SUMMER TIME… LET THE GAMES BEGIN

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I hope everyone had a fantastic Memorial Day weekend with the right mix of reverence and revelry. The Webers continued their holiday tradition of throwing the kids in the car and taking a road trip to parts unknown.

This past weekend, we visited friends near the Tennessee River and introduced the kids to the joys of a good old fashioned swimming hole. We enjoyed a fantastic burger at the Danville Depot. If you are ever in the area, I urge you to patronize it. Don’t be intimidated by the exterior; it rivals any of the grass-fed burger joints in Nashville. We rounded out our day trip with a stop in Clarksville. It was a day well spent.

THE ART OF POLITICS

Last week, MNPS leadership presented their proposed revised budget to the Metro Council. In the audience was a sea of teachers wearing red to signify support of public education and urging council members to fully fund the budget. This year, being a lean one, adds a sense of urgency to the plea. As the budget stands, MNPS is slated to only receive an extra $5 million, which leaves them $17 million short of breaking even. This shortfall means that, once again, teachers will not see a raise in pay.

While a significant part of their concern is raises, equally significant for teachers is the chronic underfunding of schools, which translates into schools with inadequate facilities, the use of out-of-date textbooks or none at all, and the inability to adequately staff schools. Somehow in the process of becoming the “It” city, Nashville lost sight of the fact that schools are every bit as important as convention centers, stadiums, and arenas.

Talk has already begun surrounding the updates needed for the Titan’s stadium and the need to create a bond to pay for those upgrades. Funny though, I haven’t heard a single politician or community leader talk about taking out a bond to pay for bringing all of our schools up to par. We’re not talking about creating state-of-the-art spaces here; just ones free of mold, free of lead, and all inclusive so kids no longer need to walk in and out of the building to portables in all types of weather.

Some have questioned the timing of the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA)-aided action. Initially there was some question as to what impact it would have on Briley’s campaign for mayor. Now it centers on whether it is appropriate in a year where there really is no money and other city employees also have pressing needs. On reflection, I would counter that I don’t know if there is ever a “good” time to make demands. Perhaps putting the city on notice will also catch the attention of state leaders and they will finally fully fund the BEP.

I do think it would be helpful if representatives of SEIU, the FOP, Firefighters, and other like-minded organizations bonded together. It’s no secret that there is strength in numbers and that by working together, a positive message of keeping Nashville focused on Nashvillians could be sent. I am sure that support from NOAH would be welcome as well. The growth of Nashville has been very welcome, but if we price out those who keep the city running, that growth won’t be sustained.

Inside the chamber during the presentation of the budget, things progressed about as expected. There were some hard questions asked and some answered. One highlight for me was when neither Director of Schools Dr. Joseph nor Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson knew the answer when asked about people being paid above and beyond what the pay schedule stipulates. In case you don’t know, MNPS operates on a pay schedule based on education level and years of service. Several recent transplants from Maryland are paid significantly higher for their services than the pay schedule dictates.

This question should not be a mystery to either Joseph or Henson as it was recently raised at budget committee meetings by MNPS board member Amy Frogge. Several months ago, I raised the question with Henson and was told that the Director had the right to dictate the level of pay how he desired. “Ah, so you mean the pay schedule is arbitrary?” I responded. He bristled at that and then reassured me that it wasn’t, but that the Director could set the rate of pay how he liked. Arbitrary: based on or determined by individual preference or convenience rather than by necessity or the intrinsic nature of something. Okay then. Let’s look at some more highlights.

Council Member (CM) Jacobia Dowell asked about the decision to cut the paying of fees for advanced exams. She wanted costs and success rates for the tests. Henson responded that we are reducing the budget by roughly $750k, but the actual number needed to pay for the tests would be higher. I’ve heard the number $1.3 million bandied about. That means the initiative is working. By paying the fees associated with testing, the district is attracting kids who normally would not look at participating. The fact that the number has grown that high is a testament to the necessity of paying for these tests.

As far as scores go, it’s my opinion that emphasis should not be placed there yet. To be honest, the results are not very good, but please remember we have increased access. Many kids are being exposed to these advanced academic offerings for the very first time. I wouldn’t expect scores to be great. I have no doubt that over the next several years, results will improve. The important thing right now is that if we are committed to diversity and access, our emphasis should be on access. Results will follow.

Dowell also asked about the feasibility of giving raises to only those who make under $100k a year. Henson demurred, saying he didn’t currently have that information but would work to get it. Dowell thanked him and reiterated her commitment to help those who are being priced out of Nashville.

CM Davis asked for some confirmation that Reading Recovery teachers would indeed have jobs. He got a very terse reply of “yes.” No further explanation was offered.

CM Pulley raised the need to raise salaries for paraprofesionals. He also got Henson to admit that due to low pay, the district has a hard time filling these positions.

CM Bob Mendes asked for further explanation on the $14 million in cuts. Henson explained that much of those cuts came from the areas of Human Resources, teacher recruitment, SEL support being scaled back, and nursing services. Mendes followed up by asking if Joseph considered teacher recruitment essential. Joseph gave a bit of a rambling answer, but confirmed that the positions cut for recruitment were essential, and that currently we don’t have the capacity to reply promptly to emails and fill spots in a timely manner. It was all very confusing.

Joseph then donned the robe of teacher defender and proceeded to argue the need for compensating teachers. He raised the specter of a staff that is overworked, overstressed and undercompensated. He proceeded to describe how he added counselors to the budget in order to benefit teachers as well as students. When this exchange was initially relayed to me, I thought he might have been joking. He wasn’t; the information was offered with a straight face. I guess he forgot that teachers’ mental health services are covered by their health insurance and not by school counselors.

Joseph went on to state that you can’t have high expectations and not high support. He said he’s pushing teachers but we need to support them. All of this would be a lot easier to swallow if, last year, Joseph hadn’t made teachers fight for their 3% raise and if his administrators hadn’t attempted to implement heavily-scripted curriculum. The emphasis last year was placed on programs, when it should have been on people. In other words, if Joseph’s actions had matched his words, teachers would have been leaping to their feet and applauding. The fact that there was little response should be considered very telling.

One area that kept popping up in this presentation was textbooks. Joseph stated numerous times during his presentation that he would like to put money back into that area. It’s a head scratcher for me because two years ago, the budget allocated $3,093,100 for textbooks, and we only spent $346,624. This year, the budget allocated $2,257,000 and as of May 20, we’d only spent 19.2% or $433,127. Henson did offer some explanation: each year’s budget is reflective of the required textbook adoptions, and that for the last several years, the areas of adoption were not very expensive. This year, the areas are Science, Fine Arts, and Health/Wellness. I appreciate the explanations, but would ask, where did the excess money get assigned?

CM Sharon Hurt had questions on Reading Recovery and what effect the budget cuts will have on the tremendous growth under Dr. Joseph’s leadership. Joseph responded by reiterating that Reading Recovery was cut due to his emphasis on first instruction over remediation. Two notes here. One, if you are going to toss softballs during a budget hearing, you probably ought not to commandeer a budget committee meeting earlier in the week. Hurt’s agenda is crystal clear, and I would challenge her to outline and explain her definition of “tremendous growth.” Second, Reading Recovery is not remediation. So if you are trying to try to sell your action as not being retaliatory, you probably ought to get your terms right.

CM Bedne asked Henson and Joseph to run the numbers for immigration training for all teachers. Joseph replied that MNPS is committed to educating all students regardless of immigration status. Bedne said that was not sufficient and reiterated his request for the district to run the numbers.

CM Karen Johnson drew attention to the mystery of the 30 jobs cut from the budget and what was going to happen to Reading Recovery teachers. Joseph and Henson both danced around the RR question with more word salad about first instruction. Johnson then asked about the current number of vacancies in the district. The answer to that one was a firm, “We’ll get those numbers to you.” How is it possible that number is not readily available? I guess they just didn’t like saying 500 in public, or maybe they don’t trust the MNPS job site either. Johnson ended her questioning by stating the importance of getting raises to classroom teachers and support staff.

CM Mina Johnson asked about the approximately $400k remaining in the advanced academics budget. She wanted to know who would benefit from this line item. After some initial confusion, Henson said he’d get back to her. She then proceeded to question the STEAM contract line item. This resulted in a lot more dancing. If you get a chance, I’d watch Johnson’s questioning. It starts at about the 2:06 mark and it produces quite a few “We’ll get back to you” replies. Johnson also makes it a point to recognize the teachers in attendance.

CM Antoinette Lee points out that those teachers participating in health insurance would be taking home less pay next year. Henson confirms. Lee also points out that step increases are not raises. They are built in to the salary schedule and therefore considered expected salary. Thank you, CM Lee.

CM Dave Rosenberg also asks about the number of Reading Recovery teachers placed. That produced yet another “We can get that number for you” reply. Rosenberg also asked why, last year, Joseph considered Reading Recovery a miracle and this year not so much. In response, the “first instruction” speech gets trotted out yet again. In other words, the question doesn’t get answered. This answer actually trots out all of the buzz words: “data driven,” “strategic plan,” “people hold on to plans,” “never a wrong time to make right decision.”

Rosenberg also asks about the enrollment shortage and what steps were taken when the district learned they were going to be short. Henson says they waited until January to be sure of the numbers before taking adjustment steps. Which is interesting, because money was swept back from individual schools based on enrollment numbers back in September.

Further, Rosenberg asks about culture and steps that have been taken to improve culture. In response, Joseph cites the teacher voice sessions. He refers to them as unstructured opportunities for teachers to share what was on their mind. Huh? I attended at least one session and they were anything but unstructured. Teachers were instructed to speak on two questions: “What is working?” and “What resource do you need?” Not exactly, “Whats up?”

Joseph then goes on to take a couple of shots at board members and critics Jill Speering and Amy Frogge. Apparently, publicly criticizing two board members for publicly criticizing you leads to resolution. Who knew?

All in all, council members reacted very favorably towards Dr. Joseph, and all publicly voiced a commitment to public education. They asked hard questions, but fair questions. Henson and Joseph were able to answer most questions, though several times I wanted to stand up and say, “Good God, man! What are you talking about?” The next step takes place next week when the public will have a chance to weigh in on the city budget. Everyone is invited down to share their two cents. It’ll be interesting to see what transpires.

QUICK HITS

I finally received a list of the 30 positions being cut at central office and the name of who is currently holding the position. As suspected, the list is made up of a lot of positions that have remained unfilled this year. One name and position, however, jumped out to me, Allison Buzard. Allison was the Coordinator of Equity and Diversity. According to the organizational chart, she was the sole employee that reported to Maritza Gonzales. As that sole employee, the amount of work she did with the Equity and Diversity University this year was nothing short of exemplary. Buzard is now working at Trevecca University and has added her name to the long, and still growing, list of quality former MNPS educators plying their trade outside of MNPS. These losses are going to cause some pain.

Children need healthy food all year long, which is why Metro Schools is sponsoring a summer meals program. During the school year, many children receive free and reduced price breakfast and lunch through the School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs. When school lets out, many of these children are at risk of hunger. Hunger is one of the most severe roadblocks to the learning process. Thank you, MNPS.

In a story that bears a striking resemblance to what is transpiring right here in Nashville, Chalkbeat Colorado has a story about gentrifying neighborhoods where new families don’t send their kids to the neighborhood school. A must read.

The Tennessee Dyslexia Advisory Council’s next meeting is Monday, June 4, in Nashville. It is open to the public or you can live stream it.

Make sure catch up with Jarred Amato and what’s next with Project Lit.

Keep your eye on this one…

English Learner (EL) Office Staff Changes—Kevin Stacy, Executive Director, EL Office, accepted a position in another district effective July 1, 2018. Molly Stovall, Director, EL, will be the interim Executive Director, EL, until further notice. Molly began her career as a general education teacher in MNPS in 2005. She became an EL Coach, EL Curriculum Developer and EL Coordinator in MNPS in subsequent years. Molly has worked closely with Kevin as the Director of the EL Office since 2014 where she provides direct support and supervision to EL Coaches and EL Teachers among other things. Both Kevin and Molly are working in tandem to ensure a smooth transition so that the important EL work continues moving forward seamlessly in the district.

We thank Kevin for his many years of service in the district and in wish him all the best in his new endeavor. We also thank Molly for her willingness to step into the interim Executive Director’s role for the EL Office. We will provide an update on next steps with permanently filling the Executive Director’s position in the EL office soon.

Whites Creek High School will soon be powered by the sun, thanks to the efforts of a student-led project in the Academy of Alternative Energy, Sustainability and Logistics. The school broke ground on a new solar farm in which students lead the design, installation and helped write the curriculum that will be used in the classroom this fall. The 40-panel solar farm is funded by more than $40,000 in grants from Piedmont Natural Gas and Ford Next Generation Learning. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy also worked closely with Whites Creek to have the solar panels donated.

Nashville education blogger and social activist Vesia Hawkins has some thoughts on Roseanne Barr. As always, they are worth reading.

 

POLL RESULTS

We had a lot of response to this week’s poll questions, and as always, your answers were very illuminating. Let’s dive in.

The first question asked for your opinion on the principal hiring process. To say you don’t like it would be an understatement. Out of 175 responses, 125 of you labeled it a “dog and pony show.” Only 1 of you stated that you loved it. I’d say that is definitive. Here are the write-in answers:

Can be vastly improved upon-all on the panel should be able to ask questions 1
Dr. Joseph ends up hiring who he wants, so why do we even have the process? 1
Total charade, as is the “AP Pool”… what a joke! 1
same as always: community process in name; top-down in practice 1
Not a fan based on who became the principal at my school. 1
It’s fair and transparent. 1
Another Joseph failure 1
They better not screw up the Pearl-Cohn hire.

Question two asked what you plan to read over the summer. Remember, we as a city are supposedly committed to literacy, and modeling is the most effective way of teaching. If you want to improve literacy rates, let kids see you reading. Personally, I’m just nosy about what people are reading. The number one answer was… the Bible, followed closely by Becoming by Michelle Obama. Here are the rest. I love the list.

As much fiction as I can 1
Leadership and Deception by… oh never mind. 1
Haven’t decided yet 1
My Reading Recovery Handbook by Marie Clay 1
Monster.com – I need to get out of this district ASAP 1
An African American and Latinx History of the Unites States by Paul Ortiz 1
The books sent to me to review that I am behind on!!! 1
Next steps in guided reading 1
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 1
Surrounding county’s job postings 1
Trashy magazines 1
Anything by Mary Kay Andrews 1
The Soul of America by John Meacham 1
The Next Step in Guided Reading and Blevins’ Phone Books 1
Anything from Project Lit list

Question three asked for your vote for this year’s school board MVP. I don’t think that Dr. Joseph voted in this one because Amy Frogge got 85 out of 155 votes, Jill Speering got 55, and Tyese Hunter got 1. On second thought, maybe he… oh, never mind. Here are the write-ins:

None 1
None of them. Need a totally new board 1
Amy Frogge, Jill Speering 1
Tie between Frogge and Speeriing 1
I’m torn – Frogge & Pierce for very different reasons 1
TC Weber of course 1
Amy & Jill

For the holiday bonus question, I asked for career advice for Dr. Narcisse: what school district should he apply to next? Fifty-one percent of you suggested the soon-to-be vacant position in Prince George’s County Public Schools would be a good fit. This one garnered lots of write-ins:

Anywhere but here 3
MNPS 2
Couldn’t care less 1
None, he is loved and appreciated here 1
Maybe he should get back to the job we are paying him for 1
No one deserves him 1
all of the above 1
one far, far away 1
All of the above 1
Anywhere not in Nashville 1
LOL 1
Obviously there is more background information on why is he trying so hard to leave 1
Just LEAVE! Take ALL that came with Joseph! 1
He should just stop the facade and find a new career that doesn’t not impact oth 1
Anytown, USA 1
Anywhere that gets him out of Nashville 1
He should try a classroom for a year. 1
Any as long as he leaves 1
wherever he goes, eyes wide open 1
I couldn’t care less. 1
NONE 1
Anywhere but here! 1
Anywhere they will take him. He needs to get the hell out of here! 1
Any District will do 1
Anywhere that’s not here. 1
Dog Catcher, but he’d be under qualified 1
All of the above and any others that open up 1
The Who cares consolidated ISD 1

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize in advance 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 my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can.

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SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER… OR IS IT?

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It’s Friday, May 25, and the 2017-2018 school year is officially in the books. Teachers have to go in for a little bit and finish up some things, but for all intents and purposes, the year is done.

You might think that means things start to wrap up for me as well. Education blogger writes about school issues. No school in session. Should translate into no school issues, right?

Well, not so fast. There are still a lot of loose ends out there – budget issues, teacher salaries, school board races, school hirings, audits – that need unraveling and covering. So stick around. There is a lot more to come.

THE CASE OF THE MYSTERIOUS PRINCIPAL HIRING PROCESS

Lately, May seems to translate into principal transition month. Currently, Oliver MS, Pearl Cohn HS, Hillwood HS, Antioch HS, Haynes MS, Glengarry ES, Eakin ES, Apollo MS, Lakeview Design ES, Bellshire Design Center ES, Carter-Lawrence ES, John Early MS, and East Magnet HS are all in various phases of getting new leadership for the 2018-2019 school year. I suspect there will be more changes to come.

Upon Dr. Joseph’s arrival, the process for principal selection changed. Human Resources screen all applicants and recommend some to be interviewed by a non-partisan panel. The panel then utilizes a rubric that is created out of questions arrived at through public submission. The top two candidates are then forwarded on to Dr. Joseph for final selection.

On paper, the process sounds fantastic. You have community involvement. A transparent process. Everyone gets vetted. It checks almost every box on the list. The only problem is the process is a lot different in practice than on paper.

Right from the beginning, it has been a process fraught with criticism. Community members diligently participated only to find out their selections were repeatedly passed over, and someone they didn’t choose was elevated to the leadership position. Members of the panels started speaking out, saying that the whole process felt staged.

In response to these allegations, I filed an open records request for the panel notes to one of the recent principal openings. I assume that the notes for this school are indicative of the process districtwide. Out of respect for those involved, I’m not going to name names, but there are several areas of concern for me.

Let’s start with the makeup of the panel. The panel is supposed to made up of impartial members from the community, yet the one I looked at had an individual who had directly supervised one of the candidates and would be directly supervising the candidate selected. Feels like a vested interest to me.

Once seated, the panel is given a rubric made up of 6 questions, a place to write a rating, and a section for notes. What they are not given is a key to the rubric. What constitutes a “5” or a “4”? The lack of a key means that everyone is supplying their own definition of the ratings. Odds are that my definition of a “5” is different than yours. A key is essential to creating consistency.

In all fairness, based on talking to different panel members over the last year, there doesn’t seem to be a great emphasis placed on the rating of each question. The instruction seems to be that it’s just a guide and the emphasis is placed on the index card, where each participant lists their top candidates, which is turned in at the conclusion of all interviews. This is borne out by looking at the rubrics and noting that several panel members didn’t write anything down for ratings.

Nobody on the panel is afforded the opportunity to question a candidate. At the end of each interview, the panel makes a list on butcher paper of the “likes” and “I wonders.” I’m assuming this portion of the process is conducted to flesh out impressions. Panel members then write down rankings of candidates on the aforementioned index card, the card is turned in, and top two move on. In some instances, it’s been the top three.

My confusion starts and ends with the rubric. A rubric is an equalizer that forces people to justify their ranking. Using the key, you just rank each question, tally up the rankings, and whoever has the most points is the winner. I’ve conducted many an interview using a rubric and have often been surprised when who I thought would be the favorite ended up not being the favorite.

Using a rubric leaves little room for arguing with results. All candidates are subjected to the same questions from the same impartial panel using the same key. The score is the score and there is easily-produced evidence to justify the results. No need to write anything down on an index card. Just collect the sheets and add up the scores.

Now about that impartial panel. On the sheets I saw, the panel member who was a supervisor gave the candidate who ended up getting the job four “5’s” and two “4’s”. Sans a key, I have no idea how the supervisor produced such ratings for a candidate who has never held a principal position. My interpretation of those ratings would also indicate little room for growth by the principal candidate.

Can you see where this situation provides soil for a seed of doubt to grow? If the rubric was followed with fidelity, there would be a clear explanation of how ratings were arrived and little room left for questioning. I really don’t understand why you have a rubric if you are not going to use it.

Th question has been raised by several people, “Why even utilize this process? Why doesn’t the district match talent to need and just make the decision?” That’s a fair enough question. Though I’m partial to the community involvement method, I wouldn’t take exception to that method, though I would argue that you need to make a clear choice between one or the other. There is nothing worse than giving people the illusion of power and then destroying that illusion.

Here’s my last thought on principal transitions. I don’t understand why each school doesn’t have a succession plan in place. One that is updated annually. There should be an AP at every school who is being groomed to eventually become principal. Instead, we have this game of musical chairs that erupts annually as principals depart. We talk endlessly about the importance of stability and continuity, yet few of our practices reflect that priority.

DOWN HOME TEACHER BLUES

By now, we’ve all heard about the cutting of the Reading Recovery program and the subsequent displacement of 81 teachers. All of these teachers were guaranteed jobs. Of the 81.5 cut, only about 30 have been placed.

But you know who else was displaced? Many of the teachers at Glenn and Caldwell Elementary Schools, as a result of this year’s merging of the two schools, have been left unassigned. They, too, were guaranteed jobs.

There are also quite a few teachers who are tenured but don’t have a position at the school they were at for 2017-2018 school year who should be on the displaced list.

As a result, HR has instituted a hiring freeze for elementary schools until the unassigned list is whittled down. Sounds like a great idea, except it kind of ties the hands of principals who have identified good fits for openings that aren’t on the list.

To complicate things, many teachers who were supposed to be on the displaced list received termination letters last Friday. Monday afternoon they received emails saying the letter was a mistake and confirming that they were on the displaced list.

The reports I’m getting also indicate that HR has been less than responsive during this whole process. I understand that they are understaffed and that volume is high right now, but, to use a restaurant analogy, has a diner not getting served ever been satisfied by the explanation that an establishment is understaffed and suffering from high volume?

I can’t help wonder how many potential candidates and current teachers are just throwing in the towel and seeking employment elsewhere. It’s never been my experience that quality people wait for you to sort out your complications. In fact, I’ve found that quality attracts quality. These are issues that really need to get straightened out and quickly.

THE CASE OF THE MISSING 30 JOBS

During the revised budget process, MNPS leadership has continually bragged that they have cut 30 jobs from central office. This boast prompted me to ask the Communications Department what I presumed to be a simple question: can I have a list of those 30 jobs and the people holding those positions? I was promptly reminded that “assume” makes an ass of “u” and “me.”

Communications responded by providing me a link and telling me that the positions were listed on page three. Okay, I see 129 positions listed on page three, including the Reading Recovery teachers.

No, they patiently explained, if I take the 129.5 jobs and subtract the 18 positions added, I’ll get 111.5 positions cut. Subtract 81.5 Reading Recovery teachers and… voilà… 30 positions.

Okay, but… one of those positions, Coordinator of Charter Schools, is held by Carol Swann. Swann has done exceptional work for the district for years; are we cutting her? Oh, I see, her position is being shifted to Special Revenue along with the Executive Director and Senior Secretary of Charter Schools. So is that really a cut?

Pamela Burgess has been the acting Director of Family and Community Engagement for the last year and despite doing an exceptional job, the position is not being filled. Apparently, not filling the position permanently counts as a cut. Also on the list are three maintenance facilities employees and two furniture repair positions. I’m curious if those were positions that were currently filled.

You know who is not on the cut list due to the budget? The positions of Executive Director of Leadership Development. Both Vanessa Garcia and Terry Shrader received letters of termination due to budget cuts, yet those positions are not cited in the budget. You’ll remember this is the division headed by former Shawn Joseph associate Mo Carrasco, who left under allegations of sexual misconduct.

These cuts are a head scratcher. Their division just got new leadership in Sonia Stewart and its only members are Shrader, Garcia, and Shannon Black. So essentially, on May 2, the district hired an Executive Officer to oversee a division with almost no members and as far as I can tell, no budget.

Letting Shrader go completely from MNPS is an additional head scratcher. Ask anybody involved with Hillsboro HS over the last decade and they’ll describe his transformational  leadership. Last I checked, we had a high school in Southeast Nashville that needed transformational leadership. So… thanks Terry… appreciate the work… and more institutional knowledge exits the district.

Stewart isn’t the only hire coming on board either. We’ve hired an Executive Director of STEAM despite the initiative being paused and the position having remained unfilled most of the year.

There is also a new Chief of Staff coming on board in July. That position was previously deemed so essential that the person holding it was released mid-year despite having 5’s on their evaluation.

We’ve even hired a new temporary employee to help the Public Information Officer improve her performance. Though I will acknowledge that one may be a necessity.

Bottom line is that it doesn’t appear that much has actually changed. And to this untrained eye, the “30 jobs” meme appears to be just more smoke and mirrors.

QUICK HITS

This week, Director of English Learners Kevin Stacy tendered his resignation from MNPS. Stacy will be the new EL Director of a soon-to-be-named district. Over the last 3 years, under the leadership of Stacy, the EL department has made tremendous gains. Gains that did not go unrecognized by the Tennessee State Department of Education. MNPS’s EL Department is recognized as one of, if not the best, EL departments in the state. Recently, Stacy was asked to present at Great City Schools National Conference. Losing Stacy is, quite simply, a blow. Luckily, we have the exceptional Molly Stovall ready to step into the breech.

EL educational services has always been a priority to me. It was one area that I had initial concerns about upon the arrival of Dr. Joseph. That concern was solely because of the breadth and depth of our population. To say that I’m concerned about this transition would be an understatement. Hopefully, Stovall will receive the support needed so that she can perform the exceptional work she is capable of in a district where 23% of our students require EL services.

Speaking of English Learners, Candice McQueen issued a statement yesterday saying that schools can’t release students’ immigration status. “Our responsibility is to educate all students and keep them safe. We want every child to feel safe and wanted in their school, and we hope our district leaders will be proactive in sharing that message with their school communities,” McQueen said in the statement. Thank you, Dr. McQueen.

When I first started reading this post called “Explaining “Pet Sounds” and the Courage to Change,” I thought I was reading a piece on the making of a classic record. It’s that and so much more. I encourage all to read it.

This week, MNPS presented its revised budget to the Metro Council. I’ll talk more about that next week, but I would be remiss if I didn’t give a tip of the hat to those tireless teacher advocates who showed up in red to convince the council to fund the budget and maybe throw in a few bucks for a raise. Words can not express my admiration. Y’all rock.

I need to further mention that in Amanda Kail, Michele Sheriff, Laura Benton, Mary Holden, and Amy Leslie, MNEA has some terrific leaders for the grizzled director Erick Huth to help develop. Their passion and energy, coupled with his wisdom, could make a deadly combo going forth.

Weird budget hearing moment: No, I’m not talking about Chris Henson’s lips moving when Dr. Joseph answered questions. The idea of a 1% raise was floated. Let’s do the math. If we take $50K as an average teacher salary, I know that’s high… but let’s start there. That means that 1% would be an increase of $500 for the year. Divide by 26 paychecks and you get $19.26. Take out 20% of that for taxes and you get $15.41. $15.51 per paycheck or about the price of a half-dozen cupcakes. Are we in the business of symbolic gestures or meaningful change?

One other budgetary note. The paying of advanced academic tests and industry certifications should never have been cut from the MNPS budget. The number quoted in the budget is roughly $750,000. The truth is, the real number is actually higher because last year’s action has resulted in increased interest in these programs. To try to pass blame for the end of this program to any other entity than district leadership is disingenuous. Remember, your budget is your public declaration of what you deem important.

Unfortunately, based on federal requirements, the Community Eligibility Provision reimbursement program, which allows school districts to offer lunch at no cost to all students, is changing next year. Make sure you familiarize yourself with those changes.

Word on the street is that Franklin Special School District is getting a Tennessee Teacher of the Year-caliber teacher next year. Treat her right, folks, we’re going to want her and her family back. We are kinda partial to them. It’s just a loan. Please don’t become attached.

Are you curious about the status of the state’s lawsuit with Measurement Inc.? Chalkbeat TN has the answer.

Some folks are getting a little concerned about the new Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio. As always, we turn to Andy Spears for answers.

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome week. Don’t forget to answer the poll questions. I even threw in a holiday bonus question. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize in advance 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 my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can.
 
 
 

BACK BURNING

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There is strategy that is used to fight wildfires out west; it’s called back burning. Back burning involves starting small fires along a manmade or natural firebreak in front of a main fire front. Back burning reduces the amount of fuel that’s available to the main fire by the time it reaches the burnt area. Back burning is utilized in controlled burning and during wildfire events. Sounds a little like what’s going on in MNPS as of late.

Over the last 2 months, a large conflagration has been burning, the budget process. To say that leadership’s performance on the budget process this year has been anything but abysmal would be an understatement. Figures were released late, multiple corrections had to be made, the information given was inaccurate, the district’s funding request was unrealistic, and last minute cuts that stunk of retaliation were enacted. All in all, it was a master’s class on how not to conduct a budgeting process for a large urban school district.

Bet you are thinking, “Whew, glad that’s over.” Problem is, it’s not over. We are still right in the middle of it. And things are not improving. Teachers are upset about the fact that they’ll be taking home less money next year due to rising health care premiums. Granted, premiums are only increasing by about $15 for a family next year, but it’s the principle of things. The perception of going backwards instead of forward.

Many of the other cuts are unpopular and the questions remain on how well the district has managed existing resources. Hence the need to start some back burning fires.

Early on in the budget process, frustrated by the inability to get clear answers on simple budget related questions, board chair Anna Shepherd and vice-chair Jill Speering called for an audit to be conducted by the Metro government on MNPS spending. In the shadow of the proposed audit, board member Amy Frogge also began asking probing questions about stipends paid to central office folks, money paid to consultants, adherence to contracting policies, adherence to the salary schedule, and spending in general. Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and his team either refused to provide answers, provided incomplete information, or provided answers that were quickly proven inaccurate. Things quickly began to heat up.

In the absence of a credible counterargument, Joseph decided it was time to light some back burning fires. The first one was lit when one of his fraternity brothers, during public commentary in a budget meeting, accused the questioning board members of engaging in a “public lynching.” That was followed up by an appearance on Channel 5 Openline where he compared Amy Frogge to President Trump and his use of social media. Last week budget committee chair Tyese Hunter and Joseph brought several African American Metro councilwomen to speak at a budget meeting in order to chastise Jill Speering for her response to Joseph’s playing of inappropriate music at a principals meeting. The gist of the rebuttal was that Speering’s attacks were rooted in racism.

This week, the Tennessee Tribune jumped into the fray and printed an op-ed that painted Joseph as an honorable man hounded by “two privileged white racist female board members.” That’s a pretty serious accusation and one that should never be made lightly. I’m not sure why I should have to remind editors of a newspaper that words have meaning. Casually calling people “racist” because you don’t like their actions, much like comparing actions in a board room to a horrific real life crime, serves to paint people in an unfair and inaccurate light and potentially marginalizes the atrocities suffered by people like Emmet Till. Atrocities that should never be marginalized.

We are all of sudden more focused on “implied bias” and “cultural competency” than we are on the budget, results, and what we are actually doing for kids. I’m not downplaying the need to closely examine both racism and its impact on students and schools, but I must admit to being confused when board member Christiane Buggs, in a Facebook post, points to graduates being allowed to walk across the graduation stage to Drake’s “God’s Plan” as an example of “cultural competency.”

Since Drake is played continually on every Top 40 radio station and is, as such, arguably, part of the primary culture, which culture is he representing? Perhaps it’s the Canadian former child star culture. They are woefully underrepresented. There is a line in the song that says, “She said, ‘Do you love me?’ I tell her, ‘Only partly. I only love my bed and my momma, I’m sorry.'” At graduation, is it appropriate to be celebrating staying in bed all day at your mom’s house? I don’t know, though I would argue that is not a question of cultural sensitivity.

I’m being a little facetious here. I realize there are numerous references in the Drake song that I don’t understand because of culture. Also, would it be appropriate to play a sampling of the narcocorrido El Bazucazo? After all, nearly a quarter of MNPS students are Hispanic. What about “Dilan” by Rojda, a Kurdish singer who once served a prison sentence for a year and eight months all due to her “terrorist propaganda.” Nashville is home to the largest Kurdish population in America, so…

It appears that the conversation on appropriate music needs to go a whole deeper, huh? That’s not dissimilar from our equity conversation as a whole. In this light, we do need to be cognizant that our conversations should be to heal and unite versus divide and separate. None of us are born with a complete comprehension of race, culture, and its impact on our lives. It’s only through careful examination and inquiry that we can come to place where we can begin to shape a culture that is beneficial and inclusive to all. We all have different experiences, and we all have different inherent biases. Like in everything, balance must be acquired.

Etan Hein is a Doctoral Fellow in Music Education at NYU, an adjunct professor of music technology at NYU and Montclair State University, and a founding member of the NYU Music Experience Design Lab. In a recent blog entry called “Teaching Whiteness in Music Class,” he talks about the lack of inclusion of Hip Hop in music education and how it’s hurting students. There is a line where he talks about cultural competency that resonates with me:

Music educators can support the growth of ”culturally flexible” students (Carter 2010)who possess multiple cultural and are able to relate to people different from themselves. For students of color, that means understanding both their culture of origin and the dominant culture. For white students, it means becoming fluent in at least one other culture, and also recognizing that “their culture is just that—a culture, not the universal way, or the “right” way of doing things” (Ladson-Billings 2015, 415). “Whiteness” describes not just a group of people, but a social location, a symbolic resource “providing all those who [possess] it with the benefit of assumed knowledge and ability” (Lewis 2003, 126). It is crucial that we help students of all races to develop a critical awareness of how whiteness functions.

I believe that is a crucial challenge for all of us. But we can’t succeed if we quickly resort to inflammatory language when things get uncomfortable. The Tribune argues that Joseph gets scrutinized while other superintendents got a pass. That accusation is no more accurate than the one that President Trump makes in relation to former President Obama. A simple Google search provides ample evidence of previous directors getting criticized.

Board member Will Pinkston was extremely critical of former Director of Schools Jesse Register. Often taking him to task for not following policy. Pinkston went as far as to call for the removal of Register. East Nashville parents were equally critical of his leadership.

Perhaps before labeling Jill Speering as racist, we should look at a quote of hers from 2014 in regard to Dr. Register that illuminates her thoughts on her role as a school board member:

“We all worked very, very hard to win these positions,” says Speering, who represents one of nine equal school board districts akin to legislative House districts in population. “We were willing to listen and took those concerns seriously. What voters will often say is once you’re elected, they never hear from you. That’s exactly what we didn’t want to happen — and that’s why this is of vital importance, especially to new board members.”

Hmmm… seems she has been consistent in her depiction as a board member’s role being one of questioning. You may disagree with her definition, but does that make her racist or just someone you disagree with?

Dr. Register’s Number 2 guy, Jay Steele, also received his fair share of negative press. If you ask him, Steele can tell you all kinds of anecdotes about being followed by the press. He didn’t do so by trying to label people negatively, but merely took the criticism for what it was, part of the job. The Director of Schools position is not one for the thin-skinned. Just ask another former director, Dr. Pedro Garcia.

Garcia seems to be the Director of Schools that Joseph is most intent on emulating. Garcia brought many of his own people in, repeatedly defended administrators that were clearly not qualified, fought with reporters and school board members, frustrated principals, engaged in retaliatory actions against critics, and ultimately left the district after failing to match the accomplishments with the drama. Before he left, Nashville exploded in a heated conversation on race and the education system. Echoes from the past just keep on resonating.

Much like the president, the job of MNPS Director of Schools comes with a great deal of scrutiny. I’d argue that the manner in which the Director responds to that scrutiny is indicative of the success they’ll have. Dr. Garcia serves as a clear example of the results when the Director chooses to confront every critic and retaliate instead of educate.

As a career educator, the Director of Schools should look at Nashville as one of the many classrooms he or she has lead. Educate us on “implied bias,” “cultural competency,” and other important terminology. Dr. Joseph wouldn’t call a student in his class ignorant or crazy no matter how much they challenged him, so I urge him not to imply community members are ignorant, crazy, or acting out when they challenge him.

Perhaps it is time for another reading assignment: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Explain the why and people may ask, where and when? Again the focus should be on uniting not dividing. 

The problem with “back burning” is that it causes a lot of collateral damage to the existing ecosystem. Fires lit to control another fire cause damage themselves. Some of that damage is irreparable. We need to think of alternative solutions to putting out fires instead of using “back burning” strategies.

THE COST OF NOT PAYING FOR ADVANCED ACADEMIC TESTS

Last August, I tried to do a deep dive into Advanced Academics, IB, and Cambridge programs. This interest came about because I’d learned that there were fees associated with these programs. These fees applied to the cost of the End of Course (EOC) tests and, in some cases, registration for the classes themselves. I must have talked to about 20 different people and yet was unable to come up with a clear picture of the financial responsibility of these courses.

Basically, the financial responsibility looked different at whichever school your child attended. Some schools had scholarship programs available and some didn’t. Depending on access to various funding streams, schools offered different fee schedules. I found this lack of consistency very concerning. The programs are all quite strong academically and extremely beneficial to kids, but in my eyes, the financial responsibilities associated effectively served as barriers to inclusion. Costs could run anywhere from $200 – $900 a year, depending on the number of courses the student was enrolled in.

I’m not sure how things work in your household, but in the Weber home, we don’t have an extra $500, nor do we have a desire to get involved with something that potentially could have even more costs associated with it. It’s not that we don’t value our children’s education; it’s just that we don’t have the resources. I also recognize that if we don’t have the money, there are probably a lot of other families that don’t either. One educator confessed to me, “This is something we struggle with in expanding access.”

At the end of the day, I couldn’t get a clear enough picture to write a piece that wasn’t inflammatory. So I shelved it. But I came away with the understanding that the district’s decision to pay for tests this year, along with those associated with industry certifications, was a step in the right direction in regards to increased equity and access.

Fast forward a year, and that assessment has been borne out. Last year saw a dramatic increase in the number of kids participating in advanced academic classes. We also saw a substantial increase in the number of kids leaving school armed with workplace certifications that made them eligible for immediate employment. Dr. Joseph rightly touted this as one of the successes of the year. This action was probably the biggest step the district had taken towards equity and access in years.

Throughout this budget season, it has been repeatedly stated that the budget is a public declaration of your values. If that’s true, then apparently we don’t value equity and access because the latest budget cuts nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in funding that was targeted toward paying for these tests. The cost of the tests has been shifted back to parents, and, as a result, I anticipate the access window narrowing again.

One argument that I heard repeatedly during my investigation into advanced academics was that just taking the class, even if the student didn’t take the test, was beneficial. That no longer holds true, because the state has enacted a policy that states if a student doesn’t take the test, then they lose the extra points toward their GPA. In other words, if you take the class and don’t take the test, you risk jeopardizing your GPA due to the advanced difficulty level. Jeopardize your GPA and you risk limiting the number of post secondary options available. I’m not sure that’s a bet most would want to take.

This is an unintended, I assume, consequence of the recently passed ESSA legislation. Under ESSA, states are awarded points for the number of kids who take advanced academic exams. It’s all part of the career and college ready pillar that is meant to hold schools accountable.

I would strongly urge that we revisit this budget cut and perhaps find a better line item to cut. Paying for the tests is too essential to our goal of increased equity and access to sacrifice.

QUICK HITS

Some comedy gold, courtesy of Sito Narcisse, emerged from this past weekend’s Newark Superintendent candidate public interviews. Narcisse told those assembled, “If I become the superintendent of Newark, my goal is to make sure we are tapping into people from Newark. I tell folks all the time I will not be coming to Newark and bringing 14,000 people with me.” Many in Nashville would find that statement interesting. To make things even more interesting, Narcisse stated that it was also important for the community to understand where the district was spending its money. “Community matters, you cannot do anything without the community,” he said.  Hmmmm… Newark is supposed to announce a finalist by the end of the month.

Lakeview Design Center staff found out this week that Dr. Shantrell Pirtle has been selected to be their 2018-2019 principal. This appointment comes with a few questions. Pirtle was previously employed with MNPS as principal at Bellshire ES. Things didn’t go well at Bellshire, and she was removed during the 2016 school year. In her defense, Pirtle has been in the principal residency program for the last year, and word is that she’s better for it. We wish her luck and hopefully the community embraces her.

Word on the street is that former Buena Vista ES principal Michelle McVicker will be leaving the district at the end of the year. Still a lot of mystery around that one. But the general feeling is that McVicker is an exceptional principal who the district did not do right by.

If you haven’t watched last week’s MNPS budget meeting yet, I urge you to do so. Stay tuned until the finale when four Metro council members out of the South Nashville area take the mic and berate School Board Member Jill Speering. It really qualifies as theater of the absurd. I only wish council members were as adamant in their defense of Antioch HS as they were of Director of Schools Shawn Joseph.

I keep hearing about a lot of distrust in the MNPS principal selection process. This past week I attended the initial community meeting for the opening at Oliver Middle. While there were tensions, people seemed committed to making the process work. I’ve stated that the worst thing you can do is give people the illusion of power and then demonstrate that they are powerless. Dr. Joseph needs to either listen to panel recommendations or do away with the panels. One suggestion I offered was if Dr. Joseph could meet with the panel and explain his decision after making the selection and before announcing the new hire.

Several teachers who expected to be on the displaced list got termination letters from the district this past week. Most found the letters were in error, but they still evoked plenty of concern. These letters raised further concern because a glance at the MNPS job portal seems to indicate a shortage of about 500 teachers. We might want to be extra careful in distributing termination letters.

Speaking of being displaced, anyone interested in how many of those displaced Reading Recovery teachers have secured employment with the district for next year? My sources tell me 25 out of 80. This is in spite of Dr. Joseph promising them that they would have jobs going forth.

Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria recently awarded five Metro Schools students with the first PREAM Scholarships. The students earned the scholarships by excelling in academics, athletics and participating in community service while working as Slim & Husky’s employees.

Congratulations to these students:
-Aaliyah Cummings, East Nashville Magnet School
-Alexis Hill, Stratford Comp High School
-Shuna Webb, Maplewood Comprehensive High School, MNPS
-Doneisha Wells, Maplewood High School
-Dywaneisha Woodland, East Nashville Magnet

The owners at Slim and Husky’s are MNPS graduates as well.

Congratulations to Ramey Hulse, a senior at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School, for receiving a corporate-sponsored National Merit Scholarship.

Congratulation to the 38 Tennessee teachers who were chosen this week to be SCORE fellows. Look at the list and I suspect you’ll find some Dad Gone Wild readers. Shhh… we won’t tell.

Speaking of DGW readers, thank you to JC Bowman for the kind words in his recent blog post. Words can not express my appreciation. Those of you who are troubled by my friendship with Bowman need to remember that Ravitch and Smarick are themselves friends.

Speaking of friends, Mary Holden weighs in with her take on the recently completed Tennessee testing season.

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize in advance 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.

 

AIN’T NO HALF STEPPIN’

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I don’t think I’ll find many people who will argue with me when I say it has been an exhausting year. It seems like one fight after another has cropped up. In light of such turmoil, it’s easy to become disenchanted and lose sight of all the good that happens daily in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Whenever I need inspiration, and a palate cleanser, I turn to the people who make the magic happen every day, the teachers and students in the classrooms. Over the year, I’ve been extremely blessed by their willingness to share with me their passion and intellect.

Thomas Wolfe in his classic novel Look Homeward Angel wrote the words, “Out of death, life, out of the coarse rank earth, a flower.” I’d like to share some flowers with you that I’ve collected from educators across the district. These are their words, unfiltered, undirected, and without agenda. In the words of the rapper Common, “Every day woman and men become legends.”

  • Most often, it is simple acts of kindness that make a difference in the life of a student. It is taking advantage of opportunities for developing relationships and lasting impressions. This was the response when asked of a student, What teacher has been kind to you this year and why? Ms. Cindy Montgomery was named. Throughout this year, not only did she teach academic lessons at MLK; but most importantly, she offered simple acts of kindness to her students. “She challenged us to think civility, to disagree without disagreeing, the importance of teamwork, made class fun, shared life stories, and even gave us treats.” She has encouraged students to accept and love themselves.She explains to the students, acceptance and love of yourself is the only way you can love others and except the love of others. Our children face a world very different from the previous generations. These lessons of kindness are required to make our schools, our communities, and our world a better place for all.

  • I have had the honor of working with Amy Jerome since 2006. She is one of the most dedicated, open-minded and encouraging teachers that I have ever worked with. She works tirelessly to plan engaging and rigorous lessons for her students. This year, Amy was awarded with the Blue Ribbon Teacher Award, which is a well-deserved honor for her. Eakin has been lucky to have her. Next year, Mrs. Jerome will leave Eakin to embark on a new challenge—she will be the School Librarian at another MNPS school. She loves kids and loves books! So teaching kids to love books is going to be a perfect place for her. From Amy, I learned many things- most importantly I learned to (try) not to sweat the small stuff and to do the best you can with what you have. Her unbelievably optimistic spirit will be missed dearly here at Eakin. I look forward to watching what she does in her new position, because I know she is going to blow them away.

  • Ms. Monica Townsend is one of Cumberland ES’s hidden treasures. As a family involvenent specialist, I do not get to interact with the teachers as often as I would like to, however I do have the opportunity to observe them in action from time to time. A few years ago while at Cumberland I was working with a young man whose mother had contacted me regarding some behavior issues he was having. This student happened to be in another teacher’s class. The mother wanted the student moved to another teacher and Ms Townsend immediately came to mind. Ms. Townsend exhibits a magical type of Love for all student that is unmatched.  She was able to work with the new student in her class, where I witnessed the student’s behavior change instantly as a result of Ms. Townsend’s unwavering Love. Unfortunately, we will be losing her to retirement next year. I am so happy for her but want her to know that she will be truly missed.

  • For most of us, the weekend goes too fast.  But for a young student in one of our schools, the two day weekend was longer than the five day school week.  The weekend hours become endless when hunger replaces  play on Saturday.  Loneliness is endless for those 48 hours,  when no one has time to talk, read, play, or prepare meals.  Noises during the night continue to interrupt sleep.  When Monday morning finally comes, the child is anxious to go to school because a very special teacher is waiting to greet this hungry lonely student with, “There you are!  I really missed you over the weekend and I’m so happy to see you!”   A smile, a hug, and food waiting in the classroom…” I love you, teacher.”   Many of our MNPS teachers become the significant persons in a child’s life – the adult who understands and is willing to meet physical needs while creating the conditions for a student to focus on learning.  It happens in our schools across the district – that unassuming teacher who becomes the great equalizer and nurtures our children. 

  • Tara Colwart is a 7th grade science teacher at Croft Middle Design Center. For many years, she has played an integral role in leading the science program to receive numerous accolades for its superior teacher instruction and student performance. Mrs. Colwart’s instructional record of excellence speaks for itself when examining performance and growth data for her students. As evidenced each year as well as in the 2016/17 TNReady data for science, the achievement and growth scores for Mrs. Colwart’s students far exceeded the district and the state. She has proven to be versatile in the fact that no matter the challenges, she and her students experience success. This is due to her high commitment to her craft as well as her high expectations of students.  In addition, Mrs. Colwart is a true team player and is well versed in the practice of collaborative planning with fellow educators. She is always willing to mentor and advise more novice teachers as well. Mrs. Colwart is also highly committed to the school community of Croft and establishes genuine relationships with her students throughout the middle school years and beyond. Plain and simple, she is one of the best in the business.

  • Gower has the pleasure of having many outstanding educators working and collaborating in our building. However, I would like to take today to spot let just one of those educators today. Ms. Kristen Pientowski is one of our hardworking 2nd-grade teachers at Gower. This school year she had the mission and responsibility of learning how to teach while collaborating with many adults in her classroom due to the needs of some of her students. Daily almost all day there were at least three paraprofessional and two exceptional educators pushing into her room to help support students that needed that support for inclusionary practices. Despite some of the challenges and challenging days to remain calm through what seemed overwhelming at times, she carried on with a smile. She arrived each morning ready, willing and with a drive to try a new strategy, a new approach, or just staying committed and sticking to plan created in hopes of success. The success of seeing all her students grow, thrive and feel welcome in her class and at Gower.

  • Felix (Kalima) Kapesa arrived from the Congo in 2014 speaking Swahili and a few words of English. The summer of 2017, Felix interned at NES through the Escalera Program. His time at NES sparked an interest in the field of electricity and he began going to school online at night to attain his electrician’s license. A school partnership with Hiller put Felix in contact with the company where he was offered an apprenticeship. Felix will begin working with Hiller this summer and is on track to complete his Journeyman Electrician training.

  • Peter (Sayedsoheil) Ghiyasianioliya arrived at Overton High School last year after not being allowed to attend school for 5 years due to religious persecution. Peter works hard to earn good grades and has caught up on many years of lost schooling. He has progressed quickly through his EL classes and has even enrolled in some advanced courses. He gives back to his school by staying after every day to manage the afterschool tutoring program and has started a recycling program.

  • At JT Moore Middle School, 7th grade teacher Anna Bernstein and librarian Sarah Dark led the development of the school’s highly successful “Read Moore” initiative this year.  Because of their work and the work of the incredible faculty and staff, JT Moore Middle’s MAP Reading growth scores have been at the top or near the top for each MAP testing session this year.  In addition, with the support of the JT Moore PTO, these two teacher-leaders led this initiative that provided all students in the school a copy of the book Ghost to read in April following spring break.  Furthermore, advisory and classroom lessons were developed by Ms. Bernstein and Mrs. Dark to be used in all grade levels to support learning extensions from this novel.  Their incredible work has transformed how we develop literacy in our school.

  • While it would be easy to single out many teachers for their incredible work this year, something incredibly special happened among a group of teachers. The teachers and students at Oliver Middle School experienced heartbreak this school year when a beloved student passed away unexpectedly. The death of a student is devastating and something no parent or teacher should ever have to experience. Yet in this dark time, the staff at OMS shined a light into the world. Teachers and staff, both past and present, spent evenings and long nights at the hospital as they consoled the family and prayed with them. On the day of the funeral, teachers were there loving on the family because of how much they loved their daughter and how much they loved that family. Shortly after, the staff at Oliver Middle School raised almost $3000 for the family to help them cover expenses. These teachers had no training in grief counseling. No college degree taught them how to handle these situations. Rather, it was genuine love for their student and genuine love for her family that led them to show love in amazing ways. Sometimes we see our teachers as only teachers. But if you talk to students and parents, they’ll let you know that anyone who walks down the hallways of the schools becomes a part of their family.

  • I really think Amy Jamison and Jane Fetters are the reason all 4 of our academies got accreditation. They are both old school teachers who have been teaching for over 30 years. They are called the old lady gang because they kick butt in the academy stuff. They have been the leads since day one and know what they are talking about. They are always helping young teachers and always want the best for AHS. Jamison is retiring this year and Fetters next year. The kids love them and they are really the heart and soul of AHS. I have learned so much from them over the years and through every principal we have stood strong together. I’m not an English teacher and I don’t write like you, but I know that they are what keeps the academies together through all of this.

  • Mrs. Saunders one of our wonderful EL teachers works so hard to insure all of her students are learning and growing. She goes above and beyond to make Learning come to life and to make connections to the real world. She also volunteers to help with STEM Club. She has built many relationships with families from our school and helps them outside of school.

  • Second year teacher Ellen Montgomery is a freshman Spanish teacher who has developed, championed, and shouldered the restorative justice and CORE programs at HHS. Only two years into teaching she is beloved by all the students and faculty and parents alike. She has enthusiastically supported and enabled student voice and action without doing the hard work for them. I haven’t seen other models of restorative justice around the district, but I was immensely proud of the ownership the students took in the process at HHS, and I directly attribute that to Ms. Montgomery’s invisible guiding hand.

  • Missy Humphrey is a jack-of all-trades and master-of-every-damn one. She is the IB coordinator, IB and gen ed. math teacher, golf, basketball, and girls’ track coach and Academy Lead, and AP/IB testing coordinator. She literally does the jobs of three positions and is only compensated for one. But you will never hear her complain. She does it for the love of the kids she teaches. She makes several roads trips a year to see her former players in NCAA games. Incredibly intelligent and generous to a fault, she is not only the heart of the IB Academy at Hillsboro, but maybe the heart of the high school itself.

  • It is hard to pick one good story about a teacher from this school year. Every day our faculty at Hillwood does remarkable things with our students but it comes from wanting to do the best for them not to receive huzzahs (although getting a huzzah once in a while would not be bad). I know we have teachers who will provide meals for classes prior to big exams, they will stay after for extra help, and they will help with decorating for activities. None of this comes from a place of selfishness but just wanting to do what is best for our students and make their high school experience fun.

  • Pamala Goodenough (yes, that is her real name) came to Tusculum after the devastating loss of Karen Holloway to cancer. She stepped in with grace and respect of an already growing music program. Since her arrival, students have been introduced to new instruments which they play regularly, have learned songs written by Tusculum teachers, and have grown as future musicians and well rounded students. This year Mrs. Goodenough applied for a grant that partners TPAC with schools and Disney Musicals. Tusculum was chosen as one of five schools in the district to participate. To say the production was a success would be an understatement. Her support for students who would not have access to high quality music instruction is second to none. Tusculum is blessed to call her ours!

  • Most teachers would agree that being a teacher is a rewarding career, but there are times when it can be extremely stressful and challenging. Mrs. J had accepted a new position that would present some uncontrollable variables and with even the greatest of preparation there would be unique challenges. She had been told during her interview for this new position, her present theory of teaching reading may be challenged. An interview question was posed on that very topic, how would she feel if that were to happen to her present theory? She replied somewhat puzzled- “not sure, I only know one way to teach reading, so I feel I am a blank slate and willing and excited to learn new things. I don’t know what I don’t know till I learn it.” With the support of the professional development and colleagues she was assured that the power and success of this new theory would override old theory and she would gain new knowledge in how to teach a reader. One interviewer stated this new learning will forever change your teaching. These comments were both puzzling and exhilarating to her. At first, at the culmination of each training period, she was riddled with inner thoughts; I thought I knew how to teach reading. This is not the way I learned to teach reading. Was I doing this wrong- all these years? But it was true, practice informs theory and theory informs practice. Students that had spent months at low level benchmarks or not even registering on the reading continuum began improving. Not only improving but accelerating. It was almost magical. The data revealed that students were moving a reading level each week. Wow! New questions surfaced with each new lesson encounter. She practically ran to class each week to get those answers from her colleagues and leaders. Questions that she knew would be a critical element in designing instruction to shift her students’ learning the very next day. She also knew her own thinking and learning was shifting right before her eyes. Meaning doesn’t arrive because we have highlighted text or used sticky notes or answered questions on a comprehension worksheet, or even isolated the use of spelling and vowel rules. Meaning from text arrives because students are purposefully engaged in thinking and monitoring while reading. Mrs. J. shared that during her undergraduate coursework especially in the area of teaching reading, she gave very little thought and learned very little information on ways children were learning. The expectation was that each teacher will follow a basal located in her school. But now through her new teaching and practice, she learned and observed first hand that our focus on how and why should be based on each little child in front of us. Yes, it was also true, her teaching life was changed forever!

That’s just a small sampling of what goes on in our schools every day, all through the year, and we are so much better because of it. I’m sure every one of you can tell similar stories from your own school. Everyday the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., are brought to life:

“Not everybody can be famous. But everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato or Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

There will be no poll questions this week because I want nothing to distract from the incredible work that goes on daily in our district. They’ll be back next week.

I got no raises. I got no cupcakes. But I got mad love and much appreciation and hopefully someday I’ll bring cupcakes and raises. Until then, let me lead a chorus of heartfelt appreciation and say, “We see you.”

This clip of the wonderful kids at Dan Mills ES offers the perfect punctuation mark. Have a great weekend!

SO HERE WE ARE…

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We have now officially arrived at where over a year ago I predicted we would, in the midst of an ugly conversation on race. Nashville has long been overdue for a conversation on race and how it plays out in our public institutions. I was praying that when the conversation finally burst into the public sphere, it would be done in a less vitriolic manner. Based on recent events, I think it’s safe to say that prayer will go unanswered. I’m sad for us, but there is still hope that we will use this moment to dig deeper into what drives us all in a racial context and perhaps once the anger subsides, build some bridges.

What does equity really mean? What exactly is implied bias? How much of the criticism directed towards the MNPS Director of Schools is rooted in the color of his skin as opposed to his performance? Will we have the courage to actually self-evaluate with the same rigor we demand of others?

Everyone counsels me to stay away from this subject, especially as a candidate for school board. They tell me that there is no way I can “win” this discussion. One person dismissively told me, “This ain’t your fight.” I respectively disagree.

First off, I’m not in the conversation to win it. “Winning” for me is to continually push the conversation forward and to expand my boundaries and knowledge base. I personally don’t believe race is an issue that we can ignore or a conversation we can shy away from. Too many of our important decisions, especially in education, are rooted in race. Funding, programming, and attendance are just some of the areas where race influences our decisions.

Secondly, I don’t believe that you shy away from difficult conversations during election season because your primary goal is getting elected. My primary goal never changes. Whether I am a school board member, school board candidate, or just some guy typing words into cyberspace, my goal is to support policy that is best for kids, families, and teachers. People need to be able to trust that what you say and do as a citizen is what you’ll say and do as a candidate. What you say and do as a candidate is what you’ll say and do as a board member. I can’t say I’m always perfect, but I always aspire to be better.

I also believe that this conversation suffers, as Nashville is currently suffering, from a lack of leadership. There is currently a leadership vacuum in Nashville that starts at the mayoral level and descends downward. That may offend some, but in their heart of hearts they know it is true. All of Nashville is waiting to see if any one of the current mayoral candidates actually has the ability to lead and who will actually pick up the reins and lead. I’ve never seen a city more in need of leadership to step forward.

Am I suggesting that I am the one to lead a conversation on race? I certainly don’t believe that it is a conversation that can be led by a 53-year-old white man. But I would argue that my decision to run for school board demonstrates a willingness to help facilitate the conversation and to try to bring the people who have the capacity to lead the conversation to the table. In fact, my leadership style has never been one rooted in me being the smartest man in the room, but rather rooted in how we bring the smartest people in the room together in order to push the issue forward. How do we facilitate those important conversations?

Years ago, I read a book by Steven Pinker called The Blank Slate that had a profound impact on me. In the book, Pinker argues that in order to find solutions to our most emotionally-charged challenges, we must have a willingness to allow those thoughts that offend to be heard. We must never censor conversation and attempt to shame people in order to refrain them from speaking. We must take those thoughts and, by disproving them, come to potential solutions and understanding. Only by bringing those uncomfortable thoughts to light can we allow for a greater understanding that leads to progress. It’s like the AA tenet that tells us to talk to someone and warns of the danger of leaving thoughts in our head.

Initially, I fought that thesis, but life has taught me its value. It’s in this spirit that I would like to throw out some additional observations. Observations that hopefully will drive the conversation forward. Please take them in the spirit they are offered.

I’ve listened to many marginalize the song that Dr. Joseph played at the recent principals meeting and in some cases simply dismiss it as a meaningless snippet. This saddens me because it demonstrate to me how the removing of the arts from the classroom has robbed us from a deep understanding and appreciation of the power of the arts. The arts have been reduced to simple entertainment, a distraction, or just another potential revenue stream. In reality, the arts are both the core and a reflection of who we are as people. The books we read are not just distractions from life, but rather life itself.

This is one of the reasons I embrace Project Lit and its mission. Reading is not just about being able to function in life and earn a living. It’s about finding out about who we are as people and who we aspire to be. ProjectLit, through its book club, serves as a conduit to the power of literature. When kids gather with adults to discuss The Hate U Give or Refugeeit’s not about the entertainment value but rather the cultural value of these books. They are introduced to others that offer validation through shared experiences and feelings. The offer up the possibility of decisions that previously might have been unthought of. One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had all year has come from sitting at a table talking with a group of students about their relationship to a book and how it opened their minds.

This is where I’d ask, how many of those who are decrying about a lack of equity and an undervaluing of cultural competency have regularly attended ProjectLit book clubs? I know Vesia Hawkins has been a regular attendee, and I commend her, but how many district leaders can say the same? How many community activists have demanded that schools allow during school time to facilitate the discussion of literature in order to promote both reading and cultural competency? Allotting before and after school time isn’t sufficient because that limits access right from the beginning and access is essential.

I can’t say it enough, a “song” is never just a “song.” A “book” is never just a “book.” A “film” is never just a “film.” A “dance” is never just a “dance.” A “painting” is never just a “painting.” If nothing else, this instance demonstrates a need for a robust arts integration into our classrooms, one that is devoid of dependence on science or technology. If you still have doubts, I urge you to read Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth.

At yesterday’s budget meeting, four Metro Council members felt it was appropriate to utilize their elected position to publicly criticize school board member Jill Speering for her recent actions. Councilwoman Sharon Hurt leveled the charge, “The board member is taking the context of what was shared and has negatively emphasized what was not the intent. Not only is this inflammatory, it seems racially motivated, perhaps more appropriately stated, as culturally and generationally insensitive.”

Fair enough, though I’m not sure what generation she is referring to. I wonder if, prior to making her public statement, Hurt reached out to Speering and asked her why she took the actions she did? Did she ask about the conversations that Speering had with Joseph over the past year in regard to policy and spending? Did she consider Joseph’s recent last-minute cutting of Reading Recovery, a move many perceived as retaliatory for her calling for an audit? Did she call and ask Speering why she and Board Chair Anna Shepherd asked for an audit? Did she ever ask Speering how she went from introducing Joseph to the Mayor at last year’s budget hearing as the “best superintendent in country” to filing a complaint this year? Perhaps she could have asked her why she thought Dr. Joseph chose to compare fellow board member Amy Frogge to Donald Trump in a recent TV interview. Did she ever show Speering the expected professional courtesy one elected official should show another elected official by contacting her before stepping to the microphone and making an inflammatory public statement that seems racially motivated?

Also stepping to the microphone was Metro Council’s Budget and Finance Committee Chairwoman Tanaka Vercher. I want to go on record here as a fan of Vercher. We are Facebook friends, and as such, I’ve watched her execute her official duties with grace and intellect. During the recent mayoral crisis, I felt she deftly navigated the difficult waters of holding a popular leader accountable while not letting it appear personal. She is on my short list of people who I feel have the potential to step into Nashville’s leadership void.

It’s in this light that I’m disappointed that Vercher did not use her considerable experience to reach out and offer guidance to Speering in steering the difficult task of holding a leader accountable. I think if she would have taken the time to speak privately with Speering, she would have found that her concerns are rooted in performance rather than skin color. Perhaps there were some areas that Vercher could have also offered clarity on the subject in a manner that would have assisted Speering in forming her opinions. Hopefully, Vercher will follow up yesterday’s public performance by calling Speering and offering some private consultation in order that both will get a greater understanding.

One reader asked yesterday, in response to the call to support Dr. Joseph, support him in what? Another raised the question of what is the outcome we are looking for? Is it the Game of Thrones Cersei perp walk? I think we have to be real cognizant of the road we are on and where we want it to take us. We must also be aware of the potential peripheral damage.

Lost in yesterday’s dust-up was the news that as part of budget cuts, the district will no longer be paying for tests associated with advanced academic classes. If you are at all concerned with equity, this should alarm you. Last year was the first year that MNPS paid for those tests and as a result saw an increased participation rate. That meant that kids who previously could not take the class or test due to financial barrier had access. That is a huge component of the equity conversation. Many fear that with the district withdrawing funds, those barriers will rise again and access will be lost. That would be more tragic than the Director being disrespected. You could disrespect me all day long if you promised to grant access to those kids.

Many are trying to separate the song from much larger issues. I disagree. I think it’s all connected. As a leader, you make choices. Some are great choices. Some not so great. Those choices are the only indicators people have of your competency. As a leader, you have to recognize that your choices will be overscrutinized. Go ask Donald Trump about that. Everything you do and say is under the microscope. That’s why the salary is what it is. Joseph can’t afford to ignore the potential ramifications of decisions and their impact. How you navigate those waters is an indication of your skill as a leader.

Last night’s actions at the budget meeting were clearly orchestrated. The Metro Council members were initially denied the right to speak because it was a meeting that did not include public comment. However, for some reason, Budget Committee Chair Tyese Hunter allowed them as representatives from her district to speak. One has to question what the outcome would have been if a similar tactic had been employed at the Metro Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting. I only wish the women would bring the same passion they brought to defending Dr. Joseph to the defense of Antioch High School, a school that 2 years ago was a 5-star school and now, due to inept leadership, is a 1-star with an astronomical teacher turnover rate. I only wish they’d bring the same passion to making sure that Joelton MS and Buena Vista ES’s needs are met. I beg them to defend the district like they defend Dr. Joseph.

In closing, I’d like to share a piece that is being shared via social media. It’s a well written piece that offers a different perspective on the ongoing controversy. There are many things in it that I don’t agree with, but I want you to read it unencumbered by my observations. In my opinion, it raises a lot questions about race, but also sexism, professionalism, and our culture in general. Questions that we owe it to ourselves to try to find answers to. I appreciate the man’s honesty in writing it, and I’d appreciate if y’all would read it. Don’t dismiss it, but think about it, and consider ways that we can lower barriers instead of raising them:

” Never Would have Played It ” – Silly Accusations Against Nashville Superintendent

By Shawntaz Crawford – SOTG Staff Writers

I get up, drink my morning coffee, and am transported back to 1955. A young man accused of whistling at a white woman is beaten to death by an incited white mob.

Unfortunately, 14-year-old Emmett Till’s perceived act while visiting family along the Mississippi Delta cost him his life.

As far as we have come as a society, lately there are so many specific moments that illustrate we may not have come as far along in race relations as we have thought. Once again, in Nashville, a black man is reminded of his place in society and that no matter how high he climbs, his career and integrity can all come into question by a preposterous accusation.

Last week, Metro Nashville Public Schools Superintendent Shawn Joseph played a snippets of Marvin Sapp’s “Never Would Have Made It” and Too $hort’s “Blow The Whistle,” as audio aides to a speech being given to illustrate how he uses music to motivates him; yet, the effort managed to offend the honor of a school board member who wasn’t even in the room.

In this age of overt sexual misconduct and me-tooism, you would think that you could tell the difference between a genuine act of chauvinism and a man making an innocent presentation to his colleagues.

On Monday morning, Nashville schools board Vice Chair Jill Speering filed an email complaint to the district’s federal program and oversight director. In the email, Speering said Joseph’s use of the Too $hort clip was “highly offensive, reprehensible and inexcusable” to play in a public setting. Later in the email, she insists that Joseph played the song to suggest that he was calling her and another school board member, Amy Frogge, a derogatory word toward women for their opposition to Joseph in recent weeks, all based on the profanity present in the song.

However, an MNPS spokesperson—and even Joseph himself—has repeatedly said that no profanities were played and that he explained the context of why he played the lyrics during the meeting. Joseph also warned the audience that the rest of the song was laced with profanities.

I once saw a magic show where I was amazed at how the magician pulled a rabbit out of a hat. I find myself transfixed by the same sense of amazement as I wonder how this woman managed to pull an overt act of disrespect out of a snippet of blow the whistle that was being used to make a point.

I don’t know whether this is a case of racism or cultural insensitivity. This woman obviously doesn’t know what “Blow The Whistle” means to Gen X-ers like Joseph and me. Yes, the lyrics are misogynistic; the lyrics are overtly sexual and disrespectful to women. But this isn’t the first popular song to have problematic lyrics.

Honestly, everything in life is a matter of context and perspective. In this context, I think it is you, Ms. Speering who is being disrespectful. I think it is you who owes Superintendent Joseph an apology. This act is not different from the accusation Carlyn made about Emmitt Till. On her deathbed, decades later she revealed that she’d exaggerated the exchange that cost Till, his mother and people of color so much emotional harm.

This is a poor attempt to leverage a white woman’s justice movement to fuel an obvious agenda to castrate yet another strong black man.

At this point, “Blow the whistle” is as important to my generation as a cherished Negro spiritual—right up there with “Lift Ev’ry Voice & Sing.”

Granted, Joseph probably could have chosen another way to illustrate his point. But a large percentage of those in attendance were both unfamiliar with the song and said they were not offended by the reference. And, to his defense, how would he have known that a whistle could possibly have gotten his career killed?

Please like and share this post to make sure men like Dr. Joseph, who are doing positive things in our community, are not victims of unfair attacks of unjustice.

DANCING WITH PORCUPINES

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Shakespeare’s classic play Romeo and Juliet opens with servants of the Montagues and Capulets crossing paths at the market. The two families are at odds with each other, and the servants consider themselves representatives of the families and therefore must engage with each other in a manner they perceive demonstrates loyalty to their respective families:

Abraham: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Sampson: I do bite my thumb, sir.
Abraham: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Sampson (to Gregory): Is the law of our side if I say ay?
Gregory: No.
Sampson: No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you sir; but I bite my thumb, sir.
Gregory: Do you quarrel, sir?
Abraham: Quarrel, sir? No, sir.
Sampson: If you do, sir, I am for you: I serve as good a man as you.
Abraham: No better.
Sampson: Well, sir.
Gregory: (to Sampson) Say ‘better’; here comes one of my master’s kinsmen.
Sampson: Yes, better, sir.
Abraham: You lie.
Sampson: Draw, if you be men! Gregory, remember thy swashing blow.

What transpired at last week’s principals meeting bears more than a passing resemblance to Romeo and Juliet’s market scene above. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, at last week’s principals meeting, Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph shared a bit of a gospel song, “Thirsty” by Marvin Sapp, that served as a “thank you” to all the principals, and followed it with a snippet from the song “Blow the Whistle” by the rap artist Too $hort. He prefaced that snippet by stating that during difficult budget talks with the school board, he sometimes play songs in his head; I assume “Blow the Whistle” was offered as an example.

To be fair to Dr. Joseph, it has been a very difficult budget season and emotions on all sides are running high. The district, and the city of Nashville, are for the first time in years facing a budget shortfall. One that will result in several long-term district administrators losing their jobs and teachers not only not getting a raise, but also, due to step raises being denied and rising health insurance costs, taking home less money in their paychecks next year than they did this year. I can certainly sympathize with the Director’s need to draw strength from alternate sources, and I am certainly not going to try to dictate where he goes for that strength.

We all have questionable musical tastes that we occasionally indulge in. In the past, I have expressed an affinity to the band Florida Georgia Line and some have raised that appreciation as comparable to Joseph’s Too $hort affinity. Fair enough, but I would never play Florida Georgia Line at a business meeting I was leading, and I certainly hope that in 2018 we are not debating the social ramifications of Florida Georgia Line and their music.

From the perspective of the board members in question, in lieu of recent events, I don’t think it’s a stretch for them to feel that the song is directed at them. When the Director’s fraternity brother went unchecked after accusing two board members of engaging in a public lynching, that certainly sent a message. Given a chance to clarify and diffuse the situation, the Director chose to demurely say, “He has the right to say whatever is in his heart.” That sent another message.

I also don’t think principals would be wrong in assuming that the song served as a warning for them and the inherent risk in speaking out against Dr. Joseph’s leadership. After all, the previous song selection was clearly intended to deliver a message, so why would anyone assume the second selection was offered for any other reason than to deliver another message?

I’m pretty sure that if I had been having contentious meetings with my boss of late and then I chose to play “Hair of the Dog” at a department meeting I headed up, there would be some questions. Even if I didn’t play the objectionable lyrics in the song, the tune itself would lead to people drawing conclusions and making inferences, right or wrong. I’m pretty sure that nobody would question my right to blast the song on the car ride home, but most would caution that it would be a poor decision to play it at the meeting. Which speaks to where the real questions should fall in this situation.

At a business meeting, the sole purpose of a leader should be to communicate their message in as pure and unfiltered manner as possible and free of potential misinterpretation. During troubled times, that goal becomes more essential than ever. A leader should stress test what he plans to say and how that message will potentially be received. They should analyze their message from all perspectives of those who make up the intended audience. Their role in this setting is not to fight social battles, but to deliver direction that will benefit the entire organization and create greater symmetry. There is a reason why “know your audience” is a major tenet of all communications instruction. Clearly it’s a tenet Dr. Joseph chose not to follow.

At his first principals meeting two years ago, Dr. Joseph and Dr. Monique Felder alienated some of the principals in the room because of their use of what some consider to be profanity. I believe they used “damn” or some variation of it. Personally, I take no exception, but again, my view isn’t the only view that should be considered. We are in the Bible belt, and there are many people who reside here who are very religious. For them, using that term in a professional meeting is offensive. That group is made up of both black and white people. Use of that word impeded the message that he was trying to communicate. Words are important, images are important, and an effective communicator recognizes that and tries to be as precise with their message as possible.

Messaging from the Director also shapes culture. Based on a recent article in the Tennessean that cites over 3,400 cases of sexual misconduct in the last five years, I would argue that the culture in MNPS needs work. While not all of that occurred on Dr. Joseph’s watch, and he shouldn’t be held responsible, we must also acknowledge that a friend of his whom he hired to work in the district resigned under a cloud of sexual misconduct. That case was closed without any conclusions due to the resignation of the employee. The district also had another administrator resign under such a cloud. I would argue that based on these instances, and others, we should be extra diligent on the tone being set.

Now you may or may not agree with me. Maybe the conversation to you is a lot bigger and indicative of something else. That certainly is your right. I will also acknowledge that in certain areas I bring no personal knowledge or experience to the discussion, but I will also argue that holds true for all of us. That doesn’t make my input or other’s input irrelevant. If we are truly committed to equity and diversity, we will find room for everybody’s views and experiences under the tent and use them to build a bigger tent.

That said, I would question the priority of rallying the community to support the Director of Schools vs the school system itself. Especially during a budget season when schools are facing massive cuts, veteran educators are being laid off, and teachers, as mentioned above, will not only not see a pay raise next year but rather a decrease in their current take home pay. We always hear about the danger of putting adult interests over the interests of children. If Dr. Joseph puts the needs of children first, I’m pretty confident that he can weather any storm. However, if he is willing to endorse supporting himself over our schools as it appears he is… then we have a problem.

This is a hard conversation we are having right now, but a needed one. I suspect it will only get harder, but no less essential. We have to be courageous in pursuing this conversation and engage in as much self-examination of ourselves as we demand from others. In the end, the conversation needs to further unite us, not divide us. This is not the time for the blowing of dog whistles, but rather the time to come together for the benefit of ALL our children.

WHAT I BELIEVE IN

It was recently announced that I have been endorsed by MNEA in my run to be the District 2 representative for the MNPS school board. In response to this announcement, former State House candidate Chris Moth congratulated me while also challenging me to outline what I believe in. He challenged that it is easier to criticize than it is to offer solutions. In response, here are some things I support and believe in.

First and foremost to me is teacher recruitment and retention. That begins with creating a healthy culture. One that is contingent upon listening to teachers and their opinions even when they don’t align with our agenda. I was struck when about a month ago former Maplewood HS Assistant Principal Dr. Ryan Jackson stated before his current school committed to a STEAM initiative, they spent a year focused on nothing but culture. That’s the kind of focus MNPS needs. I firmly believe that you have to be that deliberate in your construction of culture.

Compensation has to be at the heart of teacher recruitment and retention. I believe that teachers deserve, at minimum, a 5% raise. But I also believe that we need to get creative in constructing compensation packages. Offering reduced-rate child care should be part of the discussion. Years ago, Vanderbilt University offered low-rate mortgages to staff members willing to buy in Hillsboro area. Perhaps we could explore that option for teachers wishing to buy homes in the Nashville area.

I also encourage us to make an effort to talk with retiring teachers upon retirement. We should ask if we can call them in a few months to discuss ways they can still be involved with MNPS. Teaching is as much a calling as a profession. Teachers can no more stop teaching than they can breathing. We could pair some of these retiring teachers with first year teachers as classroom aides. This would benefit both teachers and students.

I believe that we need to get serious about addressing the physical state of our schools. It’s impossible to ignore the negative impact of attending a school with sub-par facilities. Perhaps while Nashville’s credit rating is still high, we should look at creating a bond specifically for updating ALL our schools. I’m sure the price tag would be astronomical, but how much higher than building a soccer stadium, convention center, or refurbishing an NFL stadium could it be? Are our schools not every bit as important as the initiatives we’ve funded as a city over the last decade?

I believe in the work that our English Learner and Advanced Academic departments are doing. We have an EL department that has surpassed the state of Tennessee’s annual goals for the last three years while maintaining a flat budget. The AA department was able to identify more kids this year who qualify for advanced academic services than in the past. This year, by agreeing to pay for tests required by Cambridge, IB, and Advanced Placement courses, the district was able to increase equity and access. We must continue to allow these departments the ability to continue their positive impact on students.

I believe in the principles of restorative practices, though I don’t understand why we are employing a shotgun approach to implementation. How much more successful would we be if we focused on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade implementation and then added a year every year? Older grades could employ a hybrid model until full implementation was achieved. It may take a decade in order to reach full implementation under this model, but should quality be sacrificed for speed?

We need to commit to more access to mental health services for our most needy kids. I find it appalling that in a school where close to half the students have incarcerated parents, some kids only have access to a therapist 3 times a week. We have to do better.

I also believe in the need to have a robust conversation about equity. As a parent of two children who continue to attend a high needs school, I can testify that we do not have an equitable system. I will argue, though, that the inequity derives less from money and resources and more from experiences. We must find a way to make the MNPS educational experience more equitable for all.

QUICK HITS

Congratulations to Dr. Steve Sheaffer on being named the new principal for Hillwood High School. They are getting one special leader in Sheaffer. There will be a community meeting at Oliver Middle on Thursday at 6pm to outline the selection process for the next principal there.

Yesterday, Duval County Schools announced the finalists for the currently vacant superintendent position. Unsurprisingly, current MNPS Number 2 Sito Narcisse wasn’t on the list. But that hasn’t deterred him from continuing his job search like a Titanic passenger looking for a lifeboat. He’s already applied in the last year in Cook County, Seattle, and a few others. This morning it was revealed that he is a finalist in Newark. This past weekend in Jacksonville, during the community involvement portion of the interview process, Narcisse told the community, “I do not believe in making decisions by myself.”  I wonder if anybody asked him how he balanced searching for a job with executing the duties of his current position.

On Wednesday, May 23rd, from 4:00-5:30 PM, please come to the Davidson County Courthouse wearing Red for Ed. Stand with teachers in support of funding equality for our public school children and teachers. Nashville is a boom town and our schools should be reaping some benefits from that status.

MNPS’s Fatherhood Festival is fast approaching. The date is June 9th and it promises to be fun and informative for everyone.

Have a student with a disability or know someone who does? Not sure where to turn? You’re in luck! Sign up to attend a FREE training session to get all the answers you’ve been looking for. To RSVP or for more information click here:

POLL RESULTS

Friday’s post was one of our most viewed ever. Thank you for your continued support. It is very much appreciated.

Let’s look at poll results.

The first question asked for feedback on the district’s STEAM initiative. Apparently most of you aren’t sold on the initiative’s value. Out of 142 responses, 82 of you answered that we had bigger concerns, and 29 of you said it could have been undertaken without engaging an outside consultant at the cost of several million dollars. Only 1 of you responded that it has been fantastic. Here are the write-ins:

I think it cost me a well deserved raise. 1
Disaster 1
Meh 1
It’s another “put my fingerprints on it” gimmick 1
For those not working in a MS, very unclear 1
Waste of money 1
Adding the A just watered it down to just another 1
LOL. Follow the $$$ 1
Haven’t seen the results

Question two asked you to assign a letter grade to the district this year. Out of 156 respondents, 67 of you gave the district an “F” and 49 of you a “D.” That translates to 74% of you saying that the district is failing to exceed expectations. There were 5 “B’s” and 1 “A.” Many of you wanted to make it clear that grades were based on the actions of the administration and did not reflect on teacher performance. Teachers continue to receive high marks for their professionalism and flexibility. It’ll be interesting to see if the soon-to-be released climate survey results paint a different picture. Here are the write-ins:

Leadership gets an F 1
A failure to everyone but the checking accounts of admin 1
Is there a G or Z grade? So frustrated and angry – a broken teacher 1
Teachers and kids continue to do the best they can: A. Administration: F 1
The teachers work! This administration causes mess 1
if grading the top (Dr Joseph) = F; if the frontlines = A

The last question asked in light of the budget crunch, who else’s salary should be sacrificed? Out of 168 responses, 58 said Dr. Joseph. Surprisingly, Priority School Executive Officer LaTrecia Gloster received 23 votes. I’ll have to dig into that a little more. Also receiving double-digit votes were the community superintendents, Executive Officer of Equity and Diversity Maritza Gonzales, and HR Number 2 Sharon Pertiller. Word on the street is that Pertiller rivals Public Information Officer Michelle Michaud in the human interaction skills department. Here are the write-ins and there are a lot:

All of the above 4
Director Wheeler 1
I think we would be just fine without 90% of these people 1
Any coordinator of a content or subject area – I’ve never known what they do 1
Dr J & all his cronies 1
The majority of them. This district is a total mess b/c of poor leadership. 1
Tamika Tasby 1
MichMich 1
All of them except Dr. Majors 1
Pretty much all of the above 1
Joseph’s and all his cronies 1
That crazy PIO 1
All of the above! 1
Don’t just cut salaries. Cut jobs. Start with Joseph. He is an embarrassment 1
Pertiller and Michaud 1
All of the above is the obvious answer 1
Several names on this list 1
Joseph 1
Why can’t we chose more than one , I would like to see about 6 get cut 1
Dr. J’s Tahoe Chauffeur 1
Joseph’s Tahoe driver 1
What does Maritza even do? 1
Anyone making six figures

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize in advance 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.

REFLECTIONS

9

The clock on the cable box says 2:36 AM. I’m asleep on the couch because I worked late last night, and I didn’t want to disturb my wife when I got home. It was the presence of the little body next to me that woke me and will make it difficult to return to sleep. That body comes in the form of my 7-year-old son, who is prone to coming in and cuddling up to you in middle of the night while you are unaware. I want to send him back to his bed, but I know that these days are finite and I need to cherish each of them for it won’t be long before he’ll be averse to cuddling. So I lay back, enjoy the comfort of him being near, and let my mind wander in reflection.

My thoughts turn to last night and a painful conversation with my daughter. For the last couple years, I’ve worked freelance as a special events bartender and sold property and casualty insurance. It’s a path I’d chosen partially because after a life spent working in middle management jobs, I didn’t want to commit to anymore 50-hour weeks, no flexibility, and nothing but a paycheck and a 401k to show for my efforts. Most importantly, I wanted to be able to set my hours so I would not have to miss my children’s activities. It’s a plan that, despite some challenges, has been working, except when it doesn’t.

Last night, Tusculum Elementary School students performed The Jungle Book. My daughter is performing in it, and due to work, I am missing both performances. It’s not a terribly unique story. Parents all across the city are regularly faced with a similar dilemma. Many of them have to miss things a whole lot more often than I do. That doesn’t make it any easier when your 8-year-old is squared off in front of you telling you that you are choosing money over her. There is no sense explaining either, because… well… at the root of it, she is right.

We all have to make difficult decisions that weigh cost vs. experience. Sometimes we get the balance right and other times it is terribly askew. I messed up on this one. I should have planned better. For whatever reason, I overly focused on the need to pay bills, and I neglected to mark for observation a very important day. Now there was nothing to do but acknowledge my grave mistake, allow my daughter to be mad, and commit to doing better in the future. We can’t be perfect, but we can acknowledge our shortcomings and make every effort to learn from them.

As I lay on the couch reflecting, my mind turned to a mid-week visit to Joelton Middle School. My visit, at the invitation of Dean of Students Elijah Gann, illuminated just how deep the needs are for some of our school populations. Prior to visiting the school, I’d heard the stories detailing Mr. Gann’s alleged shortcomings, and I didn’t know what to make of them. I still don’t. The man I met seemed deeply connected to a school populated by children who needed deeper connections from more adults. He is a man who appears to want to do right for these kids.

Joelton Middle is a school at the outer edge of Davidson County and is made up of about 339 students. It is currently budgeted for 14 teacher positions. Of those 14, two have remained unfilled all year long. Because of its location and challenges, finding substitute teachers is difficult. The existing staff is made up of first- and second-year teachers, and is filled out by Teach For America corps members. Many of those teachers will be leaving at the end of the year.

The school has a large population of children who come from families where at least one parent is incarcerated. Yet they only have a therapist onsite three times per week. The Dean of Students position is being cut next year due to budget constraints. And at this time, it is unclear what the replacement position will look like.

The poverty rate at Joelton Middle sits around 100%. Many of the students are bussed in from the Bordeaux area, a 45-minute bus ride away. This causes challenges with parent engagement. The student body is made up predominately of children of color.

Despite these challenges, it was readily apparent that teachers cared about what happened to these kids. They may be leaving at the end of the year, but right now, these teachers were deeply invested in their students’ success.

The care came across in the physical appearance of the building. I remarked several times about the cleanliness. Maybe it’s the old restaurant guy in me, but the appearance of the facilities communicates so much about what transpires inside the facilities. Joelton Middle’s appearance tells me that in the building, teachers and administrators are still fighting the good fight, but they need help.

After leaving the building, I did some digging and asked some people what the plan was for Joelton. I was told that there has always been a problem getting the funding to address the massive needs of the school. My response was that perhaps before investing millions with outside sources to convert district middle schools to a STEAM curriculum, maybe we should first invest in getting our schools the needed basic supports.

I was told that the plan for the future included the securing of high quality teachers who would collaborate and push students forward. When I asked where these teachers were going to come from, I was told about a job fair that was held last weekend specifically for hiring teachers for priority schools. Think about the irony of that for a minute. We are hiring teachers for a priority school in May. Is there anything that communicates “priority” less than that?

To be fair, this criticism was acknowledged when I brought it up. The goal was to hire teachers in February, but none could be hired until individual school budgets were approved. And those weren’t approved until the beginning of this month.

Dr. Joseph likes to dismiss criticism of this year’s budget process as merely noise and claim that budgets are always messy. Well, this is an instance where his not listening to the “noise” has had a real world negative impact on schools. Not just priority schools either, but all schools. There are many schools that sit just outside the priority school window that have been harmed in the pursuit of shoring up their staff. Teachers tend to like to lock down next year’s assignments early, and the best ones tend to go quickly. Make no mistake – this late start to hiring will have an impact on next year’s performance, or as Dr. Joseph likes to say… those key performance indicators.

Individual educators are attempting to serve the needs of these kids. I believe they are doing the best they can with existing resources, but they need help.

I don’t believe that Joelton is an outlier in the district. We as a district are failing these children, just like I failed my daughter last night. That failure will have long term repercussions, and nothing we can do now can change that. Both myself, and the district, are now presented with a choice. Do we continue to fail these children by using money as an excuse and putting our priorities first? Or do we acknowledge our shortcomings and get serious about not making the same mistake again? Looks like both MNPS and I both have some self-evaluating to do.

BLOW THE WHISTLE (NSFW)

Yesterday morning, I was doing some insurance work when I got a message from an attendee at the weekly MNPS principals meeting that made reference to Oakland rapper Too $hort. Puzzled, I looked at it and dismissed it. What the… why are we referencing an highly obscene, semi-obscure rapper from 1985?

Then, I got another text from a different individual. This was getting really weird. When I got the third text from a third source, it started to dawn on me. Dr. Joseph must have referenced Too $hort in the principals meeting. Troubling, but whatever. I fired off a response asking if that was the case, only to be informed that no, he didn’t reference the rapper. Instead, he played a snippet of his song, “Blow the Whistle.” Now he didn’t play the part with objectionable words, but the song includes the following lyrics,

And I’m still gon’ yell it every time you see me in
What’s my favorite word?
BITCH!
Why they gotta say it like $hort?
BITCH!
You know they can’t play on my court
Can’t hang with the big dogs
Stay on the porch

Some of you may not be familiar with Too Short. Let’s Google. Wikipedia will give you a little insight, but not the full story. As for me, I’m very familiar with Too $hort and the prurient nature of his music. Back when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I used to listen to Too $hort because I thought it was titillating and I thought it made me cutting edge. But at age 53, I recognize Too $hort for what he is, obscene and misogynistic.

Too $hort is well aware of the nature of his work. This particular song comes from the album of the same name, Blow the Whistle, which starts off with these lyrics (from “Call Her a Bitch”) and acts almost as a disclaimer for the album, as $hort explains to the listener: “One thing’s for sure… You will get called a bitch… bitch / So motherfuckin’ fast – bitch / Short Dog’s in the house… beotch!” According to Wikipedia, “Blow the Whistle,” the second song on the album, is considered a staple at American strip clubs.

In all fairness, the song “Blow the Whistle” has been also used by the NBA, and it went viral recently when it was paired in a video with a spin class. In other words, it does have some mainstream appeal.

I recognize that we have an African American as the Director of Schools, and as such, he’s going to, at times, possibly reference hip hop culture. Too $hort is not a reference that I would give the same credence to as Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, or Tupac. Perchance that is due to my whiteness and the aforementioned artists who have crossed over. I’m willing to acknowledge that, but in the same vein, I think you have to know your audience, and I don’t think it would have been appropriate had Jesse Register addressed principals after playing “Sweet Home Alabama” either.

I also acknowledge that what one culture may find offensive, another may respond to in a different manner. There has been a long ongoing debate about how African Americans’ use of the word “nigger” is a means to rob it of its power. It’s a conversation worth having, but at the end of the day, it’s not a word that should be part of our vernacular. As Malcolm-Aime Musoni says in his piece for The Huffington Post in reference to white people’s use of the word, “If you want to say ‘nigga’ then be ready to get treated like one and if you don’t then keep that one syllable five letter word out of your mouth unless you’re ready to be crossed up by some ‘niggas’ who aren’t like that token black friend who lets you call them one.” When it comes to a professional environment, that advice should probably apply to everyone.

I would argue the same holds true for the word bitch, which is liberally sprinkled through the Too $hort song that Joseph played for the principals. Supporters of Too $hort argue that his liberal use of the word bitch robs it of its power. Does it really do that? Or does it just anesthetize us to the ugliness ingrained in the word?

Is a principals meeting the proper vehicle to address language and its impact on culture? Is there not enough important work that needs to be addressed that time can be afforded not to be extremely deliberate in our communication? I think it is safe to say that the song became the focus of his message and some important points were lost as a result of not being given their needed priority. In the aftermath, more time has been devoted to discussing the appropriateness of the song than to the strategy related to the budget crunch. Part of that strategy involved how to communicate budget cuts to staff and were in themselves a little questionable.

Where I come from, we call that a distraction and it runs counter to Dr. Joseph’s claim of an administration that is really good at focusing.

Further complicating matters is that MNPS has had a high number of sexual misconduct cases brought against it this year. Before he actually played the song, Dr. Joseph referenced playing it in his head when board meetings get too difficult. Board meetings where two women have been awfully hard on him as of late. It’s not a stretch to connect the “bitch” references in the song to those two women at the board meeting.

As a former literacy specialist, Dr. Joseph has to understand that words have meaning. Words contribute to culture. I would argue that referencing a Too $hort song at a principals meeting could signal a cavalier attitude about women which is now being borne out by how many sexual misconduct cases have been handled this year.

Yesterday, also at the principals meeting, an Executive Director who resigned this year almost immediately after coming off administrative leave – which was a result of sexual misconduct charges – was signaled out for recognition. It was a little awkward.

Word on the street is that the administration is unhappy about the manner in which allegations against another former Executive Officer were handled. They feel that person should have never been forced to resign. Several of the people involved in the bringing of the complaint against the former EO now find themselves without employment for next year. One of the people who brought the complaint forth is taking the place of the former EO.

Are the perceptions legitimate? I don’t know. But I do know that when the Director of Schools plays a bit of a blatantly misogynist song at a principals meeting, it lends credence to those whispers.

When Dr. Joseph failed to rebuke a fraternity brother who, during public comment, compared board conduct to a public lynching, he sent a message. When he played “Blow The Whistle,” albeit an edited version, he sent another message.

In a recent interview with Channel 5, Dr. Joseph referenced his ongoing troubles with board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge by saying, “When board members sling mud, children get dirty.” I would take that statement even deeper and say when rhetoric is elevated, communities get destroyed.

Nashville is in a very fragile place these days. Unchecked growth has caught up to us and leaders have disappointed us. We are a city in search of leadership that will help us heal. That means using words and evoking images that will bring us together, not drive us further apart. The coming days will bring many, as Obama used to say, “teachable moments.” Our leaders need to be very cognizant of what they are teaching and promoting.

QUICK HITS

Principal hires continue to leak out. Clarissa Zellers has been named the new principal for Antioch High School despite having no previous experience as a principal. Hopefully things will work out better than they did with the previous principal. I know that Antioch HS is ready to move onward and upward.

Yesterday, in search of a positive story, I sat down with former Eakin ES principal Tim Drinkwine to discuss his past as an MNPS student and principal along with his family’s recently completed trip around the world. Look for that interview in the coming weeks.

Nashvillian Bill Freeman recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Tennessee Tribune. I urge you to read it.

Chalkbeat TN asks the question: Now that testing is over, what’s next?

This year, TNDOE created a seal of bi-literacy for graduating high school students. The seal appears on a graduating senior’s diploma and shows that they are literate in at least two languages. Many states have enacted such a program this past year. I think it’s a fantastic idea. Unfortunately, the requirements to Tennessee’s seal are stringently tied to TNReady. It’d be nice if we could expand the requirements, like they did in Denver.

Miya Robertson, a drama teacher at Gower Elementary School, is the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, an annual award honoring an educator who uses the arts to inspire learning, build community, and foster excellence in teaching.

Summer is almost here! Do you have your child registered for a camp? Check out our list of summer programs here: http://bit.ly/2IfQLqY

Need to give a quick tip of the hat the Nashville Chamber’s Marc Hill who is heading to Kansas City. While I don’t think Marc was ever a fan of mine, and I have certainly been critical of his work, his impact on Nashville is undeniable and worthy of a hearty thank you.

As predicted, the grim reaper is walking the halls of central office. Already today, Craig Ott, Vanessa Garcia, and Terry Schrader have felt the sting of his scythe. In an effort to reduce the budget shortfall, their jobs have been eliminated.

That wraps up this week. Don’t forget 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.

WORDS FROM BILL FREEMAN

4

This is a piece written by Bill Freeman for the Tennessean Tribune that I feel deserves a reprint. If you are not familiar with Freeman, I urge you to do your homework. He’s a businessman, a philanthropist, a father, a past mayoral candidate, and above all, a concerned and active citizen who has always been willing to back up his words with action.

I am concerned with the painful challenges that the new public schools budget will cause. Despite board approval for a budget that will increase when other city department budgets are being trimmed, our schools will still see cuts and eliminations of important and necessary services. The path to this contentious budget was rocky and full of problems. 

In all honesty, I cannot recall in recent memory when a MNPS budget development and review was more error-filled, contentious and problematic.  

Under Dr. Joseph’s new $924 million budget that accounts for practically half of the entire budget for all of Metro Nashville, he put many budget cuts on the table, each one as worrisome as the one before it.  

First, we were told that free lunch to our students was at risk of elimination. Taking food out of the mouths of hungry children? That is absurd. And wrong. Following a deserved uproar, that option was removed from the table nearly as quickly as it was put on.

Then we were told that we would lose social workers during the most trauma-filled season of life that nearly any of us can recall. After heated and passionate discussion by the very social workers who were facing elimination and those teachers, parents and educators who vouched for the urgent need for social workers, that option was removed.   

Then, the painful decision was made to eliminate Reading Recovery, the very program that has been in place for years and is designed to help the reading skills of our students—so many of whom come to school hungry, homeless or speaking a language other than English. Because of this action, I am very worried that our academic support underpinnings will be severely hampered. Yes, we must make sure our students are not hungry and feel safe and loved. That’s step one. It’s only then that they can productively learn. But learning is the entire foundation of school. Without the ability to read well, learning and success will be limited for that child’s entire adult life.

However, I am even more disturbed at the issues that this problematic budget process has uncovered. We are hearing reports of mismanaged funds, of contracts being enacted without board approval and stipends and boondoggle trips being paid for by outside interests and subjective companies seeking influence over our schools.  

Despite the success and growth that Nashville is touting these days, we are facing a budget shortfall. Every department must face hard choices. Our Chamber of Commerce continues to support the growth of middle Tennessee over the growth of Nashville. Our small businesses must fight for survival without the protection that small businesses need to grow and thrive. Yet, among the challenges that face all of us in Nashville, you would expect to see honest dialogue and partnering with each other for as absolutely as long as possible to get the job done. You don’t start slinging mud at the first tough question. You don’t call names when others ask for answers to hard but fair questions. You don’t retaliate when you don’t like something. But it certainly happened during this budget review process. 

This is a problem in the extreme. I joined all of Nashville with the hope that Dr. Joseph brought with him when he was first hired. He promised to a partner with the school board, with schools, with parents and with students. We have seen some good work come from his team in the past two school years, but there are signs of trouble that every Nashvillian should be worried about.

Rev. Enoch Fuzz, one of our most treasured ministers, spoke persuasively and bluntly at the school board’s public hearing on April 12, 2018. He spoke of the importance to protect children all the way through school and, to put it plainly, that we needed to put our money where our mouth is. He spoke to Dr. Joseph and the board when he said, “I don’t like to hear you say, ‘Cut budgets.’” He went on to speak frankly about the board’s previous comments about the acceptable lack of graduation rates and college acceptance. Dr. Fuzz took them to task when he said, “There are 15 boys in our church in college. We don’t say, ‘College is not for everybody’ at our place.”

Most importantly, Rev. Fuzz reminded all of us the importance of making sure our values are reflected in our spending. He reminded everyone of former Vice President Joe Biden, who said, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” Dr. Fuzz put it to them squarely when he used his own personal example of taking a pay cut in years past. He said, “Any public employee who’s making six figures who can’t take a four-figure pay cut, you don’t tell me that children are important. Our children are important. You make six figures and you can’t take a four-figure pay cut for a couple of years to help get things on track, you don’t care about no children. You care about yourself.”

As encouraged as I was to hear Rev. Fuzz’ honest and heartfelt words, I was equally as dismayed to see the divisiveness that occurred over this budget process. Not two days before Rev. Fuzz spoke so encouragingly and Rep. Harold Love, Jr. showed his support for the board and this difficult budget season, Michael Milliner of the local Gamma Phi chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity had some low blows to deliver.  

He twisted honest questions put to Dr. Joseph by board members into allegations of being bought by outside special interests, accused them of racist actions and even implied that they had attempted to derail the selection process of Dr. Joseph because of the color of his skin. Well, the truth of the matter is that School Board member Amy Frogge and Vice Chair Jill Speering – the very women that Milliner had such ugly words for – were the two women who had recommended interviewing Dr. Carol Johnson for the Director of Schools position.  She happens to be an African-American woman and a fine educator who led Boston’s public school system. So why would Milliner accuse Frogge and Speering of racist behavior, when their actions are anything but? It was wrong of Milliner to accuse them of untoward behavior and come close to threatening them, if you ask me. He said repeatedly to each of these two board members, “We will not forget” when he called them by name with every accusation he made.  

I’m sure it was horrifying to these board members to be accused of such a thing, when their entire focus has always been to improve Nashville’s schools so that all students can thrive. MNPS has a decidedly diverse student body coming from all walks of life and from all racial and ethnic groups. Our diversity is what makes us strong, and I would never question anyone on our school board’s commitment to their job, and I certainly wouldn’t accuse them of racist behavior. That was uncalled for. 

When Nashville must struggle for every dollar we make and every budget decision must be made carefully, this is not the time to hit below the belt. When our school board must decide whether to cut social workers or school lunches or reading assistance, they are clearly facing difficult decisions. What is proper is questioning past decisions of outside contractors paid millions through unauthorized purchase orders and gaming the system to avoid board approval. That’s what needs to be questioned—not the ethical behavior of our elected school board members. As Rev. Fuzz said, “You pay for what you want and what you believe in.” We don’t need angry threats and empty accusations. We need productive discussions, consensus and agreement. And most importantly, we need to keep the focus on the success of our children and grandchildren. As school board member Tyese Hunter said when she thanked those who had attended the April 12th meeting, “You all came to us and presented the lives of our children, and that was what we needed to hear during this budget process. More than anything, we needed to know about the lives that – of the decisions that we’re going to make  – that will be impacted by those decisions.”

Bill Freeman is the chairman of Freeman Webb Inc., a real estate investment, management and brokerage company based in Nashville, which he co-founded in 1979. He is a Democratic Party fundraiser, the former treasurer of the Tennessee Democratic Party, a member of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority, a member of the Board of Trustees for Tennessee State University and was appointed by President Obama to serve on the advisory board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

STUDYING THE ROADMAP

This weekend, I did a lot reading on Nashville’s financial situation and the changing of the guard in Prince George’s County Public Schools. The two would seem to have little in common, but I think both offer lessons of value. At the core of both issues are the words spoken by Nashville Mayor David Briley at this year’s State of Metro address: “I do not need to remind you that some of the problems we are trying to solve today are magnified by our own failure to act in the past.” Yes indeed.

The State of Metro speech, over the past decade, has been a celebratory affair. Almost like a kickoff to Derby weekend. The city’s elite deck themselves out in their finest and gather to celebrate Nashville’s pending world dominance. People are moving here at a rapid rate and there was nothing but pots of gold awaiting them when they got here. Or so past addresses would indicate.

We congratulated ourselves on the construction of arenas, convention centers, ball parks, soccer stadiums, and amphitheaters with nothing but perfunctory thought towards infrastructures. I know some of you will read that last sentence and take offense, but before you offer a defense, drive by our schools, drive our roads, and pay the parking costs downtown. For all its glory, I’m not sure the new Nashville is really for Nashvillians anymore. But I digress.

Over the years, I’ve heard whispers in the background questioning how all of this progress was going to get paid for. Those who questioned too loudly were either ignored or labeled as barriers to progress. There was always another bond to be written or money that could be shuffled from pile A to pile D. Therefore cost shouldn’t be a driving concern.

Last year Metro Nashville came up with its newest gimmick. Property values had soared so much in the “IT City” that it was surmised if a citywide reappraisal of properties were conducted, revenues could be increased without actually raising taxes. This was considered a brilliant idea because everyone knows how much residents of Davidson County hate tax increases.

Again, some may object to this strategy being a gimmick and try to defend it. I label it a gimmick because it tries do a good thing – increase revenue – while not mentioning a bad thing – raising taxes. The consensus was that once appraisals were done, the city would have more money. Unfortunately, gimmicks are tricky things and don’t always work as advertised. This one didn’t. The city has ended up with less money, a lot less money.

That’s a hard pill for Nashvillians to swallow. After all, many of us were given the impression that the city was making money hand over fist. Those tax breaks for another corporation weren’t a big deal, we’ll make more. Nine billion for transit, no worries, Amazon is coming. Every expenditure was sold with a promise of how we were going to recoup tenfold, yet here we are and in need of an explanation.

Who would be more qualified to give that explanation than the man who sat ringside to virtually every financial decision over the last decade, Rich Riebeling. But have you seen him lately? Ever since Briley has taken over, you might as well stamp Reibeling’s face on the proverbial milk carton, because there is nary a word from him as of late.

Reibeling was always advertised as the city’s sharpest financial mind. I would think that now would be a time that called out for that mind’s insight. After all, I’ve sat in innumerable community meetings where he belittled people for merely raising questions. Now, when we could really use some of those brilliant explanations, we get crickets. He could be on an island in South of France for all we know.

To his credit, Mayor Briley is facing the challenge head on. I hope that MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph is noticing how it’s Briley who steps to the microphone every time and not some proxy delivering the bad news. Briley does so at considerable personal expense. He’s running for re-election as mayor, and tight budgets seldom translate into increased vote totals. Yet there he is, front and center, taking the heat.

As a result of the city’s finances, Metro Nashville Public School’s allocation of monies will be considerably smaller than requested. To the tune of $40 million dollars.

The biggest hit will be to teachers, as they won’t be receiving a proposed 2.5% raise. It’s a raise teachers need and deserve, but one that Briley would be hard pressed to justify while not giving an equally deserved raise to the city’s police officers and fire fighters.

Last year, I argued that teacher raises should take precedence over investments in STEAM programming and other outside programs. That argument fell on deaf ears and here we are this year, short on money.

I do have to ask, as upset as people are, are they really surprised? I would go further and say that Dr. Joseph’s proposed budget set people up to be disappointed. Listen to any one of his public speeches and you’ll hear him tout his friendship with both Mayor Barry and Mayor Briley. He often comments on how frequently they talk. Yet, apparently neither mayor clued him in on the city’s finances.

Other than the occasional public greeting of “Hello, TC,” neither of the mayors ever talk to me. Yet somehow, I was able to glean enough information to pick up on the fact that there was going to be a lack of money this year and therefore a budget that called for a limited increase in funding. In Joseph’s eyes, an extra $45 million like he asked for may constitute a tight budget. I’d beg to differ.

In my eyes, it’s like me telling you that I’m having trouble meeting my mortgage and you take that as an opportunity to ask me for a $10k loan with the caveat that you really needed $40k and that only asking for the 10 was an acknowledgement that I was broke.

I get that there are certain obligations that make it hard to not ask for additional funds. But just like with the recently-ended free meals for all kids program, there should have been recognition of the pending challenges and talks ignited to address those. Asking for an extra $45 million is not an indicator that those talks ever transpired. Especially in light of recent revelations that an extra $25 million is required just to meet charter school growth requirements and pension expenses.

Again, the losers here are the students and teachers. Not only did Joseph allow teachers to labor under the misconception that raises were a possibility, but in order to generate cover for canceling Reading Recovery, Joseph doubled down on expectations by raising the ask to 2.5%. Either he wasn’t listening to what the mayor was saying or he was too infatuated with his own agenda to care. Neither reason should be acceptable.

As far as students go, remember the touting of increased participation in advanced academics and how this success was a result of the district paying for required end-of-course tests? Yeah, well, early indications are that won’t be the case this coming year. You have to love how we brag about the success with one side of our mouth while cutting the financing with the other.

I’m willing to chalk up some of the budget problems to Dr. Joseph’s inexperience. I know what you’re saying: “He’s no rookie. He’s got 25 years in education.” That sounds great if you say it fast. The reality is that he only has 3.5 years of experience as a superintendent. And 18 months of that time was spent in a school district made up of 6 schools. For the sake of comparison, that’s less than half the number of schools in the Maury County School District.

Joseph’s tenure in Seaford, Delaware, is one that can only be described as a flame out. A flame out that can be attributed to a overinflated budget. Joseph submitted a budget based on the premise that residents would be so enamored with his leadership that they would approve a tax hike. That presumption would prove inaccurate, and Joseph split for Montgomery County, failing to honor his whole contract and leaving the remaining leaders to fix the issues caused by his initiatives. Equity now!

The reality is that Dr. Joseph is little more than a novice when it comes to heading up a large urban distract and that includes the construction of a budget with the magnitude of Nashville’s. The MNPS school board is made up of people individually with equal or more experience in the formation of a large urban school district’s budget. Joseph might argue that he sat to the right of Kevin Maxwell in Prince George’s County Public Schools, one of the largest districts in the country, during the drafting of their annual budget. But that opens up the door for further examination of exactly he learned under the tutelage of Dr. Maxwell.

Ninety-five percent of Shawn Joseph’s experience in education comes through his tenure at Prince George’s County Public Schools and its neighbor, Montgomery County Public Schools. He taught in those districts. He became an administrator in those districts. He became a leader in those districts. It’s safe to say the majority of what he knows about running a large urban school district is derived from his experiences at both PGCPS and MCPS. Two school districts that are very different from Nashville.

In the wake of PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell’s recent resignation announcement, people have taken the opportunity to review his tenure, and let’s just say, it ain’t pretty. The last several years under Maxwell’s leadership, PGCPS has seen only slight progress while being hampered by ceaseless controversy. Granted, much of that controversy stems from their governance model – the majority of the school board is appointed and the County Director appoints the school’s CEO – which is, again, decidedly different than Nashville’s model.

I would argue that their model, and the pitfalls that have befallen Maxwell, does illustrate potential perils if the MNPS school board continues to take a largely hands-off role. There is already evidence that many of those complications that have befallen PGCPS – like selective and secretive compensation for central office staff, lack of transparency, failure to take accountability, lack of response to parents – have already begun to raise their head in MNPS.

It is only natural for our actions to emulate our influences. At times, though, that emulation can prove detrimental to our success. That’s where we need those with more experience to step in and offer guidance.

However, it is equally important to not remain so ingrained in our past that we fail to recognize a better way to do things. As they say, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” As in everything, balance is essential.

When I examine instances that have ended in catastrophe, I’m often struck by the fact that the resulting conclusion wasn’t inevitable.  There were many exit ramps on the road to the dumpster fire. With a little self-examination, adjustments could have been made in order to avoid calamity. Abject failure is seldom a certainty. But you have to be willing to recognize an exit ramp when you see it and be willing to take it.

Hopefully, Nashville is beginning to read the roadmap that is being laid out. Hopefully, our leaders are choosing the best routes. Briley’s unwillingness to go into the fund balance in order to avoid taking a risky political position is a positive sign. Hopefully, they are keeping their eyes focused on the road ahead, while not losing sight of what’s in the rearview mirror. As always, time will tell. Time will tell.

QUICK HITS

Principal assignments for next year are starting to leak out, and the reception to those assignments is proving to be a little less than enthusiastic. I applaud the idea of allowing community members to be a part of the hiring process, but that means they can’t be just for show. Mama taught me a long time ago, don’t mess with a person’s money or time. Calling someone in for something that proves to consistently be nothing but a dog and pony show does the latter. Nothing breeds animosity like making someone believe they have some power and then demonstrating that they are powerless.

Is anybody else wondering why, within 6 months of arriving in Nashville, Dr. Narcisse was interviewing for positions elsewhere? Dr. Joseph claimed he was bringing in the best and brightest, but I guess he was only renting them. Apparently, even making his wife one of the top 10 highest-paid employees in MNPS isn’t enough incentive to keep Sito off the interview train. Here’s a question: since it’s apparent that Dr. Narcisse is leaving at the first available opportunity, how much effort has been put into training a successor? You know, so we don’t lose any of that hard-won progress. Does anybody remember that movie Hardbodies and the endless pursuit of the BBD? Or the immortal words of Johnny Rotten and the Winterland in San Fransisco?

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, AKA the one week a year we pretend not to take teachers for granted. I’m not a fan of Teacher Appreciation Week. Not because I don’t appreciate teachers – au contraire – but rather because I think one week isn’t sufficient. 52 weeks would be more appropriate. That said, I know teachers do appreciate your acts of kindness this week and I encourage all to participate.

If you were one of those MNPS educators who were at the Teacher of the Year banquet, and were wondering why Dr. Joseph and his sidekick weren’t in attendance, I have an answer. They were in Chicago, along with several other central office folks, for an SEL conference. Ah, the irony.

State legislators in Colorado have begun to notice the cost of the teacher shortage and this year have dedicated $10 million toward rectifying things. Some very interesting ideas and, I think, a good start.

Remember the Community Eligibility Program? You know, where all kids got fed free lunch and breakfast everyday? The one we will not be participating in next year? A new study has shown that it has contributed to making students in participating districts healthier. All the more reason not to continue, right?

POLL RESULTS

The poll questions got a lot of response this week. Let’s take a look.

The first question was in response to a proposed 10-day suspension for Carlton Battle. Some of you disputed the evidence cited in the paperwork submitted for board approval as part of this week’s school board agenda. The board will be voting on whether a 10-day suspension is sufficient. The report says that Battle “went out into the hallway,” responded to the parent’s attempt to make physical contact by punching them in the “face several times,” and then left the premises without reporting the incident to the proper authorities or MNPS officials. I have to believe that those conclusions are based on district investigation and rooted in fact.

If those are incorrect statements, then the board has no business voting on the appropriateness of the punishment. I’m willing to give a little benefit of the doubt to Battle based on rumblings I’ve heard on the motivations for actions taken by HR leadership and people vouching for his character. Still, a lot of questions remain. Questions that, in my eyes, need clarification before proceeding.

That said, 39% of you indicated that his actions should result in nothing less than termination and 18% of you indicated that you would have a hard time with him supervising your children. Here are the write-ins:

No 2
Why was the parent in the locker room 2
No action needed. Mr. Battle is great a role model that my kids look up to. 1
punishment not needed 1
I thought he has been gone for 30+ days already. 1
No punishment needed 1
The parent assaulted Battle. The parent should be arrested instead 1
Mr. Battle is a well respected and stand up guy. Allegations are false! 1
I know him to be innocent of these charges AND he’s a great man. 1
Fire him 1
And this is different from the daily ongoings in the schools how? 1
If not community supt sibling, would have already been fired. 1
You have the story wrong on Battle 1
He should be fired 1
Can you imagine your Dr collecting money – fundraisers – why ask a teacher to?

Question number 2 asked if you though Mayor Briley was fair with his budget allocation to MNPS. 55% of you responded in a manner that indicated you felt he was doing the best he could with the cards dealt to him. 14% indicated that you felt he should have gotten schools more. Here are the write-ins:

Hard to get more when you don’t spend current funds wisely 1
The MNPS budget needs to go back to the drawing board. 1
The response to an asinine request was equally asinine 1
I think they see a budget that is riddled with errors and shooting low will for. 1
Why are teachers always last in line? Time for a new career. 1
Nope, lost my vote too. 1
YES! Joseph needs to spend $ correctly 1
His message is clear to Joseph-stop wasting $ 1
Should have not given any extra & asked more ?? 1
time for a tax referendum – public school funds should match private school 1
time to create a tax referendum- public schools need the same funds as private 1
The budget failure falls on Dr Joseph’s head

The last question asked who was getting your vote for Nashville’s next mayor. If results are to be trusted, two frontrunners have emerged. Briley got 41% of the vote to Carol Swain’s 38%, which would indicate that a run off is in Nashville’s future, since neither got over 50%. Here are the write-ins:

Megan Barry 3
TC Weber 1
Unsure at the moment 1
Out of county
Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize in advance 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.

THREE HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE DEGREES

5

Do you remember a number of years ago when the American West was besieged by fires? They burned out of control for weeks on end, destroying everything in their path. Fire fighters tried everything to get them under control, but nothing seemed to work.  It would appear, for a moment or two, that the crisis was becoming controllable, and then the flames would flare up in another area just as fierce. Firefighters were finally able to extinguish the flames, but only after several months and after the fires had caused catastrophic amounts of damage. That’s what this year’s MNPS budget process reminds me of – a never-ending series of uncontrollable conflagrations consuming everything in their path.

It seems like we’ve been talking about next year’s budget all year. The first fire broke out when it was revealed that the district had miscalculated its enrollment predictions, and as a result, they would lose $7.5 million in state funding. Shortly thereafter, principals were told that they would be losing Title I money next year through a change in the reallocation formula, and as a result, their individual school budgets would be lower. In response to the heat generated by this announcement, the district produced handouts with individual school’s numbers showing increased site-based budgeting numbers – handouts that were quickly shown by parents and school board members to be rife with errors. It’s hard to have an honest conversation when you don’t have verifiable numbers.

Several public hearings were held. These hearings drew substantially more participants than in any other previous years, and as a result, things got a little hot at times. Fires sparked further when Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph announced the cutting of the literacy program Reading Recovery from the budget. A move that smacked of political retribution. I expected things to die down after the MNPS school board approved the budget, albeit by a vote of 7-2. Alas, the presentation of the budget to the mayor only added fuel to the simmering embers.

I understand not all of you are from around here, and I had to learn this lesson the hard way, but if you thought Mayor Briley went easy on Joseph, then you are mistaken. What the Mayor did was hold Joseph’s feet to the fire in a very forceful but very Southern manner. It wasn’t quite a “Bless his heart,” but Briley let Joseph know in a very polite, but no less certain, manner that he wasn’t buying everything Joseph was selling. Don’t believe me? Look at Chris Henson’s face throughout the second half of the presentation. It speaks volumes.

This week, Mayor Briley released the city’s budget, and those fires leaped to life again. The budget only awarded MNPS an additional $5 million of the $45 million requested. That money isn’t even enough to cover additional money owed to charter schools due to their increased growth or pension payments. In short, cuts are coming.

The fingers of blame have quickly been pointed, as it has become apparent that Nashville is not as flush with cash as an “It City” should be. Blame has been directed to the office of Property Assessment because so many challenges to new property assessments came back in favor of property owners. Others have cited Budget Line item 7777 and the tax breaks given to corporations as a culprit. MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge has pointed out the fact that district leadership has not done right with the money that they have been allocated and raised a red flag that, in fact, how leadership spends money needs closer examination. I believe it’s all of this and more.

The big losers in all of this, besides the children of Nashville, are MNPS teachers. The sad reality is that raises for this year are pretty much off the table. Teachers are not the only deserving public servants looking for more money; police officers and firefighters are as well. The budget makes no allocation for raises for any of the aforementioned, which is extremely unfortunate.

Last year, we had an opportunity to address the chronic shortfall of teacher salaries. We had a new mayor with a popularity rating over 70% and a new Director of Schools with a rating approaching that. Instead of taking care of our people, Shawn Joseph chose to fund programs over personnel. Fast forward a year to now: that mayor is gone and the Director of Schools appears to be close on her heels. An opportunity was squandered.

I would also argue that last year, money was spent without a proper inventory of existing resources. Former STEAM Director Kris Elliot is now in Oregon overseeing the creation of a state outdoor education program that is proving to be incredibly successful. Is it beyond the realm of reason to believe that he could have begun the transformation of middle schools to a STEAM curriculum at a lower cost than the current outside consultants Discovery Ed? Former SEL Director Nicole Cobb is now with Vanderbilt’s Peabody College doing exemplary work – work she could have been doing with the district. Former MNPS Executive Director of School Choice Aimee Wyatt is now working with the Southern Regional Education Board to transform Memphis high schools – work she could have been doing for MNPS.

Those are just three examples, but it is safe to say that opportunity has been squandered at every level. You don’t start a home improvement project by leaping into the car and heading to Home Depot with credit card in hand. You form a plan, you inventory what you have on hand, and you make a list of what you still need to purchase. Only then do you head to Home Depot. After all, all projects have a budget and you don’t want to blow that budget on needless expenditures. Why should improving a school district be any different?

The release of the budget has earned Mayor Briley the ire of a lot of folks, undeservedly so, in my opinion. He is only doing the best he can with what he has been given. It can be argued that he had a front row seat for the decisions that have led to this predicament and failed to speak out. Maybe, but he was just a supporting character at the time and not the lead.

We must not lose sight, though, that right now he is not just “Mayor” Briley, but also “Candidate” Briley. We need to be really careful that our ire does not spill over into the polls. For all of his perceived faults, it’s still clear to me that Mayor Briley is our best leadership option for the next 18 months. I find it refreshing that he chose to put Nashville above himself and not play politics with the budget. It would have been very easy for him to use the budget as a vehicle to fuel an election win. One that would come at the risk of a long-term loss for the city. In surveying the list of candidates for the mayor’s office, I can safely say there is not another person I would feel better about being in charge during this transition period than Briley.

On this coming Tuesday at the board meeting, Dr. Joseph is scheduled to present his revised budget. One that is anticipated to arrive with large cuts. I’ve heard of numerous areas in which those cuts are going to come, but at this time, it all remains speculation. Since I prefer not to deal in speculation – unless it’s in regards to a certain popular South Nashville principal’s future – I’ll refrain from making my own speculations and instead wait for Tuesday’s presentation. Whatever happens Tuesday, I think it is safe to say that the budget fires are far from being extinguished.

AN OPENING IN PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY

Continuing with the theme of fires, Prince George’s County Public Schools has certainly seen their fair share over the last two years. You’ll remember that PGCPS is the point of origin for current MNPS leadership. This week, steps were taken to start putting out some of those fires. School CEO – I hate when schools emulate business in their choice of titles – Kevin Maxwell announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the year.

In case you are not familiar with the way things work in PGCPS, they have a board that is made up of both appointed and elected officials. The majority being appointed. The CEO of Schools is hired by the County Executive, currently Rushern L. Baker III. Baker is currently running for Governor of Maryland, and regardless of that outcome, he will be termed out come November. Baker has been a staunch supporter of Maxwell, so Maxwell probably saw the writing on the wall.

I know what you are thinking right now, and my answer is, I don’t know. Baker will have the opportunity to hire the new CEO, and he is a friend of Joseph’s. Earlier in the year, Joseph provided Baker an opportunity to address principals at the weekly principal’s meeting. Last year, I spoke with PGCPS School Board Member Edward Burroughs, who has spearheaded the call for change these last several years, and he referred to Dr. Joseph as one of the good guys and also expressed admiration of MNPS Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder. The lure home is always appealing, but Dr. Joseph has professed that Nashville is his new home. I would be surprised, though, if at the very least, Nashville’s Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse’s resume wasn’t sitting squarely on Baker’s desk.

A MISSED DATE AND YET ANOTHER MISSED OPPORTUNITY

I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m not a fan of the “Teacher of the Year” awards, nor the award ceremonies that accompany them. The job of teacher is too complex and hinges too much on collaboration to single out individuals for recognition. That’s not to take away anything from the winners; they, like all teachers, have certainly earned their accolades. I’m pretty confident that most of the winners would be quick to acknowledge the role of their colleagues in their success as well. So I shouldn’t be treading on hallowed ground in raising my objections.

However, if you ARE going to have an award ceremony and you ARE going to take the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of your teachers, then I think the Number One and Number Two people in the district better damn well show up. Yet neither Shawn Joseph nor Sito Narcisse deemed the event important enough for them to make an appearance. Again, an opportunity to curry favor with the rank and file is squandered and an alternative message is sent. Leadership is not about saying the right things; it’s about doing the right things. Surely that is written somewhere in Joseph’s endorsed leadership book, Leadership and Self-Deception.

QUICK HITS

In my opinion, the conversation on state standardized testing has jumped the shark when you start debating the amount of impact a dump truck had on the execution of the test administration.

In interesting news, despite a need to make budget cuts, MNPS recently announced two new administrator hires. Heading up the STEAM initiative, an initiative that has been without leadership for the majority of the year, will be Dr. Jennifer Berry. Berry is an 18-year veteran of MNPS. Filling the position of Executive Officer of Organizational Development, recently vacated by Maryland transplant Mo Carrasco, will be another MNPS veteran, Dr. Sonia Stewart. Stewart has done exceptional work over the years at Pearl Cohn HS. She’ll be heading up a division that, under Carrasco, accounted for close to half a million dollars in salaries yet no real budget. To the department’s credit, though, the groundwork on a principal pipeline was laid and holds promise.

Saturday, June 9 is the date for the annual Fatherhood Festival to celebrate MNPS fathers and father figures. Learn more and register for the event here: http://bit.ly/2Emyvcb 

As mentioned earlier, there is another election on the way. The Nashville mayoral election is scheduled for May 24, which happens to be the last day of school. Many of our schools serve as polling sites. This means an influx of unaccounted-for individuals in the building. Many MNPS parents have voiced concerns about this influx, and Dr. Joseph has taken their concerns to State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen. Unfortunately, McQueen has replied that rectifying the situation is beyond her scope of authority. If schools decide to close, a make up day will have to be scheduled.

There is a MNPS School Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday. On the agenda is certification of a 10-day suspension of Carlton Battle. In reading the accompanying documentation, I’m not sure 10 days is a sufficient punishment for Battle. Just to be clear, you curse at students, you assault a parent repeatedly, you leave after the assault without properly reporting the incident, you keep $1,600 of fundraising proceeds in your possession for two months and upon finally turning it in, it’s $50 short, yet all you receive is 10-day suspension? What do you have to do to receive a dismissal? I guess it helps to have a sibling who is a Community Superintendent.

Linda Darling-Hammond offers some insight into the teacher walkouts that are sweeping the nation. I urge you to read the whole piece. Here’s an excerpt:

“A nation that under-educates its children in the 21st century cannot long survive as a world power. Prisons — which now absorb more of our tax resources than public higher education did in the 1980s — are filled with high school dropouts and those with low levels of literacy. We pay three times more for each prisoner than we invest in each child’s education annually. With an aging population and only three workers for every person on Social Security, the United States especially needs all young people to be well-educated enough to gain good work in the complex and rapidly changing economy they are entering. Without their ability to pay the taxes that support the rest of society, the social contract will dissolve.

“Inadequate education funding has created the conditions that make teaching the daily struggle that has finally drawn teachers and families to the picket lines: unmanageable class sizes, inadequate resources and facilities, cuts to essential medical and mental-health school services and more. As child poverty, food insecurity and homelessness have climbed to among the highest levels in the industrialized world (more than one in five live in poverty and in 2014 one in 30 were homeless), schools have been left with fewer resources to address these needs and support student learning.”

That wraps up this week. Don’t forget 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.