The focus of Nashvillians’ involvement in education issues continues to be centered around MNPS budget issues. This week, Dr. Joseph managed to assuage some of those concerns, at least in the short term. We’ll get into details in a minute, but first I’d like to talk about the power of language and the style Dr. Joseph continually utilizes in his dealing with both district employees and the general public. I’m a big believer that words have meaning. How you use them says as much about you as the content you are trying to convey. Word choice is a reflection of your true thoughts and feelings. We’ve all heard the saying “How you say it is just as important as what you are saying.” That holds true for educational leaders as well.
TOTO, I HAVE A FEELING WE ARE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
I find it a bit concerning that after two years in Nashville, Dr. Joseph and his immediate cabinet continue to employ language that I would expect from someone who is just a visitor to Nashville and not an actual member of the community. During a recent principal meeting, he referred to the “crazy” of Nashville from the point of view of an outsider. He offered criticisms on equity as someone who is just observing the community and not as someone who is emerged in it. He was free in his criticism of our community while failing to employ language that indicated a familiarity with it.
Dr. Joseph has been extremely critical of Nashville when it comes to racial issues and equity. Has Nashville been as progressive as it should be when it comes to race? No, and we need to have a deeper conversation as a city about race. But we need to remember that Nashville has been long been at the center of the Civil Rights battle, and before we attempt to enter that conversation we should demonstrate a familiarity with that history.
As a parent of children in a school made up primarily of brown-skinned children, I can testify that we have equity issues. But when was the last time a thief stopped stealing because you called him a thief? When was the last time an adulterer quit cheating on their spouse because you called them a dog? In my fifty-plus years on this earth, I’ve found that people, for the most part, are good, and when presented with information in a manner that is thought out and doesn’t make them defensive about who they are, they’ll make the right choices. But you have to give them the opportunity.
I’ve often said that previous Director of Schools Jesse Register’s downfall was that he got tired and started wanting to go from A to D without going through B and C. Dr. Joseph is employing a similar strategy when it comes to race. He wants to get us to a position that he considers more equitable, but he doesn’t want to take the time to define equity, explain the transition process, explain why moves are necessary and how all will benefit, nor create a timeline for a reasonable transition. It was a strategy that backfired on Register and odds are it’ll do the same for Joseph.
News flash! Asking a roomful of people if they have seen Black Panther and then noting the number of black people versus the number of white people who have seen it puts people on the defensive and doesn’t facilitate meaningful conversation about equity. In fact, it may be an indication that you are putting people in the box, or that you yourself are in the box. I can’t keep track which is which.
Making accusations on a radio show geared towards an African-American audience that “Some people just want to make sure they got theirs and not worry about others” is not going to make a community stronger. Unfortunately, too much of that targeted audience is all too familiar with the connotations of that phrase. Not to mention that many of the people who the phrase is directed towards might not actually have that motivation. It’s a phrase meant to divide instead of heal. Assigning criticism and questioning a purely racial component benefits no one. Leaders unite; they don’t pit their team members against each other and sow distrust.
Standing in front of the room and remarking about how “crazy” Nashville is because its citizens are involved and vigilant also does not unite. Another news flash: Nashville is not some dot on the map for you anymore, Dr. Joseph. The people you are addressing are not just some attendees at an education conference. They are YOUR community. They are YOUR neighbors. That “crazy” you mention… it’s a part of you now, too. You need to shift from pointing out our faults to finding ways to help us become better.
Words also reflect what your values are as a person. If I regularly told Polack jokes in public, you’d probably draw the conclusion that I was a bit of a bigot. If I continually made comments about the dumb conservatives who voted for Trump – just an example – there is a good bet that the conservatives in the room wouldn’t trust me. (Side note: that was just an example, so conservatives, please keep listening.) The same holds true when you repeatedly make use of sexual activities in a metaphoric manner. Especially if those metaphors could be perceived as making light of overly aggressive sexual actions.
MNPS has had two administrators resign under the cloud of sexual misconduct this year. The district is currently facing multiple lawsuits that are related to sexual misconduct. There have been other MNPS principals and teachers that have been investigated for sexual misconduct this year. We are right in the middle of the #MeToo movement. Yet, in spite all of this, in the last two weeks, Dr. Joseph felt it appropriate to refer to Nashville as always “wanting to look up his skirt” and then compared the budget process to going on a date, foregoing hand holding, and instead “going in aaarrrggghhh” (or hard, depending how you heard it). Let’s be clear. Both of those activities could leave you open for charges of sexual misconduct.
I know, some of you are rolling your eyes right now and thinking, “Here we go with the politically correct bullshit again.” But I go back to my opening statement: words have meaning. Words are windows into what you are really thinking. You are judged not just by your deeds, but your words and the company you keep. We tell our kids that ad nauseum while raising them up. It should apply to adults as well.
Several women brought forth complaints against former district administrator Mo Carrasco. They brought those accusations forth amid great courage, knowing the risks inherent in coming forth. They just had to trust that they would be believed and their accusations would be taken seriously. Now put yourself in the mind of a woman facing similar circumstances sitting in that auditorium listening to Dr. Joseph. Or a teacher, or a student who overhears their principal relaying the anecdote about skipping the handholding and getting right to business in a humorous manner to another school employee. After all, what’s the purpose of conveying information at a leadership meeting if not to have it shared? What is the message that is being sent? What is the culture that is being created? Not to mention what is the message sent to our boys? Do these words not implicitly send a message that sexual aggression is somehow acceptable enough that you can utilize it as a metaphor? Or as it’s often expressed… boys will be boys. It should be completely unacceptable to everyone.
At some point, Dr. Joseph, Dr. Narcisse, and Dr. Felder need to realize that they are not in Maryland anymore. Nashville is their community now. They need to recognize that their words and actions impact the culture of their community, just like they did in Maryland. Sorry to break it to you, Doc… but you are one of us now. We need you to act like it.
TITLE I NEWS
As anticipated, changes were announced to the distribution method of Title I funds yesterday. Going forth, schools who are above the 75% poverty level will receive $651 per direct certified student, and schools between 50% and 74% will receive $300. This will soften the blow for some schools, while getting the needed resources to others. The general feeling was that if this had been the initial proposal, then a lot of the turmoil that has embroiled the district over the last several weeks could have been avoided.
Don’t think for one minute that the reduction in turmoil is anything but temporary though. We are still awaiting the full budget. Joseph plans to share that at his State of the Schools address on March 28th. This means we still haven’t seen a central office budget. It also means that virtually all conversations about the budget, including public hearings, has been based on the hypothetical. That should raise some concerns.
At yesterday’s budget talk to principals, Joseph indicated that his budget would require an additional $45 million in revenue from the Metro Council. He was going to ask for $59 million, but being a frugal guy, he lowered the ask. This $45 million ask will come as Nashville itself is looking at a loss of $25 million in revenue. I would think that ask would be a lot easier if MNPS could demonstrate that the extra money they received last year was well utilized and produced measurable results. As it stands, there seems to be a dearth of evidence of progress and an abundance of questions. Hopefully the upcoming Metro audit will illuminate spending a little better.
One last budget morsel for you – Joseph took the opportunity of the principal’s meeting to lay out his priorities for the coming year. They are as follows:
- Community Achieves
- Employee Compensation
Keep in mind Dr. Joseph’s words on the board floor last week: “Your budget is your public demonstration of your values.” Hmmm… any teachers out there still expecting a signed MOU this year, let alone a raise?
HOW EFFECTIVE ARE THOSE FILTERS?
By now we should all be familiar with the ongoing lead in the school drinking water story. The brunt of the story is that MNPS schools have high levels of lead in the drinking water. The district keeps arguing that they are doing the best they can to correct the situation, and we keep finding out that they are not. The latest bone of contention comes over the water filters that parents wanted installed at West End Middle School and that the district didn’t install. The communications department has been belaboring the point that those filters don’t filter out lead anyway, so they are superfluous. Let’s take a closer look at that claim.
Looking at the ad for the filters, it reads that they remove lead from the water to the NSF/ANSI 53 certification requirements. Huh? Google time! Luckily, there is an organization called NSF that, in their own words, “is an independent, not-for-profit organization that writes standards, and tests and certifies products for the food, water and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment.” So they should know about the effectiveness of the filters, right?
A call to them informed me that if a filter system has the NSF/ANSI 53 certification, then it has been shown to reduce the lead in water to below 10 mg/L. Now they did add the caveat that the company making the filter system had to have the seal displayed in order for the claim to be verifiable. Just because their advertising made the claim didn’t make it true. I asked about the unit in question, the HTHB HydroBoost. She told me that they hadn’t done the certification on that one but I should call another company, InterTek, as they also do certifications.
A call to InterTek couldn’t confirm that they had certified the unit, but they recommended a call to the company itself. At the company, I spoke with a nice woman who was kind enough to look up the unit and send me the spec sheet. Right there on the sheet is the seal, from both Intertek and the Water Quality Association. So apparently, it does lower lead in drinking water. I did put a call into the communications department because I would really like some evidence supporting their claim that these filters do not reduce lead in drinking water, but I got no answer. Hopefully next week they’ll give me an answer, but until then, I’m throwing the Dr. J flag.
And just like that, the local guy is no longer in the running to be the next head of Tennessee’s Achievement School District. This week, State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen informed Keith Sanders of the news that he wouldn’t be advancing forward in the process. Apparently he had a little too much baggage.
Speaking of baggage, guess who’s become a regular at the MNPS leadership cabinet meetings? Why, none other than former Knoxville Superintendent Jim McIntyre. I guess since Knoxville County Schools broke up with him and his leadership academy, he’s got a little time on his hands, and hanging out in MNPS leadership meetings is as good a place as anywhere. Since it all seems to be about leadership development and principal pipelines, perhaps they could invite Mo Carrasco and Dallas Dance, both experts in leadership training, to join them.
Speaking of leadership academies, riddle me this… MNPS already has a principal pipeline program underway, so why would we need to partner with TFA to develop assistant principals? That’s a question current principals were probably asking themselves when they opened the email from TFA this past week explaining the Nashville Assistant Principal Fellowship. Apparently, MNPS has partnered with Lipscomb University and Teach For America to locate, train, and then place candidates in AP positions in the district’s high-need schools. Who knew?
Mark it down on your calendar, the inaugural Project Lit Summit is happening June 16th. You’ll want to be a part of this one.
You’ve probably heard Governor Haslam talk about all that he has done to increase funding for schools in Tennessee. Well, just like the kid who tells you how well he’s doing in school until you get his report card, the Governor’s rhetoric has been debunked. The National Report Card on School Funding Fairness is out and Tennessee’s grade ain’t so great.
According to Andy Spears over at the TN Education Report, “The Report Card analyzes several indicators of school funding to determine how a state supports schools. The most basic is raw spending on schools. Here, Tennessee ranks 43rd in the nation. So, still near the bottom.” Andy offers up a complete analysis in his latest blog post.
Four Nashville school each won a $2500 grant from Dell this week. Congratulations to the following schools and their projects:
- East Nashville Magnet Middle School’s Rollercoaster Reality Collaboration
- Apollo Middle School’s Robotics Classes
- Donelson Middle School’s Computer Lab Enhancement
- Margaret Allen Middle School’s Summer STEAM Workshop
If you haven’t checked out the video of Waverly-Belmont ES student Carden Corts doing the weather, you need to. The video has gone viral and is bringing smiles to folks around the world.
New music out today. The latest entry in the award-winning Miles Davis Bootleg Series focuses on the final chapter in the landmark collaboration between Davis and saxophonist John Coltrane: their last live performances together, in Europe in the spring of 1960. It’s good.
Here’s one for MNPS leadership: Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an irresistible Workplace. There are books on general team building, there are books on workplace best practices, and there are books on leadership—but there is not a book that shows forward-thinking leaders how to integrate it into today’s new job-hopping culture. William Vanderbloemen uses his company’s proven experience in staffing and organizational consulting to provide a global perspective of effective, thriving cultures—and how to create them.
Let’s head off to this week’s questions now. First up, I think you’ve had a long enough time to get to know him, and many of you have known him for years, so what are your thoughts on our brand new mayor, David Briley?
For the second question, let’s play some pretend. Pretend you are a Metro Council member and Dr. Joseph presents you with a budget that includes an additional $45 million in expenditures. What’s your reaction?
Last question: Dr. Joseph listed 6 priorities for the upcoming budget. Of those 6, what do you feel should be the #1 priority? That’s right, I’m kinda pitting 6 really important issues against each other. Which is what we did with the Title I distribution formula, so why not?
There ya go. Another one in the bag. 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 events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.
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. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.,