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.
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.
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.
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!
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|
|lack of leadership in distict||1|
|Increase teacher compensation and safety||1|
|Treating teachers like human beings, not robots.||1|
|Superintendent and admin staffing costs and necessities||1|
|Firing Dr. Joseph-he’s a criminal||1|
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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