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.
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.
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: http://bit.ly/2FHRJL8 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!
– 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.