My, my, my, but this has been a long week. I compose each post in my head throughout the week. This week, I composed and threw out several different potential posts. This is where I am today.
The big news this week is the ongoing story of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s affair with her bodyguard. I’ve been slow to comment on this because I consider Megan a friend, and if she called me tomorrow I’d come mow her lawn, but I think in this case you have to separate the personal figure from the public figure.
I have no patience for those who are walking around saying, “I don’t judge” or “Don’t judge lest you be judged.” Let’s be adults. We all judge. We make 1,000 judgements everyday. We can judge with compassion. We can judge with reservations. We can change our judgements. But we all judge. We wouldn’t survive as a species if we didn’t do so. But we also have the ability to share empathy and forgiveness, and that needs to be a centerpiece of any judgements made today.
Facts are still coming to light, so it’s hard to stake out a concrete position. I’m a big believer that as new facts emerge, you apply them to your judgement, and if necessary, you change your opinion. There is no doubt that there will be a lot of that going on over the next several months in Nashville.
Where I’ve landed, after long consideration, is the position that it’s not the infidelity that bothers me, but rather the fact that it was a 2-year long relationship. That is 2 years of deception. At some point the question has to arise, where do truth and deception diverge? Or have the two become so intermingled that at this point it’s impossible to tell what’s true and what is not? I think that is a valid question to ask of a public figure while still offering compassion and support for the private.
If you haven’t watched David Letterman’s interview with Barack Obama, there is a scene where the former president admits that Michelle got it first. The job is about more than creating policy and passing legislation. Anybody can do that. It’s about setting tone. The tone in the country now is toxic and we need true leaders more than ever.
Donald Trump is not who I voted for. I have no control over how he conducts himself. But I can exercise a modicum of control over the conduct of the people whom I do choose to represent me. As Democrats, and I guess that is where I fall these days, we have to demand a higher bar for our representatives or we lose all credibility. Simply saying you are sorry is not the same as accepting accountability. Accountability means accepting the consequences of your actions. It is often painful but necessary. As someone who ran with a platform in which ethics was a major plank, nobody should know that better than Megan Barry.
As always, my main concerns center around the question of what this means for Metro Nashville Public Schools and particularly its budget. Currently there is speculation on what the Mayor’s troubles mean for her primary initiative, transportation. Several people, over the last couple days, voiced to me that it is dead. There is nothing like the perception of misused public funds to bring out the fiscal hawks and their sharpened talons.
It’s no secret that Director of Schools Shawn Joseph is looking for a bigger budget this year. Barry was laying the groundwork for that ask over the last 4 months. Every time they would appear together in a public forum, she would always joke that Joseph was constantly reminding her of the school district’s need for more funding. In that light, if in April when Joseph makes his ask for what I believe will be a budget north of a billion dollars, it could be pointed out that everyone had received ample warning and Barry’s endorsement would come without question.
You may be skeptical that the ask will be that high. I predicted that it would be last year and I was wrong. But if you look around at the demands, you start to see where that number comes from. NOAH has already demanded, rightly so, for increased funding for restorative justice practices. The recently undertaken STEAM initiative still requires increased funding. There is a pending MOU between teachers and the district that reportedly includes a call for a 5% raise for teachers. Para-pros need more money. Our EL department has been functioning on a basically, save for mandated investments, frozen budget for the last 2 years. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Barry could have carried this budget across the finish line. If she survives, there is a question of whether or not she still has that ability. I don’t know. I asked several people, who, besides the mayor, has Joseph built a relationship with that could possibly carry this budget. The unanimous answer was no one.
That, in a nut shell, and I’ll talk about it more later, is the Achilles heel of this administration in MNPS. They fail to grasp that it’s all about relationships. In order to be successful, you have to build relationships. There is no program, no consultants, no administrator, that can overcome a lack of quality relationships. Barry is a prime example of that. If she survives this crisis, it will not be because she is the smartest person in the room. It will be because of the relationship building that she has heavily invested in over the last 20 years. If she doesn’t, then it’s Shawn Joseph who will bear some of the blame if teachers and students don’t receive the resources they need.
So I just mentioned relationship building. This week I witnessed another missed opportunity for that to happen. The last of the latest teacher voice sessions was held at Tusculum ES, and I attended.
The purported purpose of these sessions is for Dr. Joseph to find out what’s on teacher’s minds. This session, for the SW quadrant, was held at 4:30 PM, and when it began there were perhaps 50 people in the room. Of those 50 people, I would say 25 were administrators or principals. Of the remaining 25, about 10 were Tusculum teachers. To be fair, about 15 more teachers showed up as the meeting progressed. Still, not a great sample size.
The meeting opened, as I’m told, in the manner of all MNPS meetings with the reading of the Meeting Norms. I’ll go on record here, I HATE THE CONCEPT OF MEETING NORMS. If I’m meeting with adults, why do I have to establish rules of conduct? If I have even a precursory relationship with the people in the room, why do I have to instruct them on how to behave? Can I not just trust them to behave in a professional manner, and if they don’t, can I not just address the issue then?
I get it if it’s a formal meeting and I’m trying to provide specific instruction and we’ve never met before. But when I’m seeking opinions, I find it to be a passive-aggressive technique meant as a means to establish control. If I want to know what you are thinking, and I want to establish a relationship with you, I extend the hand of trust and I ask you. How you present that information to me should be in a form that you are comfortable with. The meeting should not start with instructions on how to box up your opinion.
Moving on from the meeting norms, it was announced that two questions would be posed for discussion. The first was, what’s working in MNPS for you? The second, in this budget season, what would you like to make your job easier?
I thought, damn! I’m going to try this the next time my wife and I have a disagreement. I’ll just ask her what’s working for her in the marriage and what can I buy her to make life easier. Easy peasy! And then we won’t have to discuss the issues. Just move along.
Some of the things mentioned that were working were site-based planning, the 2-hour delay, STEAM training on campus, Dr. Sheaffer, and increased weight on homework completion. The wish list items mentioned were extra money, smaller classes, and actually supplying texts connected to the scope and sequence. What was never talked about was culture, teacher attrition, and any in-depth analysis of the literacy plan. In other words, another box was checked off. Another opportunity was missed.
You cannot fix culture without trust. And anybody who tells you that trust exists in MNPS… shouldn’t be trusted. At some point we have to have real and honest conversation that makes people a little uncomfortable. Maybe if people were a little uncomfortable they would do something, other than just hold more meetings, to fix the problems at Antioch HS. Maybe if somebody was a little uncomfortable, we’d develop a quality literacy program. Maybe if someone was a little uncomfortable, we wouldn’t be relying on computer platforms to teach our children. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seldom done my best work when comfortable, and some of my best friends are those who have gone through uncomfortable times with me.
This morning I attended ProjectLit’s monthly book club. This month was extra special in that it was attended by the author of Dear Martin, Nic Stone. Over the last month, Stone had been communicating with the students as they read her book. Before the meeting, students and guests had a chance to talk with the author and a few students read notes and poems they had written for her. Especially poignant was when one female student revealed that she’d never thought it was possible to have a relationship with your favorite author. She went on to say that she aspired to be a short story author and that her relationship with Stone led her to believe that such a feat was a possibility. I’ll admit, I teared up a bit.
This morning was a summation of why people get into education. To see students’ eyes and minds awaken to the possibilities the world has to offer. They don’t get into education so they can lead children to score well on a test or read at a certain grade level. But there are young teachers who believe that the ultimate reward is a test score or a growth gain. That is wrong and evidence that the wrong message is being sent. That has to stop. The magic of today should never be sacrificed in order to hit a KPI. These are students, not widgets to be measured and standardized.
It was announced this week that one of the three Achievement School District schools operating in Nashville will be closing at the end of the year. Rocketship Academy will be closing Partners Community Prep, a school that served grades K-2. The reason given is gross under-enrollment. This should be just one more nail in the coffin of the ASD. Whether it was started with the best intentions or not, at this point there is ample evidence present to classify the experiment as an abysmal failure. Legislators should do the right thing and disband the ASD. On the flip side, if you are one of those folks taking pleasure in Rocketship’s demise, I would ask the following question: what district school suddenly got better because Rocketship closed?
I feel the need to reiterate one more time. Charter schools are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. There is no doubt that they engage in aggressive marketing techniques. But no parent whose child was enrolled in a school where the student felt safe and was fully engaged, and the parents felt welcome and included, received a flyer and said, “Hey, let’s go check out that school we really know nothing about.” The focus has to remain on making schools better and enriching student experience. Pointing fingers at people accomplishes nothing.
It was confirmed this week by MNPS that former Buena Vista ES Principal Dr. McVickers was out on administrative leave and that there was an open investigation pertaining to a performance-related matter. I have no idea what that means. McVickers is very well-respected, but does have a reputation of sometimes rubbing people wrong due to the depth of her knowledge. I’ll keep an eye on this one.
At the beginning of the year, Antioch HS and several other high schools, were unable to fill all of their teaching positions. Math teachers have become particularly scarce. As a solution to the problem, the district signed a contract with Edgenuity. Edgenuity is a virtual school with a checkered reputation. If I go online and Google Edgenuity answers, I find a plethora of websites that offer answers for the site’s tests. Last week I received an email from a parent looking for clarity, and so I began a little investigating. I sent an email to the district asking for the number of students enrolled with Edgenuity. The response was, “I’ll check with the coordinator of this program, but I know she’s a 120-day employee, so she may not be immediately available.” I hope the irony isn’t lost on you. It’s certainly not on me.
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 (their words, not mine) filled with opportunities to effect change daily. The deadline to register for the event is February 12: http://bit.ly/2Gv3Mfm
Love the chart to the left. So much that needs to be reiterated.
Oliver Middle School’s robotics team competed in its first competition this past week. In their first alliance match, they scored 11 points.
If you are an educator or a parent looking for a book on Reading Strategies, check out Jennifer Serravello’s book called Reading Strategies.
On Sunday, Justin Timberlake plays the Super Bowl. It’s no surprise that this week he has a new record.
The CMA is looking for a few good teachers to recognize. They are looking for 10 music teachers of excellence. There is a cash prize involved. If you know a music teacher, make sure they apply.
Sharon Griffin started her career as a classroom teacher in Memphis. She now leads Shelby County Schools. Despite being in charge, Ms. Griffin has not forgotten her classroom experiences. In a recent article in Chalkbeat she goes on record, saying, “The successes of our schools really depends on everybody, and particular those of us at central office, moving in the direction of supporting schools,” she said. “We would not exist if it weren’t for schools.” Ms. Griffen’s mantra is “You either teach students or support those who do.” Preach on. Preach on.
The Gerst Haus, a Nashville restaurant that’s been serving up German fare for more than 60 years, will serve its final meal next weekend. Man, the good ones are all falling.
This week we have lots of material from which to draw inspiration.
First question hopes to get your opinion on the recent revelations about Mayor Megan Barry. Upon hearing the news, what was your reaction?
For my next question, I’d like to ask about meeting norms. Do you like them, hate them as much as me, or are somewhere in the middle?
Last question, the Tennessean this week ran an article listing the MNPS schools that were on both the “cusp” list and the “priority” list. How much does the increase in the number of schools on these lists concern you?
I am very concerned that if the mayor is out of the pocket the free breakfast program whose grant is ending will not get re-upped out of local funds. It would be a terrible mistake not to fund this. So too are many schools in need of tech updates ahead of next year’s online TNready. Fail to prepare for that properly, and it’s curtains.