A STEM AWAKENING

Talk about setting oneself up for failure. Publishing former MNPS teacher Scott Bennett’s exit letter yesterday really raised the bar for the week. It seems his words resonated with y’all, and as a result, that post has grown to become one of my all-time most popular. Hopefully, MNPS leadership is also taking a gander at it. That said, let’s get to this week’s news.

STEM LAND

One of the immeasurable gifts that writing this blog supplies me with is the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible people you could imagine. Yesterday, I found myself in a room full of those people while attending STEM Summit II out at the MTSU campus.

I approached the summit with some trepidation, as I’m more of a liberal arts guy than a STEM guy. Something that former Maplewood AP and current Mount Pleasant Principal Ryan Jackson was kind enough to point out during his keynote speech yesterday, and I do appreciate his reference to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. As a side note, if you ever get a chance to hear Jackson speak, take advantage of it. The guy has a story that could be its own movie, and by the time he’s finished talking, he’ll have you prepared to run through walls.

As things got underway, I settled into my seat, not sure what to expect. The first speaker was a man named Robert Eaker, who is a professor emeritus at MTSU. Many of you are probably familiar with his work, but I was not. From the very first slide on, I was hooked.

Eaker spoke of the importance of not what a leader says or writes, but rather what they do. I have always contended that modeling is the most powerful form of instruction, and here was Eaker reaffirming that tenet.

He spoke of the need to “gain shared knowledge” when faced with a problem. Too often leadership is dashing off a perceived solution to a problem without ever taking inventory of the resources in the room. It is imperative that a culture is created where all are welcome to offer input in order to find best practices. Confrontation should not be a four letter word, and just because everyone agrees on something does not make it best practice. Best practice should be research-based and data driven.

Eaker went on to speak of the need to organize teachers into collaborative teams. He told of a school district that did not hire 3rd grade teachers, but rather you were hired to be a member of the 3rd grade team. A subtle but powerful distinction.

Once those teams are formed, it is important to ensure that they are doing the right work. Support must be given to those teams’ efforts to improve their effectiveness. Equally important is the recognizing and celebrating the right work when it occurs.

Eaker listed a number of ways that we set up students for failure, among them the “thoughtless use of zeros.” Recently there has been a lot of debate about whether students should receive zeroes if they failed to do the work. I personally am not a fan of the practice because it strikes me as purely punitive. I like Eaker’s view that it is all right to give zeroes as long as you force the student to do the make up work. The zero should serve as a placeholder.

Proponents of the awarding of zeroes cite the need to prepare students for the “real world.” The truth is that in the real world, if I don’t complete an assignment I don’t get let off the hook. I still have to turn in the work, and there is a penalty. There is no need for schools to function any differently.

If a student is given an assignment, it their responsibility to complete the assignment. Assigning a student a zero and freeing them from completing that assignment because they missed the deadline in essence let’s them off the hook. It serves as a reward for irresponsible behavior. There is no evidence in existence that supports the theory of increasing responsible behavior by rewarding irresponsible behavior.

Dr. Eaker went on to outline several more ways that schools could be structured to better serve teachers and students. Reminding us that schools aren’t places where children go to be taught, but rather places where children go to learn. Another subtle but important distinction.

By the time Dr. Eaker got done speaking, I was more filled with optimism than I have been for months. Here was a respected veteran educator speaking the truths that I held most evident to a room full of educators. The truth was out there and change was coming.

I wasn’t even out of Murfreesboro before the euphoria began to fade. The things that were said today weren’t some brilliant pearls of wisdom dropped from heaven. They were common knowledge. It is no secret what makes a quality leader. It is no secret what are best practices for students and teachers. What seems to be the secret is how to develop the will to implement.

Driving along I-24 back to Nashville, the realization began to creep back over me that, despite all this knowledge, tomorrow, MNPS leadership would continue to have a disconnect between what they say and what they do, teachers would still be allowed to teach in isolation, homework without meaning would still be assigned, zeroes would still be handed out, and worksheets would be distributed. Teachers would still be under immense pressure due to a focus on teaching rather than learning.

At some point we have to reclaim our classrooms and school buildings. We have to start implementing what we know are best practices. All bad practices exist in schools either because people want them to or they are allowed to. We have the tools to create better outcomes; we just need to commit to them.

I’m still not completely sold on the concept of STEM, but I am sold on the ideas that I heard espoused at the STEM Summit II, and I will continue to do more research. It was good to look around the room and see many of the principals who work in MNPS in attendance. I remain hopeful that they will go back to their individual schools and put the theories heard into practice. Sometimes change has to start small and then grow into a movement. Here’s hoping I bore witness to the beginnings of a movement.

TITLE I

MNPS principals received the numbers yesterday for their individual school budgets for next year, and there was a bit of a collective sigh of relief to go with the feelings of concern. Oh, don’t get me wrong, individual schools lost funding and principals are definitely alarmed, but the hit was a little less than feared.

You have to wonder if that wasn’t part of leadership’s strategy all along. Scare people into thinking they are going to lose a half million dollars and they become relieved when they only lose a quarter million. It still hurts, but you tell yourself it’s not as bad as it could have been.

As I previously mentioned, there is a federal formula – poverty rate x 1.6 – that is used to calculate a school’s eligibility for Title I monies. Last year, a school could have as low as 35% of kids receiving direct services and still be eligible for funding, based on the formula, through Title I. This year that threshold increases to 47%.

The district has previously touted an increase in individual school budgets. What they seldom talk about is the increased inclusion of “non-negotiables” that are now stipulated. For example, last year elementary schools had to pay for an advanced academics teacher and a literacy coach out of their budgets. So it’s kind of like I raise my kids’ allowance from $10 to $15, but I now tell them what they have to spend $7 on. Did I really raise their allowance? I’m told that the non-negotiable list has grown this year.

Title I monies and non-negotiables aren’t the only issues having a negative impact. Attendance projections for almost all schools are reportedly being lowered. Last year was the first year in over a decade that MNPS saw a decline in enrollment and apparently that trend is expected to continue into next year. That is a worrisome trend and could have dire impacts on schools.

I’ve yet to hear any real theories on why enrollment numbers are shrinking. Some will point to the increased enrollment at charter schools, others to the people being priced out of Nashville and lured to surrounding counties. After all, Rutherford and Williamson Counties are bursting at the seams. Some of it needs to fall at the feet of Dr. Joseph and his team. After two years, he should be making a stronger argument for why MNPS schools are the right choice for parents. Whatever the reason, the decline in numbers is just one more factor in making the job of educating Nashville’s children a bit more difficult.

It is extremely important that we recognize that these individual elements translate into more than an intellectual exercise. An increase in the non-negotiables coupled with lower overall funding translates into a loss in staffing, both teachers and administrators, and the loss of essential programs. This should be extremely concerning to parents and hopefully many of you will continue to pay closer attention to the budgeting process. It’s impact on students cannot be overemphasized.

QUICK HITS

Yesterday, MNPS honored the 16 students who desegregated Metro Nashville Public Schools. A well-deserved tip of the hat to those 16 individuals and their tremendous courage and contributions.

Williamson County Schools held a special school board meeting last night where it was decided that Dr. Looney would not face a reprimand over a recent incident with a student and her mother that led to his arrest. The board viewed video, that due to FERPA regulations could not be shared with the public, and decided that Looney had done nothing warranting corrective action.

So despite it being acknowledged that Looney touched the student, that he tried to put the student in his car, that the police took control of the young lady and the situation, that the police on the scene provided enough evidence that an arrest warrant was issued, the video offers ample evidence to counter those assertions. I can’t imagine what could possibly be on that video, but based on knowing the people who have viewed the video, I would argue that the trust factor has to come into play. Not the most transparent of processes, but given the restrictions necessitated, probably the best that could be done.

Over the last few years, there has been growing support for the “community school” model for high-need populations. Community schools recognize the role of poverty in student outcomes and attempt to counteract those effects by offering wraparound services and increased community involvement. Memphis took a big step this week by promoting the founding principal of Memphis’ first community school to Shelby County Schools’ Director of Family and Community Engagement, in a move that underscores the district’s commitment to expanding the community schools model.

Here in Nashville, Community Achieves continues to develop and promote the community school model. It’s an approach that has the backing of at least one gubernatorial candidate, Randy Boyd, who called community schools “one place to start” in improving low-performing schools. TEA also has legislation that is winding through the State House and Senate that will give further support to the concept of community schools as a turnaround strategy. Community schools would give a viable alternative to Tennessee’s failed experiment, the Achievement School District.

Out in Aurora, Colorado, they are experimenting with an interesting idea, parent-teacher conferences held in the students’ homes. Right now, the idea is getting mixed reviews, but it does bear watching.

One of the most powerful voices to rise out of the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, is that of  high school student Emma Gonzales. Emma has written a piece for Harper’s Bazaar that I encourage everyone to read. She writes:

Teachers do not need to be armed with guns to protect their classes, they need to be armed with a solid education in order to teach their classes. That’s the only thing that needs to be in their job description. People say metal detectors would help. Tell that to the kids who already have metal detectors at school and are still victims of gun violence. If you want to help arm the schools, arm them with school supplies, books, therapists, things they actually need and can make use of.

Can’t really argue with that. But that doesn’t mean that some aren’t finding fault with her thoughts and trying to write her off as a child in an effort to devalue her views. Gonzales counters with powerful words:

Adults are saying that children are emotional. I should hope so—some of our closest friends were taken before their time because of a senseless act of violence that should never have occurred. If we weren’t emotional, they would criticize us for that, as well. Adults are saying that children are disrespectful. But how can we respect people who don’t respect us? We have always been told that if we see something wrong, we need to speak up; but now that we are, all we’re getting is disrespect from the people who made the rules in the first place. Adults like us when we have strong test scores, but they hate us when we have strong opinions.

Like I said, read the whole piece and watch the emergence of a future leader. I’d also urge you to read the words of Williamson County senior Maggie Henderson. I tell you, these kids are all right. Better than all right… inspiring.

If you are intrigued by the aforementioned words of Richard Eaker, I encourage you to check out Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work™ (An Actionable Guide to Implementing the PLC Process and Effective Teaching Methods).

Have I mentioned lately what a fan I am of Marvin Gaye?

This Saturday, March 3, the Junior League of Nashville is hosting a free book festival for Nashville families. Come out for book readings, puppet shows, character meet-and-greets, and more!

POLL QUESTIONS

There was quite a bit of response to this week’s poll questions. Let’s take a look at the results.

The first question asked for your read on this year’s MNPS budget. 46% of you predicted that it was going to be a rough budgetary season, and 39% of you were anticipating no growth in the budget.

That is not good news because MNPS needs increased financial resources. We need an increase for teachers and support staff salaries. We need an increase in para-professional and substitute salaries. We need an increase for capital needs. We don’t need an increase for transforming middle schools into STEAM schools, outside consultants, and purchasing scripted curriculum. I would argue that we made a serious miscalculation last year by focusing on programs versus people. A miscalculation that could have long-term ramifications. Only 3 respondents expressed faith that Dr. Joseph had made the right moves to get schools needed resources. Time will tell.

Here are the write in votes:

My school alone will have to cut 6 or more employees. Save our $! 1
Follow the money trail 1
School budgets will go down while Dr. J & crew use funds to promote themselves 1
I smell a West Virginia strike brewing in MNPS 1
Wait and see 1
Where is Dr. J spending all our money?Consultants? 1
We’re all screwed 1
Fire Felder and give her $185000 to a school

The second question asked for what you thought of the idea of a four-day school week. Y’all were equally split at 31% each, that it would be awesome but hard on working parents. Only 5% of you outright dismissed the idea. Here are the write-ins:

Can high school start at 8???? 1
need more info 1
I’d like to see some research on this and read MNPS proposals.

The last question asked what you thought should be the number one issue for the upcoming school board race. The number one answer, with 62%, was teacher recruitment and retention. Which is good for me because that’s my number one issue as well and the basis for my school board run. Number two, at 8%, was funding.

Interestingly enough, it’s now March, and I have yet to hear the district’s plan for filling positions next year. Maybe somebody ought to schedule that presentation for an upcoming school board meeting. This question garnered a lot of write-in answers. Here they are:

High school start times. 1
Development of a comprehensive school reform plan 1
all of the above 1
Investigating ethical practices of current leadership, particularly $$$ 1
Lies 1
lack of leadership in distict 1
Real Education 1
Increase teacher compensation and safety 1
Treating teachers like human beings, not robots. 1
Appropriate discipline 1
Superintendent and admin staffing costs and necessities 1
Firing Dr. Joseph-he’s a criminal 1
Firing Felder! 1
Remove Joseph

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and 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 as a funding source. 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. I need you to like that Facebook page.

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WORDS FROM A RECENTLY DEPARTED MNPS TEACHER

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I didn’t write a post today because I was off attending STEM Summit III at MTSU in Murfreesboro. It was a fantastic experience, and I’m extremely grateful to Connie Smith for inviting me. Expect more details on the Summit tomorrow. One big take away was that letting Ryan Jackson get away was a foolish move by MNPS. What a story. What a talent. Somebody go get him and drag him back to MNPS. Between Jackson, Amato, and Woodard… might want to study the water out there at Maplewood HS.

I didn’t want to leave Monday content-free, though. Scott Bennett is another wonderful teacher that recently departed MNPS. He and his wife moved to South Africa for her job. Bennett left without paying a lunch debt that he owed me. In lieu of that lunch, he offered me his insights on his time at MNPS and I readily accepted.

His post is a long one and you can also find it on his blog, Bennett There Done That. I’m hoping that by sharing it here, people will get a greater understanding of what goes on in our schools. There are some real changes that need to be made. Some real conversations that need to be had. Much of what is in this blog post was supported by what I heard at the STEM Summit today. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope that someday Mr. Bennett will one day walk the halls of an MNPS school again. See you tomorrow with our regular scheduled programming. Here is Bennett’s post:

(I deeply value my time and experiences with the people with whom I spent the last decade working with and learning from. However, there are some issues that I feel need to be aired on behalf of the teachers who are back in Nashville, and I feel they can’t speak up for fear of retribution. I know because I was one of them only a few weeks ago. I would still love to have a proper exit interview, even if it is done from 9,000 miles away. Part II will address and promote many of the outstanding things that I saw happening in classrooms. It is my hope that through these posts I can affect change and promote the people and initiatives which are changing lives.)

When I left my teaching position there was no exit interview. No survey. No request for feedback from the district.* At the very least I was anticipating an email from H.R. I gave my notice and letter of resignation roughly 115 days ago, and I left my classroom on February 9th. So my departure wasn’t a surprise for anyone. Either they assume to know my professional opinions or they don’t want to hear them. Both are deeply troubling to me as teacher, a tax payer, a voter, and a parent. I’m not sure what kind of leadership doesn’t want feedback, but I’ve never met any great leaders who have insisted that they knew everything. Additionally, this district has difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, support staff, and bus drivers. Some of that stems from the low pay, and some of it stems from the culture. If I’m a district leader and I can’t do much about the one, I’m sure as heck going to try and improve the other. As a teacher I’ve found that when students don’t care about the feedback I give, it is because they didn’t care about the assignment whether that is an essay or a presentation or a project. I end each semester asking about my teaching practices and how they can better align to student needs. I’m not sure what it says about an institution that doesn’t want feedback from it’s employees, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t good.

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“Who do you think you are? What gives you the right?” One of the best exit interviews of all time. 

#ThanksMetro is a phrase I started using a few years ago to express the frustration of working in an organization that often and in many ways works against itself. (Example: The IB scores that were the best in recent memory and by far the highest in the district, were announced by the district’s media team at the same time as they announced finding high levels of lead in the water of some schools.) One announcement obviously overshadowed the other. And this is a tough post to write because for much of my time as teacher, I absolutely loved teaching and coaching and collaborating with students and my peers. Many of the teachers that I was fortunate enough to work with were outstanding professionals and even better human beings. They are people I continue to look up to and be inspired by. Overwhelmingly the experiences I had as a teacher were positive. I had great mentors and leadership who coached and supported me. So why do I harbor so much resentment toward the institution and the profession as a whole? I really hope my four years here in South Africa help to provide distance and assuage the negative feelings because I love teaching. I really do.

Death by a thousand paper cuts. It’s another phrase I’ve used to describe the petty form of treatment (sometimes unintended) that teachers endure. Like the analogy, a single paper cut by itself hurts, but can be overlooked. It can be dismissed. It can be forgiven. But as cuts accumulate, the emotional and psychological toll can be, at best, demoralizing and, at worst, dehumanizing. There are differing severities of cuts too. On one hand you have the daily grind. No matter how great my lessons or interactions with students, I would have an overwhelming number of emails, phone calls, texts, requesting my time and energy addressing “just” one more thing. I’ve come to hate the word to such a degree, I tell my students not to use it in their writing. “Just” shoot me an email. “Just” call a parent. “Just” log it in Support and Intervention. “Just”stop by the meeting. Any phrase that starts with “can you just…” is a paper cut. One task by itself is never a big deal (and that is how we always perceive it, in isolation) but the requester seldom considers their ask in the greater context of all that teachers are expected to do. Amplify that ask times the hundreds of interactions we have daily and suddenly the time I wanted to use to develop relationships with students or co-plan with other teachers or provide effective and timely feedback has been replaced with a hundred “can you just…”

The leaders in the district who protect their teachers’ planning and grading time are loved and respected by their teachers. The other ones (and fortunately for me my time with them was limited) would contribute to the paper cuts by being petty or nickel-and-diming teacher time and energy. I can only imagine that they believe that by demanding more from their teachers they were somehow improving their school. Instead of having a positive effect, I saw them breed resentment and animosity.

Then there are also the major paper cuts. These are the one that are infuriating to me as professional and a human being. Want to know one from a parent’s perspective? Last fall we enrolled my five year old in kindergarten. A little less than a year ago we had his immunizations completed. I remember because it was a traumatic day for everyone involved. Immediately after we had the records faxed to his future school. At the open house last summer we were informed they never received them. The next day we asked the doctors office to fax them again. On the first day of school we received a letter saying the school didn’t have them. We checked the fax number. It was correct. We had the doctor stay on the phone while they faxed them again. Three weeks later we recieved a letter photocopied on bright orange paper. Our son would not be allowed back to school if they did not receive the record of those immunizations by Friday. We had the doctor fax them again. This time we also asked them scan and email a pdf to us. We emailed a copy to the main office and copied the principal and my son’s classroom teacher. But on the first day after Labor Day weekend, I was called to the elementary school in middle of my teaching day to pick up my son because the school had no record of his immunizations. I lost count after six attempts at trying to get them what they were asking for. I printed a copy of the PDF and handed it to the office staff. It was the same form that had been sent many times over. We were doing everything that was asked and nothing was working. The communications home came as more and more urgent and demanding. This is by no means an isolated incident. I have experienced this kind of bureaucratic nightmare from within the system as well. Want to go on a field trip? Good luck. Fundraiser? Ha ha ha. I laugh in the face of your optimism. I’m not saying these things are impossible, lord knows there are great people who will help you navigate the forms in triplicate and clear the hurdles. I’m merely pointing out that as a teacher there were many educational experiences and fundraising opportunities that I let go right on by because getting approval on short notice would have been too tedious of an undertaking. Many teachers subscribe to the feign ignorance and apologize later method.

(Note: I did not get fired for taking an unapproved field trip once. I probably should have been. I’m not sure if I wasn’t fired because I was well liked or because firing me would have been (ironically) too much paperwork. Either way, I’m grateful for the pass.)

The countless meetings that could have been an email. The emails that should have been a meeting… I know teachers can be stubborn and not follow directions, but the district should model the behavior it wants teachers to use in the classroom. That kind of leadership was rare my experience. I’m not talking about my school leaders, mind you. I would walk through hell (and many teachers are) with the principals and school based leaders. I’m talking only about the communications or lack there of from central office.

I can also recount literally hundreds of episodes where parents needed help, either with attendance issues or grade change, or in one particularly embarrassing instance for the district, getting a straight A student into an art class so they can graduate. As further personal evidence of this functional breakdown, we are now in South Africa and want our son un-enrolled from his kindergarten class. We called the district office and they told us to call the school. We called the school, and they told us to call the district. He’s been enrolled and attending school here in Pretoria since last Tuesday. But everyday in Africa, as the sun is setting in a blaze of beautiful reds and yellows above the savanna, I get a call from our old district telling me that my son is absent. Paper cut.

From a teacher’s perspective the larger transgressions are far more serious. Lack of communication or respect from central office breads animosity and a culture of mistrust. Schools are not factories. Teachers do not produce students or even graduates. I hate referring to students as future employees. College and career ready. That was not my mission. Life ready? Maybe. Absurdism ready? Yes, there we go. Teachers grow people, and anyone who has ever grown something knows that it takes time and energy and patience. No mandate or initiative (no matter how important or beneficial) can replace the value of the positive interactions between students, teachers, and content. But yet so many top-down priorities took me away from or out of that equation. The worst one, the one that took me the furthest away from my students almost took me out of the profession for good.

In 2012 I was part of a professional development session which provided training in conjunction with the police department. Active shooter training. In my school hallway an officer fired blanks “to help us recognize the sound of gun fire.” In addition we also had to develop a response to our hearing of the shots. Some people were asked to play students. I was asked to be a teacher helping students seek shelter in my classroom. The drill started with shots coming from around the corner of the hall. I ushered as many people into my classroom as possible. I saw the officer come around the corner firing shots at the ground, and I suddenly felt like I was in danger and being chased even though he was clearly walking and meant no physical harm. Because this was a drill we were told not to lock any doors. I closed my door and moved people to the far corner where the lone window was. There was a bottleneck at the window and people panicked when the officer open the door, came into the room, and fired a dozen more rounds. Everyone scattered. Some people screamed. I can still hear the shots. I KNOW they weren’t real, but in the moment my mind didn’t. Thirty minutes after the drill ended everyone in the room was still visibly shaken.

I had a very difficult time sleeping for the next few weeks. I lost my appetite. I was either anxious or angry. My students could sense it. My wife saw it. I was short with people. That was the beginning of my worst year of teaching. I started seeing a therapist about a month after an active shooter drill took place. A shell from one of the blanks landed and stayed on the top of my bookshelf all year long. I couldn’t touch it. The kids couldn’t see it, it was too high, but I could. That professional development was also one of the reasons I left that school and almost left the profession later that year. The district’s health insurance plan did not cover the costs of seeing a psychologist. My then-administrators were evasive when I inquired about a workers’ compensation claim to help with the cost of the therapy (and actually the principal laughed when I spoke to him about it, which made me feel even more embarrassed and ashamed about how I was dealing with my response to that day). I feel I endured a traumatic experience as part of my job, and when I needed help dealing with this, the leadership and district balked. We can debate the merits of active shooter training for teachers. In this day and age, I can’t say that they shouldn’t happen. They certainly shouldn’t happen the way mine did. But what isn’t up for debate is the very apparent lack of emotional and psychological support offered to teachers after events like Sandy Hook or Stoneman Douglas. Ironically, the district health plan is willing to help if you want to quit smoking or lose weight, but if you ask them to help with the stress and anxiety caused by the job, you’ll be out of luck. Over the ten years I spent teaching, I lost half a dozen students to gun violence. I know of others who lost a battle with drug abuse. I’ve seen first hand the effects of generational poverty. I’ve been to the ER with students in the middle of night. I’ve been to funerals and visiting hours. I cried in my classroom after learning about Sandy Hook, Boston, Paris, Orlando, and Las Vegas. Every day teachers need to find the courage to talk about the realities of this world. And everyday there is a cost to teachers’ emotional well-being that is never acknowledged or addressed. The worst kind of paper cut is the one that is never allowed to heal.

In my opinion, I was most successful when my primary role was to provide students with inspiring and relevant challenges and to support their progress towards successfully answering those challenges. In my first five years teaching I feel like I did this a couple time a semester, at most. I wasn’t very good at it because I was always trying to stay on top of all the other parts of the profession. I felt like I was always putting out fires, instead of teaching. I really began to excel when I started teaching 9th grade English. My lessons and units consistently started to produce lively discussions, exemplar assessments, and most importantly, student growth. Instead of a great lesson a month, I was creating them multiple times a week. So what happened? Why the big difference between the fifth and sixth year of teaching?

Leadership. I was given permission from my administration to focus on what was most important, and what I was best at, instruction. In the words of the outstanding Artisan Teacher professional development series (why the district discontinued the use of his workshops is beyond me) founder Mike Rutherford, I was given the time and resources to “focus on and develop my strengths and manage my weaknesses.” I no longer had to do everything that was on my plate at the level that was being demanded. I could be great at stagecraft and planning, and could be acceptable with other asks without being regarded as a failure. I stopped responding immediately to emails. I gave them 24 hours before responding and most resolved themselves without me doing anything. This freed up time to plan more and better. I saw that my great lessons and units happened more frequently. I saw an increase my student achievement results, not only quality but quantity of students succeeding. In short, I was a TVASS level 1 teacher when I carried the burden of doing all the “just one more” things to make people happy. But I became a consistent level 4 and 5 teacher when I became laser focused on good content, good instructional practices, and coaching my students. I learned to abandon what wasn’t helping me to reach students. I need to thank those leaders who gave me the confidence and ability to say no to the curse of “just one more” thing. I also appreciate my peers who kept me focused on the job and not on the slights, both major and minor. My peers, who also became my best friends, often kept me from quitting and probably from being fired.

The major paper cuts were less frequent, but they hurt more. A school board member who endorses and promotes a tweet which disrespects me and the teachers in my school. Learning from the local news about a promised salary increase evaporating. A lack of communication from central office which leaves school leaders and teachers to guess intention and to explain district policy changes to students and parents themselves. These all contributed to the mistrust and dissonance between the district and teachers. These are all evident in #thanksmetro.

Need more evidence of paper cuts? Here is a list that comes immediately to mind.

  • No paid maternity-leave policy beyond using sick-leave. I wrote this opinion on Facebook last fall… “Here are my problems with a lack of paid maternity leave policy. 1) Having a baby isn’t the same as being sick. Period. Teachers get sick leave because teachers get sick. Often. Starting a family isn’t contagious, it can’t be treated at the minute clinic, and it sure as heck shouldn’t be relegated to the ever evaporating seven week summer break. 2) Almost 80% of the district’s employees are women. Not having this benefit is simply negligent and a flagrant disregard for the health and well-being of the majority of their employees. It reeks of blatantly sexist decision making. 3) The government should be the model employer, but in this (and many other instances) it puts the bottom line above the individual and social benefit. 4) As stated, the district is bleeding teachers. Nationwide, teacher turnover is problem. Currently in Nashville the problem is even worse, especially for teachers with 3-10 years experience, or those in the prime family starting years. A smart person once told me that happy parents raise happy kids. I believe that the same is true with teachers. Happy teachers (and by extension those who feel like their employer is taking care of them) are infinitely better for students than the teachers who feel nickel and dimed and exploited by policy and a system which only looks out for itself. If you want the investment the district makes in teachers to pay dividends, you have to keep teachers in the district more than three years. Start here. Nashville taxpayers and elected officials and school administrators… If you are fair to your teachers, they will be fair to the students and the district and society. That’s transitive leadership. We all know it. But if you are brave enough to be generous with your teachers, they will reward your generosity with loyalty and dedication and the relentless pursuit of helping students succeed, which will in turn pay for itself tenfold. That’s transformative leadership. Don’t get me wrong, providing maternity leave is the expectation. It is not generosity, especially if teachers are having to plead for it. But in providing any benefit, please be generous. Teachers who are proud to work for a responsive community will always outwork those who see the profession as a job. While I still consider twenty days paid leave to be insulting, it’s twenty paid days more than we have now. Read more on my Facebook here. Big paper cut.
  • The recent (2015) pay raises to teachers with 1-5 years of experience who DO NOT have a Masters degree, but still nothing in the last ten years for those teachers who have chosen to invest in our profession either by earning another degree or who have stayed in the profession longer than five years. The costs of living in the “It” city has skyrocketed. But with that our property taxes have increased which I think means more money for services. We certainly have enough money for a new baseball stadium, convention center, outdoor concert venue, and transportation plan, and downtown development. We have a booming local and state economy. We have shown we have the money for massive pay raises for central office leadership.  It appears we even have money for rookie teachers (TFA) with one to five years experience. And they are the ones most likely to leave the profession! What we don’t seem to have money for is teacher pay increases for these mid career professionals who are staying in the system. Paper cut.
  • The 3% cost of living pay raise last spring that was, then during Teacher Appreciation Week wasn’t, then somehow was again. It is difficult to have gratitude for something promised when you must fight for it as part of the budget. Paper cut.
  • Teacher Appreciation Week that includes a bridge lighting and a website for “affordable housing” which is actually only a mortgage calculator. (I know this is the Mayor’s thing, but it still counts for me as talking about appreciating teachers without doing anything.) Meanwhile the district hosts a holiday office parties with gift cards and giveaways. It is out of touch with the reality that we face. During a central office appreciation week a few years ago, while teachers were re-entering grades (see next point), central office was having yoga and massages during the week. These rewards are not undeserved. Good people, hard working individuals make up central office. But they are all examples of a district that is being insensitive to the sacrifices teachers are making. Paper cut.
  • In 2015 an IT computer glitch wiped out student grades and S&I information at the end of the grading period. No apology was ever issued from the district. Our school leaders empathized and apologized. But the tone of the email from central office lacked understanding and dodged responsibility. It simply demanded the data be re-entered by the specified time. Paper cut.
  • A new health and wellness center located in the most difficult part of town to reach, but is conveniently located next to the central office. I would like to know how many employees who live in Joelton or Antioch or Bellevue use the facility. Why not YMCA passes for all employees? If the health and well-being of teachers and support staff was truly important, it should be made far more accessible and to more people. Again, this looks like insensitive decision making. Paper cut.
  • Changing from Gradespeed to InfiniteCampus without adequately training or supporting teachers BEFORE the school year started (more on tech use in this district later). Paper cut.
  • Newly minted and mandated I.F.L. assessments (high school literacy units) which do not provide copies of the texts which are to be taught. Essentially what the mandate says is “You will teach this. You will assess this. But you need to supply copies of the texts for your students.” Paper cut.
  • The communication regarding the lead in the water which in addition to students dangers, all teachers use for drinking, for making coffee or lunches. Some of these readings are high enough that I’m concerned for all the pregnant women working in schools affected. No apology or empathy. Paper cut.
  • Much has been made of the great eclipse fiasco of 2017, so I don’t need to rehash it here. But this combined with the numerous weather related openings and closings (the “Seriously people” tweet) reflects poorly on all of the professionals working to improve the perception and communication of the district. Paper cut.
  • A school board which has members who have actively attacked and who promote attacking teachers on social media. Paper cut.

This list doesn’t even begin to address the state’s culture of over-testing, politics, and anti-teacher policy. After all this is only an exit interview for the district. Those complaints will have to wait for another time. I want to also find the time to talk about what I saw that was going right. There are SO MANY examples of outstanding outcomes that go under the radar. It is important that even if no one reads this, even if nothing changes, that I speak my mind on these challenges facing teachers. While paper cuts can heal, some can also leave a scar. And the most poignant scar is a memory of a time that we weren’t treated with respect as professionals or as human beings. I urge the people who have some say to evaluate and implement every decision after considering the cost to and the effect on teachers exactly the same way we ask teachers to make every decision with their students best interests in mind.

I have much more to say, but the phone is ringing. My eldest son was absent from school again today.

To be continued…

*My executive principal always had an open door policy and I always felt comfortable talking to him about our school. And one of my A.P.’s did ask for feedback on their leadership. I was deeply impressed by this humility and desire to reflect and improve. I will happily answer any questions they have for me. This post is more of a reflection of the district’s operations rather than the leadership of our immediate supervisors.

OF TITLE I, TESTING, AND WEEKEND POLL QUESTIONS

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Today’s blog post comes with a little warning: this is going to be a bit of a heavy lift. I want to try to translate into layman’s terms some issues surrounding Title I funding and increased standardized testing. But before we dive into that, I want to touch on another equally important issue – how we interact with and perceive each other.

Here in Nashville, we are currently struggling with a crisis created by Mayor Megan Barry’s marital infidelity. Everyday it seems like another shoe hits the floor and another newspaper article appears. I think we can all agree that the Mayor made some very bad decisions. Decisions that I’m sure she regrets. I think it’s fair game for us to take exception to those actions and be critical of them, but I do have an issue when people use those actions to try to dehumanize her. It’s not impossible to hate the actions and love the person.

If you are foolish enough to read the comments posted online on any of the news stories about Mayor Barry, you’d think she was the equivalent of the worse mass murderer in history. As a society, we seem to have become unable to separate the person from the action in the same manner that we can’t argue policy without attacking people who hold an opposing view.

Megan Barry is still a good friend to many people. She and her husband have a complex relationship, like most of us. In her life, she has done a tremendous amount of good and like all of us, some bad. You can think she should resign due to her personal decisions and still recognize her humanity. The disapproval of her actions is not a license to dehumanize her. Dehumanize her and by extension, I would argue, we lose some of our own humanity.

I guess what I’m saying is let’s try to separate actions from people. Mayor Barry may need to resign, but not because she is a vile, disgusting person, but rather because she made some very poor decisions that violated the public trust. By the same token, the people who disagree with you are not despicable, self-centered human beings, just people who hold a different opinion. It’s a subtle nuance, but I think an important one if we are to hold on to our own humanity.

TITLE I

Back in 1965, Congress created Title I funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in order to try to create equity between poor and wealthy schools. In 1994, the policy was rewritten to further help at-risk students. Nationally, schools receive over $14 billion to improve educational outcomes for at-risk students. A school’s qualification for Title I funding is based on its number of low-income students. That number is determined by those students whose families receive direct services. In order to qualify federally as a Title I school, a school must have over 40% of its students receiving direct services. Traditionally, MNPS has delivered funds to schools at the poverty level of 50% and above.

A couple of things to keep in mind here. Undocumented students don’t receive direct services, so they don’t count in a school’s official poverty numbers. Yet they must still be educated. Refugee students also don’t receive direct services. Schools depend upon Title I money to provide services and to hire additional teachers.

The Federal government distributes the funds to the state, who then disperses the money to the local school districts. The school districts deliver the funds to the individual schools based on a plan developed locally but approved by the state. Local districts have the opportunity to change the distribution formula every year.

In 2016, the formula for MNPS’s dispersal of funds was roughly $600 per student, multiplied by their percentage of students eligible, times the number of students. So if a school had 60% of its 700 kids eligible, they would receive $360 per student for 420 students, for a total of $151,200 for the year. It may not sound like a whole lot of money, but that’s about enough for 3 teachers. That makes a difference.

For the 2017-2018 school year, Dr. Joseph changed the distribution formula. Every school with over 55% of its students eligible got a flat $485 per student. That means the same school referenced above received $203,700. So that school benefited from the change in the distribution formula.

What about a school with a higher poverty level, say 80% and 900 students? In 2016 that school received $345,600 and this year they received $349,200, a difference of $3,600. Not much of a difference. An argument could be made that the change did make things more equitable.

Yesterday at a meeting to discuss next year’s school-based budgets, it was revealed to principals that the distribution formula was changing again. Per a sheet delivered to principals, beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, Title I funds will be distributed only to schools with a 75% and above poverty level. My kids’ school, Tusculum ES, is at 64% poverty. Which, based on the distributed sheet, means they would not be eligible for Title I money. Loss of that money could translate into a loss of teaching positions or essential programs. Needless to say, this shift in policy evoked some, shall we say, emotional responses.

But… hold on. There are some caveats. Later, after everybody’s heads exploded, it was revealed that there was a formula, the Title I Poverty Measure, that would be used so that those schools with large populations of undocumented students wouldn’t be hurt. That formula is the number of students who are “direct certified” (DC) for federal assistance x 1.6, which is a non-negotiable federally determined multiplier. Applying the formula should give you the percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

To make the math easy, let’s take a school of a 1000 with 470 students who are DC. The school would have a poverty rate of 75.2 and should be eligible for services. But… based on that previous 50% threshold, they wouldn’t have been eligible this year. If you apply the Title I Poverty Measure, nobody previously eligible should lose funding. But… Hillsboro High School, Overton, and 47 other schools were given indications that they would lose their Title I funding. But… schools were told that no school would lose over 4% of their school-based budget because of the added weights for local poverty numbers, EL students, Exceptional Ed, etc. But… principals don’t receive their actual budget numbers until Monday. I know, that’s a lot of buts. So if you run into a principal this week and they look especially wane and drawn, you now know why.

You often hear leaders postulate about how hard it is to bring change to an organization. It can be, but you can also make it more difficult on yourself when you don’t deliver information to people in a concise, timely, and easily decipherable manner. You don’t drop the negatives on people and then wait 4 days to give the actual whole picture. If you don’t provide a narrative for people, they will create their own narrative and it will invariably be a negative one.

I don’t know if this distribution formula is a more equitable one or not, and neither do most principals. There is no way of knowing until principals see their actual school-based budgets. But I do know that once again, district leadership has created turmoil where it was not necessary. Let’s see what next week brings.

I urge you to talk to your principals this week. Find out how the changed method of Title I distribution will affect your school, and then make plans to speak at the school board meeting on the 13th of March.

MAP TESTING

This week, most grades 2-8 completed MAP testing. If you are not familiar with MAP, it is a nationally-normed test that was added this year and can potentially be very useful. MAP is set up to given 3 times a year – fall, winter, and spring.

That said, two of our testing periods occur in the fall semester. We’ve moved the test given last year in May up to February, because last year we saw a drop in scores that feasibly could be attributed to test fatigue, and it falls in the winter session. That’s not a huge issue because NWEA is moving towards norming based on weeks between test administration. They are not fully there yet, but close enough that accurate results can still be calculated, albeit with a small margin of error.

But don’t give up on that spring testing yet. There is still a MAP session available in May, since some schools require the May results to comply with federal and state grant mandates. The district is making the testing available to schools, but not encouraging an additional test administration. If a school does choose to take the MAP in May, the higher growth scores of the last two test administrations (February or May) will be used. There is no additional cost if a school chooses to administer the May MAP test since it’s a per student cost, regardless of how often it is administered. The cost is paid by the district.

Now that we have all that out there, riddle me a few things:

  • Why would a principal not schedule a May MAP test, knowing the stock placed in results and that it is a no-risk proposition?
  • Isn’t a bit much to ask kids to take MAP in February, a climate survey in March, WIDA for the EL kids in March, TNReady in April, and then another MAP test in May?
  • If a school does not take a MAP test in May and just utilizes the February results, are they not sending a message that learning ends for the school year at the end of January?
  • No offense to Mr. Changas and his exceptional team, but how is throwing out the lowest score if a school elects to administer both a February and a May test not gaming the system?

I am not anti-MAP testing. I’ve spent a great deal of time learning about it over the last month, and I am extremely grateful to those who have helped me gain a better understanding. If it is used as a formative assessment – administered for kids, not to kids – it can drive instruction at a heightened level. But if it’s going to be used as an accountability tool, or if it is overused, then a lot of those benefits are going to be lost.

QUICK HITS

I must say I had a great morning at Glenview ES participating in Book’em’s Read To Me Day. Celebrities, politicians, judges, and the Nashville Predators mascot Gnash all read to different classes. I was fortunate to read to a group of attentive 4th graders who made me feel extremely welcome. It was great to see everybody so excited about reading, and I promised to come back for their next ProjectLit book club meeting.

Kudos to Book’em’s Executive Director Melissa Spradlin for organizing a phenomenal event. Spradlin says she just hopes the photos make people smile and the event gets more people involved with our students.

Williamson County showed this week that they are not immune to crazy stories. School Superintendent Mike Looney was arrested on Wednesday and charged with simple assault in relation to an incident at a local school involving a student, the student’s mother, and local police. I admit that I can’t even begin to understand the story because it doesn’t jibe with my experiences with a man whose company I have thoroughly enjoyed over the years. He seems to have support of WCS board members and hopefully things will get some more clarity soon.

Your TMZ moment of the day says that a certain leadership fellow has been sniffing around a superintendent job in the Las Vegas area. Can’t confirm but we’ll keep watch.

Peter Greene is one of my favorite bloggers, and this week he wrote a piece that shows you why. Greene wants to think back and…

You might remember a time when schools were staffed by a veritable Avengers roster of teachers– each with her own special power, special field of expertise, special style. It was, in fact, one of the most effective ways to provide school choice– by having a wide variety of teachers under one roof, so that students could find a good fit without having to leave their friends or their neighborhood schools behind.

In truth, such schools still exist. But they are not the dream of many education “leaders.”

I urge you to read the whole piece.

Are you or someone you know looking for a prom dress? Come down to Minerva’s Closet on Saturday, March 3. Minerva’s Closet is a boutique of free new or gently worn prom dresses and accessories for students.

2018-2019 Selection Day Results are in. If you participated in the choice program, you can view your results.

In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, it seems that the Community Supes and the EDDSI’s are starting to mesh into a nice unit. I’m hearing more and more compliments every month. Principals are praising the support they are getting. So a tip of the hat to the team.

Don’t think that I didn’t notice that there was supposed to be an evaluation of Dr. Joseph completed in January, but for the third time in a row, the deadline was missed. Oh well, there is always June.

What does everyone in the modern world need to know? Renowned psychologist Jordan B. Peterson’s answer to this most difficult of questions uniquely combines the hard-won truths of ancient tradition with the stunning revelations of cutting-edge scientific research. Check out 12 Rules for Life: An Anecdote to Chaos.

Triplicate is the new three-disc studio album from Bob Dylan. The collection features 30 brand new recordings of classic American tunes and marks the first triple-length set of the artist’s illustrious career. With each disc individually titled and presented in a thematically arranged 10-song sequence, Triplicate showcases Dylan’s unique and much-lauded talents as a vocalist, arranger, and bandleader on 30 compositions by some of music’s most lauded and influential songwriters. The Jack Frost-produced album is the 38th studio set from Bob Dylan and marks the first new music from the artist since Fallen Angels, which was released in early 2016.

POLLS

Let’s get to our poll questions.

It’s now officially budget season. How do you think it’s going to go this year?

More school districts in Colorado are switching to a 4-day school week. Should Tennessee emulate?

With school board races coming up, I’d like to know what you think the discussion should be focused on.

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. I need you to like that Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

WILL ENOUGH EVER BE ENOUGH?

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Last night, as I drove my 7-year-old home from Jiu-Jitsu class, a voice came from the back seat: “Why did that kid want to shoot those other kids?”

“Huh?” It took me a minute to realize what he was talking about.

“That kid who shot all those other kids,” he repeated.

“I don’t know, Gaga,” I responded, referring to him by his childhood nickname that I hope he never outgrows.

“Is he not telling the police why? Is he lying to them?” he plunged on.

“I think he’s telling them the truth. People do things for a lot of reasons. A lot of people are broken. Their minds don’t work the way they should.” I answered, struggling for the right words.

“Does my mind work right?” he asked, searching for understanding.

“It seems to,” I replied, “But your mother and I are constantly working to make sure that it continues to develop right. Other kids are exposed to things that prevent that from happening. Bad things happen to people and it leads to them doing bad things. It’s hard to understand.”

There was quiet for a few minutes, and then, “If I type it in on my iPad, will I be able to see it?”

“It will probably call up news stories and maybe some actual footage. Why do you want to see it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe to help the police to see something they missed.”

“I think they pretty much have it covered, Gaga.”

“My friend said he wants to bring a gun to school for protection.”

“You know better, right? You know you can’t even joke about that kind of thing?”

“I know. He wouldn’t do it. But we don’t want to get hurt.”

He then turned and looked out the window for the short ride home. Inside my heart was breaking and my mind was swirling. How could I possibly protect him, both physically and mentally?

Some of you may argue that this is the new norm. I refuse to accept that. This country is made up of way too many good people to concede to a culture of fear. Because let’s face it, fear is what is at the heart of this whole argument. Fear that someone will come take what is yours. Fear that you will be injured by a fellow human being. Fear that a loved one will be hurt. Fear that you will be oppressed by the government.

It wasn’t that long ago that you could stroll up to an airport minutes before a flight and hop right on board. There were no security checks. There was no fear. Airlines said things like “Fly the friendly skies.” Then 9/11 happened, and we allowed fear to take away freedom. Nobody is saying fly the friendly skies today.

Our courthouses and other government buildings soon emulated our airports. Now we want to make schools and churches emulate government buildings and airports with metal detectors and armed guards. What do you see when you come to a metal detector? What do you see when you walk up to an armed guard? I see fear.

The sight of an armed guard or a metal detector sends a signal to my brain that I am entering a danger zone. A place where somebody might want to cause me bodily harm. Is that the message I want to receive upon entering a sanctuary? Is that the message I want my children to receive when they go to a place that is supposed to function like a second home?

We forget that schools are not just about reading, writing, and arithmetic. I don’t expect my kids’ teachers to function as surrogate parents, but I do expect them to help open their eyes to the wonders of the world. We need to understand that like it or not, schools and the environment they foster get translated into a definition of our society. As those children exit school and enter the adult world, they take with them outlooks and philosophies shaped by their K-12 experiences. It’s one of the reasons schools were started in the first place. So we need to constantly ask ourselves, is my kid’s school creating an environment I’d like to see replicated in society?

I can be critical of Social Emotional Learning policies, but I will tell you this, I would prefer my children live in a world more heavily invested in prayer circles than metal detectors. I’d much rather my child spend more time getting in touch with their feelings than watching a teacher remove a gun from her purse in order to lock it up in her desk. If we send children to a place everyday where the notion of fear is reinforced through so-called security measures, that is the society we will get. Kids will reach adulthood with fear and distrust deeply ingrained in them. That fact alone makes me more open to SEL policies than any other consideration. I may not be comfortable with all of it, but I’m damn sure more comfortable with SEL than the alternative.

Of course this makes SEL instruction so important that we can’t afford not to get it right. We can’t dabble around in it and underfund it. We can’t be afraid to make some people feel uncomfortable. There is too much riding on successful implementation and integration.

When I was a kid, if I wanted to participate in an activity, I needed to convince my parents that I could conduct myself in a safe manner while engaging in said activity. I didn’t receive my own hunting rifle until after I’d spent a season accompanying my father with just a BB gun. I wasn’t allowed to drive by myself until I convinced them that I understood the rules and responsibilities of the road. The Second Amendment may give citizens the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t give them the right to do so unencumbered by reasonable regulations. For this reason, I put much of the onus in solving gun issues on the shoulders of gun owners.

I don’t understand why gun owners would refuse a few simple measures that would protect their right to own guns while helping keep others safe. Policies that would closely resemble restrictions on automobiles – registry of gun owners, required liability insurance, you can’t own guns if convicted of domestic violence. Why can’t we ban the AR-15? Even if it’s just symbolic, the symbolism is that we value life over a tool. Will it change anything? I don’t know. But I do know not changing anything won’t change a thing.

You parents of multiple children are probably well versed in this scenario. Two of the children are engaged in endless squabbling over an item. At first you try to referee and create stipulations that result in peace. But it doesn’t create the peace you envision, so you finally utter the ultimatum, “That does it. If you two can’t get along, then I’m just taking it away!”

Initially, there is some grumbling. Some pouting. Some disparaging remarks directed towards the parent. But eventually, the kids move on. Often they find a toy or object that they can enjoy together. Maybe they just go to their separate corners. Or maybe they find another item to squabble over. But if they choose this route, they know what the consequences will be, so things seldom go nuclear. Maybe that’s where we are in the gun debate.

All I know is that I refuse to accept that my children will inherit a world filled with fear. When they were born, I told their mother I only wanted two things for them: To develop the ability to tell a story, and to not be afraid of life. And I’ll do whatever I can to make that a reality. Conversations like last night will not become the new norm in the Weber household. For this family, enough is enough.

QUICK HITS

Riddle me this. May 1st is a scheduled MNPS school day. May 1st is also the day scheduled for voting in the county primary and on the transportation plan. Many schools also serve as polling places. How’s all this going to work out?

TMZ moment: Apparently things got a little heated after Friday’s Whites Creek vs. Stratford basketball game. An overzealous fan followed the coach into the locker room and was promptly made aware that he wasn’t welcome with a fist to the face. I’m not casting blame towards anyone, but is this acceptable to anyone?

In checking out one story this week, I heard another that was equally disturbing. Apparently in some of our high schools, it’s common practice for students to try to video tape teachers and then use the video to discredit them. Often times the video is used to enlist parents in the complaints. The teacher is left virtually defenseless. As if the job wasn’t hard enough.

Raise your hand if you knew there was the potential for some MNPS students to take the MAP tests four times this year? Remember when we had that election a couple of years ago and parents spoke out about their concerns with over testing? Yea… good times.

Here’s another quandary: the district moved up MAP testing this year because of potential test fatigue. So what we are saying essentially is we are going to measure you in February because those scores are more favorable to us and act like the last 3 months of school don’t exist. It’s like you are trying to qualify for a race, and I say I’m going to time you now because the next three months of training will have a detrimental effect on your time. Huh?

I’ve been meaning to write for months about the issues with the HR department and the hiring of teachers. Right now, if you go to the employment page you’ll see that there are over 150 jobs open. Well, I think there are 150 jobs open, but who really knows?  Some of the listings are from as far back as September of last year. Maplewood HS has a job posted May 31, 2017. Is that job still open? There was a job fair this past weekend. Raise your hand if you were aware of it. Now raise your hand if you received timely information on it.

Response times from HR to applicants are extremely slow. I’ve heard from people who didn’t hear anything for weeks after applying. Others only got emailed responses after they’d made several phone calls. It’s almost like people were lined up around the block to work at MNPS, but they’re not. There is no other way to put this: HR needs to pick up their game and they need to do it now. We can’t afford to let quality candidates slip away because of disorganization.

Don’t miss Kwame Alexander on Wednesday February 21st at Parnassus Books.

Antioch Middle Prep parents, mark your calendar for Parenting with Purpose on Saturday, March 3, from 9 am-12 pm at Cane Ridge High School. Learn how parents can support middle and high school students. Sessions include Drug Awareness, Social Media, College Access, and Middle/High/College transition. More info soon!

Rae Shawn Sanchez challenging Rep. Glen Casada for Republican primary is my favorite story of the day on so many levels.

When we consider school safety training, is anybody thinking about our substitute teachers? Not according to a comment left on a recent Dad Gone Wild blog post:

I have no keys to even use your restrooms let alone secure doors. I have children who will not listen to me or treat me with a modicum of respect and dignity so how I am to get them to comply in an urgent situation is unclear. Then we have a multitude of schools that a mini mall is smaller and each with their own protocol and system. When or how am I to learn what that is? I have never received a response from the head of Substitute services from an email sent over a month ago. So please tell me that for subs who work both for MNPS and the outsourcing agency ESS how we are to be trained? Oh wait that would require them to pay us. Gee over 500 subs are in schools on a given day. Think about their role in securing students safety. Safe seems to be a noun, verb and adjective here and I see Police in every school.

As I write this, I am listening to Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain. A beautiful record.

Why do some children succeed while others fail? The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs. But in How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter more have to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control.

Make sure you read the latest Russ on Reading: When Readers Struggle: Reading Comprehension, Part 3, Talking and Writing After Reading.

The next Overton Cluster PAC meeting is scheduled for March 5 at 6pm at Oliver Middle Prep. All are welcome, and we’ve been promised lots of swag.

POLL RESULTS

Great response to poll questions this week. Let’s review the results.

The first question asked how you felt about armed officers in every school. Many of you thought that was already taking place with SRO’s in every school. They are in every school except for elementary schools. I received a lot of positive feedback on their role in schools beyond being armed. There was no shortage of praise for those officers who got to know students and often anticipated problems before they arose.

Poll results showed that 38% of you voiced displeasure with the idea but recognized the need. Additionally, 31% of you felt like it needed to be expanded immediately.

Here are the write-in votes:

what’s the problem? had one when I graduated high school in 1999 1
Absolutely but is Nashville willing to fund it 1
Isn’t that what SRO (school resource officers) already do? 1
We have that in high schools 1
Unfortunately, we can’t control the crazy alone! We need more protection! 1
I thought every school had an SRO. 1
Already have SROs 1
Some of the larger schools need 2 or 3 1
I thought we had them already 1
Should be a last resort. After we’ve tried more proactive steps to reduce violence

The second question asked how teachers felt about being armed. This proposal always makes me shake my head. Police officers train endlessly in order for instinct to take over in the case of an incident. Yet, we seem to picture teachers, sans extensive training, ripping out guns, sliding across the desk like Hutch with his Gran Torino, and mowing down bad guys with pinpoint accuracy in the event of an emergency. The reality is much more complex and you guys recognize that.

Thirty-two percent of you thought it was the stupidest idea ever and 21% vowed to leave the profession before packing. Only 6% of you thought it would make class safer. Here are the write-in votes:

I do not want to be liable for a kid getting a hold of my gun. 1
Betsy Devos said we need guns for Grizzly bears, but what protects us from her? 1
I’m a former teacher – but no way would I arm myself. Anywhere.

Last question was in response to my announcement to run for school board. I thank you for the love. Eighty-one percent of you gave positive support. One of you responded, “Who cares.” I wonder if that was from… oh never mind. Hopefully today’s post reassured you that some things aren’t going to change and the blog ain’t going nowhere. Here are the write-in votes:

Citizens need to step up. Good luck to you! 1
Bring it. Door knocking and hand shaking, every vote matters 1
Go, TC, go!!! I will help run your campaign!!! 1
More concerned about DGW forum and lowdown on MNPS. Happy for you though. 1
I’ll be sad to see the blog go 1
good luck!

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. I need you to like that Facebook page.

 

TOO MUCH

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This post isn’t this week’s usual early week update. I was too busy enjoying President’s Day with my kids to write that. But I saw this,  written by an MNPS teacher, and I felt it deserved wider recognition. So I’m sharing to a wider audience. I didn’t ask permission. So I hope they’ll grant forgiveness where I failed to secure permission.

This morning, we listened to a 911 call from a teacher at Columbine. She was terrified. Her students were under the library tables and she could hear the shooter outside the door. The dispatcher asked her to lock the doors, but she was paralyzed with fear and couldn’t bring herself to get that close to the shooter, knowing she had babies of her own at home.

We found out later that 10 of the 12 deaths that day occurred in that library.

Would I be brave enough to face a shooter and lock the door? Could I make the best decision at the drop of a hat for the safety of my students? I’d like to say I would, but who knows.

Society loves to hate teachers. All you have to do is read a few Facebook comments to see it. But in an active shooter situation, teachers are expected to be heroes; to give their lives for their students.

I don’t know what to think. At what point is it too much? Is it the 8,000 hours of overtime for no pay? The daily abuse we receive from people over the phone, email, or car rider line? The expectation to use our bodies to shield students from gunfire?

This job is TOO. MUCH.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a regularly schedule post.

PULLING PAPERS

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Over the last decade, I have been, what I guess you could call, a community activist. My wife and I bought a house in Woodbine shortly after our marriage in 2005, and I immediately dived into community activism. I was fortunate to be part of a community on the upswing, and over 7 years I helped organize a neighborhood festival, close down a public nuisance, fight for zoning changes, and assist in the campaign of one the best Council Members the area has ever seen.

About 5 years ago, I gravitated to focusing on public education. It was a natural shift, as I am the spouse of a public school teacher and a father to two public school children. For the last few years, I have been writing this blog that focuses on education issues in order to illuminate and to educate. I started out focusing on national issues, but like former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics are local.” The last couple of years, I’ve focused extensively on the issues facing Metro Nashville Public Schools.

In order to do the subject justice, I’ve committed to forming an extensive network of educators in order to get a deeper understanding of the issues we face. As the spouse of an educator, I can testify that though what’s on the surface might seem like a fantastic idea, things are not always what they appear. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve expressed an opinion to my wife only to have her explain the errors in my reasoning. It’s long been my opinion that I’m not the smartest man in the room; I just know a lot of really smart people and I’ve worked very hard to earn their trust. That trust translates into getting their honest opinions, something I don’t take lightly.

During my years of community service, I’ve often reflected on former President Barack Obama’s story of being a community organizer. He loved the work but grew frustrated because of the limited ability provided to make meaningful and lasting change. That frustration led to him seeking public office. It’s a narrative I can relate to. And now it’s a narrative that led me to pull papers last week to run for the MNPS School Board seat in District 2.

I pulled those papers with a few caveats. Having been deeply involved in the last two election cycles, and seeing first hand how dirty they got, I am vowing to compete in a different manner. I am not going to put on my brown shirt while my perceived enemies put on their green shirts and we spend the summer hurling vitriol at each other. I think one of the great tragedies that transpired as a direct result of those elections is that none of the losing candidates are still deeply involved in school issues. The experience of running for office was so bad that they retreated from leadership roles.

At a time when we need more people involved in education, we are driving people out of the conversation. If a person feels strongly enough about education issues to commit to seeking office, shouldn’t we welcome them instead of trying to shame them? I share a part in the blame for those former candidates not being involved in the larger conversation, and as a form of amends, I’m going to keep what happened to them in the forefront of my campaign and attempt to do everything I can to ensure that we invite more people to the table and not to try to make it an exclusive club. Winning is important, but how you win is equally important.

The depth of personal attacks leveled at candidates during the last election cycle was, upon reflection, abhorrent. A life well lived comes with as many mistakes as it does successes. My life is no exception. I’ve been a recovering alcoholic for 18 years. Prior to that, I ran rock and roll clubs here in town. If you are in search of stories to paint me in a bad light, those are readily available and have been for years. But I’ve always believed that we are all works in process and the goal is to be a lifelong learner. It’s a goal I’ve fully embraced. I don’t run from my past, nor do I allow it to be my definition.

I am going to do my best to focus on why I am the best candidate – the level of my current involvement, the network I’ve built, my knowledge of the system, my willingness to be a voice for teachers – and not on why the other candidates are not worthy. As far as I am concerned, they are all worthy candidates, and I look forward to spirited conversations about the issues. How my opponents choose to campaign is entirely up to them. As I tell my children, do not focus on what others do, but rather on your own actions. That is my intention, and time will tell if I’m successful.

Do not expect to hear me engaging in charter school rhetoric. My position on charter schools is well documented and all you have to do is read my writings. I see no need to spend a summer rehashing those positions. Those who hold different positions are not my enemies, but just people with a different opinion. I don’t have to embrace their opinions to learn from them; I just have to respect them. And I must say I’ve enjoyed our interactions over the past year.

Throughout the past summer and fall, I’ve engaged in conversations with many who once would have been considered opponents. While we don’t agree on the role of charter schools, we do agree on a number of big issues. Those issues include, but are not limited to, teacher recruitment and retention, capital needs for our existing schools, a deeper discussion on discipline policies and the development of restorative practices, and the prudent use of our financial resources. If we address those issues in a meaningful manner, the charter school discussion will become more focused. Instead of fighting against something, it’s imperative that we all fight for all of our schools – traditional, charter, magnet.

Every one of those schools are made up of families who made a decision to invest in them. Families who are residents of Nashville. Families who are represented by the Metro Nashville Public School Board.

In addition to my aforementioned experience, I’ve also sat on councils for English Learners, gifted education, and have been deeply involved in literacy initiatives and the Parent Advisory Committee, on a district and cluster level. I’ve taken time to learn about the challenges facing our children who are diagnosed with dyslexia and to deep dive into MAP testing and the role it can play. I don’t say this to extoll my knowledge, but rather as a means to demonstrate that I have developed the access to get the most knowledgeable people to the table. A table that has been lacking their presence for too long.

By respecting the views of my former enemies, I am not dismissing the views of my allies. We share common beliefs that are also well documented. Beliefs that form the core of my philosophy. Beliefs that I’m not afraid to defend or modify if presented with valid counterarguments. I talked with an educator last week who told me that any parent who criticizes her programs is invited to be on her council. She enjoys hearing their opinion, they are obviously engaged, and she has nothing to hide. That’s a philosophy that I can truly embrace.

One of the big questions, at least for me, is what will become of the Dad Gone Wild blog. I honestly don’t know. It is my belief that it has become an important community forum and one that I am committed to continuing. Despite the many potential pitfalls, I have worked too hard to build this forum up to potentially let it fade away.

When my stepdaughter was 16 years old, I made a commitment to her and myself. If there was something she needed to hear, I would deliver it, even if it meant her never speaking to me again. My love for her was that deep and her well-being took precedent over everything else. I feel the same about public schools. Winning is important, but it’s not the only thing. My writings may hand my opponents the race, but if they lead to greater illumination, understanding, or action… so be it.

The irony that the seat I seek was originally sought by current board member JoAnn Brannon to counter the policies of then-Director of Schools Pedro Garcia is not lost on me. Some will accuse me of seeking the seat in order to grind an axe with the current Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. In this case, I am lucky to have a model like Dr. Brannon to emulate. Over the years, she has done exemplary work and has always focused on policies over personalities. It’s a standard I will strive to achieve.

I did not pull papers to run as a reaction to Dr. Joseph. I pulled papers because I feel that it is vital to change the conversation. I have no desire to be a part of the fastest improving district in the country. I do have a desire to ensure that we have a school system that provides an exceptional education to all kids and does it in an environment that is supportive, and where everyone – parents, students, teachers, administrators, community members – all feel welcome and supported.

To achieve that, we need an honest conversation fueled by increased transparency and an increased focus on student/teacher needs. A conversation that at times could be uncomfortable, and perhaps even painful, but we owe it to kids to hold that ongoing conversation.

I am fully aware that I may come off as idealistic, and maybe a little nutty, but it is my hope that enough of you feel idealistic, and maybe a little nutty, that we can make a difference together. I am not fond of politicians who talk about what they will do for you. This work is all about relationships, and I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to build some of the strongest. To me it’s always been about what we can do together, and that begins with an honest conversation.

I want to invite you along for the ride, and win, lose or draw, I’m not going anywhere.

QUICK HITS

Over the last couple of years, we have heard a lot of discussion on the effectiveness of teacher prep programs. This discussion lead to Tennessee creating a teacher prep report card. That report card was released this week. According to Chalkbeat TN, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville became the first public university to achieve a top score under the State Board of Education’s new grading system, now in its second year. And Middle Tennessee State University and East Tennessee State University also improved their scores. For the rest of the schools, scores remained about the same. The report is designed to give a snapshot of the effectiveness of the state’s teacher preparation programs, a front-burner issue in Tennessee since a 2016 report said that most of them aren’t adequately equipping teachers to be effective in the classroom. The report card is not without critics though:

“It’s a real challenge to capture in one report the complexity of preparing our candidates to be teachers, especially when you’re comparing very different programs across the state,” said Lisa Zagumny, dean of the College of Education at Tennessee Tech, which increased its points in 2017 but not enough to improve its overall score.

She said Tech got dinged over student growth scores, but that only a third of its graduates went on to teach in tested subjects. “And yet our observation scores are very high,” added Associate Dean Julie Baker. “We know we’re doing something right because our candidates who go on to teach are being scored very high by their principals.”

Speaking of teachers, there is a MNPS teacher job fair this weekend. Per MNPS:

Don’t miss your opportunity to be a part of the fastest-growing urban district filled with opportunities to effect change daily. We are looking for educational support professionals for all school-based positions including teachers and para-educators.

Join us on this Saturday, Feb .17, for the opportunity to network and interview with principals across all tier levels. Not only will principals be conducting on-site interviews but they will be making recommendations for hire as well.

Register for our career fair: http://bit.ly/2Gv3Mfm

Love this definition of Rigor.

Vesia Wilson-Hawkins continues her efforts to try to shine a light on the district’s performance via an Op-ed piece in the Tennessean.

Kindergarten registration for the 2018-19 school year is open. Make sure you bring all the necessary documents with you to register your child.

Not every book is for every reader. Sometimes the book you choose just isn’t the book for you… and that’s OK! Growing as a reader is being able to hone in on the books that bring you joy, and the ones that don’t. Kids need the opportunity to make that choice.

Per Hillsboro Principal Shuler Pelham, ISR used to be “the best kept secret” in MNPS. Not anymore! Read more about this great program at HHS and how it provides some of the most challenging and rigorous instruction in Tennessee.

School Board member Amy Frogge has some thoughts on school budgets that she shares via the TNEd Report.

Here is a sobering thought for you. These number reflect an average day in MNPS. Number of teacher vacancies today: 943. Number of subs who picked up the jobs: 500. I would argue that while we were busy converting middle schools to STEAM schools and buying scripted curriculum, we should have been investing in teachers. But that’s just me.

My good friend Mary Holden is heading back to the classroom. And that’s a good thing.

I just finished Michael Connelly’s latest, The Late Show. If you like good writing, police procedurals, and action, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Brandi Carlile has a new album out. It’s produced by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings with original cover art by Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers.

POLL QUESTIONS

Time now for our weekly Q & A. I think we have some good questions this week, and I really need your participation.

The first question is about me pulling papers to run for school board. Good idea? Bad idea? What do you think? Nothing like tackling my first test right out of the box.

Questions 2 and 3 arise out of events that transpired down in Florida this past week. I believe that we are past the stage of talking, and at some point we need to actually do something. I’d like to get your feelings about putting an armed officer in every school or arming teachers. Are these viable solutions or another trip down the wrong path? You tell me.

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 PROMISE TO TRY DENIED

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One of the primary goals of this blog has always been to amplify the voice of teachers. Amanda Kail is one of the most dedicated teachers you’ll ever meet. She’s one of those people who you sometimes have to stand back and marvel at, because their energy seems inexhaustible and their depth of knowledge boundless. She is a fair-minded individual, endlessly in pursuit of solutions over fixing blame. As an EL instructor, she has first hand knowledge of the many challenges our students face.

Several years ago, the state of Tennessee did away with the right for teachers, and the union that represents them, to engage in collective bargaining. A new process was implemented called collaborative conferencing. Collaborative conferencing is an elaborate undertaking with a lot of rules. Rules that are arguably set up to reduce the power of the teacher’s union as much as they are to create a quality working environment, with fair compensation, for teachers.

MNPS undertook the collaborative conferencing process last year after securing the required number of signatures. A dedicated team met and hashed out details. Those details were to form the basis of a MOU that was scheduled to be voted on by the MNPS school board at last night’s meeting. That didn’t happen.

The words below are Kail’s from her Facebook page, and I felt they were worthy of a wider audience:

Our union finished negotiations for teacher MOUs in October. Last night was the first time our school board had even seen the completed document. In fact, it has yet to be sent to the budget committee. To say that I and other teachers who gave up considerable time and energy to bring and win the vote to negotiate, not to mention undertake the actual negotiations are frustrated is an understatement. In five months, the document that spells out our salary and working conditions was not enough of a priority to the district to even merit reading. A document that was already agreed to by the management’s own team may have to, in Dr. Joseph’s words, “go back to the drawing board.”

Meanwhile, there are over 100 vacancies in the district.

Parents and teachers- we have got to stand up together. Schools without teachers will not improve student learning. Millions of dollars in curricula with questionable value will not improve student learning. Administrators with six-figure salaries will not improve student learning. And we cannot expect our charity to take care of everything that will.

Meanwhile, I am about to leave for work early because I am teaching a middle school student who is illiterate in his first language as well as English to read. Because his overcrowded RTI class is staffed by one of our many new teachers who is trained neither in literacy nor EL. Because inadequate budgets have forced our school to spread teachers very thin to cover classes. I do this on my own time, with curriculum I purchased myself, because despite our district’s high EL population and low reading scores, I have not been able to find curriculum for adolescent emergent EL readers. Barring meetings, I do this 5 days a week. I am not special. Almost every teacher I know has a pack of “adoptees” to whom we donate considerable time, money, and love. THAT is what improves student learning.

Before I left for last night’s board meeting, I witnessed a teacher give a grandparent a few dollars to buy gas so they could drive home. I watched an ESP mentoring troubled students in the car-rider area. I drove past the cemetery where a student is buried after our teachers fundraised the money for the family to have a funeral. All this from a group of people who can no longer afford to live in Nashville, not because we are saints, but because we are committed to the communities we serve. That is just who we are.

I understand that there are tremendous pressures on the board, particularly when it comes to budget commitments. But when something so fundamental to teachers as working conditions and salaries are continually relegated to the back burner, the message is that we are being taken for granted. Those 100 vacancies suggest that is a very unwise assumption. Unless the district can make passing our MOU a priority, that number will grow, and our goal of being “the fastest improving district” will remain a dream.

What Amanda Kail speaks to in the above passage is the truth as she sees it from the perspective of someone doing the work daily. The bottom line is that the district is hemorrhaging teachers. Over 2,800 kids are currently receiving instruction via a digital platform because we can’t find enough certified teachers. Dr. Joseph’s solution seems to lie in increased recruitment and the creation of a Teach For America-type certification program.

You can’t focus on filling a bucket if you don’t plug the holes first. This MOU would go a long way towards sending a message to teachers that they are valued by the district. In pulling the MOU vote, Dr. Joseph cited budgetary implications. I’m not sure what those could possibly be, because an MOU is not a binding agreement. If they had approved the MOU, the district would not be committing to designating any increased resources to teachers. What they would be committing to is making every effort to try to give teachers what they need to be successful. Apparently even trying is too much to ask for at this juncture.

 

LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT

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Once again the week begins with a heavy heart due to the loss of a child’s life. The Oliver Middle School family is in mourning this week over the loss of 8th grade student Ariana Binave as a result of a medical condition. Principal Steve Sheaffer released a statement saying,

“She was deeply loved by her family, friends, and by the Oliver faculty and staff. Prior to attending Oliver, she was a student at Shayne Elementary. She was seldom seen without a smile on her face and was an absolute joy to have in school.” 

There will be a collection on Monday and Tuesday morning before school to help the family with funeral expenses. Checks can be made out to OMS PTA. Our prayers go out to the family and the Oliver community.

GUN VIOLENCE CONTINUES

On Wednesday, a White’s Creek High School student was shot and killed inside an East Nashville apartment. He was 15 years old. On Friday, just after school let out, a 17-year-old former student was shot just outside the Pearl-Cohn HS campus. The Friday night basketball game at Stratford HS was stopped and ultimately canceled after information was received that 2 individuals were carrying guns. That’s a lot of guns around a lot of kids in one week. If you are not already alarmed, you should be.

I’m sure there will be a lot of blame placed on the schools and suppositions made. The reality is that these are not really school problems, but rather, societal problems. Nashville enjoys its reputation as an “It” city, but how much of an “It” city can you be if your youth are dying regularly as a result of violent acts? At some point, the city as a whole needs to collectively declare the violence unacceptable and work to find a solution. Instead, though, I suspect we’ll continue to try to put more of the weight on our schools. To their credit, despite a lack of resources, our schools are attempting to tackle these issues as best they can.

Over the last several years, statistics have come to light showing that a disproportionate number of students being suspended are Black and Hispanic children. Further data illuminates the negative consequences of suspending children. In order to counter balance these negative outcomes, more and more schools have been turning to Social Emotional Learning programs and Restorative Justice practices. Metro Nashville Public Schools has seen some very positive outcomes where programs have been implemented with fidelity.

As we head into budget season, talk has begun to heat up for increased financial resources for the further implementation of restorative practices in MNPS schools. Director of Schools Shawn Joseph has been quoted in the Tennessee Tribune as saying:

“We are looking at cultural awareness training to pick up implicit bias, training to help teachers understand how they can build stronger relationships with kids, helping teachers think about how they can help students resolve conflicts.”

In the Tennessean, Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway and Dr. Joseph have an editorial piece that gives very disturbing statistics:

In 2017, 54 children were shot in Davidson County and 10 of those died. Arrests of children on weapons violations increased nearly 24 percent from 2016, while robbery arrests were up nearly 22 percent.    

The editorial goes on to talk about the ways that the court and schools can work together through restorative practices to address this crisis. There is a promise to increase focus through funding in the upcoming budget:

We can choose to invest in our children’s success, or we will end up spending much more to address their failure – in the form of additional healthcare and criminal justice costs, as well as the negative impacts to the local workforce and property values.

All of this is very laudatory, but at some point the devil is going to be in the details. We can start by defining exactly what “restorative practice” means. I know what it’s not, because every time I raise a criticism I get a response like “That’s not restorative practice being done right” or “That wouldn’t be the case if they were really implementing restorative practices.” Ok, so what is restorative practice? What does it actually look like? What are the components?

Here again is where things get tricky. Because when you start trying to pin down what restorative practices actually mean, you get vague answers like, “Well, it’s not a one size fits all” or “It’s about meeting students where they are.” These are beautiful thoughts, but they are not definitions, nor is, “Well it’s a complete shift in culture” or “It’s a complete different way of looking at things.” People need more details.

When people don’t have details, they tend to create their own narratives and those narratives are seldom supportive. The narrative becomes that it’s all about prayer circles. Or it’s a lack of accountability. Or kids just focus on their role in the equation. Or we focus on the minority of kids at the expense of the majority. Or it’s all a bunch of touchy-feely hogwash. I’m sure all of you have heard the same and more. None of these narratives are helpful.

Despite not having details, I’m giving tepid support to the concept of restorative practices because some people I really, really respect extol the virtues of it. But the conversation has to become more concrete. If we say we are going to devote more resources to it in the budget, then what does that mean? Are we looking for $100k more or 20 million dollars, a more realistic number if we are going to things right? How is that money going to be used?

Dr. Joseph talks about training teachers, and that sounds good if you say it fast, but when is that training supposed to take place and what is it going to look like? What other training gets sacrificed in order to make time for RJ training? Will instructional time or planning time be given up? Teachers don’t exactly have wide open gaps in their daily schedule waiting to be filled. Is this going to need to be a training that takes place over the summer, and if so, then teachers need to be made aware of that potential probably a year ahead of time. We may envision that teachers are kicking it by the pool drinking daiquiris during the summer months, but the reality is that those months are filled with acquiring advanced degrees, traveling, or working a second job. Advance notice is going to be required.

This conversation is not dissimilar to one I had with Dr. Schunn Turner last year in regards to the district’s Encore program. There needs to be a focus on using language that gives an accurate description to what is expected to transpire on a day-to-day basis. In regards to Encore, there were some very good changes taking place, but parents couldn’t recognize them because the language being utilized painted too vague a picture. After Dr. Turner presented parents with a clearer picture of what the actual details included, she was able to secure more support.

At some point, that is what the conversation on restorative practices has to look like as well. Will be there be a counselor at every school? What will be their defined role? There is already a schedule of infractions and their penalties – is that effective? What will training look like? How will the district provide supports? Some proponents of restorative justice may be scratching their head in puzzlement right now, thinking that this is already being done. And maybe it is in a language that those deeply entrenched in the philosophy understand. Because if it was in a language understood by all, there would be more buy-in and fewer questions. So how about a little translation for us lay people? This conversation is too important to not have it be crystal clear.

QUICK HITS

Guess who may be having second thoughts about running for re-election to the school board and has pulled papers for just that purpose? Let’s see if an announcement comes soon.

Last week I told you about Rocketship charter schools in Nashville facing some challenges this year. Apparently there is even more news that hasn’t been reported. Purportedly over Christmas break, Rocketship NE fired their principal and the assistant principal resigned. An administrator was brought down from one of Rocketship’s schools in DC to replace Bianca Jones as principal. The administrator quickly cleaned house and forced the AP to resign. On one hand I give Rocketship credit for recognizing a problem and taking action. I know a high school in the Southeast quadrant who could benefit from some decisive action. On the other hand, that’s a lot of change in the middle of the year.

I thought I’d share some more details on the Encore program with you. The universal screener cost an additional $100K this year. The results, per MNPS, are as follows:

720 new second grade students at 70 elementary school sites qualify for Encore as a result of this Universal Screener. The number of second grade English Language Learners (EL) – including students in Tiers 1 through 4 – identified for Encore qualification increased 1,771% as a result of this assessment. English Language Learners (EL) – including students in Tiers 1 through 4 – make up 17.2% of all newly qualified students. This Universal Screener also identified 304 second grade students performing in the top 5th percentile nationally on the NNAT®-3. In Spring 2017, this grade level cohort’s first grade teachers only referred approximately 75 students who performed in the top 5th percentile nationally; the Universal Screener identified approximately 4x as many high potential students who are in need of advanced academic support through the Encore Program.

I think that’s pretty good news. The Encore assessment window for referred Kindergarteners is coming up at the end of April. Kindergarteners referred for Encore assessment will receive letters home in late March or early April.

This weekend I did a little extra reading. Through an open records request, I received the official evaluations by Dr. Joseph on each of the Chiefs. Well, all of them except for Dr. Felder. For some reason, despite these having been completed back in September, I’ve yet to receive hers. The reviews are about what you expect. Dr. Narcisse has a composite score of 3.3. Chris Henson has a composite score of 3.8. Jana Carlisle has a composite score of 3.8. Carlisle is the only chief with a 5. She scored that on the results category. But wait a minute… oh, never mind.

Here’s the latest from educator Russ Walsh in his series of blog posts focusing on when readers struggle.

When it comes to purveyors of power pop, few can rival the exuberance of the Swedish band Franz Ferdinand. Their latest, Always Ascending, doesn’t disappoint.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise in the latest by one of my favorite authors, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.”

POLL RESULTS

Time now to take a quick look at the week’s questions.

Our first question had to do with the recent division of MNPS management into quadrants. As far as you are concerned, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sixty-one percent of you answered that you could see no change. The number two answer, at 11%, acknowledge some improvement. Interestingly enough, I have heard that within the quadrants, tier level meetings have been re-introduced. Hmmm… who’d have thunk it. Here are the write-ins:

Love it! 1
Are they supporting our work or are we supporting theirs? 1
Seems to be an additional level of admin for no reason 1
Ineffective 1
Waste of money 1
Designed to get rid of the old executive officers 1
Poor culture is poor culture no matter how you structure it.

Question two asked for your opinion on the soon-to-be introduced MOU between teachers and the district. Unsurprisingly, most of you were withholding judgement. The number one answer, at 32%, was that the proof would be in the enforcing. The number two answer, at 18%, was “I can’t read all of that.” Remember that if you can attend tomorrow’s board meeting at 5 pm, please do, and wear red in support of teachers. Here are the write-in votes:

95% of it seems like they just took current language from employee handbook 1
Should say-Fire Dr. Felder 1
MNEA member and RA. I don’t any specifics of MOU. 1
What is planning time?

Lastly, I wanted to see what your response to the Mayor’s situation was at this time. The results were fairly mixed. Twenty-eight percent of you felt she should resign. But, 19% of you felt she should just move forward. The same number also expressed being exhausted with the whole situation. This weekend’s Tennessean had an excellent piece written by the Rev. Jeff Obafemi Carr, an award-winning activist and filmmaker, and the founder and chief spiritual officer of the Infinity Fellowship Interfaith Gathering. I urge you to read it.

Here are the write-in votes. The first comes closest to my thoughts on the whole situation.

As a friend, I hope she stays, as a progressive, I want a new leader 1
She has not supported teachers. Resign! 1
Disappointed

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 QUESTION OF FOCUS

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When writing these pieces, I often feel like a curmudgeon shouting “Get off my yard” to the kids. I don’t think of myself as a negative person by nature, but I am driven by an overarching desire to have honest conversations. And sometimes that entails shining a light in unlit places. When it comes to public education issues, most of those involved have the best of intentions, but due to the complexity of those issues we are often neglectful of unintended consequences. There is a tendency, in my opinion, to focus on short term effects, and frankly often on the wrong stuff.

BLUE RIBBONS AND PEP RALLIES

This week, Metro Nashville Public Schools, along with the Nashville’s Agenda Steering Committee and the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF), announced the winners of this year’s Blue Ribbon Teacher Awards. According to the press release:

“Winners are determined following a rigorous selection process that included a review of evidence of outstanding teaching practices by a team of experts. Applications of semi-finalists are then reviewed by a specially-convened community selection panel. This year, the focus was on recognizing teachers doing outstanding work in one of three areas – literacy instruction, support of English Language Learners and teacher leadership.”

The list is an impressive one, and I’m thrilled to see one of my kids’ teachers on it. She’s a fantastic teacher and very deserving and worthy of recognition along with her peers. But you know who’s not on this list? My son’s teacher who has helped a kid fall in love with learning despite his resistance. The teacher, who on top of providing excellent instruction daily, takes time to ensure that the impoverished families of her students get the medicines that their kids need. The teacher who stays up to midnight every night for months in order to help her kids complete a project based learning assignment. The physical education teacher who takes time out of her day to schedule a parent meeting to find a solution to discipline issues a young male student is facing when she could just as easily pass that responsibility off to others. The teacher who continually inspires a young female student to think deeper and unlock her inert creativity. In my book, every one of those teachers, and more, deserves a Blue Ribbon.

We continually try to paint education as a competitive endeavor. The big problem with that view is that when you introduce competition into the equation, you create, whether intentionally or not, winners and losers. You play the contributions of those who receive awards and downplay the contributions of those who aren’t recognized. That’s the unintended consequence.

I know many of the people on the Blue Ribbon list, and I would bet money that most would quickly give credit to the other teachers in the building where they work. I’m not afraid to say that all recognize teaching as a team sport. It’s easier to show great growth when your students are getting RTI instruction from an exceptional teacher. If you have an art teacher who is inspiring on creativity and increasing kids’ engagement, it becomes easier to impact a child’s life.

Policymakers have tried for years to isolate the factors that determine a great teacher. The truth is great teaching is something you can recognize, but it can’t be quantified. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but think about it for a minute. We recognize that all students have different needs and approaches to learning; therefore, why is it hard to grasp that different teachers have different ways of teaching? Great teaching incorporates a little magic as well.

I’ve expressed in the past that the teacher who had the biggest impact on my life wouldn’t have won a single Blue Ribbon Award for teaching. I’m not even sure that they would have won a Red Ribbon Award. Consider, though, if he had adapted his style in order to fit the criteria required to be considered an award-winning teacher? How different would my life be? My definition of a Blue Ribbon Teacher is one who reaches ANY child, because to that child, that’s all that matters. In that light, I’d like to second the thought of one of my favorite tweets:

Motion to make teaching your heart out every single day ENOUGH. Like just that, just the good teaching. No need to become an administrator, or write a book, or run a TPT store, or start a viral hashtag or any of that. JUST TEACH REALLY WELL FOR A LIFETIME, that’s it.

MNPS is hemorrhaging teachers. Shouldn’t the focus be on honoring all teachers rather than signaling out a select few and thereby potentially sending a message to those not honored that they are not doing enough? There aren’t enough rock stars in the world to move the needle, but there are more than enough tireless, dedicated, quality people willing to do the heavy lifting that it takes to educate a child. We owe them all our thanks.

The root of this sense of competition has come in the door left open by the increased focus on standardized testing. The same people who want to quantify teacher effectiveness have been comfortable ranking our schools for years. It doesn’t matter that evidence has shown over and over that test results are more an indication of socio-economic status than achievement.

MNPS, like many other school districts, has adopted a slogan indicating a desire to be the fastest-improving district in the country. Nothing quantifies that goal rooted in adult desires like standardized testing.

What? You don’t think “fastest improving” is an adult construct? And you still labor under the illusion that the mantra is created for the good of the kids? Go talk to a kid. Ask them what they are looking for out of school. I can almost guarantee if you ask 100 of them, you won’t find 10 who voice a desire to learn faster than kids in other districts. You’ll probably find safety, validation, depth of knowledge, caring, and knowing more about stuff cited much more frequently.

In the name of accountability, more and more emphasis has been placed on standardized test results. The results determine a teacher’s career trajectory. They determine the funding of a school. The results impact the value of real estate in a school district. Nobody wants to buy a house in a district where the school is ranked in the bottom 10%. It’s not surprising that because of these ramifications, schools place more emphasis on the tests and their results.

This increased focus has led to “pep rallies” to inspire student performance. Younger students write letters to older kids encouraging them to do well on the test. The test becomes the celebrant instead of the act of learning. As one educator said to me, “Having a pep rally for TNReady is like having a pep rally for a colonoscopy. No one is cheering for the damn colonoscopy. We’re cheering for the cure from what was holding us back.” It was bad enough when this was happening annually on a state level, but now I see indications that this mindset is slipping down to the local level.

Last year, MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph introduced MAP testing to the district. It’s long been my contention that the reasoning behind this move was that MAP testing was prevalent where he and his team came from in Maryland. They understand how to tailor curriculum in order to show growth through MAP testing. TNReady is a foreign entity to them. So a decision was made to increase the focus on MAP testing in order to counter any negative TNReady results. You can dismiss that theory if you want, but there is no disputing that the district has placed an increased focus on MAP testing results. We moved MAP testing to come before TNReady testing this year because last year’s results might have shown the effects of testing fatigue. I know…

This morning while scrolling through my social media feed, I came across a post extolling students to “stay calm and crush the MAP test.” Yikes! This is a bit problematic on a number of fronts. MAP is given 3 times throughout the year. That means a whole lot of staying calm. Are we going to coach kids up for MAP and then turn around 6 weeks later and coach them up for TNReady? Can we focus on learning and a little less on accountability?

I actually like MAP testing. I’ve spent a lot of time researching it this past month. There are some very beneficial things that can come from MAP results if they are used as intended. MAP is intended as a formative assessment, a teaching tool. It is not intended as an accountability tool. It is not intended as a means to rank schools. Just like a colonoscopy, it’s meant to illuminate an area of need. So let’s leave the pep rallies, both for MAP and TNReady, where they belong, at sporting events, and focus on helping kids develop a love of learning.

QUICK HITS

Next Tuesday is a board meeting, and for teachers and other MNPS employees, it’s a very important one. The long awaited results of recently concluded collaborative conferencing sessions and an MOU with SEIU are to be revealed. If you look at the pre-printed agenda, you can read both. There are are some very good things in the agreement with teachers: Exception pay is raised from $25 per hour to $45 per hour. Planning time for elementary school teachers is set at 60 minutes, with middle school and high school being accorded 50 minutes. The district will pay 75% of a teacher’s insurance package. The grievance process is spelled out more clearly. I think it’s a testimony to all the hard work that went into it.

There is one area of concern, though, and that’s a pay raise. The document states:

The compensation committee will discuss the feasibility of a 5% across-the-board salary increase for teachers for each of the followings school years: 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. It is recommended that experience steps and degreed lanes in the salary scheduled should be maintained to encourage teacher retention.

That is very nice and potentially generous, but it ain’t a guaranteed raise. You might ask who comprises the compensation committee. Take a look:

The Board and the Association agree to establish and maintain a joint Compensation Committee composed of three (3) members appointed by the Administration, four (4) by the Association, and one (1) member of the Board of Education. The committee shall be chaired jointly by a member appointed by the Administration and one by the Association. The committee shall address all compensation issues including but not limited to a long- term salary goal and the structure of the teacher salary schedule. The Compensation Committee shall convene no later than September 15 of each year and report to MNEA and the Board by November 1. For the 2017-18 school year, the committee shall convene as soon as practical.

This year’s budget is getting more and more interesting. MNEA is encouraging people to attend Tuesday’s 5 pm board meeting where the MOU will be discussed. If you are going, please wear red as a sign of support for teachers.

The grade-changing scandal in Prince George’s County Public Schools continues to grow. Previously the focus was on high schools, but now parents of students in middle school and elementary school are expressing concerns. It’s important to note that these are not only recent allegations, but that they stretch back to when current MNPS leadership was employed with PGCPS.

Memphis has its own grade-changing scandal that they are attempting to rectify. One proposed solution is for Shelby County Schools to switch to a standards-based grading system. The standards would be based on the ones set by the state. I’m not sure how I feel about this idea. On one hand, I’m loathe to give the state, and the test, any more power over student learning. On the other hand, I’m not sure how much this policy would do that. More research ahead.

This week produced a nice round of PR focusing on the Tennessee’s RTI2 legislation. If you listen to the state, it’s a booming success. Teachers are not quite as convinced. As always, with apologies to Paul Harvey, Andy Spears gives you the rest of the story.

Spears also dispels the narrative of Tennessee being among the fastest improving states in the union:

That’s interesting when you look at the 2011 rankings and see that in overall education climate, Tennessee received a grade of 77. Compare that to the 2018 rankings, and we’re at a 70.8. We’ve gone from a solid C and closing in on a B to a C- nearing a D. Back in 2011, Tennessee was ranked 23rd in the nation in education climate. Today, we’re ranked 37th.

Another example of why it’s important to look at long term results is Rocketship Nashville. Coming on the heels of one Rocketship school closing is news that the IRS has filed a tax lien on the school. I don’t share this story to add fuel to the charter school debate, but rather, as a cautionary tale about just paying attention to short term results. Rocketship founders had previously touted the great gains the school was making, but unfortunately those results have not held up this year.

Rocketship claims the lien is a result of misfiled paperwork, and it very well could be. My point is that we are so quick to celebrate short term results, we neglect to consider the long term implications. Running a school is hard, hard work. There will be years of great success and years where there are challenges. What makes it difficult is that there are students and families involved. Hopefully Rocketship rights its trajectory soon, for the sake of the families who have chosen to invest in its success. Equally important is that we all start to widen our lens when it comes to judging a school.

District 8 has a contender for the soon-to-be vacated school board seat currently held by Mary Pierce, who has chosen not to run for re-election. Gini Pupo-Walker announced her intentions to run this week. Pupo-Walker is a Nashville schools graduate, former Metro Nashville Public Schools educator, and she works at Conexion Americas as senior director of education programs and policy. Her two children were Metro Schools students.

Edward Arnold announced his intention to run for the District 2 seat currently held by JoAnn Brannon. Indications are that Brannon does not intend to run for re-election. Arnold is a retired State of Tennessee employee who worked in computer technical support. He also was an adjunct faculty member at Nashville State Technical Institute. He also served as an adult literacy instructor in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Calling all elementary and middle school students! Join Major League Baseball for a FREE event tomorrow at Cane Ridge HS. The half-day camp will give kids interested in baseball or softball a chance to focus on their skills while having fun! Register:

Belinda Furman is a Kentucky teacher. Read her thoughts on growing readers:

Allowing students to read for at least 20 minutes in class each day was always part of my reader’s workshop. The workshop model has four basic parts: the opening used to introduce the learning target, a mini-lesson of direct instruction, work time and share out. Using a reader’s workshop allowed me to explicitly model the reading strategies during my 10 to 15 minute mini-lesson and think aloud about the texts we were reading

The best part of reader’s workshop was always our “Share Square.” The Share Square was a time that all students would sit around the perimeter of the carpet to talk to their classmates about the books they had been reading and share their thinking about the texts. This was an opportunity for students to hear how their classmates understood the texts they were reading, make connections between texts and discover new books they might like to read themselves.

If only…

Former Gaslight Anthem singer Brian Fallon has a new record out today and it’s damn good.

Just finished a book by Belgian author Paul Colize, called Back Up. One of the most original works of fiction that I’ve read in a long time. It’s a fascinating mixture of conspiracy theory and cultural history centered around London and Western Europe in the early 60’s. Lots of Rock and Roll!

So, it would seem that the bookkeeper is the latest casualty over at Antioch HS. This comes on the heels of the wrestling coach leaving. How long can MNPS turn a blind eye?

POLL QUESTIONS

Time for some questions.

First question is about the district restructuring into quadrants. The year has progressed enough that we should be able to offer an evaluation. So what do you think?

Question two is going require you to do a little required close reading. Read the proposed MOU for teachers and let me know your thoughts. If you are not a teacher, but work for the district, read the SEIU MOU and tell me your thoughts. Both are at the very bottom of the agenda, so you’ll have to scroll through some things.

Last question. After a week of revelations, what’s your take on Nashville’s mayor? To quote The Clash, should she stay or should she go? I’m asking you.

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. The Facebook page is where you can see a lot of great things happening in MNPS.

 

A PUSH FOR EXPANDING RESTORATIVE JUSTICE IN MNPS

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I hope everybody enjoyed their Super Bowl festivities yesterday. The NFL did not have a very good season this year, but I think yesterday’s game redeemed the season. It was wall-to-wall action with seldom a dull moment. My MVP award would go to Eagles coach Doug Pederson. He made it clear right from the beginning of the game that he intended to win and would settle for nothing less. He wasn’t going to play it safe and planned to make calculated risks in order to put his team in the best position to win.

Much has been made of Pederson’s attempted 2-point conversions, but for me the real gamble came late in the fourth quarter when the Eagles had fourth and 1 at the 46. Eagles were trailing by 1 with under 6 minutes left. Conventional wisdom would have called for a punt, pinning the Patriots deep in their own territory. If you go for the first and don’t make it, the Patriots would be in a great position to increase the lead. QB Foles hit TE Ertz for just enough for the first down and Eagles went on to win it. As the proverb says, “Fortune favors the bold.”

Any chance of a Patriot comeback was squelched by a fumble recovery made by Eagle rookie Derek Barnett. Many people remember Barnett as a player for the University of Tennessee. But for the Tusculum Elementary School community, the connection goes back a little further. Today Tusculum ES students have a former student to look towards as an example that anything is possible when you work hard and dream big.

MONEY FOR RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

Over the last couple weeks, Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), a faith-based coalition of 62 churches that works on housing, criminal justice, and job issues, has begun calling for increased resources to be included in the upcoming school budget to expand restorative justice practices.

“We must ensure full support of social emotional learning and positive discipline practices in MNPS because these practices have been proven to work in stopping the school to prison pipeline,” said Dawana Wade of NOAH’s School Discipline Subcommittee.

In an article published in the Tennessee Tribune, a Black American weekly newspaper, Director of Schools Shawn Joseph voiced agreement with NOAH’s stance:

“We need teacher training in a number of areas. We are looking at cultural awareness training to pick up implicit bias, training to help teachers understand how they can build stronger relationships with kids, helping teachers think about how they can help students resolve conflicts.”

He goes on to indicate that how much the district expands the discipline practice is dependent on the budgetary resources they receive. The budget is currently being prepared, and at this time he says it calls for 24 new positions for 42 schools that currently utilize restorative practices. Currently, 17 schools have a restorative specialist. These specialists have their own standalone offices and offer designated spaces in which to utilize restorative practices.

I am very pleased to see someone drawing increased focus to our discipline policies. It is obvious to anyone who gives even a cursory look that this is an area that needs more resources. Metro schools are allowed the option of choosing one of three discipline models: Restorative Practices, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), or Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Forty-five Metro schools have adopted SEL, 45 Restorative Practices, and 35 have adopted PBIS.

I’m very interested in knowing which schools utilize which practices and how that matches up with their demographics. The article in the Tribune cites positive results with SEL at Fall-Hamilton Elementary School. Office referrals were reduced by 87 percent last year. Students in grades 4-6 improved English scores by 7 percent and Math scores by 9 percent. But is this causation or correlation? I don’t know.

As stated before, I support the concepts of restorative practices, but my experience shows me the shortcomings of the program when not fully implemented. We had an incident involving my daughter this past year where another student violated her personal boundaries in a very troubling manner. I don’t want to go too much into detail out of respect for the other student, my daughter, and school leadership, but the child should have been removed. That is no knock against school leadership, because they were fantastic and handled things the best they could with the existing parameters. However, that child is still in school and on occasion still has contact with my daughter.

Luckily, she is a mature young lady and comes to us or her teachers when she is made to feel uncomfortable. Because of the support she gets at home and through her teachers,  her trauma is mitigated. But that doesn’t hold true for every child. There has to be a balance struck between the needs and rights of the misbehaving student and that of the student who is not misbehaving. Everybody acknowledges that fact in theory, but it’s often lost in practice.

It could very well be a training and staffing issue, but if we are talking the kind of money – several million dollars – I think we are, the devil is going to be in the details. Parents want to know that their children are going to be safe when they send them to school. Most are concerned for all kids, but first they need to be reassured that their kids are going to be safe. My recommendation is that in asking for additional forces, proponents spend as much time telling parents how the rights of their children will be protected, as well as those who commit the infractions.

While we are talking about social emotional learning, can anybody tell me why the district isn’t working with Jarred Amato to create a secondary Scope and Sequence that would utilize the tenets of ProjectLit? I’m not a teacher, and I don’t play one on TV, but for the life of me, I don’t see a reason why units incorporating ProjectLit books couldn’t be created that function like the IFL units. Amato has relationships with publishers and authors that could mitigate costs and provide life-altering experiences for students. Schools could decide whether to use the ProjectLit plan or the IFL plan. As previously noted, schools are already given a choice when it comes to discipline, so why not literacy? Especially a literacy plan that would incorporate elements of which ever discipline plan a school choses.

ENCORE EXPANSION

Encore is the MNPS’s gifted and talented education program. The key words here are gifted and talented. Gifted and talented kids are not just really smart kids. They are students who have a brain process that functions in a different manner than most children. That brain process often results in higher academic performance, but not always. That’s a distinction that often gets lost.

In previous years, students were primarily identified for the screening process by either parents or a teacher advocating for them to get tested. Predictably, that resulted in demographics that were primarily white and/or of higher economic standards. According to a Nashville Scene article from 2016 written by Amanda Haggard, 70% of the students in Encore were white. Black students made up only 16%, and Hispanic students made up 6%. That is a little appalling. Disclaimer here, my children are among the 70% and have benefited greatly from it.

The district recognizes that disparity and has begun to take steps to increase equity in access. I’m going to put a disclaimer here, though – increased access does not mean reduced criteria. Again, gifted and “really smart” are completely different students and that cannot be said enough. At this point, there has been no evidence that the district is reducing criteria, but constant vigilance is required.

One of the first steps MNPS undertook in increasing equity was the expanding of the number of exceptional education teachers available to schools and the number of hours those teachers are available. Each school now gets one Advanced Academics Resource Teachers (AARTs) who specialize in gifted and talented education for two-and-a-half days a week. At Tusculum ES, we have been blessed by the presence of Dr. Paula Pendergrass, or Dr. P, as the kids call her, who has made a huge difference.

In October, for the first time, all second graders in MNPS were given the universal screener to test for gifted ability. The screener the district currently uses is the The Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT), a nonverbal measure of general ability. This spring the district will move to utilizing a multiple screener process. Which screeners will be included is being discussed. Parents can expect to receive their child’s score in the mail over the next couple of weeks. Early indications are that we should see an uptick in the number of Black and Hispanic students identified.

Students who are already receiving Encore services but are not identified as still being gifted by the Fall’s testing will still receive Encore services. It’s long been district policy that ending a child’s services causes unnecessary trauma. I’m sure there are plenty of parents grateful for that news.

These are very positive steps and MNPS deserves credit for taking them. I do have some further questions and I’ve submitted those to the district. I am curious about the actual numbers and breakdown of Encore students. I am curious about the steps we’ve taken to make the program more accessible to our English Language Learners. Just because you are not fluent in English does not mean you are not gifted. When I get that information, I will share, but I am very hopeful about the direction our exceptional education services is trending.

QUICK HITS

This week is National School Counseling week. Have you hugged your school counselor today?

United Way of Metropolitan Nashville is offering free tax assistance to eligible Metro Schools employees and families starting today! To learn more, visit http://bit.ly/2FRZoGY

Are you looking for a job with Metro Schools? They’re hosting a Spring 2018 Teacher and Support Recruitment Fair on Saturday, February 17. Don’t miss your opportunity to be part of the fastest-growing urban district filled with opportunities to effect change daily. The deadline to register for the event is February 12: http://bit.ly/2Gv3Mfm

All eighth graders who will attend MNPS high schools are eligible to apply for School Science and Math at Vanderbilt (SSMV). Deadline is February 16! More info here: .

Blogger Russ on Reading has been writing a series of articles on when readers struggle. His latest installment is on comprehension. Everybody who is concerned with literacy should read this series.

If you enjoyed Justin Timberlake’s halftime show, check out his latest.

I just finished James Lee Burke’s latest, Robicheaux, A Novel. The man is an American Treasure. This book really dives into the role sex, violence, class, and history play in defining who we are as individuals.

POLL RESULTS

Awesome results to this week’s poll questions. Thank you to all who responded. Let’s look at the results.

The first question related to what’s on everyone’s mind in Nashville: what is your reaction to the Mayor’s affair? It seems that DGW readers are a pretty open-minded bunch. Twenty-nine percent indicated that as long as there were no financial shenanigans, you were good. The number 2 answer was that you were deeply disappointed but hoped she stayed in office. However, twenty-five percent of you gave answers that seemed to indicate that you thought she should resign.

Betsy Phillips, who writes for the Nashville Scene, has an article that I think comes the closest to summing up the situation for me. She calls for the need to separate the sex from the scandal:

I don’t begin to understand what the compassion I’m supposed to feel for Barry is. Am I supposed to believe it’s just too bad that she has utterly normal desires and the ability to act on them? What does it say about our views of women’s sexuality that our first instinct when we discover a woman is having even more sex than we expect her to is to pity her? To feel sorry for her?

I feel sorry for the two people who may have discovered they were in open marriages the hard way. That really sucks.

But Megan Barry has even more sex with the kind of guy she likes? That’s not a tragedy. It might be a dick move, but it’s not a tragedy. That’s not how sex works. It doesn’t ruin women.

Phillips points out the fallacy of those who argue that this isn’t a #METOO moment:

But when Barry insists this isn’t a #MeToo moment, she’s wrong. The mayor certainly has final say over who makes up her security detail. And she certainly has control of the amount of overtime that security detail works. Having the power to decide who gets to do a job and having control over how much overtime he’ll be needed for can easily be coercive.

She then goes on to conclude:

Can the mayor run the city effectively if the people surrounding her believe that she plays favorites? Can the mayor run the city effectively if she has a weird relationship with the police department? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I know they’re more important questions for the city to be dwelling on than whether we ought to forgive Megan Barry.

It’s not our job to forgive her personal foibles. It’s our job to evaluate her ability to effectively lead our city.

I encourage you to read the whole article. Here are the write-in votes:

Another politician who forgot character matters and forgot she is a role model. 1
Terrible. Wasn’t she an ethics officer previously? SMH 1
She needs to step down 1
Resign 1
Terribly disappointed 1
MNEA endorsed her and I voted with my Union. Major disappointment.

Question 2 was in regards to establishing meeting norms. Twenty-nine percent of you recognized their usefulness in certain situations. Seventeen percent of you would prefer to just get down to business, and sixteen percent of you hate them. There was only one write in answer:

I agree they are passive-aggressive and controlling.

Looking at the recently released “cusp” and “priority” school list recently published in the Tennessean, I wanted to know your opinion for the final poll question. No matter how you feel about the state and its testing policies, the top three answers should be a concern to anyone who cares about Nashville’s public education system,

Not surprised. 26 26%  
It’s kinda indicative of where we are. 19 19%  
Probably going to get worse. 17 17%

Here are the write-in votes:

Labeling schools by scores from an invalid test…only hurts children 1
There will always be a bottom 5%! 1
Not useful – poor schools score worse 1
Fire Dr. Felder and it will get better 1
I think these lists are ridiculous! 1
These are the same schools that struggle. When will we address their struggles? 1
The state needs to get over this crap and let us teach.

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.