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.
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.