NASHVILLE’S COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE

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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.

 

 

 

 

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2 comments on “NASHVILLE’S COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE

  1. Beth O’Shea says:

    What does CIS stand for?

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