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?
Why they gotta say it like $hort?
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.
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.