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.

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9 comments on “REFLECTIONS

  1. 4th Grade Teacher says:

    How could you not include the incompetent, unprofessional, block teachers on Twitter, non-truthful and just plain rude Public Information Officer, Michelle Michaud, off of your cut list?
    How in the world is she still there and why have you not done a post solely dedicated to her shortcomings?
    Then again I know you struggle with word count. 😉

    • Concerned Parent says:

      The administration at Joelton middle are failing the kids and teachers. There is a lot of things happening that should not be happening. I have heard teachers say administration is the reason teachers are leaving.

      • Concerned Parent says:

        To clarify, when I say administration, I am referring to all the administrators except for Dean Gann, the only administrator who has ever even known my student’s name and needs. It was a huge shock that they were letting him go. My student will be attending a different school next year since he wont be there.

  2. There’s no way I can use my real name here says:

    I don’t know for sure coz I was not there, but reputable sources indicate Blankenship and likely also Carracco were doused in flames not for harassment but for saying there were too many outside consultants. As a part of this wreckage, the take downs on Garcia and Shrader show a clear pattern- given that the leadership pipeline ought to be sort of important to preserve right bout now. The message is clear- do not disagree with the direction the captain is steering or you will be doused in flames too. There’s no way anyone can possibly succeed at the highest level in that environment. Faced with the lack of raises all around and no abatement in charter growth nor the ferocity of state testing madness (good luck being tech ready for all-computer tests next year), the stage is set for some dark days to come in MNPS.

    It will take some time to rebuild from this level of a crap show we are seeing now.

  3. Scared I Will Be Next To Get Cut says:

    Sharon Pertiller is the devil incarnate. She rules unfavorably everytime if someone is ”different” than her and breaks ethics to keep certain employees safe who’re ”similar” to her even for very similar offenses.
    She has got to go.

  4. You have given us a mighty plate of meat and threes and this is very disconcerting. I have been saying of late that once in pursuit of a Royal Flush which card do you throw out and once the Race Card is tossed there is no coming back from that. How does one disprove the inference? Align all the cards in the deck and count the color? Seriously want to have a discussion about race here this is it. I fold at that point and walk away and then we have another card tossed here the Misogyny card as I would like to know when the word Bitch is any more acceptable than the “N” word? I don’t even in jest and don’t feel it empowers me or my fellow women anymore than the “C” word. We could play letter games all day and what does that prove?

    I have stayed as clear as anyone could in the politics of the area and I have said that despite being a Carpetbagger I have tried to fit in, do what is right but I have found that asking questions, expressing one’s opinions when not of (and yes I know there is another option “from” but that too has deeper meanings) here you get hostility or shrugs. I guess hospitality is reserved for those invited on to front porches, so I don’t expect any invitations soon.

    But when I leader of a district allows the inference of lynchings and says that is out of his control and free speech then we should be allowed to use whatever phrases and terms in response to that? No? Then the lyrics of a song played at what I assume is a cross section of individuals who are of many ages, genders and races and faiths. I would find some of them deeply distressed to hear that analogy when speaking of those who are one’s superiors and/or colleagues. But again I am not from here so perhaps I am not comprehending the meaning in that same way Bless You’re Heart is used with many connotations and in turn meanings.

    We have Women being promoted into two senior management positions, two women from two very troubled schools. One the Mayor has been to twice in show of support of said school and this well may be deserved but again where I am “from” we often moved many Principals into positions for political and less professional reasons as one would clear deck chairs on the Titanic. In my years I have seen many a deck chair be moved despite warnings from the Sailors and Passengers that the ship was sinking but hey the Captain is not going down with it! But that is my history not yours.

    But allegations of the former Captains aside there should have been a public hearing and I have said this about anyone accused of any crime as this is. I think it would be horrific and yes difficult but this is the right under the law to face your accuser and mount a defense and we have for years been pushing aside the law and making deals in side rooms outside courts enabling justice to be dis-served across the spectrum. And I have seen too many people be pushed aside in pursuit of head counts and scalps and look what it has done. So if these Men are innocent they are so until proven guilty. Don’t know either of them have no clue what they did or did not due but as I watch man after man walk free after years of being imprisoned for crimes not committed I cannot be a hypocrite and say this is an exception to the rule of law.

    And then we have lastly the issue of a district so spread wide and thin that this Joelton story is just another example in which we fail communities to serve them as intended. They don’t have “choices” they have this. Why children are bussed from one location to another to remain with cohorts that are largely the same regardless the point is what? To see the city from a bus window?

    Words matter and actions matter. I have seen nor heard little that merit worthiness of any accomplishment and this is not race based, gender based or any other card you wish to throw in my direction, it is based on professional years of experience and having lived and worked in many communities in this field and I am packing my bag and done with it all after this. Even I know when my ship is sinking and I am jumping off. But many are not as fortunate and many want to right the ship. Clearly no one is willing to take the wheel. Oh there is song about that!

  5. fake says:

    make no mistake, this budget ‘shortfall’ will be used by joseph to purge the district of his naysayers. disagree and your position will be ‘eliminated’.

  6. Nashville Taxpayer says:

    What would happen to a teacher if they played a snippet of this song in class? They would be fired. What would happen if a principal played this song to their staff? They would be fired. Why does Dr. Joseph think this is professional or acceptable to play it to his school leaders? He reminds me more and more of Trump. I am starting to think he was hired by Betsy Devos to encourage families to put their kids in charter schools and implode Metro Schools.

    He has become an embarrassment to the city, our school system, his family, and to all of the people who tried to support him when he was selected. Sometimes I think in his mind that he thinks is the new Dr. King. Dr. King would never act like that. He might try acting a little more like Obama. John Lewis wouldn’t act like that. Nor would Diane Nash, CT Vivian, Z. Alexander Looby, Carrie Gentry, Matthew Walker, Bernard LaFayette, Jim Bevans, Ed Temple, or Erroll Groves and his mother. Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and the Freedom Riders didn’t do what they did to have the first African-American director of schools act like this.

    He should try being classy for a change because what he is doing isn’t working. We thought he would be a role model. He needs to look behind him because no one is following him because he has yet to lead. Sooner or later the other board members are going to catch on too and begin to do what’s best for all children. They expected better.They want to have his back but he is making it really hard. He needs to start doing better or he needs to move on.

    Just wondering if Joseph will play the song at the board meeting or to the mayor and the Metro Council? Or to his wife when he gets mad at her? Someone needs to tell him that we don’t act like that here.

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