A POLICY IN SEARCH OF A DEFINITION

1

What an absolutely gorgeous weekend past one turned out to be. I hope y’all got a chance to enjoy it.

The season and the weather combined to create the need to undertake some yard work. Mowing the lawn, for me, provides time to contemplate and turn ideas and concepts over in my head. This week-end I though about two words that get tossed around a whole lot – equity and diversity.

It is no secret how much my family loves Tusculum Elementary School. Over the last 4 years the school and it’s teachers have had an immeasurable effect upon my family, most of it positive. When I first dropped my daughter of for kindergarten 4 years ago I thought I had a firm grasp on the definition of  equity and diversity. I could not have been more wrong.

Former Eakin ES principal Tim Drinkwine used to make the claim that his school was among the most diverse in the state. I chortled when I heard that and challenged him, “Seriously, the school in the middle of a wealthy predominately white neighborhood boarded by Vanderbilt University has greater diversity than my school in South Nashville with kids from over a 100 different countries. Not likely.” He was right. I was wrong.

Tusculum does kids from over 100 different countries, however the majority of them come from other countries, live in impoverished households, and are being raised by parents with limited formal education. Eakin’s kids come from a nearly equal number of countries but their families fall all over the economic map and they have parents with varying degrees of formal education. In essence, Tusculum’s ethnically diverse study body is actually more homogenous than it appears. This may seem like splitting hairs, but I’ve come to realize how important that distinction is.

In the past, I’ve made the argument, that if wealthier parents would just send their kids to the local neighborhood schools the schools would become more diverse and everybody would benefit. I still believe that but I’ve come to realize it’s a little more complex than that. Adding school choice to the mix makes things even more complex. In fact, I’m not sure that you can have choice without sacrificing some equity and diversity.

At Tusculum my kids are in the minority and as such the majority of programing is not directed towards them. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that since TES has such a large population of ELL kids and kid’s from poverty, that many kids are reading below grade level thereby creating an inherent need to intensify the focus on getting those kids reading. Couple this inherent need with an added focus by both the district and the state and the pressure to perform mounts. To even have a shot at meeting the mandates put forth by both the district, and the state, sacrifices have to be made.

Those meme’s touting the glory of increased per pupil expenditures are a little misleading. Despite what they would like you to believe, there is no back pack full of cash were a student can pull out a few bucks and order a theater class, 2 advanced math classes, an interventionist, and a counselor. It’s more like each kid walks into a school with a back pack full of cash and then dumps it at the feet of the principal along with all the other kid’s back packs of cash. The principal then takes the collective money and sends some of it to central office while trying to utilize the rest to do the most good. Hence the need for sacrifices.

Those sacrifices often come in the areas of the arts, science, and social studies. Even when those areas are covered, if the majority of kids are reading below grade level, how in-depth can lessons in those areas actually get? That’s one of the reason’s I’ve become more of a believer in dual language instruction, but that’s another subject for another day.

It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the nature of the beast created by the over focus on accountability. If you constantly remind people that the only true measurement of learning is how kids perform on tests, and then you add in a bunch of kids that are starting behind the curve, it only goes to reason that anything not contributing to the reaching of that mandate becomes expendable. Unfortunately some of those things that get sacrificed are things that are needed in order to meet the needs of those kids not in the majority.

In talking equity, a great deal attention gets paid to the “achievement gap”, the difference in test scores between  low scoring kids high scoring kids. I’ve had an executive director at MNPS tell me that ensuring high scoring kids make modest gains while low scoring kids make large gains is how you close the achievement gap. Besides fundamentally disagreeing with that strategy, I have to wonder how that aligns with the concept of equity.

We have a  tendency to evaluate schools predominately on educational factors, but I’d argue that social factors are every bit as important. Socially the experience my children have at TES is vastly different from one they would have had at, say, Eakin. For example, while my daughter has a slew of friends, in 4 years she has been to one birthday party and only a handful of playdates.

I’m not casting blame at anyone for this, but the reality is that no matter how open you are, culture and language barriers exist. There is a tremendous amount of benefits that she has reaped socially from her peers, but there are things she has missed out on as well. I’m not going to lie, and say that I don’t wonder at times if I have not done her a disservice by placing her in school were those experience were not readily available.

When schools communicate with families they employ methods geared towards reaching the majority of families. When you fall outside that majority, you don’t always receive those messages. It is certainly not intentional, nor deliberate, but it is reality.

Case in point, this weekend TES students and their families participated in the Nashville Marathon’s kid’s run. We’ve attended in the past and it’s an amazing time. This weekend I was filled with pride looking at the pictures, and hearing the stories, of the families that attended. But I also had pangs of sadness because we missed it. We missed because we never knew it was happening, and therefore never had the choice to attend.

They same holds true for the school’s family engagement meetings. I’ve missed all but one of them because I continually don’t see the sign on the door adverting the meeting until it’s passed. It makes me wonder how many other events at the school I’ve missed. How many other opportunities to interact with other families have passed without my knowledge.

Right now I’m sure some of you are nodding your head and saying, “Welcome to our world. Where were you when the shoe was on the other foot?” I’m sure that for our Black and Hispanic families the experiences that I’m relaying are all too familiar, and have long been in need of correction. It is often overlooked that even if 80% of a school’s kids live in poverty, there are still 20% who don’t. What happens with that 20% doesn’t get nearly the attention it should.

If a choice is available, can you fault a family if they choose to go elsewhere? If my child is part of the 20% and both academically and socially they are not getting their needs met, what is the impetus to stay?  What happens then? If a student who is part of the 20% leaves, that school that was made up of 80% kids in poverty becomes a school that is 90% kids in poverty. Over time schools become less and less diverse and more and more segregated.

People wonder why charter schools hold such an appeal to minority families. It really isn’t hard to figure out. Parents of minority students have experience the same feeling I have, and charter school present an opportunity to create your own community while addressing academic concerns. I don’t agree with it, but I certainly get it.

Let’s flip back to Eakin for a second though.Here you have a school that is diverse in many different ways and by all accounts is delivering an equitable educational experience to all its families. Attend any school function and the diversity becomes evident. I would argue that West End Middle School and JT Moore carry the experience forward by citing the data showing that non-zoned students who choose Eakin continue on through to the Hillsboro at a higher rate than those zoned for those schools.

I would argue that if we were truly interested in promoting equity and diversity, we would study what these schools are doing and how to replicate it district wide. How can we attract children from all backgrounds and provide an environment where they all benefit together, not just academically, but through rich life experiences.

Instead the district quibbles over test scores and laments that Eakin students aren’t growing fast enough. Ok, but despite these claims, I’m hard pressed to find a Eakin parent that is shopping for a new school for their child and if a family does leave, there is another ready to take their place. I’m not a parent of an Eakin student, so I can’t speak for them, but if I was, you can bet that the preservation of culture would be a lot higher on my list. As a public school parent I would like to see more of our schools mirror the diversity of Eakin. Eakins is not the only school in the district that serves as diverse a population, but merely an example of what we might want to look at.

Right now you wouldn’t be remiss in thinking, “So what’s the point of all this rambling?” Admittedly, I’m kind of asking myself the same question.

I think the point is that if are going to truly have a conversation on equity and diversity it has to go deeper and realize that equity belongs to all, not just the select. We have to be ready to face the fact that our actions will produce unintended consequences as well as the intended and we must be ready to adjust if necessary.

Creating equity isn’t just about shifting resources, it is also about shifting attitudes and recognizing that there is no sub-group without needs and that all means ALL. We must also recognize that our experiences, are not necessarily universal experiences. It’s a conversation that can’t happen if we don’t fully define our terms and too important not to. It’s a conversation that the executive director of equity and diversity would be leading if we actually attached importance to it and they were actually earning their $155k a year salary.

NOT SO OPEN RECORDS

There is a provision in Tennessee’s open record laws that allows for government entities to charge for open record requests that require extraneous work or volumes of copies. This  provision is put in place to prevent people from making frivolous requests whose only intent is to tie up the communications department. Over the years I’ve put in various requests.

In the past I have asked for,

  • A copy of the report on lead in school drinking water.
  • MAP testing’s raw scores.
  • Evaluations of district leadership by the superintendent.
  • Copies of various contracts with independent vendors doing business with the district.
  • Copies of notes from the hiring panel for community superintendents and principals.

Needless to say, many of these requests have produced information that the district would have preferred remained unknown. The recent state laws requiring schools to test drinking water for lead and parents to be notified if levels are high, is rooted in an open records request. Open record requests have brought to light the districts failure to follow its own protocols in financial areas as well as questionable discipline practices.

Last week MNPS, who touts itself on its transparency, decided that despite having an employee making just shy of $50k a year, solely dedicated to open record requests, they needed to start charging individuals for those requests. Anything that supposedly takes over an hour will incur a fee. My first request, asking for expense account receipts since January 1 for MNPS Chiefs has a bill of $35.73 attached to it. I made this request in light of the recent budget freeze and after hearing stories that not everyone was curtailing their spending.

MNPS is not the first organization to think of this strategy. In my experience as an activist, I’ve run up against it a couple of times and it never works out well for those that chose to employ it. It’s simple, if you want to curtail open record requests, be transparent. Just saying you are transparent is not enough, you have to actually be transparent.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the MNPS communication department has elected to go this route as it’s consistent with Public Information Officer Michelle Michaud’s strategy of confrontation. One that she’s employed across the board since arriving last September. In her short tenure Michaud has sought to control communication through intimidation with local media, teachers, parents and even internally with MNPS administrators. I’m not at all surprised that she would attempt to raise the barriers to information to the public.

I’m a bit surprised that she would employ this strategy in the midst of an ongoing Metro Nashville Government audit. Hopefully she has familiarized herself with all fiscal requirements that go with collecting money from the public and all aspects of the open records laws including the exemption policies that should apply to those not for profit folks seeking access to information..

Currently I’ve got a request in for all emails between MNPS Leadership, former Knoxville Superintendent Jim McIntyre, and Nashville Public Education Foundation’s director Shannon Hunt. In case you didn’t know, despite not being a district employee, nor having a contract with MNPS, McIntyre has been sitting in on Executive Leadership Team meetings. In light of recent events with Dr. Joseph’s friend Dallas Dance, I feel it’s probably good practice to monitor district interaction with ex-superintendents. I’m betting this request cost me a couple hundred dollars.

QUICK NOTES

State Representative Sabi Kumar has some interesting advice for parents concerned about this years testing issues, stop whining!

Hmmm….compare the list of concerns from Prince George County Schools to the list of concerns emerging at MNPS and you might find some similarities.

Teacher walkouts across the country continue to grow. There is a reason and it’s not fat pay checks.

Tom Joy Elementary School kid’s knocked them dead with this year performance of the musical 3 Little Pigs. It may not win a Tony but it won a lot of hearts.

Don’t miss Overton HS’s Bobcat Players special “This is Home” piece for NBC tomorrow morning at 6 am!

Alison McDowell is a Philadelphia public school parent and a member of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. This article is an expansion of her testimony to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission on November 19, 2015. While it speaks to developments in Philadelphia, the discussion of “community schools”  has national implicationsI encourage you to click on link and read.

POLL RESULTS

I’ve learned that designing engaging poll questions is not as easy as it may appear. This week’s questions received fewer than normal responses. Still the ones I got are interesting.

The first question asked for you to weigh in on Dr. Narcisse’s odds for the job as Superintendent of Duvall Schools. 52% of you felt that it was all dependent on whether or not they had a job for his wife. Two people thought his odds were pretty good but hoped we kept him. Here are the write in answers,

Praying he gets it and takes Dr J & crew w/ him! 1
I hope he gets It and takes some of his friends south with him. 1
He’s not qualified. Hope Duval sees that. 1
Why are you so concerned?!? 1
hard to know / always such disconnect between the ppl at top vs frontlines 1
Whatever 1
Better them than us. Who else from Maryland will he bring down next? 1
He lies to principals all the time….no trust. 1
I hope he gets it and leaves 1
Which one is he? 1
Hope he goes 1
Please God, let them have him 1
Bye and take Maritza with you

Question number 2 asked you to weigh in on MNPS’s human resource department. 23% of you asked if we even had an HR department, with 19% of you decrying that they still did not know how to recruit teachers. I guess some solace could be taken that 16% of you thought things were the same as always. Two of you said that things were trending in the right direction. Here are the write ins,

They need to do EXIT interviews for all employees! 1
They recently sent us 2 candidates with police records 1
I think you should have reported on last Superintendent racial bias too! 1
retired / doing the best w what they have to work with 1
Terrible 1
Leaders push color over qualification 1
Same shit, different day 1
Non responsive-worse than ever 1
Hard to be a pub. school HR dept. when you don’t know squat about pub. schools 1
Don’t know about individual employees, but on the whole they seem a total mess

The last question asked for what song best summarized this years budget season. The winner was “Take the Money and Run”. Followed closely by “Bad Blood.” Here are the writer ins.

 

Dumb question 1
fire felder & entire dept 1
Heard it on the Grapevine- Marvin Gaye 1
There’s a Hole in My Bucket 1
Money – Pink Floyd
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. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. 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.

Advertisements

WHAT I’M READING

8

A little confession here, I’m one of those people always reading multiple books at a time. Usually it’s one fiction book – I have a weakness for the crime novel – and one non-fiction book, most often a biography. Currently, I’m into the new John Sanford and the biography of Art Pepper. Last week I added a third book, Making The Unequal Metropolis.

Admittedly I’m only a few chapters into that book, but I must say it’s providing a lot of fodder for thought. The book is a study on how race and economic status played into the creation of the Metropolitan Nashville Public School system. A system that has been fraught with inequities for years.

Like many cities in America, Nashville has wrestled with the subject of race. Memphis, Atlanta, and Birmingham are all cited more often in historical accounts of the Civil Rights movement, but Nashville played a central role as well. Making the Unequal Metropolis examines that history and tries to show how national politics and local politics combined to put blacks at an educational, and therefore an economical, disadvantage for decades.

Often times, the impact of local politics isn’t readily apparent. For example, the building of the Municipal Auditorium could be seen as a great economic driver for the downtown area. What I didn’t know was that in securing the property for the building of the auditorium, many of the buildings that housed black businesses were demolished. An area where black economic power was centralized was broken up. That’s the kind of negative impact a seemingly positive endeavor can have.

Many white Americans speak fondly of our neighborhood schools and how they brought the community together. Which is a nice sentiment, but not exactly beneficial for all. Schools were built around homogenous communities. The promotion of neighborhoods had the unintended consequence, though some would argue it was an intended consequence, of fueling segregation.

The schools that anchored these neighborhoods were not exactly equal. Schools in white communities were, for the most part, modern, clean, and well-kept. That didn’t hold true for schools in black neighborhoods. Despite rooms sitting empty in white schools, black schools were often overcrowded, dimly lit, and in disrepair.

Black teachers were paid salaries of about 40% lower than their white counterparts, despite being on average better educated. This wasn’t by design, but rather due to discriminatory practices in other fields. Those practices left many college-educated black young people with little employment opportunity other than teaching.

Since desegregation in the late 1950s, things have improved, somewhat, but old habits die hard. Whether intentional or not, practices imbedded at the root can only be changed through intentional actions. Schools that house primarily minority or poor kids are still under resourced. Salaries are no longer unequal between white and black educators, but there is still a dearth of black educators in leadership roles. Due to socio-economic conditions, many of our minority and poor kids continue to fall behind in school.

It’s undebatable that inequity is baked into our educational system. It’s undebatable that our underserved communities have a right to be angry. What is debatable is how we address and rectify those inequities.

In 1971, despite protesting parents, Nashville schools desegregated through busing. It was a controversial move and was fought all through the 80’s and 90’s, but it led to Nashville becoming statistically one of the most desegregated school districts in the country. In 1998, the federal government released MNPS from its desegregation plan.

I’m a child of the Northeast and, as such, am well versed in the racial interactions of communities in that region. Black, White, Asian, and Latino communities have very distinct boundaries and interactions are limited. There is a great deal of animosity and distrust between these communities.

I remember when I moved to Nashville and found, despite the caricature of the Southern redneck, that there was much more interaction between racial entities than at home. I remember remarking to friends that, despite instances of overt racism, things seemed decidedly less racially-driven than in Philadelphia. Nashville wasn’t perfect, but it was a damn sight better than home.

Admittedly, these observations come through the lens of a white male. Different perspectives might speak to different degrees. I can only speak to what I have experienced and to those that black friends have shared with me. (I know, everyone has a black friend. I get it.)

That doesn’t mean that I think we’ve reached nirvana. Nor do I believe that solutions can be found in a 3000-word blog post. But I do think we are trying, but at the same time must try harder. I firmly believe that Nashville needs a deeper conversation on race. But what will that conversation look like?

This budget season has opened the doors to the potential ugliness of such a conversation. As programs and practices are being placed under a microscope, people become passionate and defensive. In the process, a racial undercurrent that has been simmering takes root and becomes the biggest elephant in the room.

Some of you are probably thinking right now, “Whoa, TC, watch where you are going here. You are a school board candidate, and you are heading into some dangerous water.”

Unfortunately, I never could stay out of the current. I’ve thought about this a lot over the last several months, but Dr. Joseph’s fraternity brother accusing board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering of conducting a public lynching has pushed things to the forefront and made it impossible for me to continue to tip toe around the subject.

When those comments were made, I fully expected Dr. Joseph to immediately rebuke them. As a literacy specialist, he is well aware that words have power. He is also well aware that nothing that transpires in a board room will ever equivocate to such a horrific act as a lynching. To try to equate what Dr. Joseph experienced to what actual lynching victims experienced should be offensive to all. Yet he sat silent and even after the meeting when presented with the opportunity to defuse those words, he demurred and just said they weren’t his words.

When Dr. Joseph arrived, there was a decided lack of black administrators in MNPS. There was a perception, right or wrong, that Dr. Register and Dr. Steele favored white administrators over black administrators. I have a great deal respect for both Steele and Register and know both would chafe at the accusation of intentional bias, but the numbers don’t lie. Other than Tony Majors, MNPS was of devoid black leadership at the highest level. Real or not, based on perceived evidence, the narrative took root.

Part of the appeal of hiring Dr. Joseph was that he presented an opportunity to bring more equity to the equation. An opportunity was presented to balance things out to the benefit of all. Unfortunately, what has transpired is a complete flip of the script. The perception now is that Dr. Joseph and his team show bias toward black educators over white educators. As I did with Register and Steele, I will extend the courtesy of not assigning intent. But there is no arguing that the perception has taken root.

Do I think that when you attempt to rectify an unequal situation those who have benefited by the equation will try to push back? Yes. Do I think those that some of those who are no longer benefiting from their status will try to defend their previous privilege through any means possible? Yes. Do I think that rectifying an unequal situation will cause a great deal of discomfort? Yes. But I also think that when making such a wide scale change, you need to be cognizant of the aforementioned challenges and be sure that your actions are not fueling an unintended narrative or reaction. It’s not an easy action to take. If it was, the job wouldn’t pay $300K a year.

When the makeup of central office flips from one race to another in less than a year, it fuels the unintended narrative. When a white principal’s disciplinary action is handled differently than a black principal’s, for a similar infraction, it fuels the unintended narrative. Especially when the one overseeing both situations is a black female executive.

Putting an all-white Human Resources team out in trailers separated from the rest of the department fuels the unintended narrative. Leaving black principals in place in schools where they are obviously failing, and in some cases promoting them, fuels the unintended narrative. Referring to yourself repeatedly at executive meetings as being the Black Panther fuels the unintended narrative. Just as failing to defend board members against charges of racism also fuels the unintended narrative.

I’m sure some of you are reading this right now and thinking, “What the hell are you talking about?” or “Why are you being so critical of Dr. J? Why was nobody saying anything in the past?” I understand those criticisms and acknowledge their veracity.

More people should have spoken up in the past. Just because they didn’t doesn’t mean we should be quiet now. Policy should be evaluated purely on whether it’s good or bad, not based on the level of inquiry it’s produced in the past. Just because things got a pass in the past does not mean that on the flip side, they should be extended the same privilege in the present. I acknowledge that I have had many shortcomings in the past, but am I alone in that sin? We cannot let yesterday rob us of tomorrow.

I will be the first to say that Nashville needs a deeper conversation on race. There are those who will say we’ve already talked enough about race. I wish that was true, but evidence abounds that race is still an integral part of practices and policies and that we are not facing things in an equitable manner.

Personally, I believe it’s a conversation that needs to make us all feel a little uncomfortable. Change does not come without some discomfort. When I say all, I mean all. We must all search our souls and evaluate our role. None of us are experts on race relations. Many of us, though, have very deep scars due to racism and while those scars don’t create experts, they can lead to a road map of understanding. Many of us need those road maps to reach greater understanding.

I guess what I’m calling for is that all of us be a little more mindful of our words and deeds, intentional and unintentional, and how they contribute to the overall conversation. We need a conversation that tears down walls, not build new ones. We need a conversation that unites us, not divide us. We must never forget that children are watching us and taking their cues from our actions. In order to have a better conversation, we must all be willing to suffer some discomfort, make some concessions, forge some compromises, and free our mind – so the rest will follow.

QUICK HITS

I’m urging everyone to either email or call your legislator this weekend. Not to advocate or complain, but rather to say thank you. As advocates we must also know when to show appreciation. This week, legislators earned it. They remained in session long enough to make sure they got legislation passed on TNReady right and extended protection from consequences arising from a dumpster fire of a test for everyone. In the words of Hee-Haw…. SALUTE!

In other news, there is no truth to the rumor that wild gorillas ran through several schools and stole the test early this morning. Here’s a post from a kid running for student government president. I’m thinking of making him my campaign manager.

TMZ time. Rumors continue to swirl that a certain popular South Nashville middle school principal is in the mix for the job at Hillwood HS. While we understand his desire to work at the high school level, we kinda need him over here.

Also hearing rumors that a certain gubernatorial candidate, who is trailing the pack, is expressing interest in becoming the next Commissioner of Education for the state of Tennessee. I think they’d do a comparable job to what they did as Speaker of the House.

Is this the worst headline ever: “Nashville schools spending policy review not likely happen until later in the year.” Did they fire all of the proofreaders at the Tennessean? I know, people in glass houses… you got me.

Here’s another bit of free advice. Principal hiring panels are only effective if they are actually authentic. Keep in mind, everybody in Nashville has two friends and if the panel is treated as nothing but an optic, they will convey that to two friends, who will convey it to two friends, who will… you get the picture. In essence, you are setting up the selection for failure. It’s not hard. Be transparent. Be authentic.

If you’ll remember back a few weeks ago, I reported on the wife of the Chief of Schools, and Duval County Superintendent candidate, Dr. Narcisse getting a stipend for doing additional work. The stipend made her salary $155K a year. Here’s some information to put in context: with that stipend she nows makes equal to or more than the following individuals in MNPS:

  • COMMUNITY SUPERINTENDENT
  • HUMAN RESOURCES EXEC DIR
  • OPERATIONS HR
  • EXEC DIR ‐ TECHN & INFO SVCS
  • EXEC DIR ‐ EMPLOYEE RELATIONS
  • EXEC DIR ‐ SAFETY & SECURITY EXEC
  • DIR ‐ RESEARCH AND EVAL
  • EXEC DIR ‐ INSTRUCTION
  • EXEC DIR ‐ TALENT STRATEGY
  • DIR ‐ CENTRAL SVCS & INVENTORY
  • EXEC DIR ‐ SSI

Truth is, with that stipend, she is the 7th highest-paid employee in MNPS. Hmmm… since we were able to evaluate the efficacy of Reading Recovery, do you think it would be possible for Dr. Changas to study the efficacy of the Executive Director of Equity and Diversity?

Meet Jamia Lockmiller, a physical education teacher at Tusculum Elementary, and one of our 2018 Teacher of the Year finalists for Metro Schools. So pleased that she is getting the recognition she deserves. I can never downplay the role she played in setting my son out on the right path with his formal education.

Twenty-five string students from MNPS will join classically trained violist and violinist Wil B. and Kev Marcus of Black Violin at their performance on Thursday, April 26, at War Memorial Auditorium.

The Tennessee Performing Arts Center is offering buy one, get one free tickets to Metro Schools teachers, parents and guardians: http://cart.tpac.org/single/SYOS.aspx?p=8329&promo=BVEDU. If a student would like to attend, use the code BVSTUDENT at checkout.

Sometimes, something just gives you the smiles all over… When a generous, thoughtful soul shows compassion in every single thing she does, a community is lifted. Beyond librarian: soul whisperer – at J. T. Moore Middle School.

I need to give a shout out to Doc Smith, a teacher over at Overton High School. Due to his kindness and perseverance, my son and I did not miss out on an exceptional experience. Doc got us passes to Quad A (The Army Aviation Association of America) out at the Opryland Hotel. I admit I didn’t know what to expect, but upon leaving Peter remarked to me, “Which do you think was better, this or Comic Con? High praise, indeed.

The Overton Cluster PAC meets on Monday night at Haywood ES at 6:30 PM. Come hear Overton Academy Head Doug Trotter give the inside skinny on Overton’s Cambridge program. Look forward to seeing everyone.

That’s a wrap. Don’t forget to answer the poll questions.
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. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. 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.
,,,

A TIP TO THE LIP

5

Growing up in Northeast Pennsylvania, I used to read the NY Daily News religiously. This was at a time when newspaper’s daily columnists ruled the world. Names like Breslin, Royko, McAlary, Ivans, Buchwald, Albom, O’Rourke, or even Bangs on the byline meant as much to me as the names Hemingway, Poe, Wilder, or Faulkner. These guys were fearless. They did whatever it took to root out corruption and injustice while still managing a brilliant turn of the phrase. They were my real life super heroes. I devoured their words and was inspired by their commitment to pursuing the truth and exposing inequities.

The rise of the internet and the change in how we chose to receive our news and information meant that the importance of the columnist began to fade. A decline in readership led to financial hardships for print media and columnists, and often the most expensive contributors became expendable. I mourn the loss of those brilliant writers and truly believe we as a society are worse off for the loss.

One of my favorite columnists was a sports writer named Mike Lupica. These days Lupica is a television celebrity and a writer of a series of YA books. He still pens a column, but it feels like he’s writing more from the inside than the outside where he used to reside. In the 80’s, Lupica was fearless. He wasn’t afraid to criticize anyone, and he never backed down from a controversy.  I didn’t always agree with him, but he always made me think, which is something I hold in higher esteem.

Lupica used to do a Sunday column called “Shooting From The Lip.” It was basically him writing about whatever was on his mind. Just short little pops on things, without going into too much depth. It was the first thing I read every Sunday morning.

In writing this blog, I get a lot of information. Some of it is just tidbits of interest that, despite having value, just aren’t enough to write a piece about. So, today I’d like to offer a little tip of the hat to Mike Lupica and share some thoughts and observations that are running through my head at the moment. Maybe you’ll find them useful and interesting or maybe not… but here we go.

STATE HITS

This year’s testing fiasco doesn’t show any signs of abatement. Lawmakers are still debating what to do about TNReady and teachers are still going to pay a price, as this year’s test scores will be included in teacher evaluations. As TNEd Report’s Andy Spears points out, “You have data from the old test, a skipped year, data from last year’s test (the first time TNReady had truly been administered), and data from this year’s messed up test.” It’s a little bit crazy, don’t you think? There is still a little time to contact your legislators and let them know you are not okay with this. Professional educator Amanda Kail gives you the how and why.

Betsy G is a high school teacher in Tennessee and member of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. She recognizes the need for consistency in education and takes the time to point out that in Tennessee, it ain’t happening. An excellent piece that I encourage you to read.

It does appear that the TNDOE is getting serious about the Achievement School District. Yesterday it was announced that Memphis’s Sharon Griffin has been named the new superintendent of the ASD. It’s hard to find any fault with this decision and the state deserves props for making it. Griffin has deep roots in Memphis and comes to the job with a long and proven track record. In the past, the argument has been made that those who led the ASD weren’t educators at heart. No one can make that argument against Sharon Griffin. Griffin has been the chief of schools for Shelby County Schools since January 2017 and has been a teacher and leader in Memphis education for more than 25 years.

According to an article in ChalkbeatTN, Tennessee met only five of 10 quality benchmarks designed by a national advocacy organization that released its annual preschool report last week. The report criticized the state for its lack of both a rigorous curriculum and a system that measures improvement in classroom quality. That’s according to the “State of Preschool 2017,” a report released last week by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. This is what always makes me nervous about universal Pre-K. I’m a believer as long as the curriculum is rooted in play-based instruction and lots of unstructured play time for our youngest kids. Those ideas often run afoul of rigor and accountability, therefore raising red flags for me.

Williamson County Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney is having a good news/bad news kind of week. The good news is that he’s expected to ease back into work next week after a very serious health scare. Bad news is that he has to make a stop in court first. Looney appeared in court this morning for a hearing on an assault charge. The assault charge — one of two filed against Looney — stems from an incident at Franklin High School on February 20 involving a student having a psychological crisis. I continue to say this case is just bizarre and the charges just aren’t congruent with the Mike Looney I know. The good news is that both charges were dropped today.

LOCAL YOKELS

The city of Nashville breathed a sigh of relief with the Monday capture of the Waffle House shooter.  The shooter was apprehended in the early afternoon in a field behind Cane Ridge ES. Which as far as I’m concerned, should serve as notice that we got lucky. While MNPS schools were on lockout, which means nobody was allowed to enter the building once school was in session, there was little protection provided for kids at the bus stop or teachers working car duty. It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to envision that a gunman who randomly shot up a Waffle House full of strangers the night before might decide to do the same with a school.

Cane Ridge ES had one police officer in the front of the building (in his car) and no other presence at all. Reinking was found directly behind the school, and I’m assuming he was there all morning. At one point, the policeman went around back to do a walk through, at which point the school was completely vulnerable. Cane Ridge has over 1,000 students who entered the school that day, and the way it is set up it would have been very easy for Reinking to come down from the woods and pick people off with the pistol he had in his backpack. If that had happened, we’d be having a whole different conversation today. It shouldn’t be enough that it didn’t happen.

At last night’s town hall meeting, Nashville Mayor David Briley revealed that when he visited one of the Waffle House shooting victims in the hospital, he asked if there is anything he could do for her. She asked if he could do something about the potholes on I-440.

Waffle House hero James Shaw, Jr., raised almost $100K for shooting victims through a GoFundMe account. He continues to prove that he is an example for all of us.

Looks like the current MNPS Chief of Schools feels like he is ready to go from understudy to star. This week it was revealed that he is a finalist for the Superintendent job in Jacksonville. If you click on his name in the linked article, you will get a look at his complete application package, which provides some interesting info. Particularly interesting were his answers to the question, “What accomplishments are you most proud of?” His first answer is, “The opening of two ELL schools which are now leading the nation in how to support students from immigrant families.” Surely he is not referring to the Prince George’s International High School and the International High School at Langley Park.

Those schools are actually schools-within-schools. ELL kids attend separate classes, walk the halls at different times, and eat lunch at separate times, ensuring limited interaction with the general population of the main schools. It’s a policy that has faced charges of segregation and discrimination. For the first couple of years, students were housed in portables. Those schools were opened in 2015, and in 2016, Narcisse was in Nashville. In 2017, they served just under 400 students combined.

Dr. Narcisse also cites the opening of an early college in MNPS and the creating of STEAM in all MNPS middle schools. Neither of these two actions are completed. Shouldn’t the endeavors that you are most proud of be ones that have actually been put in place and are producing results? I mean, if we are hiring based on ideas… Lord knows, I have some. The finalist will be announced towards the end of May. I don’t know who to wish good luck to, Dr. Narcisse or Duval County.

Last week, MNPS Board Chair Anna Shepherd put out a press release accusing Phil Williams of Channel 5 of producing FAKE NEWS. This week, budget and finance chair Mary Pierce doubled down on that trope in her newsletter, stating in her budget timeline: April 13-14: Canceled Board Retreat (not a secret meeting as reported). We pay Panasonic a fair amount of money to advise and train the board; perhaps they should schedule some time for training on Tennessee Sunshine Laws. These days I’m thankful that Keith Durbin of Metro Nashville Government forced us to go through it when I was on the NECAT board.

Let me clarify. I don’t believe the board was accused of holding “secret meetings.” They were accused of not following Tennessee State Sunshine laws. Which ironically were created in part to protect governing bodies against charges of holding secret meetings.

Adequate public notice of all regular and special meetings must be given.  T.C.A. § 8-44-103;

Since the arrival of Dr. Joseph, more and more business has been moved to committees. While board meetings are held on the same days each month, committee meetings vary in their frequency, and their placement on the published schedule has been hit and miss. Board retreats are never on the schedule.

The minutes of the meetings must be recorded and open to public inspection and at a minimum must contain a record of the persons present, all motions, proposals and resolutions offered, the results of any votes taken, and a record of individual votes in the event of a roll call.  T.C.A. § 8-44-104(a).

Want some fun? Call up the MNPS Communications Department and ask them for the minutes from any of the board retreats. I suspect you’ll get a similar response to the one I got when it comes to committee meetings. They don’t exist.

The bottom line is that the MNPS school board has been in violation of the State Sunshine Laws all year long. Somebody finally called them on it. That doesn’t equate to FAKE NEWS. Board members may defend their actions by citing intent. Intent is not compliance. I think somebody owes Phil Williams an apology, though I doubt he’ll get it. I’m also baffled that the MNPS Public Information Officer didn’t offer better counsel to the board chair. After all, one is a communication specialist hired to deliver news to the community that presents the school district and its officers in the best light, and the other is not.

In further irony, all MNPS responses to open records requests now come with the following disclaimer:

Exceeding Great Expectations
Per Tennessee Open Records Law and the district’s Release of Public Records Policy (§ 10 -7-503), MNPS reserves the right to assess a charge for employee labor that is reasonably necessary to produce large records requests. No charge will accrue for the first one (1) hour incurred by personnel in producing the requested material however, after the first initial hour a charge will accrue based on the hourly wage of the employee(s) required to produce the record. This charge will be in addition to any copying costs and will also apply to all records provided electronically. Payment is required prior to receipt of the record(s). If you do not wish to proceed with this request, please email the public records specialist at publicrecords@mnps.org

Ah… if only they were the first to think of this idea.

Here is a clarification for you: unauthorized purchase requests (UPR) arise when policy is not followed. So whether you have 2, or you have 80, they are the result of policy not being followed. It’s wonderful that a policy is created to track them, but again, that is a measurement and not a correction. Maybe this could be a subject for Panasonic to cover as well. Unless that falls under the scope of a different consultant.

At some point, someone is going to have to address the elephant in the room when it comes to the MNPS school board. As a candidate for school board myself, I really didn’t want it to be me to awaken the Kraken, but if nobody else will… what’s the story with board member Will Pinkston’s attendance as of late? To call it spotty would be generous. He missed both this last meeting as well as the board’s budget presentation to the mayor. When he is in attendance, he seldom stays for the entire meeting. So far none of the media have commented on this. I don’t believe that would be the case if Pierce or Gentry were absent this often.

The panel to recommend the new principal for Antioch High School convened this week. The three candidates interviewed were a central office employee and two middle school principals; all three are African-American. Of the 2 middle school candidates, in my opinion, one would probably be pretty good. The other would just be a rinse and repeat of the past two years as indicated by the conditions of the school where they are currently employed. Let’s watch this unfold. Antioch High School deserves more from Nashville.

Does anybody know if former Knoxville superintendent Jim McIntyre is still attending MNPS executive leadership team meetings?

Here’s some unsolicited advice for central office employees visiting individual schools. Act like you would if everybody is watching. Parking in the handicapped zone if you are not handicapped is not an option. No matter how long you plan on staying. You know who you are. Stop it.

On a side note, culture get built based on the way leaders act when they think no one is looking. Showing up late for meetings, coming in unprepared, treating others with rudeness – these all communicate implied consent. Those behaviors that you model will be replicated. That’s how culture is created.

Scott Bennett was a teacher at Hillsboro High School until his wife took a job in South Africa. Now he’s a blogger trying to find his way. Kinda like me. Follow his writings. You won’t be disappointed.

Tusculum Elementary School has not been able to produce a play with the kids for at least 5 years. Next month that changes. Mark the dates.

In surveying the field for this year’s school board races, I think Nashville has an opportunity to have a much more civil conversation this go-round than it has in the past. It would be nice if we all adopted a goal to have more people involved in our schools after the election, rather than less. That hasn’t been the case the last several cycles.

Just a note – it is possible to support both Reading Recovery and Orton-Gillingham. Just saying.

Trivia night is coming to the Overton Cluster on May 3rd at 6pm. It’s a little friendly competition between schools in the cluster. I think it could be a lot of fun!

Under the direction of Mr. Trey Jacobs, the Nashville School of the Arts Concert Choir “Paragon” will perform the national anthem at the Nashville Sounds game on Thursday, April 26. The group recently received superior ratings at the Middle Tennessee Vocal Association’s Annual Festival both in performance and sight-reading. The group is composed of 45 members in grades 10-12.

I would like to close with another tip of the hat to Channel 5’s investigative reporter Phil Williams. Thanks to his reporting on lead in school drinking water, a bill is now headed to the desk of Tennessee Governor Haslam that will require all school districts to test water annually and take action if levels are found to be high.

The legislation failed to make it out of committee last year – and it appeared to be doomed again this year because of a lack of funding. That changed last week after NewsChannel 5 Investigates called attention to the bill’s precarious position in a series of tweets, and House Speaker Beth Harwell intervened. A big thank you to all involved.

The Metropolitan Nashville Government Office of Internal Audit provides employees with a means to anonymously communicate any fraud, waste, or abuse concerns. You can contact the Metro Nashville Hotline 24 hours a day to report any fraud, waste, or abuse problems toll-free at 1-877-647-3335 or https://login.redflagreporting.com/. Use Client Code ‘Metro’ and Organization Name ‘Metro’ when reporting.

That’s a wrap. 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. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. 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.

 

 

THE TVAAS CANARD CONTINUES

6

There is one thing that has remained consistent since I began writing this blog 5 years ago: the inability of the state of Tennessee to conduct an error-free standardized test. Normally, this inability would get tossed into the “don’t let the perfect become the enemy of good” bin, but first off, I’m not even sure that we’ve reached good status, and secondly, the stakes are just too high to settle for mere good. If you are going to have a policy that has this kind of impact on the lives on children and teachers, it better be damn near perfect or it needs to be done away with.

State testing started last week, and like it does every year, problems quickly surfaced. It didn’t take long for the same denials and half-truths to again emerge. Though this year, the TNDOE introduced a new creative wrinkle: the tests were hacked. Which, to me, is a head scratcher. Because why bother with a hack when you know you can depend upon the TNDOE’s incompetence to disrupt things? It seems like a whole lot of extra work to get the same result, but I’m sure it will be investigated.

The beautiful thing about writing this blog is that I don’t have to depend upon the official narrative to deliver the truth. I’m blessed to have access to an army of teachers who are equally committed to providing the truth. So while State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen was reassuring us that everything was going well, here’s what was really happening in a middle school last week:

The following is a written account of our testing day on Thursday, April 19, 2018. This was actually a more successful day for us than Monday and Tuesday. The students referenced below were supposed to begin their test session at 9:30am and end by 11:05am. The starting lunch times for these students ranged from 11:25am- 11:45am. 
9:30: 137 students at my school are seated and testing instructions begin.
9:32: During the instruction process, students are directed to login. Students begin experiencing the following problems:
– After entering usernames/passwords, many of their screens freeze.
– Some are able to login, but screen freezes when trying to enter their test-specific access code.
– Some are able to get their test-specific access code entered, but then are knocked out of the test and kicked back to the login screen.
9:50: Four out of 137 students have successfully logged into the test. The other 133 students are continuing the battle by repeating the following process:
Students are having to log off the computer, log back into the computer, pull up the Questar program, and re-enter their username and password. All students repeated this process at least three times before some students were able to get to the next step. Thirty-eight (of the remaining 133) students are finally able to get to the point where a PROCTOR password (8-digit code) has to be manually entered by the test administrator of the classroom. These students wait until the test administrator is able to reach them to enter this special password as it is considered a secure password and we are not allowed to let students enter this password on their own (Please note: there are five labs testing, so each class has between 25-30 students, and each test administrator is having approximately 7-8 students to manually enter the proctor password while still trying to keep record of every individual student’s start time on the test.).  
             
While this is going on, the rest of the students are stuck in different stages of the login process: some are still freezing repetitively at the login screen, some are getting stuck right after the students login. 
Students continue repeating the cycle of logging off, logging back into computer, opening the Questar program, entering their login credentials, etc.
            
As time passes, students slowly get further and further along the login process, as their test administrator is having to run around and manually enter the PROCTOR password while trying to accurately document every student’s starting point.
10:32: All 137 students trying to test are all finally logged in, taking their test.
10:37: Random students begin getting kicked out of the system. After being kicked out, up to 12 students per room are at different phases of the login cycle (having to repeat the same login process outlined above several times before getting back into the test). Once again, the test administrator is responsible for keeping an accurate log of each student’s individual time. 
10:38: Thirty-eight students are still trying to get back into the test after getting kicked out. 
10:52: All students are back into the program (once again, after continuously repeating the login procedures above).
As these issues are taking place, students who are in the program are experiencing the following glitches that Questar has been made aware of, but not fixed:
Students cannot backspace. They are writing an essay, but their backspace does not work in the program. If they try the undo button, it causes more typing issues. Also, there were times that the program randomly stopped allowing them to type. To fix this, they have to hit the back button and go back to the previous question and then go back to their essay to start typing again. Many students had to repeat this process over 10 times during their essay writing. Keep in mind, THIS IS A TIMED TEST and these are 11 – 13 year olds having to fight this program to this extent just to take this test.
11:25-11:35: As their scheduled lunch times pass, students work hard at trying to overcome these challenges to get their essays completed. They just want this to be over.
11:45: Students begin to try to submit their essays. Errors start popping up for the students saying that their computer is not connected to the internet, that their progress is not going to be able to be saved. We are told to have students log off, log back in, and then try to submit. Students then go through the repeated cycles of logging off, logging back in, getting to different stages of the login process before they may or may not get kicked back off or their computer freezes. The test administrator is trying to run to the ones who get to the point of entering the PROCTOR code so they can progress to the next step to hopefully submit their essays.
11:58: Students have surpassed their scheduled lunch time, so we have to end this cycle of trying to submit their tests and send students to lunch (which overcrowds the lunch area and causes issues during lunch trying to get everyone served).
Testing is halted after this for our afternoon session by our district office.
Similar accounts of what testing has been like are happening all across the state.
I don’t know what definition you use for success, but this narrative doesn’t feel like it would fit. McQueen’s definition didn’t work for Tennessee state legislators either. Last week, they passed legislation that proposed to protect schools, students, and teachers. For that, I applaud them. However, they didn’t go quite far enough. This year’s test scores can still be factored into teachers’ TVAAS scores, which are based on three years of growth, and therefore can negatively impact a teacher’s career. Clearly it was the intent of legislators to protect teachers, but they just need to close one more loophole. It’s a correction easily rectified. They just need to replicate what was done in 2016 with the Evaluation Flexibility Act – SB2508/HB1419 (PC No. 172) – which stated that student growth composites would be excluded unless they resulted in higher evaluation scores, with the qualitative portion of the evaluation score increased in its place. That is, if they can’t get completely rid of the tests.
The aforementioned is just the tip of the iceberg, but unfortunately we are under a bit of a time crunch to get action taken, so we have to stick to basics. At the bare minimum, pun intended, we need to make sure our teachers are given equal protection that has been provided to schools. Basically, it’s got to happen this week. So… everyone needs to heed the advice of the Momma Bears and contact the people that can git ‘er done. You need to:
Let’s get to it! We need to get this done. Thank you.
OF MNPS, LITERACY POLICY, AND READING RECOVERY
As I wrote on Friday, there has been a bit of a dust up on MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph’s recent move to decentralize Reading Recovery in the district’s proposed budget for next year. The move has created a continual debate over whether it’s a move rooted in policy or politics. School board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering both posted pieces on the subject this past weekend, and I also talked with several educators I know about it. The result is… more questions and skepticism on Joseph’s motivation.
If Dr. Joseph is making this move solely as a policy move, then what Tier 2 intervention will be provided next year to those children who would qualify for Reading Recovery? What is the budget, and what will the services look like? Because whether there are 1,000 kids or only 5, they still deserve to receive services. If it’s not Reading Recovery, then what is it going to be? Reading Recovery is made up of primarily English Learners and impoverished students; they are, by all accounts, our neediest students. As much as we talk about equity, this is a prime example of what inequity looks like.
Moving current Reading Recovery teachers to the classroom does not constitute as service for those needy kids. Also, keep in mind, many of our current Reading Recovery teachers will be applying their training, paid for by MNPS, in more appreciative neighboring counties. It’ll be interesting to see how many actually make the transition to being classroom teachers. We’ve actually tried this nonsense before. It ended up with a whole bunch of teachers leaving and a greater cost to train their replacements when we realized our mistake. Everyday is Groundhog Day here, I guess.
Next question: in looking at the internal study done by MNPS about RR, it becomes clear to me that we are not getting our bang for the buck out of our Tier 2 interventions in 2nd grade and above, so I ask why not? What programs and strategies are we employing and why are they falling short? If a kid needs intervention in 1st grade, it’s usually tied to a socio-economic issue or a learning disability. Therefore, while Reading Recovery can get a kid up to grade level, it doesn’t “fix” them. The challenges that led to the initial intervention will still remain, and therefore they are still likely going to need intervention resources going forward. So if Reading Recovery delivers 67% of its kids to 2nd grade on grade level, what’s happening after that?
Dr. Joseph argues that Reading Recovery is expensive. Okay, but what does that mean? So it costs $7 million and granted, that is a lot of money. People will say that a Porsche is expensive, but when I compare it, quality wise, to a Kia, is it really? It’s always interesting to me that the cost argument always comes to the forefront when we are talking about services to the poor. If it’s a wealthier demographic, the conversation always focuses on quality. My question again is what is the alternative to Reading Recovery? What is the comparative cost and the comparative value? And if it’s cheaper, why?
By the way, what is the expected result from Reading Recovery? I don’t know that I’ve heard it stated clearly. Just that it currently wasn’t living up to expectations, even though it was highly praised in the past. Again, what does that mean?
Why are we talking about our literacy plan like it’s not a multi-faceted and complex plan? I, for one, would love a simple flow chart that lists the individual programs we utilize, the percentage of the population they serve, which population they serve, and their relative success rates. My need for such a document must stem from the fact that I am just a parent and not an administrator, because I’m told such a document doesn’t exist. Now if you’d like something that tells you how many kids will be reading at grade level by 2025, or is all about rigor or complex text, that’s available. Which do you think would prove more valuable?
QUICK HITS
There is an MNPS School Board meeting scheduled for tomorrow. In looking at the agenda, I don’t see any mention of an evaluation for the Director of Schools. For those not keeping score at home, according to their own policies, the board is to conduct two evaluations a year, one in January and one in June. To date, the January one has yet to be completed.
What I do see on the agenda is some more money for Teach For America. Once again, time to give them some summer school funds. Hmm… do we have a study on their value? Good news is that they still only get a little under $3.5 million. But I’m sure that will grow in the future.
Some principal interviews will be starting to take place in the next few weeks. Antioch HS, Hillwood HS, and Eakin ES are all in the market for a new building leader. Curious to see where Eakin goes – they can give it to the very popular AP or they could try and replicate last year’s process. Sometimes, in the words of Ray Davies, you have to give the people what they want. One of the finalists for Antioch HS is a principal who is currently in charge of a middle school that’s had its own fair share of challenges this year. Probably not the right person for a school that needs healing and love right now.
Nice story in the Tennessean about a retired 96-year-old teacher who got a surprise visit from students she taught in the 1960s. Pretty cool.

I’m just about through the first chapter of Making The Unequal Metropolis and it’s raised a few questions and observations for me.

The book talks about the shift to a focus on education as a means for economic outcomes (i.e., vocational schools) as a driver of inequity. This makes me wonder how our emphasis on STEAM is not just a modern day variation of this. It’s always been about increased property values in Nashville. The author cites the creation of homogenous neighborhoods anchored by a neighborhood school as a major driver of segregation. Does the recent movement towards community schools not carry the same inherent risk of recreating that effect?

These are my initial thoughts. There will be a Nashville Ed Chat community discussion about Chapter 1 of Dr. Erickson’s book coming up on April 28.

There’s a FREE training session for parents or people who know parents of a child receiving special education services. If you’re wanting to be an active participant in your child’s education, but just aren’t sure where to begin, then this session is for you.

The Special Education Advocacy Center and Nashville Rise are joining forces to bring you Knowledge Is Power training sessions for parents of students with disabilities. Learn the ins and outs of special education and gain the tools you need to successfully advocate for your child in the special education system.

Transportation, Child Care, and Interpretation Services provided if requested during registration.

POLL RESPONSES

We got some incredible response to this week’s poll questions. I suspect that a Reading Recovery teacher or two might have been stuffing the ballot box, but you know what they say…vote early and often. Let’s look at this week’s results.

First question asked if you though that Dr. Joseph’s decentralization of Reading Recovery was politically motivated. Out of 207 responses, 157 of you replied, “I do and it bothers me.” Only 7 of you answered, “No. The data supports the move.” I don’t think I need to say anything else. Here are the write-ins:

Not a fan of reading recovery. But this reeks of retaliation. Childish. 1
Absolutely, ticked at all board members that allowed it to happen! 1
yes, but it needed to go 1
It’s messed up. So is the $$$ for IFL and others 1
Absolutely… the research reports were dated March 2018 & April 12, 2018 1
I am not sure, but the program was way too expensive. 1
Clueless about effective literacy instruction: Petty, Lipsey, Felder, & Joseph 1
I’m a reading recovery specialist. What do you think?? 1
Absolutely 1
Not sure, withholding judgement 1
Absolutely! And the only ones who will pay for it are our students. 1
Absolutely! 10000% 1
Are you kidding me?? Of course it is. 1
I think that was the plan from the day he started… two birds, one stone.
Question 2 asked if TN Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen should resign over the repeated testing fiasco with TNReady. Surprisingly, the vote was split. Out of 191 respondents, 51 replied, “Absolutely. You have one job.” And 44 responded, “No. It’s not her fault.” Quite a few of you indicated that you would be okay with her being replaced even if you weren’t strongly calling for her termination.
I must admit the results surprised me, but probably shouldn’t have as I know many teachers have a great deal of personal affection for Dr. McQueen. Here are the write-ins:
Ask the legislators to resign who voted this mess into place. 1
No. That’s by a part of her responsibilities 1
The state legislature should resign… wholesale. 1
I thought it was a contractor issue 1
No. She’s just dealing with Huffman’s legacy. 1
not resign, but go back to drawing board for a total reset 1
She’s dealing with Huffman & his incompetent cronies decisions 1
Not specifically for TNReady issues but over additional problems 1
too complex to answer here 1
No, it’s remiss technology had some issues, but the reaction has been hyperbolic 1
Absolutely. Why free pass for state? Teacher would be fired for same mistake. 1
Technology is not paper pencil… but shouldn’t there be a plan B?
Last question was about the upcoming referendum on Nashville’s transit plan. This one shocked me. I was sure the numbers would go the other way. Out of 183 responses, 100 said they were voting “no” on the plan. A mere 57 said “yes.” That is a little stunning to me, and I would say Transit Plan supporters should be a little concerned. Here are the 3 write-in answers:
don’t live in Davidson Co., but I would vote no for this particular plan. 1
I don’t live in Davidson County. 1
Helps no one coming into Nash from the EAST. Music City Star? Pah-lease. 1
Out of county, but if I could I’d vote NO
That’s a wrap. 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. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. 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.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

10

On Wednesday, Metro Nashville Public Schools presented their proposed budget for 2018 – 2019 to the mayor. Just for reference, I went back and watched the presentation from last year. Things back then were a whole lot different than this year. Last year, as Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee of the school board, Jill Speering sat next to Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and introduced him to the mayor as “the best superintendent in America.” I don’t think she’d say that this year. I’d like to make a few other observations if you’ll indulge me.

Let’s hit the biggest monkey in the room first, Reading Recovery. After Dr. Joseph made an 11th hour decision – that reeked of retaliation against long-time Reading Recovery advocate and short-term Joseph critic Jill Speering – to end Reading Recovery, that decision claimed center stage in all budget conversations. So much so, that after Dr. Joseph returned to the office from the budget presentation, he took it upon himself to instruct the communications department to send copies of the two studies on Reading Recovery presented to the mayor to every employee in MNPS. A move that baffles me.

Did anybody envision that teachers, right in the midst of conducting the problem-plagued TNReady tests, would receive the email and say to themselves, “Oh, here’s a study on a program that has nothing to do with me. Let me block off 45 minutes to do a deep dive into these two studies and evaluate the methodology and results”? I’m willing to bet that the majority of those who saw the email didn’t open it, and if they did, they thought, “What? They’re canceling Reading Recovery? Jill Speering loves Reading Recovery! This is just trying to get back at her. Shameful.” Ok, I added the shameful part, but I’m sure it didn’t go unnoticed.

In order to evaluate a study, you have to know a little something about the subject. You could send me a study on the effectiveness of Russian warships, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to bring anything to the conversation. Because I’m not familiar with Russian subs, the context would be lost on me. But in knowing a little something about Reading Recovery, I can tell you there are problems with some of the methodologies used in the studies.

In comparing Reading Recovery student results and MNPS student groups, the MNPS-conducted study factored out EL students, students with 12 or more family members in the house, and other sub-groups until the end result was a comparison between Reading Recovery kids and the average MNPS student. This causes an issue because the Reading Recovery cohort is made up of kids from all those sub groups. So what you end up with is not exactly an apple-to-apples comparison.

It also bears repeating that Reading Recovery is an intervention program, not a remedial program as Joseph keeps referencing, that is geared for kids in grades K-2. The intent of RR is to get struggling readers up to a grade level where they can take their place with their peers in class. It should be considered one small piece of our literacy policy. We should be assessing the value of the program based on whether or not it delivers kids reading on grade level. After that, the responsibility of continued growth should fall to other components of our literacy plan. RR is not a program designed to “fix” kids, so to evaluate it as such is disingenuous. Once these kids exit RR after 20 weeks, they still come from impoverished homes, non-English speaking families, and homes with more than 12 people living in the house.

Now I will applaud Dr. Joseph for independently evaluating elements of our literacy program, but with this caveat: where are the evaluations of other portions of the literacy plan? Once again, it’s just another version of the same record played all year: we tout implementation – lead testing in water, increasing the number of kids in advanced academics, creating of the LTDS positions (I wish I could tell you what the acronym means, but basically these are fancy literacy coaches) – but we never conduct the follow-up.

With all the consultants and new positions that have been brought in – Sharon and Sharon, creating LTDS positions, Scholastic, World Wide Reading, Bruce Taylor – has a study on their effectiveness been done? Why are we a weighing one individual component’s value independent of the entire literacy policy? And why is the data office speaking to the effectiveness of programing sans input from the curriculum and its head, David Williams?

We’ve never gotten a clear explanation of why MAP test scores were up for one period. Here’s another place where we should probably hear from the head of curriculum. Does Williams have any idea why scores are up and if they are sustainable?

Instead, all we get is an endless parade of back slapping and crowing. Is it too much to ask, what was the cause? Instead we get a study showing the fallibility of Reading Recovery devoid of any context as related to the overall literacy plan. Any teacher with experience will tell you that nothing in schools happens in isolation. If you are a teacher with a great TVAAS score, odds are your kids also have an RTII teacher with great scores. And we all know the role that socio-economic factors play in learning. Since the majority of kids in Reading Recovery are English learners and kids from impoverished families, perhaps that should have played a larger role in the conversation.

That being said, I must admit that I’ve gotten deeper into the weeds defending an individual program than I intended. I certainly respect the right of the Director of Schools to implement any program that he feels will get results without engaging the community. However, I do think you have to be aware of the optics.

I grew up a military brat and can remember my father always telling me that in order to be a general, you had to be as much a politician as a soldier. The same holds true for Directors of Schools. You have to have the ability to view things through the lens of politics as well as the lens of policy. That ability continues to be a weakness for this administration. Always reacting, never leading.

What should have happened is that upon deciding that he didn’t believe in Reading Recovery and wanted to make changes, Joseph should have sat down with a Chief of Staff and the communications department and vetted what it would mean to end a popular program like RR. He may say he was waiting on a study to be completed, but he already had one study in hand, and if he was being transparent he could have alerted people to the possibility months ago, making the transition feel more legitimate.

Joseph should have recognized that his recent conflicts with Speering would cast a shadow over the ending of this program, and he could have tried to sit down with her over the weekend and explain his motivation. I know they are not very fond of each other right now, but it’s been my experience that when the boss is unhappy with me, it’s on me to fix it. Speering is here for a minimum of two more years and can throw a wrench in many of Joseph’s plans; the opposite does not hold true for Joseph. At the very least, a plan could have been developed in order to prevent the appearance of retaliation, and thus, spared us all the drama.

Joseph may also offer the excuse of a lack of a Chief of Staff, since the new Chief can’t start until July. But whose fault is that? I’ve seen previous COS Jana Carlisle’s performance reviews. There is nothing in there that indicated a need to terminate her mid-year. In fact, her reviews were quite good, and it has become obvious that her role was essential. If it was done as a cost-saving measure, I could suggest a few other positions better suited for terminating. If her firing was done, as I suspect, as a move to appease critics, well again, that’s on Joseph.

Some folks have expressed outrage because they don’t feel that Reading Recovery teachers were given the same opportunity to defend their value as the social workers were. Not to offer a defense, but my information has indicated that social workers learning of their pending demise was not by design. So it’s not really fair to make that comparison.

I always tell people perception is nine-tenths of reality. The perception with the general public and MNPS employees is that Joseph cut Reading Recovery in retaliation for Speering calling for an audit. It just so happens I got a chance to listen what happened between Dr. Joseph, Dr. Felder, HR Chief Deborah Story, and the Reading Recovery teachers in a recent meeting, and there are some things I found very interesting. The first being that there is no plan.

The expectation is that Reading Recovery teachers will become classroom teachers. They were told that they will get a $2500 stipend if they go to one of 21 priority schools, as well as a one-time, $1000 signing bonus. A teacher pointed out that one of the schools on the list, Kirkpatrick, is a charter school. After a brief conference among the leadership team, it was concluded that Kirkpatrick is indeed a charter school and therefore there are only 20 schools on the list.

When it was brought to the attention of leadership that there are schools piloting Core Knowledge Learning, a different literacy strategy that is not congruent with Reading Recovery, and that teachers are concerned about sending mixed messages to students, Joseph answered, “That’s only five schools.” Five priority schools. So the list drops to 15.

Teachers pointed out that in order to retain their Reading Recovery certification, they need to conduct 4 one-on-one meetings a day with students and asked when, as a classroom teacher, they will be able to do that. The response was that they will have ample opportunity before school, after school, and during planning time. Remember, most of the kids requiring Reading Recovery services are bus riders. Chief Academic Officer Dr. Felder attempted to console teachers that even if they lose their RR certification, they’ve received knowledge through extensive training that can never be taken away from them and that should be worth enough.

Dr. Joseph then told the teachers that while it’s his druthers that they all become classroom teachers, they are also being encouraged to apply for jobs as literacy coaches (LTDS), advanced academic teachers, Assistant Principals, Deans of Instruction, and that the world is their oyster. However, when he was asked when they will know what jobs they should apply for and the availability of those jobs, he answered, “Hopefully sooner rather than later.” Which basically means “We don’t know because we haven’t thought this through.”

None of the proposed jobs, though, do what these teachers are trained for, which is teaching struggling elementary readers to read. Reusing a previously-used sports metaphor, it’s like going to my star receivers on my football team and telling them they’ll be able to block people, tackle people, throw the ball – anything except for what they have a special and unique skill set for, which is catching the ball. Reading Recovery teachers, like receivers, just want to catch the ball.

I must say that throughout the meeting, the Reading Recovery teachers were incredibly gracious. They laughed at Dr. Joseph’s jokes when appropriate. They were respectful in their questions and they didn’t badger when the answers were less than… answers. I was struck by the fact that the teachers were more concerned with what was going to happen with their kids than what was going to happen with them. But I guess I shouldn’t be; that dedication and concern for their students seems to be a hallmark with all of our teachers.

Some people I know have questioned my passionate defense of Reading Recovery. Let me give you some context. My kids attend a high-needs school made up largely of impoverished kids and English learners. We speak a lot of inequities and these are the kids most impacted by a lack of equity. They are the ones who have taught me just how deeply inequity is ingrained in our neediest schools.

Since his arrival, Dr. Joseph has ended, without research or a plan, a teacher training program that was extremely impactful at our school. We suffered through another year with facilities that were beyond inadequate, much like our feeder middle school McMurray is suffering this year. There were high levels of lead found in our drinking water and that was never communicated to parents. Now, at the 11th hour, a program that, at the very least, has strong anecdotal evidence of high results is being discontinued with no explanation or plan for how its going to be replaced. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So forgive me if I get a little passionate if the Director of Schools portrays himself as being akin to the Black Panther while my kids and their peers face growing inequities. Forgive me if I get passionate if the Director of Schools tweets out graphics depicting kids on boxes behind fences instead of working to remove boxes and fences for all. Forgive me for getting passionate when the Director of Schools uses kids who need so much as political footballs and as a means of retribution against a school board member who questions his actions.

The Director of Schools talks endlessly of being exonerated at the end of the currently ongoing financial audit. What he fails to understand is that there will be no exoneration. Something has caused school board members to go from calling him “the best superintendent in America” to questioning every word he says. That doesn’t happen by accident, nor does it go away merely because an audit might come back clean. It only goes away if a Director of Schools commits to letting people out of the box and focuses on fixing things. He should be more concerned with the lack of faith in the school system as a result of his actions and policies than he should be with his own reputation. After seeing the movie, I’m pretty sure that’s how the real Black Panther would view things.

QUICK HITS

Can anybody tell me why everything associated with the budget this year seems to cost $7.5 million? Free lunch program, Reading Recovery, money lost to lower enrollment – it’s all $7.5 million. Weird.

One thing that has been brought to light through this year’s budget process is the question of what have we been doing for our priority schools? We had to relocate Title I money because they were arguably under resourced. We have to send Reading Recovery teachers to priority schools because of a dearth of quality teachers. The Director of Priority Schools is also an EDSSI, so they have split responsibilities. Hmmm… why doesn’t she receive an extra stipend? Or maybe she does.

In another head scratcher, it’s been announced today that Pearl Cohn High School principal Sonia Stewart will be taking over the duties of recently-exited Executive Officer of Organizational Development Mo Carrasco. This comes in spite of what we know about priority schools needing stable leadership and Pearl Cohn being a priority school.

What’s clear to me is that we need to take a deeper look at our priority schools and what we are doing. As part of his budget elevator speech, Joseph has voiced a commitment to making our priority schools a priority. My question is, after 2 years, what’s taken so long?

I’m starting to hear about people leaving MNPS for other employment. One that will be missed is Glengarry ES Principal Ricky Gibbs. He’s heading to Memphis. We thank him for his service.

Rumor has it there will some changes in the Human Resources department. I’m also hearing that Director of Literacy Intervention (PreK-12) Tammy Lipsey’s tenure with MNPS is coming to an end as well. I try to be cautious in sharing rumors as these are people’s careers and lives, and we must always respect the real world implications.

MNPS has a new Director of STEAM. Stratford HS Academy Principal Jennifer Berry will assume the role. She’s an 18-year veteran of MNPS. Congratulations and hopefully she’ll fare better than her predecessors.

I know I should be investing more time into this year’s TNReady fiasco. But to be honest, I just don’t have the energy to engage in another round of groundhog day. Especially when Andy Spears and ChalkbeatTN do a much better job of it.

Despite continually beating me over the head about Orton-Gillingham, Anna Thorsen is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s one of the driving forces behind Tennessee becoming more responsive to the needs of kids with dyslexia. There is not a more tireless advocate for special needs kids. Unless it’s Wendy Tucker, who has taken over as the new Executive Director at the Special Education Advocacy Center.

Not to be outdone by the aforementioned women, there is an excellent piece in the Tennessean talking about community activist Tequila Johnson and her work with Nashville’s black churches to increase voter registration. Johnson is the Executive Director for the Equity Alliance, a new Nashville-based nonprofit that advocates for African-Americans and other communities of color to be engaged and empowered.

Vesia Hawkins has a new blog post out that I urge you to read.

A couple of dates that need to go on your calendar:

June 16th is the date for the inaugural Project Lit Summit. If you care about literacy, that’s a must-attend event.

On Saturday, June 9, MNPS is hosting its annual Fatherhood Festival to celebrate MNPS fathers and their important role in students’ lives.

On Monday, April 30th, come to the Overton PAC meeting and hear Overton HS Cambridge Dean Doug Trotter talk about Cambridge integration throughout the cluster. Or, if your school doesn’t have Cambridge, how it can make sure it is properly prepping students for Overton’s program. The meeting is at Haywood ES and starts at 6:30 PM. Come early and socialize.

In case you didn’t catch it, MNPS Transition Team member Dallas Dance has secured residency with the state of Maryland’s correctional facilities today. He was sentenced to 6 months of jail time. I’m betting the facilities won’t be as comfortable as the Nashville Omni, where MNPS put him up when he came to town for all those transition team meetings. One thing that the two establishments have in common, though, is that Dance’s stays in both are paid for with taxpayers’ money. Hope that doesn’t put me at risk for a lawsuit.

One last bit of advice for our Director of Schools: blaming former Mayor Megan Barry for not raising taxes, as you’ve done on several occasions of late, is not a good defense for MNPS financial shortcomings. And also, Tennesseans are not really warm to more taxes, so you might want to keep that talk in your house. Just trying to help.

That’s a wrap. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. Your opinion is vital. 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.

 

OF EFFICACY AND EQUITY

4

I’m looking forward to the day when I write a piece that focuses on the success of students and fails to mention the inadequacies of adults. Though it doesn’t look like this will be the week for that to happen. So much has happened this week that I hardly know where to begin. Unfortunately, it’s all about adults failing to live up to expectations.

TNNOTReady PART 5

Remember those old Police Academy movies? The first one was a mildly entertaining flick, good for a couple of laughs. By the time they got to Part 8, it was flat-out ridiculous and unwatchable. Currently, the Tennessee Department of Education has decided they want to emulate the arc of those movies using TNReady as the primary player. This year will mark Part 5.

Raise your hand if you were shocked today when reports started trickling out that the testing platform was crashing. Now keep your hand up if you actually started looking for a reason the tests failed or if you just did like me: shrugged and said to yourself, “But of course.” I saw the Tennessean article giving an explanation, but I didn’t read it. To me, this is just business as usual.

This will be at least the fifth year that there have been problems with the state’s standardized tests. By some accounts, there hasn’t been an error-free testing season since Don Sundquist was governor. Raise your hand if you remember Governor Sundquist. Yeah…. it’s been a while. Yet nothing ever seems to get done. I’m sure we’ll reconvene the assessment council, or whatever it’s called, and act like we are doing something about it. It appears that we’ve gotten better at reacting to the failings of the test than we have the administration of the test.

We are not yet up to TNReady Part 8, but already things have gotten ridiculous and unwatchable. I don’t see how you preach accountability to kids while modeling this behavior every year. Oh well. If you would like a more in-depth analysis, as always, Andy Spears is your guy.

MEMPHIS TEACHER BONUSES

According to the latest in Chalkbeat TN, Memphis has a new salary plan for teachers. If you are a teacher with an evaluation score of 3 or higher on a 5-point scale… you are getting a raise. That’s about 96% of Memphis teachers. The teacher evaluation system for Shelby County Schools is based on growth and achievement scores from the state test, classroom observations, and student surveys. It is known as the Teacher Effectiveness Measure, or TEM.

Now, not everybody gets the same raise. If you are a 3, you get $750, level 4 is $1,000, and level 5 is $1,500. Just for laughs, let’s break out the calculator. $1,500 divided by 26 paychecks equals $57. That’s an extra $57 before taxes in a teacher’s paycheck if they are among the best.

The only reason I’m highlighting this is because ideas like this seem to spread quickly, and next thing you know it’s coming to a district near you. Hopefully, I’m not the only one who recognizes problems with this plan. Not only is it a minuscule reward for excellence, but it also sets the richer schools up to get richer due to the fact that adequate resources make it a little easier to be a 5. Hinging a teacher raise on a flawed test and an evaluation influenced by teacher placement is a recipe for disaster. No offense.

BUDGET BROUHAHA

This brings us to the shit show that is the MNPS budget process this year. I really try not to swear in these posts, but please, find me a better way to describe what has been transpiring in Nashville for the last month. It just been one CF after another. Burning up reputations like kindling, in trying to prop these proceedings up.

I know a school board candidate ought not to talk like this, but if you think I’m being too harsh, let’s examine the facts. We’ll start with the cutting of Reading Recovery from the budget. For those of you unfamiliar with Reading Recovery, it’s a Tier 2 intervention meant to get identified early elementary kids reading at grade level in 12-20 weeks. It’s not meant as a long-term solution, but more as a way to get kids to a place where they have the opportunity to compete with their peers and grow at the same rate. It’s one component of an overarching literacy plan.

Based on an internal and an external study, Dr. Joseph is proposing next year that these interventionists become general education teachers in one of 21 high need, low achieving schools. All in one sentence, he explains that Reading Recovery teachers are among the best in the district, but that the program is not getting the desired results. It’s never spelled out exactly what those results are, and just minutes earlier he called the program well-researched and exemplary. It’s kinda like he’s complaining that his F150 isn’t working like his Maserati.

Dr. Joseph likes sports metaphors, and in fact, he invoked one in discussing the proposed cutting of Reading Recovery. In his metaphor, he referred to having really good players on a team that wasn’t winning games, so you have to shake things up. In mine, I say his plan to make RR teachers into classroom teachers is like the Patriots deciding they weren’t winning as many games as they should, and that since all their best athletes were wide receivers, those receivers should become linemen. Because being an athlete is being an athlete, right? You’d ridicule that plan, and you should ridicule this one.

Let me lay some facts on you. First of all, there are requirements for a teacher to retain their RR credentials. A RR teacher must conduct 4 one-on-one sessions a day, plus run small groups in a classroom. Classroom teachers have to teach math, science, social studies, technology, SEL, and a thousand more things every day. So tell me how you envision those two statements aligning. 

At Tusculum ES, our RR teachers have worked with 200 kids this year. Three RR teachers, 200 kids! Three classroom teachers reach 60 kids. Now I don’t have a math degree, and I’m certainly not taking anything away from classroom teachers, but in my eyes, the alligator is eating the RR side.

One more thing. Those RR teachers do more than teach children; they teach teachers. Now I don’t remember seeing anywhere in today’s presentation where that impact was measured. Is it possible that some of the success of the highly-touted MAP results could be attributed to RR teachers working side-by-side with and supporting our classroom teachers? In his recent presentation to the board on MAP scores, Dr. Changas admitted that he couldn’t draw a correlation between any of the district’s strategies and the results, therefore I don’t think you can outright dismiss the input of RR teachers. And until you are able draw a line between strategies and results, you might not want to shake things up too much.

Let’s go back to our sports metaphor. Imagine that the Dolphins and the Jets learn that you are attempting to turn your receivers into linemen. How do you think they’ll react? I bet they’d be burning up the phone lines, calling receivers and telling them to come on over to their team and be receivers. I suspect that’s one thing many of the neighboring counties will be doing. Training RR teachers is an expensive proposition, and if you can get a neighboring district who has already absorbed that cost to give you theirs, why would you miss out on that opportunity?

I recognize that there are counterarguments to mine, and I respect those. That’s why you don’t bring a proposition of this magnitude to the table an hour before the budget is to be voted on. Dr. Joseph would like us to believe that a study on a favorite program of a board member who has been openly questioning him as of late has suddenly been completed the Friday before the final vote on the budget. Really, anybody actively propping up this canard should be ashamed of themselves. If this was truly based on policy instead of personality, this conversation would have begun months ago.

Every policy conversation we have of late is framed through the lens of equity. Well, tell me how is it equitable that 7 social workers were provided a month to plead their very worthy case, while 86 RR teachers learned only today that they were going to be linemen or working somewhere else and are provided no opportunity to plead their case? An alternative suggestion was that they could apply for a literacy specialist position. As board member Gentry said, “We are asking for this expertise to be put into the classroom.”

Do we really not understand how this works? Yesterday, Dr. Joseph sent out an employee email telling teachers how much he values them and that he stays up nights thinking about them. Perhaps instead of just thinking about them, he should spend time familiarizing himself with what they do and their individual qualifications. Hey, I know, some of those RR teachers could become math coaches and put their expertise in the classroom through that method. Because a teacher is a teacher, right?

It’s been mentioned that if schools thought RR teachers were so valuable, they could engage them under their individual school budgets. Under student-based budgeting, every school receives a budget based on the demographics of their school. Those budgets have been completed and turned in already, despite Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse failing to approve a single one of them yet.

The failure to approve these budgets in a timely manner is problematic because a school cannot fill its teacher vacancies until all budgets have been approved. Schools amending their budgets will add further delay to the process. Do you think for a second that the best teachers are sitting around until May waiting to see if they have a position in MNPS? Once again, we are losing valuable recruiting time.

Last night, Narcisse informed the board that any school that wanted to hire a RR specialist would have the opportunity to edit their budget. He presented this in a manner that suggested all a principal had to do was call up and say, “Hey, add an RR teacher for me.” The reality is that those school budgets are tight, and adding an RR specialist means cutting something else. Welcome to the Thunderdome, where everybody fights for survival by justifying their value over others.

I’ve heard people voice their discomfort with the tone these meetings have taken, and on some level I get that. I think some context is necessary though. Board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge have followed the wishes of the Director of Schools for 18 months and kept everything behind closed doors. During that time they have given unequivocal support to Dr. Joseph in public. They’ve allowed their own personal reputations to suffer in order to help bolster his. Unfortunately, he did not treat their reputations as precious as his own.

It’s apparent that answers behind closed doors didn’t align with what was happening in schools. Contracts were brought to light that didn’t match what the board had approved. Evidence surfaced that purchasing policies were not being followed, and the only explanation the board could get was that it only happened a small percentage of times. Procedures are created to be followed 100% of the time, not 96% or 94% of the time.

Lost in all the hub bub is the fact that Metro’s auditor announced yesterday that his office is no longer conducting just an audit. It has also begun an investigation of “allegations of impropriety in Metro Nashville Public Schools procurement practices recently reported by NewsChannel 5 investigates, and reports received on [the] fraud, waste and abuse hotline.” That alone warrants these issues being brought to the board floor.

I have no doubt that Speering and Frogge hate addressing these issues on the board floor as much as we hate hearing them, but if policy isn’t being followed, and talking behind closed doors isn’t changing, what is a board member’s recourse? The fact that the Chief of School’s wife is receiving a stipend, on top of a generous salary, to do an unidentified job, and travel on trips that don’t seem to align with the strategic plan would be a huge red flag to me.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the paying of the stipend to me is no different – minus the salacious details – than the circumstances that led to Mayor Barry being removed from office. Again we speak of equity, so where is the equity in holding one person accountable while giving a pass to the other? Those are taxpayer funds that are enriching a public employee’s household coffers.

Not only that, but after 5 years, under Tennessee state policy, that household will be vested in the state’s pension program, the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. At retirement, they will be eligible for a pension based on those salaries. In the case of the Gonzalez-Narcisse family, that equates to roughly $350k a year. Not bad work if you can get it.

MNPS has a salary schedule. That schedule lists what employees should be paid based on years of experience and levels of education. It’s designed to keep salaries… wait for it… equitable.

According to the salary schedule, an elementary school principal with a master’s degree maxes out at roughly $100k. The same principal at the high school level maxes out at roughly $116,500 a year. Carolyn Cobb, an elementary school principal and close personal friend of Monique Felder, makes $120k a year. And we are paying for half of her tuition to procure her doctorate. Which, once she procures, will make her eligible for yet another salary increase.

EDDSI’s with a doctorate max out per the pay schedule, based on years of service, at $124,989. Karen Desouza-Gallman, a recent transplant from Prince George’s County and also in the same doctorate cohort as Cobb, makes $124,779. Latricia Gloster, another Prince George’s County transplant, makes $117,636, the maximum for an EDDSI without a doctorate. In short, people who have moved from Prince George’s County to Nashville are receiving higher salaries than educators with more qualifications and longer tenure in MNPS. A point that Dr. Narcisse acknowledged in a meeting several months ago.

When Amy Frogge brought a motion to the floor to add an amendment to the budget that calls for the district to adhere to the established salary schedule, she was met by laughter from budget and finance chair Tyese Hunter, and Dr. Joseph once again raised the specter of litigation. Which, I have to ask, who is going to sue who and for what? Are any of those facts untrue? Dr. Joseph has alluded to hindering people’s ability to earn money, but I don’t know how pointing out facts and offering opinions based on those facts leads to a litigable offense.

Not too long ago, I asked Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson why some of these folks made salaries that were not aligned with the salary schedule. He responded that Dr. Joseph has the right to pay folks whatever he sees fit. I then said, so the schedule is merely arbitrary. A statement that caused Henson to take umbrage, but he was never able to offer a counter argument. The definition of inequity is lack of equity; unfairness; favoritism or bias. Not adhering to the established salary schedule for friends and family would seem to meet that bar.

I’m going to have to wrap up this episode now. Otherwise this piece will eclipse the length of War and Peace. But I will be working on another piece examining how budget talks have revealed how little we’ve done for our priority schools over the last two years, fake news, sunshine laws, and I’m sure much more. Thank you for your patience.

POLL RESULTS

This week’s questions received the most responses of any to date. As always the results are very interesting. Let’s get to them.

The first question asked for your opinion on a proposal to limit raises to just those making under $125k. Out of 175 responses, 64% of you voiced that you fully supported the proposal and another 19% felt it was a move that the administration should initiate themselves. That translates to 83% of you supporting the limiting of raises. Pretty clear to me. Here are the write-ins:

Good if temporary 1
Focus on increasing funding and elevating teachers’ salaries 1
I say bump it down to $100,000. 1
Limiting the top still doesn’t help the bottom. 1
I support it, but would much rather see salaries for veteran teachers raised 1
Support staff should be at least $30 k 1
It reminds me of the time Congress voted in their own pay raises. 1
depends on how the savings would be used 1
Why are we raising pay gaps from our lowest employees? Percentages aren’t equal. 1
They are making too much money anyway. 1
Is it ethical that all Dr J’s friends all make that much?? 1
There are some making more who deserve even more. But teachers are desperate. 1
It would violate he policy 1
No problem with it. It is commonplace in the private sector.

Question 2 asked for your thoughts on an instance that happened during public comment where board members were labeled as participating in a public lynching of the Director of Schools after openly questioning him. 159 of you responded to this one, with 48% indicating that they found it disturbing. 28% felt that the Director of Schools should have spoken up when the accusation was made. What makes me sad is that 7 people felt it was an accurate depiction.

Lynching is one of the most horrific acts I can imagine, and to equate it with anything that happens in a public board room undercuts its severity. It like using the word “rape” to describe any action other than a sexual assault. It is perfectly legitimate, though I disagree, to argue that board members were disrespectful. Maybe even undermining. But let’s be clear, nobody was lynched in that board room.

Here are the write-ins:

it was an absolute disgrace, and seemed like a plant. 1
Dr. Joseph seems focused on segregating our schools 1
Apparently adults need to be in my ELA class for convos about connotation. 1
Dr Joseph & MNPS are harming black children 1
Terrible comment made by ONE individual. 1
It bothers me, but I’m not surprised. 1
Diversion for the smoke & mirrors… not taking responsibility 1
I think Joseph invited that guy to come in and lambast his critics. Shameful. 1
It is race-baiting done by people of ill-will.

The last question is derived from a statement by Dr. Joseph during a recent interview that he didn’t consider these hard times. So I asked, do you consider these hard times? Out of 164 responses, 64% indicated that they find these to be hard times. An additional 18% acknowledged that the budgeting process was harder this year. Not one person responded that things were running smoother and only one respondent indicated that they felt we had a handle on things.

If Dr. Joseph truly believes that these are not hard times, then he’s clearly in the minority. Empathy means understanding and validating how others are feeling. It’s an essential trait of an effective leader. The acknowledging of difficulties can serve to unite people in a common cause. Failure to acknowledge difficulties indicates that the leader is either too isolated from the general public or disingenuous. Neither inspires followers.

Here are the write-in votes:

[As a side note, I’d love if the person who wrote that It’s hard being black in America and this process + blog showcase this fact would elaborate. Perhaps we could sit down and conduct a dialogue for publication. My email is norinrad10@yahoo.com.]

This. is. a. mess. 1
Read this book, what is happening here is a national trend:Many Children Left Behind 1
It’s hard being black in America and this process + your blog showcase this fact 1
Parents should be encouraging teachers to strike 1
About time upper level got a shake down instead of the teachers! 1
We’ve had worse. 1
Only because of bad leadership 1
Chickens coming home to roost. 1
Yes, money being taken from direct services to kids and put into ‘office’ people 1
Any extra difficulty is self-imposed. 1
Yes. MNPS has been invaded by grifters. 1
Yes. We are fighting for sanity and respect both inside and outside of school 1
People only pay attention when it affects them personally 1
We need a no confidence vote on Dr Joseph.

That’s a wrap. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. Your opinion is vital. 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.

NASHVILLE’S COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE

2

I swear, you can’t make up the things that have transpired during this budget season for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools if you tried. If it wasn’t all so tragic, it would be comedic. When Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph arrived two years ago, he suggested we all read Leadership and Self-Deception. Surely he didn’t intend for it to be ironic, but after this week, I’m not so sure.

Wednesday, Dr. Joseph continued his “Have Mic, Will Travel” tour by appearing on News Channel 5’s Open Line show with Ben Hall. He was so impressed with his performance on the show that he felt compelled to email a copy of it out to every Nashville resident with an active email account. I’ve watched it several times, and frankly, I’m baffled by what he thinks the message is that everyone needs to hear.

Before I offer some views on the actual content of the interview, let me speak to the endeavor as a whole. You know that brother-in-law of yours, the one who comes around to borrow your lawn mower, or power drill, or car? You know, the one that as soon as you see him getting out of his car in front of your house, you’re pulling the drapes and locking the door because you know he’s only there for one thing. He’s the one who only talks to you when he needs something or you can do something for him.

The same holds true if you are a Director of Schools and no one has ever seen you on a microphone throughout the year. School bus issues? Somebody else grab the mic. Chaotic school cancellations due to inclement weather? Where’s Chris? Give him the mic. Lead in school drinking water? Certainly don’t expect the Director of Schools on the mic for that one. Don’t think it hasn’t been noticed either. So if you are suddenly the congenial guest of every media outlet in the country, forgive people if they hide their wallet, because it’s pretty clear you are out to sell something.

I don’t want to spend too much time dissecting the interview, because frankly, with apologies to my Republican friends, fact checking Dr. Joseph is a lot like fact checking Trump. It gets exhausting, and there never seems to be any correction. So unless I can check a claim with just a couple of key strokes, I don’t even bother anymore. Sorry, but there is only so much time in the day. If you are not familiar with what I’m talking about, Board Member Amy Frogge does a pretty though job of laying it out.

The tone of the interview is set fairly early on when Hall remarks to Joseph that these appear to be difficult times. Joseph responds that he doesn’t think they are particularly hard, and being an urban superintendent is always hard. Huh? I know what Joseph’s going for here – that cool guy who remains unruffled in times of crisis – but I don’t think that works here.

These are difficult times. You don’t pack the board room on four different occasions for public comment on the budget if things are going smoothly. If they are going smoothly, people are content to stay home and let you drive, confident you are leading them in the right direction. Sometimes calming the waters requires acknowledgement. Does he really think that all those people who are feeling agitated by the budget process, the releasing of social workers, the loss of free lunch, are going to hear him say “it’s not hard” and then suddenly reconsider their position?

Failure to admit that these times have been difficult sends one of two messages. Either you are so disengaged and removed from what’s transpiring that you don’t understand the difficulties, or you are being disingenuous. And if you are being disingenuous about the degree of difficulty, what else are you being disingenuous about?

Just say, “Yes, this has been a hard one.” Nobody will fault you or think less of you. You could even offer some qualifiers, like “It’s only our second Nashville budget,” or “We underestimated a few elements.” Acknowledgement of the difficulties might even earn him a few sympathy points, and Dr. Joseph might not realize it, but he is need of those points.

There are really only two other observations I want to share about this interview. The first is to note how much Joseph is doubling down on both his prediction of the results of the pending audit of MNPS finances and the results of the recently completed MAP tests. He’s like that guy in Vegas who’s lost 15 times in a row and responds by pushing all his chips in on Red 13. Hoping his number comes up and all his losses will be wiped clean.

Who knows what the audit will show. Maybe everything will fall in line, but even if it does, Joseph will not suddenly be exonerated. No matter what the outcome, there is a legitimate reason, tied to the administration’s conduct, why board members felt a need to ask for a financial accounting. That “why” will need further exploration. If things turn up clean, there still needs to be a rigorous self-evaluation of what contributed to such a breach of trust and how that can be mended and avoided going forth.

Standing and pointing fingers while saying “Nah Nah” will not help regain that trust. Neither will taking a smug and condescending tone. An old football coach of mine used to say that when you got to the end zone, don’t celebrate; act like you always expected to be there. I’ve always found that to be advice that transcended football. It should also be pointed out that it wasn’t too long ago that former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry also welcomed an audit. Just saying.

The doubling down on the MAP scores is an equally troubling bet. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that those results are 100% legitimate. They are still only indicative of one test, not a trend. My friend Andy Spears tried to warn the state about making the same mistake when it came to NAEP scores 4 years ago. They didn’t listen, but Dr. Joseph might want to heed the example.

The second observation I’d like to make on the interview is in relation to Dr. Joseph’s response to Ben Hall’s question about remarks made during public comment at the previous night’s budget hearing. One gentleman referred to school board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering’s questioning of the Director as a “public lynching,” and Hall wanted to know what Joseph though of the comment. This was one of those softballs that should have been hit out of the park.

Joseph could have taken the opportunity to showcase his leadership qualities and respond with something like, “Look Ben, we’re talking money and people are always passionate about money. But we all should probably take a minute and recognize that while we are passionate, we are also role models for 88 thousand kids. We all need to be sure that we don’t lose sight of that and that our passion doesn’t lead us to conduct ourselves in a manner we wouldn’t want kids to emulate.” Or something like that. It was an opportunity to demonstrate a cool head and statesman-like demeanor.

However, that’s not the road Joseph chose. Instead, while he did disavow the comments, he did so in a manner that was devoid of real depth. He said he doesn’t use that language. He tries to not engage in those kinds of conversations. Perhaps it’s due to his Christian faith, he offered. And another opportunity to show why he is the man to lead the district slipped away.

Watch the rest of the tape at your leisure. I’m not sure that it’ll change your mind on anything, but what the heck. For now, let’s move on to Thursday and bear witness to the next train wreck.

On Thursday, board members were preparing for a Friday/Saturday board retreat. The budget was scheduled to dominate the agenda. News Channel 5 noticed that the meetings did not appear on the board calendar nor on the district’s website, at mnps.org. They were also absent from the schedule of budget-related meetings that the district had publicized. In short, this was in violation of Tennessee State Sunshine Laws.

I know, the most transparent administration evah is violating Sunshine Laws. I almost called this post “Isn’t it Ironic?” Trust me, we’re not done with the irony either.

After Channel 5 publicly called attention to the snafu, Board Chair Tyese Hunter announced that the meetings were canceled because they had “inadvertently” not been posted. To add another layer to the chaos, earlier in the day, the district’s public information officer told Channel 5 that the meetings had been canceled weeks ago. That was later amended to, “We are waiting to hear from our attorneys.” Unfortunately, an agenda had been emailed out from central office shortly after 10 AM that very morning, undermining the whole narrative. Maybe it is a communication problem.

Thursday night, the last of three public budget hearings this week was held. Prior to Hunter opening the floor for public comment, board member Frogge brought forth a proposal to limit the pending 2% raise for district employees to only those making less than $125K. That was shot down 6-2, with only Jill Speering supporting Frogge. Budget Committee Chair Tyese Hunter later remarked that restricting salary increases for those that make $125,000 a year or more pits employees against each other. Yeah, I told you we weren’t done with the irony.

This whole budget process has been all about pitting schools and communities against each other. A free lunch program for some but not all. Title I money for some, but not all. Extra funding for some programs, like STEAM, but little increase for others, like English Learners. I know some will argue that this is how the budgeting process inherently works. I would counter argue that we have to do better, and we have in the past.

The Reverend Enoch Fuzz of Corinthian Baptist Church spoke out during the public comment portion of Thursday night’s meeting. He drew attention back to Frogge’s proposal when he admonished leaders about saying that it was all about the children while benefiting from a pay raise during a time of tight budgets. “Public employees that are making 6 figures who can’t take a 4 figure pay cut, you don’t tell me the children are important. If you are making 6 figures and you can’t take a 4 figure pay check for a number of years while things get on track, you don’t care about no children. You care about yourself.” He reminded us all again that your budget is your public demonstration of your morals. I hope someone was listening.

QUICK HITS

Much of the budget talk centered around the social workers that were being displaced. I think many of us are unclear on exactly what role social workers serve and the differentiation of what exists and what is being proposed. It is in order to add some clarity that I want to share these remarks that were sent to me by someone who understands the difference:

In Dr. Joseph’s interview on Channel 5 tonight, he stated that CIS was bringing in 18 new social workers. This is misleading. Social work is a specifically defined profession, as in, if you don’t have a degree in social work, you can’t call yourself a social worker. School social workers carry a special licensure from the state that requires a minimum of a master’s degree. The CIS positions are for “site coordinators” and only require a bachelor’s degree and it doesn’t have to be in social work. I feel like this is misleading yet again. 

CIS primarily does case management and they refer out for mental health counseling which brings up a host of issues like insurance, transportation, time, immigration status etc. school social work is successful because we’re in the buildings where kids are, we don’t bill insurance and we’re not another thing for a parent to do. That isn’t to say we don’t refer out extreme cases or refer out for medication when warranted, but most of it is handled in school.

I always say, I’ve got the best readers.

We often talk about our EL students and their lives, but I wonder how many of us truly understand the depth of challenges that they face. This is a story relayed to me by a district soccer coach that I think we all benefit from by hearing:

After our match tonight, I was talking to one of my players from Burundi. His story is important.

He was sitting in school at the age of 11 or 12 when he heard gunshots and explosions. In his words, “the war it is coming.” They evacuated the school and he ran home to find his parents and all but one of his siblings executed. 

He fled into the jungle and was able to find a group of others fleeing – and the group included his brother. Eventually, they made their way to refugee camps

and then to the United States. My player and his brother currently live with a foster family from Malawi. He told me soccer is his release. It makes him happy.

I’ve heard a lot of players and parents laugh at how we wear mismatched jerseys and shorts, taped numbers, and socks with holes. I’ve heard people mock my players for their language and skin color. I just wish those people could know these stories.

Soccer is more than a sport for many of my guys. This is their joy. This is why I coach.

Mark June 9th down on your calendar. That’s the date for this year’s MNPS Fatherhood Festival. Talk to anybody who went last year and they’ll you it’s an event you don’t want to miss. Expect more details to follow.

Mark those calendars again: our next Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Council (PAC) Meeting is Monday, April 30 at 6:30 pm. Join us at Haywood Elementary School to celebrate the many successes within our cluster, discuss any challenges, and vote for local PAC leadership.

If you haven’t checked out the Hillsboro Globe, a student-run, AP-accredited newspaper, you need to do so. It gets better all the time.

Testing season in Tennessee is almost upon us. Peter Greene takes a deeper look at why we test. His conclusion:

I don’t know the answer. But I do know what we should do next.

Stop.

Just stop.

Cancel the BS Tests. Throw them out. Have an honest conversation about which of the above goals are worth pursuing and how best to pursue them. That will take time; it won’t be easy. Maybe there will be a place for the right tests, used correctly, in the future. Maybe. But what we have now continues to do serious damage to US public education. It’s costing us so much, both in terms of money and human toll and opportunity costs, and it is giving us nothing in return.

Can’t say I disagree.

That’s a wrap. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. Your opinion is vital. 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.

 

 

 

 

ONE FOR THE BOOKS

4

Budget season in MNPS continues to march on, and it continues to be one of turmoil. Fresh off of spring break, and several reports from Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams looking at district fiscal policy, Metro Nashville Public Schools held two more budget hearings this week. Two more meetings that highlighted the district’s inability to provide verifiable data that would allow for a meaningful conversation on next year’s proposed budget. These meetings also highlighted the administration’s unique ability to appear incompetent while still benefiting from that incompetence.

This year, as opposed to previous years, the budget was released piecemeal with several corrections to data that reflects the current year’s finances. For example, at Monday’s meeting it was revealed that the Director of School’s salary, along with those of the Chiefs, was initially presented incorrectly. The salary listed reflected the 3% raise that was awarded to MNPS employees last year. That raise was not given to senior administrators, but the line item was never corrected in the budget. This translated to miscalculated budgetary items regarding the Director of Schools and senior administrators’ salaries proposed for next year that was luckily caught by a board member before going forward for approval.

I listened to Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson laconically explain this correction at Monday’s meeting with mouth agape. But I shouldn’t be surprised, because this year’s budget has been riddled with errors, more so than any year I can remember. A couple of weeks ago, during one budget meeting when a board member started questioning individual school allocations based on information distributed by the district, she was stopped and informed that the information had been revised. It wasn’t the projected information that had been revised, but rather the numbers for the current fiscal year.

At a later meeting, it was discovered that a whole column had been miskeyed and needed revision. When the veracity of line items is under question, it comes virtually impossible to have a meaningful conversation, and as a result, the community has quickly grown frustrated. Throw in staff reductions, perceived areas of need, social workers, and truant officers, along with the loss of a vital free lunch program – all amid reports of questionable spending – and what we are left with is a process that seems incredibly broken.

Somehow, though, this turmoil and dysfunction is going to facilitate the passing of Dr. Joseph’s budget virtually untouched. The entire budget was not revealed until March 27th and was immediately followed by spring break. Public commentary was scheduled the first days back from spring break. Next Tuesday, the board votes on the budget, and the following week it will be presented to the mayor. So despite the impressive turnout for public commentary, there really is little time for any meaningful changes to occur, which gives the proceedings a sense of orchestration.

In attempting to construct a meaningful conversation, there is nothing more frustrating than a lack of concrete information. It’s one thing to have a point/counterpoint conversation; it’s quite another to have every point met with a revelation that the information you are basing your point on is not factual. For example, let’s look at board member Jill Speering’s revelations on Executive Director of Equity and Diversity Maritza Gonzalez receiving a stipend in addition to her 6-figure salary:

On March 7, HR reported “… according to payroll records this year, Maritza Gonzalez had NOT received any stipends or extra compensation.”  Consequently I was provided a document from an employee at central office that proved Gonzalez did indeed receive a stipend of $24,168.29.  Upon further investigation, On April, 4 I received a very different story.  And I quote:

“Five employees (Maritza Gonzalez, Amy Wyatt, Antoinette Williams, Terry Schrader, and Vanessa Garcia) all went from being Executive Officers to Executive Directors as part of central office reorganization. Their salaries went from $155K to $130K. The decision was madeto keep their salaries intact through the end of the fiscal year. This necessitated treating the difference in pay as a ‘stipend’ rather than as ‘salary.’ That difference in pay (about $961/pay period) goes away at the end of this fiscal year when the new budget takes effect. The reorganization occurred at the beginning of our current fiscal year, hence the stipend is for one full fiscal year.”

When I checked with Mrs. Garcia, Mrs. Williams, and Mr. Shrader, each confirmed, they had NOT received additional compensation.Which means the only person who received a $24,000 stipend was the wife of the Chief of Schools, Maritza Gonzalez. 

The district has since revised its official explanation to read as follows:

Ms. Gonzalez’ base salary is $130,831.71 per year.  The reduction from $155,000 took effect July 1, 2017 when her title was changed from Executive Officer to Executive Director.  However, the anticipated reorganization of staff and responsibilities that went with that reduction was placed on hold due as the school district works to fill the Executive Officer for Communication and Community Engagement position.  Once that position is filled, family engagement will move to a new office. Ms. Gonzalez agreed to continue with her previous responsibilities until the other position was filled.  Consequently, she has received a per pay period stipend of $929.55 for those continued responsibilities.  When the reorganization is complete, the stipend will be discontinued. 

Houston, we’ve got a problem. A look at the district organizational chart fails to back up the later claim. It shows a $131K a year administrator supervising one employee, aided by an administrative assistant. There are only a handful of people making over $130k a year in the district. I don’t think it is an unrealistic expectation that the Chief of Human Resources, who herself is making $170k, be familiar with the responsibilities of that small handful of people. I also believe it’s extremely problematic when the wife of the Chief of Schools is the only person receiving a stipend that puts her among the 10 highest-paid employees of MNPS, despite a lack of commensurate experience.

Last month, we dragged Mayor Megan Barry out of office over her bodyguard/boyfriend making an extra $170k. Minus the salacious details, I see no difference between Rob Forrest/Megan Barry and Maritza Gonzalez/Sito Narcisse. We were told five MNPS employees had their salaries reduced substantially last year, but only one, who happens to be the wife of the Chief of Schools, received a stipend to supplement those lost wages. A stipend that took nearly a month, after an initial denial, in order for central office to craft a semi-plausible explanation for its existence.

Equally hard to explain is exactly what Gonzalez does to earn her elevated salary. There is mention of community engagement work, but the district’s Parent Advisory Committee still lays dormant despite holding a couple of organizational meetings this past year. Only the Overton, Stratford, and Hillsboro PACs are currently active and that’s only due to parental initiative and support from the administrators in those cluster schools. Districtwide, 22 months later, there is still no communicated vision of what family engagement is even proposed to look like, let alone a functioning strategic plan.

I would be remiss here if I did not mention that the Department of Family and Community Engagement has conducted a series of very successful parental education sessions through their Parent University program. But that has little to do with Gonzalez and can be attributed to interim director Pam Burgess and her hard working team. The final session this year will take place on Thursday, April 12th, at 10 AM at the West Police Precinct. Attend if you can.

Getting back to Gonzalez, the unofficial narrative around her responsibilities is that she travels. She travels a lot. Earlier in the year I put in an open records request on Gonzalez’s travel and was initially told there was none. When I questioned that, it was discovered that she did travel, just not on the district’s dime.

Between July 1, 2017 and December 1, 2017, Gonzalez attended 4 conferences paid for by outside sources. Two of those trips were paid for by the Racial Equity Leadership Network (RELN). Gonzalez is a 2017 Fellow for this organization, whose stated mission is “to gather five times to intimately dive into both the racial equity challenges and opportunities that exist within their respective school districts, as they work to realize authentic change and more equitable outcomes for the students in their systems.” Gonzalez also attended both the Deeper Learning spring conference and a 3rd gathering of RELN Fellows this spring.

While no district money was spent on travel for these conferences, I question when Ms. Gonzalez found the time to convey the information gathered at conferences back to district employees. Trips every month translates into a lot of absences. Frequent absences leave it to others to fill her district responsibilities.

Now if all these instances I just related were isolated incidents, I’m pretty confident that board members Speering and Frogge would have both continued to communicate primarily behind closed doors. Over the last 22 months, they, along with the other 7 board members, have been extremely disciplined in following Dr. Joseph’s directive of communicating only with him. Quite frankly, this lack of communication with the public also came with the detriment of personal relationships and reputations. Board members made it clear that they had made a commitment to Dr. Joseph and they meant to honor it.

But I think it’s safe to say, based on the litany of questions and concerns raised by both Speering and Frogge, Dr. Joseph and his team were not holding up their end of the bargain. They were failing to provide board members with accurate information in a timely manner. Dr. Joseph will point to his 60-page weekly missives as a counter argument, but I’d argue those reports are merely an attempt to hide trees in the forest.

Whatever the case, it’s very apparent that two respected board members had reached a tipping point. Both raised their questions in a deliberate and level manner. In no manner were there “inappropriate outbursts,” as described by Dr. Joseph. It was clear that they had done their research and put a lot of thought into presenting their concerns. Dr. Joseph’s response was to voice displeasure at their perceived breach of protocol and to lecture them about hypothetical ramifications devoid of any recognition of their past 22 months of blind loyalty. Amazing how fast that Arbinger training flew out the window.

During a break in the budget committee meeting, a conversation between Frogge and Joseph was captured by live mic that was inadvertently not muted. I always say you shouldn’t judge people by what they say when they know you’re listening but rather by what they say when they think you are not listening. In that light, this conversation was quite revealing and not at all flattering to Dr. Joseph.

To begin with, there is nothing quite like a non-lawyer lecturing an actual lawyer about possible exposure to litigation. At one point Joseph says, “One thing I don’t do is anything illegal with money.” Ok… that is strangely reminiscent of former district employee, and long time friend of Joseph, Mo Carrasco’s defense when accused of sexual harassment when he said “I’m innocent until proven guilty.” I’m not sure why Joseph felt the need to raise this defense, because at this point nobody has accused him of illegal behavior, just sloppy and potentially unethical behavior.

At one point, Frogge is heard saying, “I don’t work for you.” That point needs to be reiterated. We all have bosses. Our bosses seldom do everything we want them to, but we defer to them because they are our bosses. I think there would be repercussions for all of us if we were to fail to acknowledge criticism from our boss and instead publicly disparaged them. I would think Shawn joseph would take exception if any of his principals were to conduct themselves in a similar manner. We don’t have to like our bosses, but it is imperative that we show them respect.

I stress to the kids on the baseball team I coach that making a mistake is not what is important, but rather it’s what you do after the mistake that matters. What this budget process has clearly revealed is that Dr. Joseph has, at the minimum, made mistakes over the last 22 months. The question is, what does he do now? He clearly needs a good strategy. Early indications aren’t exactly encouraging though.

Getting defensive with those who are merely fulfilling the requirements of their job is not a good strategy. Pressuring principals to come speak to the virtues of your proposed budget is not a good strategy, especially when, despite a concentrated effort, you can only produce six principals. Rolling your eyes, shaking your head, and smirking while an elected board member voices their concerns is not a good strategy. Packing the board room with your fraternity brothers and having them refer to the previous night’s questioning as a “public lynching” is not a good strategy.

I don’t pretend to know who the Director is taking advice from, but I hope they are advising him not to underestimate the precipice he is standing on. For the first time, I’m beginning to hear people openly wonder if this is the beginning of the end. The answer to that question lies with Dr. Joseph himself.

As always, I have no vested interest in whether he lasts or does not last in his position. My focus remains on the implementation of policies rooted in best practices based on research and supported by data. Ideally, for the sake of stability, Dr. Joseph will adjust and amend behaviors, thereby reestablishing trust. But that’s going to take some heavy lifting.

In closing, I’d like to report on some positive news. Kevin Stacey and Molly Stovall gave a presentation to the board last night on the state of the district’s English Learner programs. If you haven’t watched it yet, I urge you to. The presentation starts around the 53-minute mark.

23% of all students in MNPS require EL services. There are 787 EL teachers with 16 coaches. That’s right, only 16 coaches. The EL budget has basically been flat for the last three years. Dr. Joseph talks about infusing $2 million into EL services, but that money is primarily for hiring new teachers in order to be compliant with state-mandated teacher-to-student ratios. Despite these challenges, the department produces work that inspires Jan Lanier, the director of EL for the Tennessee Department of Education, to publicly say that MNPS has done in 3 years what the state thought would take 5 years. Thank you Kevin, Molly, and all of you MNPS EL teachers for your tremendous dedication and accomplishments.

THE FORECAST CALLS FOR MORE STORMS

1

Welcome back, MNPS students and teachers. Hope everybody had a fantastic reprise last week. As my son has informed me throughout spring break, we now have 34 more days until summertime. While things might have quieted inside district school buildings, outside storms continued to rage over district initiatives, spending, and the 2018-2019 budget.

I must also confess that I started this post before the events at Monday’s Budget/Finance Committee transpired. In fact, I almost scrapped this piece, but I believe there are some points that are extremely relevant to the ongoing conversation, and so, I’m getting this out. Look for a follow-up tomorrow.

On Thursday and Friday of last week, Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams began a series of reports showing MNPS was not following its own purchasing protocols and was continuing to utilize friends from the Northeast as primary resources for educational support. These reports come on the heels of an already heated debate over enrollment projections and next year’s proposed budget. In response to the heat, and I’m assuming anticipation of the upcoming news stories, the normally media-shy Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph grabbed his microphone and hit the airwaves, making stops at Channel 2 and Channel 4, and even doing the podcast Nashville Sounding Board. All told, the Nashville community was given a whole lot to digest last week.

It would take hours to dissect and put into context all of the information made available last week, but there are a couple of things I would like to point out. I’ve heard the argument raised that the majority of Dr. Joseph’s problems spring from a subpar communications platform. The argument being that policies and implementation just aren’t communicated well and so the perceptions become ones of incompetence and mismanagement.

While I don’t fully buy into that argument, I’m willing to give it some credence. The district continually seems to communicate in a reactionary matter and is seldom proactive. Instead of telling parents about water issues, they wait for the story to break on the local news. Instead of alerting people to changes in free lunch programs, they wait for the story to break on the news. Instead of explaining enrollment shortfalls and the subsequent loss of funding, proactively they wait for the local news to break the story ahead of time. Once the story breaks, they cry fake news and inaccurate information and rush to defend themselves. In other words, they consistently allow somebody else to shape the narrative before they tell their story and then play the victim when the story doesn’t suit them.

You would think that after two years of wash, rinse, repeat, that somebody would hold a meeting where an actual communications strategy was discussed and implemented. By now, somebody has surely realized that the actions of district leaders are being closely scrutinized, there are no secrets, and just hoping nobody notices is not a communications policy.

Take this year’s budget process, for example. It’s been a dumpster fire when it didn’t have to be. Before administrators even discussed the upcoming budget and the revised Title I distribution with principals, they should have had all the exact figures in hand and those figures should have been fully vetted for accuracy. There should have been a sit down with a core group of senior principals where the plan was shared and those senior principals provided with an opportunity to stress test the plan. Then, accurate figures, with an accompanying narrative supporting the figures, could have been presented in a timely manner. If people took exception to the changes, the discussion could be based on verifiable numbers, instead of the plethora of changes that have left nobody sure of what figures were accurate. To this day, I have no faith in the numbers being tossed around.

Secondly, you have to provide information that is accurate and easily verifiable. Look at the district’s response to Channel 5’s report on the rise of unauthorized purchase requests. According to the Channel 5 report, “Unauthorized purchase requests (UPRs) went from $304,289 in the year before Dr. Joseph took control — skyrocketing to $2,279,647 in Joseph’s first year on the job. Already, this year, those UPR requests have topped a million dollars.” MNPS’s response goes into detail about what a UPR is and how they are used. And then makes the claim that “In 2018, UPRs are trending to be flat—we expect UPRs to fall as education continues in the district and we ensure all employees adhere to proper expense reporting.”

What?!? How is from $304,289 compared to over a million dollars trending flat? Furthermore, if you just started tracking UPRs in 2015, where was the money accounted for previously? Did it just turn up somewhere in the budget? When you say that 2018 is trending flat, are you talking about the fiscal year, which begins in July, or the calendar year, which began in January? Where does the money for UPRs come from? What’s the whole story here, and if there is nothing in William’s story for me to be concerned about, why are you not explaining it in more detail to me? And by the way, several of those UPRs are for 5-figures and above, so to utilize the examples of a teacher applying late for a conference or a maintenance worker picking up a part is a little bit disingenuous.

A proper narrative requires telling the same story every time you repeat it. Dr. Joseph has pointed to the growth of advanced academics as a success this year, and to some extent, rightfully so. But in touting that success at various media outlets, he’s changed the story with each telling. On the radio, he stated that we’ve doubled the number of kids taking advanced classes throughout the district. At the State of Schools speech, it became “We have doubled the number of students with plans to take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Cambridge exams, and we have expanded our advanced programming in middle schools.” On Channel 2 it was, “We doubled the number of kids taking advanced placement at the high school level.” All three claims are very different, and I’m not sure any of them can bear up to being fact checked.

The one that probably comes the closest to being factual is that we’ve nearly doubled the number of kids taking Advanced Placement tests. The reason being that the district paid for those tests this year. So, if last year you had 100 people taking AP classes and 50 weren’t taking the test because they couldn’t afford it, it’s not a big stretch to imagine that if the financial barrier is removed, everybody will take the test. The district deserves accolades for removing that barrier.

However, just like with testing the water for lead, it’s not enough to just take the test. What were the results? What are we doing with the results? We all purportedly hate participation trophies, yet’s here’s Dr. Joseph asking us to give him one. You have to do more than just test.

Dr. Joseph is shouting MAP testing results from the roof tops. But again, we are not telling the whole story. First of all, we’ve chosen to completely disregard a whole testing session. Kids took the MAP test in November and scores were down 2%. Those results are no longer part of the conversation as we focus only on September and February testing results. That 2% drop in November was ruled insignificant. February scores are up 3% and being touted as the “highest they’ve ever been in MNPS,” which is not a true statement. 

As you can see by looking at the district-supplied chart of results from the last 5 applications, scores are basically flat with only 6th and 7th graders showing significant gains. I’m not trying to throw cold water on the work that teachers and kids are doing, but the numbers don’t lie. Why not brag about the math scores, which other than 5th grade, legitimately earn accolades.
On Eagles’s podcast, Joseph touts MAP being given three times a year as a component of its power. Exactly when will we be giving the test three times this year? November’s results are disregarded and May’s testing window has been labeled optional, so when will the third administration be delivered? He can’t just keep saying whatever comes to mind.
Furthermore, while touting these results, Dr. Joseph seldom outlines how we got them. At the school board meeting, he mentioned scripted curriculum, expectations, and the scope and sequence. Talk to any teacher about this year’s scripted curriculum and scope and sequence and then come tell me how those items produced these results.
I’ll tell you what actually produced those results and district leadership won’t like it. Teachers. Teachers who ignored the district’s initiatives and just did what they knew to be best for kids. Which is very commendable, but how do we replicate the results? Again, we have the refrain of it’s the testing that matters, not what you do with the results.
I could go on and point out endless examples. The short answer is, yes, many of Dr. Joseph’s problems stem from a communication root. But I’m loathe to just write it off as that because when I look at the Channel 5 reports, there is no denying that missteps have not hurt the bottom line for the friends and families of the Chiefs from Prince George’s County. I’m going to leave this aspect alone for today other than to say, faulty communication supplies an all too convenient excuse for problems that are plaguing the current MNPS administration, but it doesn’t cover up that people from PGCPS have benefited disproportionately from district policy compared to those who were already employed upon Dr. Joseph’s arrival. Let’s just say I’ll be revisiting this topic later in the week.
However, I can’t close out this portion of the conversation without sharing the thoughts of Thespian Bruce Taylor. Taylor is a compatriot from Prince George’s County who, despite having no formal training in education, has managed to secure a $100k contract to work with 2 schools on ACT improvement. Two middle schools, I might add. Taylor admits that he has no formal training in education, but provides this argument in defending his qualifications: “If my approach doesn’t succeed, then all the ‘credentials’ in the world wouldn’t work.” Conversely, if it does work, and there is some evidence that it does, then “credentials” wouldn’t matter either.
Based on that logic, I don’t know why teachers bother getting their degrees. Why does the state even require certification? I encourage everybody to read Mr. Taylor’s insights and then I suggest y’all quit and set up a consultancy agency. $100k is a damn sight better than a teacher’s salary.
QUICK HITS 
The community gets a chance to weigh in on the budget again this week. Tonight is a budget hearing at 5 pm, with another tomorrow after the board meeting at 6 pm, and then one last opportunity Thursday at 5 pm. I encourage everyone to show up and speak out. Positive and negative.
Tomorrow is a regularly scheduled board meeting at 5 pm. One thing that stands out on the agenda is that there will be a vote on the recently negotiated Memorandum of Understanding between the district and teachers. While most of the fiscal components have been deferred to the compensation committee, there are still some things to celebrate. The length of the working day has been defined, as well as the procedure for appealing reprimands. It may not be a giant step for mankind, but it is a step forward. Thanks to all of those who worked so hard in bringing this to fruition.
There is good news coming out today from the Tennessee Department of Education. They are doing away with 2 state tests at the high school level. Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen’s 30-member assessment task force made separate votes on the recommendations, both with the same conclusion. In the 2018-2019 school year, the Chemistry test and English III test will no longer be administered. “Keeping students at the center, teachers want fewer tests in that year. That’s how we support them,” said Cicely Woodard, a Nashville public schools teacher and member of the committee. Call this one a step in the right direction.
Get ready. Come April 10, NAEP will be releasing its latest results. Will Tennessee continue to be the fastest rising state in the union?
POLL RESULTS
Last week’s poll numbers were down a little bit. Not sure if it was that you didn’t like the questions, or you didn’t like the column, or you were just checked out on spring break. Either way, I promise to do better. Still, some meaningful information can be drawn from your replies. So let’s look at them.

Question 1 asked whether you thought Tennessee teachers would strike. And the answer is… according to 32% of you… doubtful. Though the number 2 answer, at 24%, was “a real possibility.” Truth is, at this point, I don’t think anyone knows, but we’ll be watching. Here are the write-in answers:

Don’t think they can. Check the fine print at MNEA. 1
A death knell for trust 1
Only if they can get more printed packets to give students instead of actually teaching 1
Don’t let Joseph and his minions get 5 years in TCRS!
Question 2 asked for your opinion on MNPS possibly revising a structured intercession. 44% of you expressed a marginal interest, saying the devil would be in the details. 23% of you said you would be for it, but that it should be a full day and fully funded. I fall into the latter camp. I’m all in for anything that gives more kids more experiences. Here are the write-in answers:
No. 2
No 2
Prioritize family time 1
Wasted money. 1
It was disastrous when we had it. Unfunded and low student turnout. 1
Will they be able to stomach funding transportation and food? If not, then NO. 1
nope…too little interest and participation 1
I think it will be hard to get teachers to work it.

Last question asked who you would be supporting in the upcoming mayoral election. Acting Mayor David Briley received 51% of the vote. The next closest challenger was former radio talk show host Ralph Bristol with 9% of vote. Come on, Briley. Here are the write-in answers:

Undecided 1
IDK 1
I don’t know enough about the candidates yet. 1
Need to research more 1
Not enough information yet 1
Not a clue yet 1
whichever will promise to fund schools adequately 1
I wish I could vote for Love AND Gilmore 1
Don’t know enough about any of them. 1
TC Weber 1
undecided 1
What is the position of these candidates on education? 1
bozo the clown

That’s another one in the bag. Seeing as tonight was particularly eventful for the school board, I suspect I’ll be back tomorrow. 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.

AN HONEST LOVE

8

Climb on board the slightly wayback machine with me. Today I’d like to take you back to the year 2008. That’s the year that former school board candidate Jane Grimes and I were appointed to the board that oversaw the Metropolitan Arts and Education Channels(MEAC). MEAC was made up of Channels 9 and 10, dedicated to arts and education programming, respectively. At that time, Channel 19, the public access channel, was its own entity, with its own set of problems. We arrived on the MEAC board shortly after former director Michael Catalano had resigned. What we found was an organization in disrepair, whose very existence was in jeopardy.

I remember those first meetings vividly. A board chair who didn’t use email. Another board member falling asleep during discussions on the hiring of a new director. Financial support was at a low point. Jane and I just looked at each other, and after a couple WTF’s, we dug in and got to work.

Metro Government had decided that it wanted to restructure the whole organization and place all 3 channels under one umbrella: the Nashville Education, Community, and Arts Channels (NECAT). This was a noble endeavor, though one without a blueprint.

Finances were in such disarray that it was impossible to even get a financial audit due to so many missing records. Producers at Channel 19 wanted a better organization, but were rightfully very protective of their turf. Equipment was in need of an update, and we had an oversight board that only wanted to meet when it had good news to report. It was challenging to say the least.

Jane became chair, due to her more diplomatic nature, and I assumed the role of vice-chair. Joel Sullivan joined us on the board several months later and undertook the task of cleaning up the finances. And then the bare knuckle fights began. We began to have those painful, honest conversations that nobody wanted to have because they felt that having those conversations publicly would threaten our tenuous financial status and potentially threaten the organization’s existence.

One of our first moves was to bring Kim Hayes on board as Executive Director. We brought her on more as a partner than a savior. Board members were extremely involved – I’d start naming them, but I know I’d forget somebody – and available. Expectations were placed as much on the board as they were on our director. The board was seen as both a resource and a governing body.

Man, it was a lot of work and the future was extremely uncertain. The organization was so fractured and the history was so bad, yet people were so passionate about the organization. We had to take that passion and build upon it. We didn’t always see eye to eye on things, and things sometimes got heated, but I believe we always respected each other. It didn’t hurt that we had Keith Myles on the board to bring a certain zen to the proceedings.

We began to make progress. Jane rolled off the board and I became chair, a position I would hold for three years. Kim recruited John Ferguson to head up the tech side of things. We began holding monthly meetings with all members of the organization, where we presented things to them, but more importantly they presented their concerns to us. I remember getting blasted at a few of those meetings early on. Channel 19 producers didn’t trust us or believe we had their best interests at heart. We won them over by listening, doing what we said we were going to do, and when we fell short, being accountable.

I remember one meeting where producers wanted a green screen to improve the quality of their productions. I agreed to procuring the green screen. Unfortunately, I hadn’t followed through with that promise by the time the next meeting arrived. The reaction was as expected: members weren’t happy. But I stood in front of them and acknowledged my failure to deliver. By the next meeting, the green screen was provided and slowly but surely, trust grew.

Working as a partner with Kim allowed us to make real progress. Over her tenure, Kim Hayes brought stability to an organization that had none. Guiding principles and practices got established and she put us in a position to move forward. After 3 years at the helm, Kim was exhausted and realized that we needed a new director in order to make the next step. Thanks to her tireless work and dedication, we were ready to take that step.

I stayed neutral on the search until we had a finalist. The board was deadlocked over 2 candidates. The tie-breaking vote would come down to me. After talking via phone to both candidates for over an hour each, the decision was made to offer Trish Crist the position, which she graciously accepted. And the organization has been better for it ever since.

When we brought Trish on board, a decision was made to have the board be less involved in day-to-day operations. But we didn’t do that instantaneously. The board continued to offer input, and as board chair, I continued to ask questions. As time went on, I found the need to question less and less. Through working together, the board and director’s vision had become aligned.

Today, NECAT is doing extremely well and continually growing. New producers are joining the organization, along with new business partners. The last seven audits have all come up unqualified. That’s a long way from sitting across the desk from a frustrated auditor who’s saying they have no idea how to complete this audit.

I am extremely proud of this legacy, but not in the manner of hey, look what I did. But rather, look what happens when a group of dedicated and passionate people unite around a common goal and are brave enough not to shy away from the ugly side of things. To me, that bravery was the first step and the foundation upon which success has been built.

Now you may be wondering why I’m telling you this long-winded story about an organization that many of you probably didn’t know existed. I’m telling the story because I’m starting to hear similar rumblings around the subject of MNPS. People are wringing their hands over the negative stories and starting to say we shouldn’t talk about the negative. Bringing up the bad is going to hurt in procuring the budget. By criticizing Dr. Joseph and his leadership, we are just making charter schools more attractive. We need to just focus on the good.

I understand that and appreciate it. But it’s been my experience that people already know the bad whether you talk about it or not. Not discussing it doesn’t make it go away. I’ve repeatedly said this, and will continue to say it, we need to love our public schools like we love our families. We need to continually tell the truth. Telling the truth is the only way to earn trust, and without trust, the system collapses. Having honest conversations is often uncomfortable but it is essential.

Being willing to face the things that are not working is only part of having those hard conversations; there also needs to be a willingness to dissect the things that are working and identify the individual elements so that success can be replicated. For example, if we actually are doubling the number of kids in advanced academics, how are we doing it? Are we using an expensive screener that may be cost prohibitive in the near future, or are we doing so in a deliberate and scalable manner? Same with the literacy scores. We can’t just celebrate one instance of scores rising like it’s a trend, especially when we can’t draw a direct line between strategy and effect. When we can show a direct and clear link between cause and effect, replication occurs and greater success follows.

I love our public schools. I will fight for them like I will fight for a loved one. I will acknowledge the shortcomings in order to consistently improve the outcomes, and I will sing the virtues aloud to all who will listen. Our schools and our kids are too important for us to employ anything less than rigorous honesty.

Tackling those hard conversations is the only way to convince taxpayers that our schools are worthy of their investment. Nobody ever gave anybody more money because they just demanded it. We have to prove that we are willing to be good stewards of our resources. The only way to do that is by building trust. You earn trust by acknowledging and correcting, not by soft-peddling and failing to address. It’s really a simple formula, though not an easy one to adhere to.

As one final thought, MNPS leadership is quick to point to the axiom that change is hard. But what leaders often fail to recognize is that it’s not only the organization and its components that is changing, but also the leaders themselves. They are now leading a new organization. One with its own personalities and traditions. It’s imperative that new leadership recognize that they are no longer the head of their previous organization and that in their role as new leader, they can not just apply the same practices they did in the past. The leader has to change as well, and yes, change can be hard.

QUICK HITS

Yesterday it was dueling visions on local television stations. Over on channel 2 WKRN, MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph was selling his proposed budget and citing successes from the past year to support that budget. Meanwhile, over at Channel 5 WTVF, investigative reporter Phil Williams was giving the first of two reports on how some of that budget money is getting spent. Interestingly enough, the normally media-shy Joseph was spotted over at Fox 17 and Nashville Public Radio as well. Hmmmm… perhaps we’ll hear more about the thespian from Maryland we paid $100k to improve ACT scores at middle schools despite having no formal training in education. Sort of plays like a character out of the pages of a Jonathan Franzen novel.

Many folks are paying close attention to the teacher strikes in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, and naturally wondering if they could spread to Tennessee. Both the Tennessean’s Jason Gonzales and TN Ed Report’s Andy Spears decided to tackle that very subject. Personally, I believe the seeds are in the ground, and if we aren’t cautious, they will germinate.

Good news this week out of the capital. Somebody put the Tennessee whiskey down and realized that arming teachers was a terrible idea. The proposed bill failed in committee with Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville) saying he thought the bill to arm teachers had been drawn up on a napkin, and Rep. Roger Kane (R-Knoxville) remarking that he believed the proposal could open the schools up to lawsuits. On the flip side, the Tennessee House resoundingly passed two bills on Wednesday that would restrict and also require more reporting on the use of corporal punishment for students with disabilities. Cause for celebration.

This Saturday, April 7, Meharry Medical College is hosting Impressions Day, a program that introduces high school and undergraduate students to the demands of the dental profession while offering suggestions for gaining acceptance to and succeeding in dental school.

Here’s an interesting story out of Denver. Apparently, district-run schools are given an opportunity to vote on an “innovation plan” that allows for increased autonomy in return for increased accountability. This year, two schools decided to vote against the plan, and as a result, forego the autonomy. I’m not quite sure what it all means, but I find it to be food for thought and possibly a future poll question.

Seattle Public Schools selected a new superintendent of schools yesterday. I’ve been keeping an eye on this search for a number of reasons. Seattle shares some similarities with Nashville and there were rumors that some local folks had an interest in this race. The board selected Denise Juneau for the job. I like the reason for hiring her: “The work that we do is based on trust, and what I heard from so many people is that Ms. Juneau was already coming with a high level of trust,” Board Vice President Rick Burke said before the vote. Glad the Seattle board recognizes the importance of trust.

That’s 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.