Well, this has been a week. It started, as too many of these weeks have, with the death of someone special. You’ve heard me talk about moving here in 1989 and how the Rock scene in Nashville at that time was a small but tight-knit group. At the time, we would fight amongst ourselves, forming petty grievances as only the young seem to have capacity to, but we never lost sight that we were a tribe. As we grew older, those grievances began to drop off, even as some of us did as well. These days, my soul will soar when I walk into a room full of these survivors, and my heart will just swell with pride over my membership in this collective of smart, witty, artistic people.
The Simmons brothers were some of the first people I met upon my arrival. Three of the nicest men you could ever meet. I always marveled at the fact that despite playing heavy metal music, not the most popular genre, their skill and integrity set them at the center of the Nashville rock community. You never heard a bad word about the Simmons brothers from anyone, and if you were in their company, odds were you were smiling. Pauly Simmons and I got sober 4 days apart, 18 years ago. I’d be willing to bet that today, that sobriety is giving him some much-needed strength.
Youngest brother Jamie Simmons passed away over the weekend as a result of a car accident. Ironically, Jamie had made a miraculous recovery over the last several years from a 2012 motorcycle accident. He leaves behind a wife and three lovely girls. The world without his infectious smile is a little darker today, and my prayers go out to the family.
Last week, I told you about the formula change for the distribution of Title I funds. Throughout the week, details continued to emerge on the impact this shift would have on individual school’s budgets. By the end of the week, a dire picture had emerged. Individual schools were looking to lose anywhere from $200k to $700K.
If the loss wasn’t enough, it soon became clear that staffing for individual schools was also going to be more expensive this year. In fact, the overall average increase of all positions at an individual school went up by about 4%. This means that it will cost more money to bring back people in the same positions. That’s a hard pill to swallow in an environment where every dollar counts.
Let me use one unnamed MNPS school as an example. If they put the exact same employees on this year’s roster into next year’s budget, this is what they’ll find:
The employee cost alone will exceed their entire budget by $227,000. They spent $212,215 last year on Non-Staff expenses, or about 3% of their total budget. If you include all of those, along with the entire staff, they will exceed next year’s budget by $439,215. What that means is that they must cut $439,215 from what they have in this year’s budget to balance their budget. This is due both to the increased costs in positions and the loss of Title I funds.
That is just one example, but it is the same story across the district save for a handful of schools. You see, money is being taken from some schools and being given to those with the highest needs based on their poverty numbers and being included on the “priority” list. I’ve always hated that list because shouldn’t all of our schools be considered “priority schools”? We tend to label schools “high needs” or “more affluent” and think that adequately defines their needs. I’m guilty of it myself, but the reality is our schools are made up of many different kinds of students. Are those Title I kids enrolled in an “affluent” school any less deserving of additional resources than those who attend a “high needs” school?
Title I was created to give additional resources to those kids who are impacted by poverty. It was not created to give additional resources only to kids who attend schools where 75% of the kids are impacted by poverty. Of course, all of this is done in the name of “equity” and because it “lines up with our strategic framework.” Two phrases that have replaced “rigor” and “All kids can learn” as the buzzwords du jour.
If those budgets weren’t enough to get tensions riled, Dr. Joseph decided to release a memo to all employees basically saying “we are broke.” I don’t know who advised Dr. Joseph on this memo, but they might as well have figuratively advised him to load up his Tahoe with gasoline and start dousing schools because that’s the effect the memo produced.
The memo raises a number of issues for me. Joseph cites an unexpected enrollment decrease this year, which means $7.5 million less in state funds. Why the decrease? All of us can look around and see that Nashville is growing by leaps and bounds, so why is enrollment dropping? I’m not discounting that there may be perfectly legitimate reasons for this decline, but shouldn’t that be grounds for discussion? Shouldn’t there be a strategy to counter the pending decline in enrollment? Is this a trend or an outlier?
Here’s the thing about school student counts. They typically take place on the 40th day of the year. Go ask any teacher in a high poverty school and they will tell you that it is shortly thereafter that you start to see more kids show up in class. Anecdotally, things were no different this year. So where is the loss of students coming from? Hopefully they are not connected to the proposed raise in funding of $7.8 million to teaching and learning.
Joseph goes on to outline steps that the administration is taking to counter the loss. Steps that only make me more confused.
“All spending for the remainder of the year should be carefully reviewed and placed on hold if not essential to operation or to the implementation of our district priorities.” Huh? Does he presume that there are schools out there sitting on bags of money that they are planning to spend without consideration? Has this review not already been done? Shouldn’t this have been a part of the initial budget process last year?
His next bullet point talks about scrutinizing travel. Was this not promised last year? Did we stop scrutinizing travel somewhere along the way?
He then goes on to list a few things that need more funding and cites school-level Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the Strategic Framework as guides. I’m telling you now, get used to those words and get used to them continuing to roll off the tongues of district leadership.
The Tennessean ran an article late Friday that also alluded to some cuts in services that could be a byproduct of the Title I money being shifted. According to TNDOE spokesperson Sara Gast, there could be an additional moving of resources and instructional material beyond funding as a result in the raising of the Title I threshold:
“Our team here has been in communication with MNPS’s team to ensure they understand these other components of federal law and take them into consideration, and we appreciate that they continue to think about how they can utilize and concentrate funds most efficiently and effectively,”
One item that I’m sure has not been given ample consideration is the impact on teachers who are enrolled in student loan forgiveness plans. Many of those loans are contingent upon a teacher serving five years in a Title I school. If a school is no longer receiving services, does that mean a teacher is no longer eligible for their student loan forgiveness plan unless they switch schools? I don’t know, but I do know a whole bunch of teachers are on the phone to their student loan providers right now.
All of this is starting to sound a whole lot like Seaford, Delaware, home of Shawn Joseph’s last stint as a Superintendent. Upon arrival, Joseph started making wholesale changes. Some of those changes may have a ring of familiarity to them:
In addition to training, there will also be an increased focus on the rigor of the curriculum, Joseph said. “Wherever I have gone, parents have asked me time and time again about the rigor of our programs,” Joseph said. “We have to do something compellingly different.”
At the elementary schools, Joseph plans to invest in new reading books that will combine phonics instruction with critical thinking and that will “meet the children where they are,” including children who are reading above grade level. Teachers will be trained to use the new books to “make a more engaging reading program.”
Training on the secondary level will also make sure that “teachers know how to create engaging, memorable lessons,” Joseph said. “We will teach them how to help the children think critically.”
Of course, change costs money, and Joseph spent money. A tax referendum was proposed. The referendum failed and Dr. Joseph was out the door. Joseph’s successor, Dr. Ken Carson, was left with the task of making budget cuts. They say that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Channel 5 News also did a story on the budgetary shortfall which leads me to ask… Why is Chris Henson answering questions on camera and not Shawn Joseph? Principals are scheduling meetings after school to answer questions, while Joseph trots out his lieutenants to deliver the bad news. I’m just going to say it… when you are making $300K a year, sometimes you have to take point. You can’t always deflect blame onto those you are supposed to be leading.
The State wasn’t going to stand by and let Nashville act the fool all by its lonesome. Nope, they had to bring their own style of crazy this week.
On Wednesday, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee approved a proposal that could lead to armed teachers in the classroom. They did this despite the objections of Governor Haslam, the State Department of Education, the police, mothers, and any other sane people. This bill is being called for by virtually no one save politicians.
There are plenty of people who have chimed in on this ridiculousness in a much more poignant manner than I could, but I do want to raise one point. Teachers are conditioned to love those kids the hardest who are the hardest to love. How’s that going to work if they know that there is a potential that they’ll have to put a round in that very child?
Riddle me this. If you have a D student come up to you and start telling you about their latest brilliant plan to get straight A’s, how do you envision you would react? Would you openly accept their argument or would you perhaps try to temper it? Basically that’s the script State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen is reading from these days when it comes to school improvement plans.
Testing… dismal failure for multiple years.
Achievement School District… dismal failure for multiple years.
Yet she feels confident to try to dictate to both Memphis and Chattanooga on how best to handle their struggling schools. It is mind boggling to me how someone who has continually failed year after year at school turnarounds feels comfortable dictating to others how they should proceed. It’s like taking advice on winning the Super Bowl from Johnny Manziel. As always, Andy Spears does a better job of laying out the case. In terms of Memphis, Spears writes:
Let’s be clear: Candice McQueen has presided over a failed transition to a new test and an aggressive intervention model for struggling schools that has left kids behind. Now, she’s insisting that Shelby County do what she says. Why would anyone trust their district’s students to Candice McQueen’s judgment?
Tru dat. Read the whole thing.
Two new principal jobs became open this week. One we’ll miss, and one who we’ll help pack. Dr. Steve Chauncy announced his retirement from Hillwood HS in June, and he will be missed. Keiva Wiley announced on Wednesday that at the end of the year, she’ll be leaving Antioch HS and moving to Florida to be with her husband. It’s now time for the healing to start at Antioch HS.
WANTED: Someone to live tweet MNPS School Board meetings. Things just haven’t been the same since Andrea Zelinski went to Texas and Amanda Haggard had a baby. Their gains have been our loss. Though Jason Gonzales does deserve props for the clever graphic this past week. Surely there is someone in the MNPS Communications Department that can play the role of a younger, better looking Joe Bass.
The Southeast Nashville Community Center presents Coffee & Conversation with Candidates on Saturday, March 3, at 9 AM. I’ll be there if you are looking for someone to chat with.
Pre-K applications are now open. Visit the website to learn more about our Pre-K program and how to apply at http://bit.ly/2GTA1UL. In case you didn’t know, MNPS had a grant run out this year. So in the name of equity, the sliding scale has changed a bit. I really wish someone could explain to me how raising the rates from $36 to $54 for someone who makes $40k a year improves equity. Maybe you can ask that question when you enroll.
Still waiting to hear whether or not the Community Eligible Provision will continue. In case you weren’t aware, the CEP is the program that provides free lunch for all kids. It’s kinda a big deal. Kinda a really big deal. The district promises to let the community know the state of affairs soon.
The latest Russ on Reading blog post is about building vocabulary. Read it and build yours.
Darktown is a fascinating mystery that uses Atlanta’s hiring of their first 8 African-American police officers as a back drop.
If you love your 90’s rock… The Breeders have a new one out this week.
Question time again.
This week, I’d like to know what your reaction to Dr. Joseph’s budget email was? Did it make you feel better? Worse? About the same?
The next question is about Dr. McQueen. What should the next governor of Tennessee do with her? Keep her? Cut her? Let me know.
Last question, if you had to pick one part of MNPS that you thought was working, and you couldn’t pick teachers, what would it be? What part of MNPS do you believe has shown the most improvement over the last 2 years? I breathlessly await your answers.
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.