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teachers is the chronic underfunding of schools, which translates into schools with inadequate facilities, the use of out-of-date textbooks or none at all, and the inability to adequately staff schools.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.
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.
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|
|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 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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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.