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.

 
 

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