educator, nor do I play one on TV, but I would think that in order to evaluate the quality of feedback, one should be fluent in the core actions themselves. Just saying.

At the 1 hour 5-minute mark, school board member Christiane Buggs gets into a Who’s-on-first? routine about planning days when she tries to get a clearer explanation on how the district plans to offer planning time to teachers. In all fairness, the TNDOE has not been clear on the designation of planning days, and it’d be nice if this year’s legislative session cleared up the existing policy. Felder mentions such an initiative, but offers no insight into what it looks like. It’d be nice if teachers had a clear indication of the amount of planning time they are going to have. Make no mistake, planning time is essential to student success.

Later in his presentation, Dr. Joseph speaks of the creation of an assessment committee and their task of evaluating assessments. Upon questioning, Felder admits that there are no teachers on this committee. Hmmmm…. since teachers are the ones utilizing the assessments, shouldn’t teachers… oh, never mind. Anybody detecting a pattern here?

Speering showed the ability to remain positive while asking hard questions, and both board members Dr. JoAnn Brannon and Mary Pierce added their own insightful questions along with Buggs. None were critical, but board members’ willingness to openly ask questions deserves some recognition. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend. There needs to be a focus on the quality of the action, not just whether or not the box was checked.

Wednesday and Thursday were the monthly curriculum meetings. Once again, the TTRU was presented and the administration doubled down on the use of the IFL units. Previously it had been communicated that the texts used in the IFL units were not mandatory but merely recommendations and that there was some flexibility in using them. Yeah, as it turns out… not so much. On a power point slide, the rules were spelled out very clearly:

  • Texts in the IFL can be supplemented but not substituted

  • The sequence of unit must be followed

  • Tasks are to be given as written

  • Scaffolding should only be used as needed on a limited basis.

A handout was given to participants arguing the merits of the IFL units. Some of the research sources cited were as follows: (Gamoran & Mare 1989), (Rubin, 2003), (Oakes, 1985, 1990), and (Callahan, 2005). So, 2005 was the latest source cited. I don’t include research in my writings older than 2012. If the earlier information is still valid, there would be a newer source to cite. Did literary research stop in 2005? It deeply troubles me that we are developing policy based on research over a decade old.

My next question would be why are we holding this conversation in January? Teachers have already planned lessons, begun teaching, established a rhythm, and are now shifting focus to upcoming TNReady tests. Why are we looking to disrupt the process now? A disruption that could potentially have a negative impact on upcoming TNReady assessments?

We can argue all day long about whether focusing on an upcoming standardized test is proper or not, but the reality is that when the test carries as much weight in determining the perception of both teachers, schools, and districts as TNReady does, that’s where the focus is going to go. Do well on the test and life is good. Do poorly on the test and you are deemed a failure. Failure to recognize that is a failure to understand what the day-to-day realities are for teachers and principals and further sets them up for failure.

I look at it like this, when bartending, I’ve had shifts where I’ve failed to do the proper amount of prep work. Do I stop in the middle of serving and make people wait while I do the work I should have done at the beginning? Or do I do the best I can with what I have, apologize and acknowledge shortcomings, evaluate at the end of the shift, and then make sure I do the amount of prep work needed before the beginning of the next shift?

At the board meeting Tuesday, Dr. Joseph made the statement that transitioning is hard but that teachers would adjust. He’d been in four different districts and teachers have always adjusted. I’m assuming he’s referring to Seaford School District, Montgomery County Schools, Prince George’s County Schools, and now MNPS. Upon closer inspection, I would question how much adjustment was made at those stops.

To some extent, Dr. Joseph is probably right though. People will and do adjust, but I would argue that the role of leadership is to not just set policy, but to ease any transition. If the job was just setting policy, then why pay someone $300k a year to do it. There are plenty of people who can create policy and sit back and wait for people to adjust. I thought the goal of the search committee was to find a transformational leader. Leadership is more than just setting policy. It includes, but is not limited to, inspiring, teaching, empowering, disciplining, and correcting people, and is rooted in the forging of relationships. Again, if you need a model – agree or disagree with her – Mayor Megan Barry will serve quite nicely.

Wednesday and Thursday saw two more Educator Voice Sessions held. Both reportedly were attended by about 50 people. Both long on the TTRU and defense of the IFL units. Were teachers’ concerns addressed? Doubtful. I’m loathe to share details because session sizes were so small and leadership has been so obsessed with discovering “moles” that doing so may put people at risk, and I never want to do that. Suffice it to say that Educator Voice Sessions were one more exercise in checking a box. Talk to teachers… check.

In doing my research, I came across a Nashville Scene article from 2008 written by Bruce Barry. Some of you may know him as the Mayor’s husband. The name of the piece is The New Math, the Old MNPS. He talks about a letter from “assistant superintendent Sandra Tinnon declaring (as if it needed declaring) that ‘mediocrity is an unacceptable goal in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.’ She announced that ‘middle school language arts and mathematics programs are currently being strengthened both in content and expectations’ and that ‘standard or mediocre courses will not be the norm.'” Sound familiar?

Barry goes on to say:

Few would object to higher expectations and diminished tolerance for mediocrity. But some parents are dismayed to see the system once again opting for a once-size-fits-all mentality mandated by the central office for every school, leaving little room for principals and teachers to adapt to the needs of particular populations and circumstances.

Hmmmm… The money quote for me, though, is the conclusion:

I’m inclined in theory to give school officials the benefit of the doubt and reserve judgment, but there remains a serious information deficit as reforms take shape. And it certainly doesn’t help when Metro school administrators overstate the role of state education officials as a means to diffuse their own responsibility. This kind of uncertainty about what school officials are really up to when they make noise about changes is all too familiar, and is precisely the sort of thing that breeds suspicion and doubt among parents thinking about opting out of the system. (Are you listening, school board candidates?)

Remember, this was written in 2008 by a man who has influence with our current mayor. Just saying.

QUICK HITS

At Antioch HS, the district continues to play Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush. A series of 3 Tuesday meetings have been scheduled to address the continuing low morale and performance issues. Unfortunately schools are closed today, so teachers won’t get the promised chocolate fountain. Why a chocolate fountain? Because nothing clears up professional dissatisfaction like a chocolate fountain… well, except for making meaningful change. Somebody needs to write on the blackboard, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

I do need to give a little props to the MNPS communication department. They picked up their game this week with timely communications on weather, gas leaks, and cancellations. Thanks guys.

The Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Committee held its 3rd meeting of the year this week. Attendees sacrificed the first period of the National Championship game to attend, and we are appreciative. The PAC focuses on working together to strengthen all schools in the Overton Cluster. The next meeting will be the first Monday in March. Put it on your calendar.

Maplewood High School cut the ribbon this week on their new outdoor training lab. The lab will be part of the Maplewood Academy of Energy and Power. Go Panthers!

My niece has started a blog called Patriotic Hippy. Check it out. It’s not about education per se, but I think you’ll enjoy her thoughts. I know I do.

I’ve been trying to post all of MNPS schools’ Teacher of the Year pictures on the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Check it out, and if you don’t see your school, send me a pic and I’ll share it.

Vesia Wilson-Hawkins is back with a new blog post, and she starts the year as fiercely as she ended the last one.

With the Tennessee State Legislative session commencing, it’s interesting to look at proposed legislation in other states. Colorado has quite a bit of interesting legislation hitting the floor. Some of it possibly quite good.

Harvard professor Daniel Koretz has a new book out called The Testing Charade: Pretending To Make Schools Better. In it, he takes a deeper look at standardized testing in America. Per the Amazon blurb: “Right now, we’re lying to ourselves about whether our children are learning. And the longer we accept that lie, the more damage we do. It’s time to end our blind reliance on high-stakes tests. With The Testing Charade, Daniel Koretz insists that we face the facts and change course, and he gives us a blueprint for doing better.” I plan to check it out and urge you to do so as well.

Looking for some great music? Check out the latest by My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, Tribute To 2.

Out of the Hillsboro Cluster… the Gaw family lost their house in a fire last night. Thankfully, everyone is okay, but the house is lost. Please help out one of our students and his family in their time of need. Thank you!

One of my primary themes is the need to have an honest and serious conversation. Blogger and educator Peter Greene gives an indication of what that conversation might look like when he asks, Can We Be Serious?

Congratulations to the Hume-Fogg Lady Blue Knights Bowling Team and Coach Stanley! Regional Champs! Brains and brawn!

Last, but certainly not least, mark your calendar for Croft Middle’s Chili Cook-Off. Should be an excellent time for all.

POLL QUESTIONS

Time now for our weekly questions. We’ve asked this before, but I thought I’d see if anything has changed. What quadrant do you live in?

Next question is about the Transition Team Report Update. What is your impression?

For our last question, I want to ask about heating conditions in your schools. Did the heat work, not work, or just kinda work? I figured I would go to the source for the answer.

That’s it for now. Stay warm. Stay safe. Stay home. 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.

 

IT’S LEGISLATIVE SESSION TIME IN TENNESSEE

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Good Monday morning to y’all. I hope the weekend was kind to you. Sunday was the 18th anniversary of my sobriety, and I spent it bartending a book signing by Fox and Friends contributor Brian Kilmeade. He was promoting his new book Andrew Jackson and The Miracle of New Orleans. It was a pleasant affair but trust me, the irony was not lost on me.

Today is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge, with no real overarching theme. It’s getting close to legislative season in Tennessee, and we probably ought to give a little preview of what to expect. A lot of folks are expecting it to be quick and quiet.

AT THE STATE LEVEL

The Tennessee State Legislative Session kicks off tomorrow, and normally around this time of year we would be gearing up to make another stand against proposed voucher legislation. However, this year, previous sponsors are saying they won’t be pushing legislation. Instead, they plan to focus on increased funding for schools. Hmmm… I’m not sure whether I’m ready to fall for that or not, but for now I’ll take them at their word. It’s got to be hard pushing legislation where every year new evidence emerges showing that vouchers do not improve educational outcomes for kids.

I suspect we’ll see some legislation addressing issues with both the Tennessee Achievement School District and standardized testing. At the end of last year, State Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee held hearings on TNReady. After the hearings, Faison voiced strong concerns and vowed to bring legislation forward to untie scores from teacher evaluations. Last week he re-iterated that intent:

“Me and several others are going to attempt to tell the Department of Education that you can’t tie teachers evaluations to a flawed test,” said Faison, who said that plan would be aimed at not allowing evaluation scores to be tied to test scores until the TNReady process can be flaw free for a year.

This is legislation I think most teachers would welcome.

There have been rumors that some legislation addressing Response To Intervention (RTI) funding could surface. It’s not like we haven’t been down that road before. Last year Representative Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville) introduced some legislation with widespread support, only to have State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen say, “Not this year.” As a result, it was sent to summer study. What the plan may look like this year is anybody’s guess, and maybe tomorrow when McQueen presents to the House Joint Education Committee at at 3pm, we’ll get a clearer picture.

There has also been some talk about simplifying the teacher licensure process and giving teachers more planning time. Currently there is a little bit of ambiguity when it comes to planning days. MNPS has converted all planning days into professional development days based on supposed communication from the TNDOE. I don’t have access to said communication but have no reason to doubt the district. Whatever the case, planning days are essential to teachers’ success and policy regarding them should be clear of any ambiguity.

I do suspect there will be some discussion on the issue of granting in-state tuition to people living in the state illegally. Many of those are children who were born here to undocumented parents. Legislators have indicated that they will look to Washington for guidance on this issue:

“One of my hopes is that Congress will address the DACA issue. If they address that and make it a federal issue, it will help our regional bill,” said Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, a sponsor of efforts to enact in-state tuition for students who entered the country illegally as children or overstayed their visas. “That’s where we have lost in the past. It was an executive order. But it is Congress’ responsibility.”

Immigrant students who entered the country illegally must currently pay out-of-state tuition to attend a public college. The out-of-state rates — which can be two or three times higher than in-state tuition — can create a barrier for students who grew up in Tennessee, immigrant advocates say. A bill attempting to rectify this situation last year failed by one vote. This is one we are hoping passes this year no matter what Washington does.

Keep in mind there is a race for governor this year, as well as races involving state legislators, so people will want to get back to active campaigning as quick as possible. Whatever happens, we’ll be watching.

For an even better overview, make sure you read TN Education Report’s review. Andy Spears does a much better job than most of us at policy review.

QUICK HITS

This year in MNPS, and across the country, there has been a lot of talk about STEAM education. STEAM is rooted in the philosophy that Science & Technology is interpreted through Engineering & the Arts, all based in Mathematical elements. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, some questions are starting to be raised as more schools make the conversion. Chief question is becoming how much science instruction are kids really getting?

According to a report by non-profit group Change the Equation, which works with the business community to advocate for improved STEM learning, more than half of 4th graders spend less than three hours a week on science, the data show. And 1 in 5 students get less than two hours. Keep in mind as well, science is not going to be a part of TNReady this year. If I’m a teacher and scores are a major part of my evaluation, what’s getting focused on? Keep that in mind when you read the hype.

In related news, a recent article in the Washington Post about Google analyzing the most important skills for employee success might surprise you. The leading element wasn’t STEM-related skills but rather the ones promoted by a Liberal Arts education. The article closes with the following statement that I think we should all take to heart:

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.

We spend a great deal of time talking about the importance of literacy, but very little time on ways to improve literacy. Russ Walsh is a blogger who focuses on strategies to improve literacy. His latest, titled Oral Language, should be a must for everybody. When you finish that one, I suggest reading Background Knowledge. There is a lot more that goes into literacy rates than just what happens in schools, and the sooner we realize it, the sooner we can take steps to improve those rates.

Next Tuesday, January 16, Cambridge Assessment International and Regional Higher Education Advisory Council are hosting a College Connection Night at Overton High School (). Come learn about financial aid, admission requirements, and more!

MNPS has announced graduation dates for 2018. It’s never too soon to start planning,

Teachers, just in case you haven’t seen this, here is the 2017-2018 pay schedule.

Report Cards come home January 9th.

Congratulations to Tom Joy Elementary School teacher Ms. MacKay’s 2nd graders who reached their reading goals. They were presented with their Readers/Leaders t-shirts. Every student who reaches their goal receives a shirt. That’s what I’m talking about.

Maplewood High School Teacher and ProjectLit Founder Jarred Amato has started blogging and obviously I think you should read his musings.

Today’s blog has been fueled by the music stylings from Rodney Crowell’s latest.

Last week, a little bit of row erupted over MNEA leadership. I knew that current leadership had been in place for a long time but had no idea that it had been almost a quarter of a century. I have no beef with current leadership, but sometimes some new blood can help. Just saying. Over the last couple of years I’ve watched teachers Amanda Kail and Michele Prater Sheriff demonstrate what good leadership looks like. I don’t know if either is interested in a greater leadership role, but these are the kind of teachers MNEA needs to embrace. Now I’m probably in trouble with both for saying it, but I think it needed to be said.

POLL ANSWERS

This week’s poll questions had a huge response, and I thank all of you who participated. They were fun and enlightening. Let’s take a look at the results.

The first question asked who you thought the MVP of MNPS was. Who is that one person that it would hurt to lose? The number one answer was… “other,” and I loved that. Not only did many of you mention our dedicated and often overlooked classroom teachers, but you also took time to recognize those who often perform in the background, thereby giving them some much deserved recognition.

In 2nd place was Jarred Amato with 18% of the vote. Director of Literacy Tammy Lipsey and data guru, Paul Changas were next with 11 and 10 percent, respectively. EL head Kevin Stacey was next with 8% and West End Middle and TN Teacher of the year Cicely Woodard closely followed at 7%. All the aforementioned are very worthy of the accolades.

I also think it’s worth noting that both Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder each only received one vote a piece. That means if they walked into a room full of 179 people, only one person would think they were the MVP. Might want to work on that. Here are the write-in votes:

Teachers 3
The teachers 2
the teachers who go on in spite of all the names above. 1
Teachers like me who keep our head down and do the daily work of helping kids 1
the Teachers and Paras 1
Chris Henson 1
Carl Carter 1
Gary Hughes 1
Every Teacher that has lasted longer than the last 2 or 3 years in Metro. 1
Phil Williams and TC Weber for letting us know what’s actually going on in mnps 1
Classroom teachers 1
Debbie McAdams 1
No one who works in central office is a MVP. 1
Anyone but Sylvan Park Elementary principal Robin Elder. 3 teachers quit mid year 1
Jesse Register 1
The Teachers 1
Will Pinkston 1
Amato 1
all of the teachers who actually care about the kids 1
Some of the names made me laugh out loud. 1
Shuler Pelham 1
Amy Frogge 1
None. Terrible list 1
Most are UNKNOWNS across the district. MVPs are the teachers who show up. 1
Fred Carr is the MVP. Mistake to fire him. 1
Dr Hughes principal of JTM 1
Molly Stovall 1
School Staff 1
Melissa Bentley 1
Classroom teachers and those who work with students 1
Dottie Critchlow 1
None of them. My co-teachers! 1
None 1
The teachers! 1
Kyla Krengel 1
Monique Felder & David Williams should be removed 1
Nola Jones 1
You have brought me more information that anyone else. 1
no one

The second question asked for your opinion on the two-hour delay. Like myself, most of you were confused as to exactly why we had the delay. 33% of you responded “Not sure what problem was solved.” I think the number two answer gives room for optimism as 22% of you acknowledged that early communication problems were corrected and things worked out overall. Most of the complaints seemed centered around the timing of the announcement, which MNPS corrected the next day by announcing Friday’s delay before school let out. 13% of you said “close or run on regular schedule,” while 6% answered that you loved it. So it doesn’t appear like there is an overwhelming demand for more delays.  Here are the write ins:

Announced too late to have a positive effect 1
Caused more problems than it solved. 1
Horribly executed. Created chaos for some families. Solved nothing. 1
No translation for robocalls meant very confused students 1
2 degrees warmer and 2 instructional hours lost. 1
Schools need to fix their heating systems. 1
Mixed feelings due to low attendance 1
I didn’t like it. There are reasons it hasn’t been done in Metro for years. 1
Impossible for working parents 1
Everyone seemed well rested and pleasant 1
did not take parent’s work schedules or transportation issues into account 1
Dear Central Office: Please get your shit together. 1
My room was just as cold at 10 as it was at 8 1
It was ok except for the problem about when teachers were supposed to report

The last question sought your input on the recently retooled Communications Department in MNPS. The number one answer, with 31%, stated that it was a bit of a dumpster fire. But good news wasn’t far behind as 27% acknowledged that they are hearing more good news stories. Perhaps the missteps of the last month are just anomalies and overall the communications department is on an upward trajectory. Fingers crossed though: 14% of you did say that you missed Joe Bass.

Here are the other responses:

Reflects Joseph’s insecurity and incompetence — will school board wake up?! 1
Push all the “good” news but don’t deal with reality. 1
Messaging is vague and confusing. 1
Both a dumpster fire and about the same as always. 1
ineffective, but I don’t expect much better 1
Churching our positive PR stories without communicating real information. 1
Awful. Why did Tony Majors go to a faith based leadership conference 1
A LOT of a dumpster fire

That’s it for now. Stay warm. 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.

 

WORKING THE PUNCH LIST

 

Well, that didn’t take long. Three days back from Winter Break and MNPS is already embroiled in a fresh controversy. Interestingly enough, if leadership team members stayed home in Maryland they’d probably be facing equally mad parents. Much like lead in the water, the challenges are not unique to Nashville, yet the district’s response feels like they are building the plane while they are flying it.

For those of you who don’t have children, or just haven’t been paying attention, kids reported back to school on Wednesday, and what they were greeted by in many of our district schools were cold classrooms and in some cases, water issues. When I say cold classrooms, I’m not talking 65 degrees. More like 55 degrees and in some cases even lower.

Temperatures on Thursday and today were in the low teens in the morning which raised concerns about kids with inadequate winter clothing having to wait at bus stops in dangerously cold weather. A chorus to close schools began to rise. The district’s response was to institute a two-hour delay in start times for all schools. Something that hadn’t been done in decades.

There were those who applauded the move as a sign that the district was at least trying something different. I don’t fall into that camp because I don’t award accolades merely for being willing to try something new. To me, you earn accolades for planning and execution. It has always frustrated me when people try new things without researching why they weren’t tried in the past and if they were, why they weren’t successful. You know, that critical thinking thing.

In all fairness to the district, things went off without any major catastrophes. But don’t think for one minute that is evidence of a quality plan. Because if you think that there really is a plan… I’ve got an archeological structure out in the desert I’d like to discuss with you. The fact that things went as smoothly as they did is more a testimony to the flexibility and ingenuity of individual schools’ staff members than it is to a well thought out plan of action.

A plan has assigned responsibilities and tasks. Responsibilities and tasks that are clear to everybody impacted. Those of us of a certain age will remember the old telephone trees. Let me explain for those of you who are not familiar with the concept.

A telephone tree is a plan, pyramid-shaped, where in the event of an emergency, everybody on the tree would have people they were dedicated to contact and inform. Everybody had a copy of the tree and with a glance could tell who was responsible for what and who would notify whom. If something didn’t happen, you could pinpoint right where the breakdown was and take immediate action. Technology has made the telephone tree obsolete, but the underlying theory behind it is still sound.

On Wednesday night at 8:40 PM, the district made the decision to institute the 2-hour delay for the following morning. A robocall was put out and the announcement was posted on social media. And then communication stopped. The initial information concerning the time teachers needed to report to work was incorrect. They were told to report an hour early, when they were actually supposed to report at the usual time, just two hours later. Teachers get to school 20 minutes before students. There was a scramble to verify reporting time, with some teachers never receiving confirmation.

I have heard various reports indicating that leadership was unaware that teachers didn’t report normally an hour before students. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me as I’ve written repeatedly about the disconnect between central office and what transpires in the classroom. In the spirit of fairness, the error was corrected for Friday morning’s delay, but there was no acknowledgement of the error nor an apology for possible inconvenience. As I tell my kids, a “my bad” goes a long way.

The timing of the decision created a challenge for parents, leaving many to make work arrangements at a late hour for the following morning. As Metro Council member Freddy O’Connell tweeted out, “Show of hands of parents who can just push a button and have a backup plan that just works when the delayed start announcement comes in at 8:40pm the night before.” I think that’s a pretty fair question.

My big concern was for our immigrant families and poorer families who don’t have working phones or access to social media. How were they notified at 8:40 at night? How many kids showed up underdressed to the bus stop at the normal time? How many parents dropped their kids off and headed to work under the assumption that the bus would be along shortly? How many showed up and when the bus didn’t show up, just went home and spent the day unsupervised?

Now if you have an actual plan, you could get answers to those questions. Take our telephone tree. I could look at who was responsible for notifying and informing a certain group of people, and with a phone call I could follow up and verify that they were informed. I talked to several people throughout the district yesterday and couldn’t confirm with anybody who was responsible for informing our immigrant and poorer families of the delay. I have no doubt that there were teachers out knocking on doors Wednesday night to try to inform families, but the assumption that teachers will act out of a sense of personal responsibility does not make a plan. Fortunately, the district announced Friday’s delay before school was out on Thursday so that kids could be informed before leaving school.

I really don’t believe district leadership deserves harsh criticism or lavish praise for implementing a delay. Truth is, I’m not even sure what problem was addressed by the solution. As has been pointed out by many, the difference in temperature between 8 and 10 AM was 3 degrees. A late start did not make those classrooms without inadequate heat any warmer. All the teachers and students enjoyed a shorter day and an extra two hours to sleep, but in the end, what real difference did the delay make?

It feels like the real purpose was just to check another box off the list. Instituted 2-hour delay… check

ABOUT THAT LIST

Those with any familiarity to construction work know the term “punch list.” A punch list is a document prepared near the end of a construction project listing work not conforming to contract specifications that the contractor must complete prior to final payment. In watching MNPS leadership operate over the past year, it often feels to me like they are working a punch list. Community meetings, check. Talk to teachers, check. And so the list goes. Things get checked off, but there is little follow through or concern about quality.

At next Tuesday’s MNPS board meeting, Dr. Joseph will present his punch list, aka the Transition Team report update, to the board, and there are a lot of things checked off. If you look at the agenda, and scroll to the bottom, you will see the list and that 90 out of 121 items are considered complete or ongoing. That’s a number worthy of praise.

I wonder, though, if anybody on the board will take a look at that punch list and actually question it. For example, the Transition Team recommended that the district have every child read and practice with complex, grade-level text every day to begin strengthening language skills of all students. Under the status update, the district lists the following items:

 English Language Arts (ELA) Scope & Sequence revised
 ELA Scope & Sequence includes Institute for Learning (IFL) Units that focus on complex texts
 Anchor/complex text to support revised ELA Scope and Sequence will be purchased for schools this school year
 New ELA curriculum (Core Knowledge Language Arts [CKLA]) that builds skills and knowledge through the use of complex text is being piloted in five (5) elementary schools this school year

Raise any questions for you? It should, as both the ELA Scope and Sequence and the IFL units have been roundly criticized by district’s teachers. Will any board members address that or will it just remain a check mark?

Here’s another one. The Transition Team recommended that the district seek options to ensure equitable access and diversity when reviewing the academic entrance requirements and lottery process used to place students into relevant programs. This one is not considered a 2017-18 priority (2016-17 TN Ready results need to be reviewed prior to determining the best way to promote diversity in the academic magnets), so it will be reviewed during planning conversations for the 2018-2019 school year. Will anybody ask why? It seems that with all the talk about equity, somebody would have already reviewed the TN Ready results and started to develop a plan, but that’s just my take.

I wonder if anybody will question why under parent/family engagement only 2 out of 8 tasks are considered complete or ongoing. Will anybody ask the status of the district and school-level Parent Advisory Council (PAC) relaunch and when the last meeting was? Will anybody ask about what improvements have been facilitated by the creation of community superintendents and how they’ve impacted the classroom? Will anybody ask about how the STEAM conversion of schools has been impacted by a lack of district leadership for the majority of the year?

I suspect that Dr. Joseph, or someone on his team, will present this colorful score card and at the end a board member or two will remark, “My, you guys have certainly been busy. This is impressive.” And nobody will look below the surface. I do encourage you to look at the whole report, though, and ask your own questions.

QUICK HITS

I must admit that it was validating to see Amanda Haggard at the Nashville Scene raising many of the same issues DGW has been tackling for the last year. The line that stands out the most to me in her story is in regards to recently departed district administrator Mo Carrasco:

One of them, Mo Carrasco, who was the executive director for priority schools, had faced similar allegations at a previous job, which makes us wonder why he was even hired in the first place. Did the district not check with his previous employer? 

Hmm…. I can’t wait to hear more about that, and kudos to Haggard for the research.

Nashville Rise was an organization previously affiliated with Project Renaissance. Late last year they broke off, in a planned move, to become their own 501(c). In the past, I’ve been critical of Nashville Rise and their perceived agenda. However, over the last year I’ve watched them empower parent after parent to come forth and address the school board on various issues.

The fact that they’ve been able to make heard previously silent voices, to me, is worthy of respect. I understand those that still take exception, but my question to you is, if not them, then who? Who else is working to get parents heard? They are holding their First Annual 2018 Parent Engagement Kick-Off Event on January 20 from 10:30 am12:30 pm. I urge you to check them out. 

In Memphis, an investigation into grade manipulation at individual schools continues to grow as the TNDOE is now involved. We probably all ought to keep an eye on this one. Data manipulation is often a byproduct of overemphasis on data. It doesn’t make it right, but it shouldn’t make it a surprise either.

I recently came across this reprint of a James Baldwin speech in which he addresses the challenges of education to prepare children to grapple with the myths and realities of this country’s history. He’s addressing a group of teachers. He tells them:

The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it—at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

Words to mull over. I urge you to read the whole speech.

I also came across this blog post from a German teacher in State College, Pennsylvania, titled This I Believe: I Believe in Teaching. He sums things up with words that a majority of teachers can relate to:

I think we’re all familiar with the hypothetical question: “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” For me the answer is easy. I believe in the profession I’ve dedicated my life to. If I had all the money in the world, I could not think of a better thing to do than what I’m doing now: teaching.

Thank you each and every one of you.

SHAMELESS PLUGs

I hope you will all humor me and allow me to also plug my favorite books and music here. I joined Amazon affiliates in order to help bring in a little cash. Plus if I can help promote a few things I think rock, how can that be a bad thing? Today I’m encouraging you to check out the latest by Nashville’s own Margo Price and the soundtrack to the best movie I saw last year, The Great American Showman.

Books wise, if you are going to this month’s ProjectLit book club you are going to need to read Dear Martin. If you want a cool read that will really make you think, check out Chuck Klosterman’s But What If We Are Wrong.

Thanks for your indulgence. Hate to be out shilling for the man but a Dad’s gotta make a living and these are things I really believe in.

POLLS 

Hopefully the poll will work this week. Again I apologize for the failure of last week.

Our first question is a repeat of last week. Who do you perceive as the district MVP in MNPS? Who do you respect the most and think it would be a blow to the district to lose?

The second question is about the two-hour delay in start times. What do you think about the plan and its implementation?

For my last question, I’d like to get your opinion of MNPS’s communication department. Under Dr. Register, they were often criticized. There has been a turnover in the department and some new strategies. I would like to know what your thoughts are on their performance.

That’s it for now. Stay warm. 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.