SELF EVALUATION OR SELF HYPE?

7

Today marks the due date for the MNPS School Board’s evaluation of the Director of Schools. Dr. Joseph has already completed his self-evaluation (SJoseph Summative Self-Eval Evidence Companion – June 2018 to Board 06.1…) and widely shared it with the public. A more cynical man might think this is an effort to control the narrative before the board writes theirs. In discussing these developments, and their appropriateness, I felt it was warranted to check actual board policy.

Per board policy, as printed on the MNPS web page under board policy: “Both the board and director will prepare for the evaluation; the director will conduct a self-evaluation and board members will document the evidence used in rating the director’s performance.” So based on the stated policy, the director is in compliance with the letter of the policy, though I am not so sure about the spirit. The term “self-evaluation” is not actually defined, so it is open to interpretation.

My interpretation is that it a self-evaluation is done by the “self” and is not a document written and compiled by a staff member. Though I understand that this “ghost writing” of the director’s self-evaluation is not without precedent. I have to question, due to the district being in a financial crunch, what the cost of compiling this self-evaluation was and if those resources could have been better utilized elsewhere.

Board policy states that all documentation will be supported by objective evidence. “Objective,” another term that begs for definition. The director’s self-evaluation is rife with data, but I’d argue that it is not “objective” data. Rather, it is data that supports the narrative he would like to spin.

In order to have objective data, the board and the director would have to agree on what data would be used in the evaluation, and that data would be made available to all parties. Currently the only one who has access to the raw data is the director, who picks and chooses what he wants to share. Take away that control, and board members and the director would then be drawing their own interpretations of the agreed-upon data and the evaluation would be more authentic. As it is, board members are not making evaluations based on the actual data, but rather based on interpretations of data that supports a desired narrative. Spock would be pissed.

In order to effectively utilize the agreed-upon data base, an appendix would need to be added. There is no appendix included in the director’s self-evaluation and therefore members are not privy to how the information was gathered, what the norms are, what the ranges are, nor the intended use of the data. Quick… tell me what the average RIT score of a 4th grader is? My point exactly.

We need to add further clarification on MAP testing here. MAP testing is a measurement of growth. When you see that “students in grades 2-8 exceeded the national average in reading and math proficiency,” you need to recognize that what that means is, when nationally normed, MNPS students grew at a slightly faster rate than students at the same level nationally. They are making more growth than national peers, but not necessarily performing at a higher level. That is good news, but still needs to kept in perspective.

Earlier in the week, I told you about the director touting progress on central office culture because the number of people answering “making progress” had risen in regard to the question, “Do you work in a trusting environment, that allows for an open exchange of ideas?” This was in spite of the number of people who answered “yes, absolutely” had dropped from 19% to 3%. The same problem potentially holds true on MAP results. By not looking at the proficiency and growth scores together, we run the risk of celebrating one while the other falls.

MAP testing is traditionally done three times a year. We’ve only done it twice a year in both the years we’ve administered it, and this year we moved the spring window to the winter window based on the supposition of “test fatigue.” Again, there is no evidence that the lower test results in the spring of 2017 were a byproduct of test fatigue, or that test fatigue actually existed. Perhaps if the test would have been given multiple times with fidelity, we would have seen indications of a trend that pointed towards test fatigue, but instead we chose to create a narrative and rig the game by not offering the test at the time intended before supporting evidence could be gathered.

One last caveat here on the performance data collected – MAP, attendance, or any other data – it needs to be broken down into snapshots reflecting individual schools. If I say all MNPS students are growing at a rate of 54% over the rate of their national peers, what does that mean? If we break it down by ethnicity, it still doesn’t tell us anything. Are you going to argue that the African-American child enrolled at Buena Vista is identical to the African-American child enrolled at Eakin? What real significance is it if the AA child at Eakin is growing at a hypothetical rate of 68% while the child at Buena Vista is growing at a hypothetical rate of 40%? That gives you a composite 54% growth rate for AA kids. Same holds true for attendance figures or other key performance indicators.

Interestingly enough, back in January I asked Dr. Paul Changas, who oversees MNPS’s data accumulation, if it was possible to get growth scores in individual schools for the different levels of kids. It was my feeling that if a parent knew a school was as good at producing growth for high-end kids as it was for low-end kids, more parents may invest in MNPS. I was told that MAP couldn’t really produce that measurement. Yet, here in the director’s report is MAP data supporting the growth of kids in advanced academics. See my point? The director needed support for his narrative and the data to support that narrative is made available to him, but perhaps not to others.

We could spend the next 6 months citing similar examples and sparring over the director’s interpretation. The bottom line is the whole argument/discussion would be based on in-house interpretation. In order to have a robust discussion, everybody needs full access to ALL the data. Data that has been collected based on agreed methods, at agreed upon intervals, with agreed upon tools. Not like in the director’s self-evaluation where the data is delivered at varying intervals and in some instances, like the teacher retention data, is a year old.

The next part of my analysis of policy is going to disappoint some sitting board members who I now have worked very diligently on their evaluation. The director evaluation policy states, “A part of the evaluation may be a composite of the evaluation by individual board members, but the board, as a whole, will meet with the director to discuss the composite evaluation.”

My interpretation here, is that individual board members will submit their evaluation, which will then be molded into a composite evaluation. There is no definition of who will be responsible for creating the composite evaluation, though I assume it will be the committee chairs. There is also no definition of to what extent individual board member’s concerns need be included in the composite evaluation. It could be that those individual evaluations are given minimal consideration and never see the light of day.

So back to my initial question: is Dr. Joseph following the letter but not the spirit of the law? I don’t know because the policies listed are vague at best. Further complicating things is that I’m not sure if the policy cited is actually the current policy or the soon-to-be revised policy. It is listed on the MNPS web page under board policiesHowever, the page does contain the caveat that “until the policy revision process is completed it will be necessary to look diligently at both sets of policies in order to assure that the most current version is referenced. The process for policy revision is scheduled to be completed during the summer of 2018.” I can’t find the old policy, so I can’t compare.

Sections 1, 2, and 3 have been passed. Sections 4 and 6 of the board policies are currently up for review, but section 5, where the director review lives, is apparently in limbo. So who knows what the actual policy is? I wonder whose definition of exceeding expectations this meets? We continue to try to fly the plane while we build it.

WHAT’S $250K AMONG FRIENDS?

At Tuesday’s board meeting, a very troubling conversation took place. As you know, this has not been a very kind budgetary season for MNPS. They wanted an increase of $45 million and they got $7 million. Then they had to ask for $3.5 million out of the rainy day fund due to some unforeseen circumstances. Now Chief of HR Deborah Story was in front of the board asking for an extra $250K to cover overages on the contract with Education Solution Services. ESS is who we hired last year to help address the district’s sub shortage. Let’s go to the video on this one. The exchange over the contract takes place at about the 15:06 mark of the video.

Story shows up with no supporting documentation, no explanation, and a caveat that there may be smaller requests forthcoming. No definition of what smaller means is given. $100K or even $200K is smaller than $250K. Nobody but board member Jill Speering takes an exception to this.

Story continues throughout to assert that there was no way to predict the overage. When asked when the invoices come in, Story replies. “Monthly, sometimes, early on less frequent…” So Story is telling me that HR is incapable of managing billing cycles? That if a purveyor doesn’t submit bills in a timely manner, we don’t hold them accountable?

Story was doing so poorly at her explanation that her assistant Sharon Pertiller took it upon herself to just stride up to the microphone and start talking. Is that how we do things now on the board floor? You don’t need to be recognized, you just step to the mic?

Pertiller is clearly exasperated that she has step up and explain to the board that there was no way to predict how successful this program was going to be. How successful was the program? Very. What does that mean? Apparently that is just what it means, very. Are we using ESS next year? Nope, they are too expensive because there is a 27% up-charge on every sub we use. Was there a 27% up-charge included when the proposal was brought forth in September of last year? The answer to that is yes. The whole conversation has a very “who’s on first” feel about it.

On a quick side note, this concept of “too expensive” bugs me. What does that mean? If we recognize that in order to increase our retention of teachers we must increase the fill rate at schools., the evaluation needs to start with, was the program successful? How successful? If it was indeed successful and it costs a lot of money, the next question needs to be, is there anything out there that would give us similar results at a lower cost? If the answer to that question is no, then the program isn’t expensive; it’s just what it costs.

If priority in question is one of our top priorities, then we need to meet that cost of doing business and look at something else to cut. It’s the same with Reading Recovery, the Universal Screener, and paying for advanced academic tests. If the program is delivering results and meeting an established top priority, then we need to pay for it. Period. Or get different top priorities.

Back to ESS. In the end the board approved the additional $250K, but nobody mentioned where the money would come from or what would have to be sacrificed in order to fund this overage. I could probably name a half a dozen other areas that similar incidents have taken place and the questions were never raised then either. Nobody seems to connect these overages to the fact that we need to go into the fund balance for $3.5 million. In other words, the budget is so tight in a $900 dollar budget that we can’t find $3.5 million, yet it’s no big deal to approve an additional $250K. We can’t spend $1.3 million on advanced academics tests, but with a shrug we approve a $250K overage. Does something seem, to quote the bard – that’s Shakespeare to those of you who don’t read the classics – rotten in Denmark?

For me, this whole interaction speaks to a lack of respect for the MNPS school board. To show up with no supporting documentation or real explanation for a substantial overage is a sign of disrespect. To just approach the board without being recognized by the board is a sign of disrespect. To have no systems in place to ensure that overages don’t occur is a sign of disrespect for the board. Remember, the board is an extension of the taxpayers. Disrespect one and you risk disrespecting the other.

QUICK HITS

Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard on the 2018 Music City SEL expo. It was a fantastic event and one that is heading to the Music City Center next year. I look forward to attending again. Kyla Krengl and her team should be extremely proud of their work.

Riddle me this. At the school board meeting this week, I heard Paul Changas and Doug Renfro talk about why they couldn’t do a proper RFP because of the length of time that it took to imput and migrate data – 6 months. Yet the initial contract that was brought forth to the board was only for one year. Knowing how labor intensive the transition would be, why wasn’t a longer contract initially brought forth?

Charlotte Park ES has a new principal. Mrs. Julia Elmore is the new boss. She is the daughter of long time MNPS HR associate Barry Potts. We’d wish her good luck, but know that she’ll knock it out of the park.

The new Principal at Jere Baxter MS is former Pearl-Cohn AP Traci Sloss. Congrats are in order there as well.

Beloved McGavock ES principal Hildateri Smith resigned this week for personal reasons. She will be missed.

Yesterday I attended a wonderful event put on by the Power of 10 PAC. They announced their endorsements for the upcoming election. Not surprisingly, I didn’t win their endorsement. They endorsed Gini Pupo-Walker in District 8 and Aron McGee in District 6. They didn’t endorse anyone in District 2. I very much enjoyed the event and the conversations I engaged in while in attendance. This is a group doing good work and warrants support.

Tamika Tasby, who came from Atlanta to join Joseph’s administration with the directive to oversee professional development, is moving on. There is some question as to whether or not she led a single professional development session during her tenure. But nobody marked time for speakers at events like she did. Her official title was Executive Director of Innovation & Strategic Project Management Office. We wish her luck.

I have been remiss in announcing that Director of Visual & Performing Arts Nola Jones is retiring. Jones recently grew the Music Makes Us program. She will be missed.

According to the MNPS employee portal, there are still roughly 400 certified positions open in MNPS. Is that an accurate figure? Considering that human resources can’t keep track of substitutes, job interviews, applicants, or just about anything else… probably not. But it is the only number we have to go by. So… a month away from the start of school,  there are still close to 400 openings.

In his remarks at today’s Music City SEL Conference – that have the fingerprints of MNPS’s communications department all over ’em – Dr. Joseph told attendees, “One of the things we are committed to doing this year is paying attention to our adults and our adult needs because one thing we recognize is that if we don’t feed the adults, they eat the children.” Sigh… the man never learns. I hope he attended a few of the sessions at the SEL conference. Modeling, do not forget, modeling is the most powerful form of teaching.

In all fairness, the comments referenced above were probably in reference to a book recommendation that had been making its way around the conference. But in a climate where next year, teachers are going to actually take home less money while being expected to do more, it was not taken that way by all, or even most. Doing SEL right requires a high degree of sensitivity and a willingness to empathize with others.

Congratulations are in order! Dr. Susan Kessler, principal at Hunters Lane High School, has been elected president of the Tennessee chapter of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (TNASCD). TNASCD is a statewide professional organization whose mission is to provide an open forum for the analysis of educational issues. The membership collectively influences policy and serves as a catalyst for change. Through an open, diverse and expanding membership, this organization provides personal and professional renewal and the means for effective networking.

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome weekend. Don’t forget to answer 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 will try to promote as many of the events that you send 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. I need door knockers and places to put signs. Any help is appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DOCTOR MY EYES

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Too often, MNPS initiatives are driven by outside entities. Our literacy plans are written by outside consultants and our teachers coached by people contracted by the district. We purchase scripted curriculum from the University of Pittsburgh. We have contracted specialists overseeing substitutes, student attendance, and STEAM initiatives. It gets to the point these days that it feels like you can’t turn around in Nashville without running into an education consultant. This week brings a refreshing change.

Thursday marks the kickoff of the 2018 Music City SEL conference at Cane Ridge High School. Over the last several years, there has been an increased awareness in the power of social emotional learning. Nashville has been at the forefront of that growing awareness and it’s obvious that Director of Social and Emotional Learning Kyla Krengel and her staff have the ear of school districts across the country.

This is the 8th year of the conference, and just a look at the numbers is enough to impress. This year’s conference features representatives from 39 states and 4 countries (Japan, Nigeria, Bhutan and ‘Merica). There are over 900 educators registered with 200 on the waiting list, with 450 people expected to attend the Thursday evening social at the Frist. Those are the kind of numbers we like.

Starting on Thursday there will be 100 workshops and 140 presenters. The exhibition hall will house 45 different exhibitors.  

Other highlights are the scheduled keynote speeches by Zoretta Hammond, Jeff Duncan-Andrade, and Scarlett Lewis. The Lewis speech should prove especially powerful, as she is the mother of Jesse Lewis, who was killed in his first grade classroom during the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, along with 19 classmates and 6 teachers and administrators in one of the worst school shootings in US history.

On Friday, there will be a student summit and student presentation with a spoken word performance. 

Hats off to Krengel and her team. This is a big deal, and Music City should feel proud of their work. I plan to attend a couple of sessions and I’ll try to pass on some of what I learn. Hopefully, MNPS leadership will take note of just what Nashville’s professional educators are capable of when left to their own devices and unencumbered by outside experts.

MORE LITERACY TALK

This week on social media, there was continued discussion on the value of the “classics” vs the newer more “culturally relevant” novels. Again, I believe there is room, and a need, for students and adults to read everything. I am thrilled that people are engaging in the conversation and that the conversations have evoked a level of passion normally reserved for sporting events. A couple of themes have arisen that I do want to comment on.

Something that has crept into the conversation is, in my opinion, a byproduct of the “if you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen” mentality that has infested education policy. I’ve heard people say, “I read Shakespeare in college and can’t tell you a single thing about it.” or “The Scarlett Letter had absolutely no relevance to me and I forgot everything about it as soon as I finished it.” I’d argue that both are false statements.

Everything you read has an internal and immeasurable effect on you. Whether it is the initial exposure to a universal theme, a reinforcement of social norms, an example of consequences, or just the increase in vocabulary. When was the last time you sat down after a book and said, “Well, that was a worthwhile read. I learned 7 new words.” The answer is never, but odds are every time you finished a book your vocabulary increased in breadth and depth. Why do you think most quality writers are also voracious readers?

About that not knowing Shakespeare, or other so-called classic writers, did you ever say, “Killing them with kindness?” Well, you are quoting the Bard. “This is a way to kill a wife with kindness, and thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humor.” — Petruchio, Taming of the Shrew, Act IV Scene 1. That’s only one example.

Did you realize when you uttered, “Love is blind,” that you were quoting Chaucer? It’s a line first seen in writing in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales – “For love is blind all day, and may not see” – this phrase means that true love is not superficial and also captures the idea that love can be unexpected or random.

Ever said, “That’s the pot calling the kettle black.” If so, you’re quoting Don Quixote. The phrase comes from the Spanish novel by Cervantes. It referred to the fact that pots and kettles of the time were made of cast iron and got blackened in the fire, and is used to suggest that one shouldn’t accuse or criticize another of something they’re also guilty of.

If I quizzed you about any of those books, you’d likely roll your eyes at me and say they were irrelevant to your life. The point is that reading books is like hanging out with people. Every one of them has an impact on you. We’d never tell a kid they only need to have friends who have similar experiences and look like us, so why would we do that with a book?

The other thing that seems to be lost in the conversation is what does literacy look like in regard to post secondary school? Maybe college has changed since I went, but when I attended, professors could care less if an author interested you or not. There was assigned reading and you read it or you didn’t, with your grade usually reflecting your decision. Reading something that doesn’t necessarily appeal to you is an acquired skill and one that takes a while to develop. It’d be nice to have some practice before the stakes get high.

Lastly, the language spoken in the classics is reflected in the language spoken in the board room. If you want access to that board room, then you need to be fluent in the vocabulary. Being fluent in the classics translates to being fluent in the vocabulary.

I remember hearing the story of how when he was coming up, Sugar Ray Leonard would not just hone his fight skills. He would sit in front of the TV and emulate the diction of newscasters. He knew that in order to get where he wanted to go, his boxing skills would only open the door. His communication skills were what would determine if he was going to be able to walk through that door and stay in the room.

I get that mass culture is overly influenced by white males and is not reflected, nor inclusive, of everyone. In order to change that, though, you must have access. Tom Brady never threw a touchdown pass while sitting on the side line. He also never got in the game by telling Coach Belichick that he was only going to run the plays that he found relevant. These days though, nothing runs through the Patriots offense without Brady’s stamp. He got in the game, made the plays, and therefore changed the culture. Books give our kids the power to do the same.

Bottom line is, there is value in all reading. There is a time to read the books you like, and a time to read those that you don’t. There is a time to read books that are culturally relevant, and a time to read those that appear to have no relevance. Sometimes you have to be able to read a book on cleaning a washing machine. The point is to read everything you can get your hands on and to never stop searching for new material to read.

SAY WHAT?

Every week, MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph sends out a weekly update to school board members. Lately he’s taken to sending it to Metro council members and assorted others as well. It runs anywhere from 15 – 50 pages and includes a robust review of what is going on in the district.

This week he kicked his report off with the following passage about the past week’s central office retreat:

We had another great central office retreat. This was the second central office retreat this year. The retreat was held at Bellevue Middle School. Mike Merchant was the facilitator. We gathered data from central office staff to determine whether we are making progress on leading with an Outward Mindset. We continue to have work to do, but the data indicates that we are making progress. Staff increasingly recognize that we are working to improve climate and culture, and they are connecting their work to our strategic goals.

The data reflects staff’s growing understanding of Outward Mindset, I have summarized the data we gathered below.

The seconds question of shared data asks:

We work in a trusting environment where there is an open flow of ideas and information.

Scale

page1image2862451184

2017

page1image2862287264

page1image2862441840

2018

page1image2862290480

Yes, absolutely

19.86%

3.57%

We are making progress

page1image2862350784

page1image2862390000

36.88%

page1image2862425616

page1image2862426896

51.19%

We need to address this area

page1image2862354688

43.26%

page1image2862396320

45.24%

This absolutely blew my mind. So dropping from 19.86% to 3.57% is considered progress? Let’s put those number into perspective here. There are roughly 70 people in central office. So what this survey tells me is that 2 people think they work in a “trusting environment where there is an open flow of ideas and information.” TWO! That also means that some of Dr. Joseph’s very own transplants, because he brought more than 2, don’t believe they work in a trusting environment.

Sure, results for “we are making progress” went from 36.88% to 51.19%, but keep in mind the amount of turnover that central office has seen in the last year. The new people likely aren’t answering yes; they are just being polite and saying, “Making progress.” I would also argue that there is a minuscule between “We are making progress” and “We need to address this area.”

Part of this concerns me because it also mirrors the manner in which the MAP literacy scores have been presented. In regard to literacy, Joseph talks about how kids showed growth greater than 54% of their national peers, but fails to mention that those number do not reflect mastery.  Growth is wonderful, but mastery should share the focus.

There obviously are more questions presented in the shared data, with equally disturbing results. But in my eye, if you don’t have trust then you don’t have anything. The answer to that question makes all others moot. So you gotta ask yourself, what is Dr. Joseph seeing that nobody else is?

QUICK HITS

After 2 weeks of adamant denial, Dr. Kathleen Dawson has admitted that she is leaving MNPS to take a position with Guilford County Schools. Guilford Schools is headed up by long-time Joseph associate Sharon Contreras – both are on the Board of Trustees for Learning Forward. Nobody quite understands Dawson’s adamant denials of leaving, but the press release from North Carolina provides some additional chuckles.

In the press release, Dawson is referred to as THE executive director of school support and improvement in Metro Nashville Public Schools. Took me a moment to realize that was the spelling out of EDSSI. The article fails to mention that 11 other people share that title with Dawson. The article also credits her with helping to design and implement two early colleges, one of which won’t be up and running until this school year. Interestingly enough, if you’ll remember, Dr. Narcisse’s resume also touted those early colleges and his extensive work on them.

Curious minds want to know if the district plans on posting the now-vacant EDSSI position or if they’ll just appoint someone like they did earlier this summer with Dr. Ball.

As a side note, earlier in the year, Gulford Schools reversed a policy of charging the public for open records requests. Hmmm….

There is a school board meeting tomorrow. The Performance Matters contract will be back on the agenda. I still feel that the board should reject the contract based on the administration’s failure to follow established protocols. I know that would cause some hardship for the district, but I don’t feel as if Joseph and his team will adhere to procedure without a little pain.

Also on the agenda is the renewal of the contracts of Education Solution Services and Communities in Schools. ESS works on providing in solutions to MNPS’s substitute issues, while CIS work on issues of chronic absenteeism. ESS’s contract renewal actually increases compensation by $25K.

(Erin Anderson addresses community)

I’m sure both are very worthy organizations who do high quality work. That said, since we are in such a budget crunch, shouldn’t contract renewals come with an evaluation of their efficiency in the last year? Before the money is spent, shouldn’t the board be provided with some supporting documentation? Just one more instance were evidence seems to indicate a lack of seriousness when it comes to expenditures.

More exciting news coming out of Prince George’s County Public Schools. Earlier in the month, former Ardemore Principal Georgette Gregory delivered a beatdown to a teacher on the playground at recess in front of fellow teachers and students. This week she was ordered by the court not to abuse and not to enter Residence. You can’t make this stuff up.

TNEd Report has an excellent piece on another failed Gates initiative. Ah… if only we invested in the things we know work.

Today, new Oliver Middle School Principal Erin Anderson was introduced to the Oliver community. This is an excellent hire and one that obviously pleases the community.

POLLS

This past weekend, I asked for your opinion on the idea of the MNPS School Board calling for a property tax increase in order to fully fund the budget. The number 1 answer, at 41%, was “I support it in theory but question the spending.” There is that ugly trust thing raising its head again. Tied for number 2, at 12% was, “Absolutely. Our schools are in dire need” and “I can’t afford another hit.” That, in a nutshell, is exactly where Metro Council landed on the issue.

Here are the write-ins:

We need accountability before giving MNPS more money. 1
How about we cut Some 6 figure folks at board? 1
Can all of the board speak intelligently on MNPS spending? No. 1
No, eliminate unnecessary positions at the top 1
no. Can’t afford and don’t trust MNPS to spend well. 1
No they should look at their own spending 1
Big fat no 1
I do not trust my boss [MNPS] to manage money. NO 1
Absolutely NOT! What happened to previous funds? Overpaid administrators! 1
Never 1
Historically Nashvillians do not raise their own taxes. 1
No 1
If MNPS was good stewards of $, wouldn’t need a raise.

Question number 2 asked for your opinion on the teaching of the classics in schools. 61% of you supported a mix of classics and new YA titles. 17% supported whatever gets people reading. Here are the write-ins:

 

We need relevant, relatable, diverse, engaging reads. 1
Disagree with Nic Stone-as Lipsey taught us,there’s a time & place 4 every boo 1
A mixture of now and history 1
Balance! We ARE more alike than different!

Question 3 asked for which Metro Council Member impressed you the most during the recent budget process. Unfortunately, the number one answer, at 31%, was none. Coming in next, in a virtual dead heat, was Bob Mendes and Steve Glover. Once again demonstrating that split between raising taxes and not. Here are the write-ins:

Burkley Allen 1
Jacobia Dowell

And that’s a wrap. 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 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. Early voting starts in just a couple of weeks.

TELL YOU WHAT I SAY

Have you ever been at a bar or at the airport, sitting by yourself, trying to mind your own business when that guy plops downs next to you and starts talking? You know, the one who seems to have an opinion on everything and insists on sharing those insights, whether you want to hear them or not? It’s in that spirit that I offer you a glimpse of what’s on my mind today. Some of it you may agree with, while some may provoke the opposite response.

As some of you may know, I’m currently running for school board. The election is a little under 6 weeks away and it’s already been an eye-opening experience.

First off, just let me say, there is a whole lot more to this running for office thing than what initially meets the eye. There is a ton of minutiae that needs to get done before you can even get to the big things like knocking on doors and putting up signs. Palm cards and signs have to be designed. I don’t how busy your family is, but a simple thing like taking a family picture can get delayed for weeks due to the inability to coordinate everybody’s schedule. That’s just one example.

A simple job like knocking on doors requires the acquiring of a list of voters. That list must be sorted into manageable sections. Volunteers need to be coordinated. I’m certainly not complaining, but I have developed a new appreciation for those who have come before me.

Speaking of signs, I’ve learned that putting up signs is like throwing rice kernels in a coffee tin. You have no idea how many it takes to make an impact until you start getting them out there, then it gets a little daunting.

I love doing interviews for endorsements because let’s face it, one of my favorite things is sitting around talking education policy. The problem is that even though intellectually I know not everybody is going to like me, nor should they, emotionally it kind of stings when they choose to endorse someone else. Good thing for me, rejection just makes me want to work harder. It makes me want to talk to more people. It makes me want to get more signs out.

The best thing I’ve discovered during this adventure is just how many good, kind, and involved people there are out there. I can’t explain the mixture of emotions – humility, pride, fear, courage – that courses through you when someone hands you a check they’ve written for your campaign. Or when somebody just out of the blue drops you a line and says, “Hey, come put up a sign in my yard.” Or when somebody you don’t know that well calls and says, “What do you need? How can I help?”

I’ve found those types of experiences happening to me with ever-increasing frequency and I have to say, it’s pretty awesome. You can talk about democracy in a hypothetical manner all you want. You can describe community anyway you like. But run for office, and it all becomes tangible. It becomes real. You can feel it in your core. It’s an experience I recommend for everyone.

Netflix is currently airing Joseph Campbell’s documentary A Hero’s Journey. Running for office is the personification of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Keep in mind that Campbell defines a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” In running for office, one quickly realizes that this is about more than oneself. I relish this challenge. I also encourage you to watch the Campbell documentary. Better yet, read his writing.

Which brings me to my next point. Campbell is an old white guy who passed away 30 years ago. It’d be easy to dismiss his writing as archaic and irrelevant. But that would be a mistake.

The current slate of young adult fiction is at an all-time high quality-wise. This has led to a movement to make all student reading culturally relevant. I don’t disagree that if a student can see himself in a piece of literature it is easier for them to become engaged. But I would counter that if we become too focused on seeing just ourselves reflected in literature, we run the risk of missing the universal themes. The understanding of which make us all a little better as people.

I remember 18 years ago when I first started going to AA meetings. I found myself one Saturday morning at a meeting sitting across from an African-American woman who was at least 20 years my senior. She started speaking and I started to tune her out.

After all, she didn’t look like me. Her life experiences certainly weren’t the same as mine. Luckily, she was a compelling speaker, and I wasn’t able to disengage completely, because what started to emerge as she talked was a story that sounded a lot like mine. It was filled with fear, self-loathing, anger, and the questioning of God. It started to sink in to me that she and I may look nothing alike and I may not have understood her unique challenges, nor her mine, but deep down we were more alike than we were different.

That revelation was one of the most powerful moments on my road to recovery. It completely shifted the axis of my world and changed my perception. Could I have gotten the same revelations from someone who more closely resembled me and shared my experiences? Perhaps, but I would have continued to gravitate to those I was familiar with and denied myself the rich experiences that have shaped my life since that moment. I don’t believe my life would have the same depth.

In looking at Campbell’s chart above, I would argue that every time a reader starts a book, they embark on a hero’s journey. Why limit that journey? I would argue that if you are focusing on the color of Natty Bumpo’s skin and the time in which he lives, then you are missing the larger point of The Deerslayer. Just like you are missing the point if you are focused on the color of the skin and where the protagonists of The Hate U Give live.

Both Starr and Bumpo are wrestling with how do you fit into two different worlds when you are not sure you fit into one? They are both wrestling with issues of morality and violence. To truly explore these issues, you have to go deeper and strip away the outer essence and come to the realization that in the end, we are all human and all facing the same challenge.

Historically, one of the ways racism justified itself was in the dehumanization of people of color. Black people were described in terms that painted them as being less than human, and therefore subhuman treatment was justified. It was abhorrent behavior, and fortunately we are making strides to rectify those actions. Literature is a powerful tool in that fight.

It has the power to break down the myth, deny it, and cement the realization that underneath it all, we are a lot more similar than different. I get that reading books that have protagonists that appear to be disconnected from the reader presents a challenge, but would you argue the counter? That a farm boy from Iowa can find no relevance in The Hate U Give? It’s a pendulum that needs to swing both ways.

I read a great deal of culturally relevant books to my children. Especially my son. This spring we read Long Walk To Water and Refugee. We also have read My Side of The Mountain and are now reading Mike Lupica’s Shoot-Out – which I’m pretty sure will never be considered a classic or culturally relevant. Through reading he is getting to experience whole swaths of the world that may never hold relevance to his life at all. But should he need to call upon those experiences, they will be available.

Like education itself, the purpose of reading is seldom agreed upon. Some will argue that reading is an important tool for upward mobility. Others would argue that avid readers make better citizens. I would tend to argue towards the latter. To me, it’s not enough to just get kids reading today. It has to be a life-long trajectory. In order for that to happen, there has to be a realization that there is power in all literature.

I would argue against an overemphasis on the classics as much as I would a complete dismissal of them. Both should hold pace in every reader’s book bag. To reject a book merely because of when it was written, or by whom it was written, serves as a closure of the mind. I don’t believe in being a servant to history anymore than I would advocate that we ignore the past. It’s subject to context and complexity.

Literature is like the classic Superman. Not only does Superman have super human strength, but he also has X-ray vision, the ability to fly, and super tough skin. You wouldn’t expect Superman to let any of his other powers remain untapped while he just focused on his super human strength, would you? He wouldn’t be Superman if he did. The same holds true for literature. Set free, it can change the world.

The best things about these conversations is that we are bringing the same passion to a conversation about literature as we would in regard to who was a better baller, Steph or LeBron? That, to me, is what’s most important. Publicly engaging in passionate conversations about literature can only make us all better and produces no losers. It’s a demonstration that words and ideas aren’t just encased in tombs sitting on dusty shelves. They are living breathing entities. Just another reminder that ProjectLit doesn’t just educate kids, but also communities.

NO, WE WEREN’T ATTACKED BY ALIENS

June has been quite the month for revelations in the state of Tennessee. Last week it was revealed what we all already knew, the Achievement School District sucked. Harsh words, I know, but words I’ve been saying for 5 years. Now finally, it’s being publicly admitted. In a classic understatement, State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen said, “We have not seen the success in the ASD that we want, and that is something we’re addressing.”

The truth is, according to research done by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, or TERA, the ASD is producing results on par with schools that receive no interventions. Furthermore, according to ChalkbeatTN, locally controlled low-achieving districts called Innovation Zones have not only improved performance — as shown in other studies —  but have sustained those improvements over five years.  Hmmm… where have I heard that before?

Mid-week brought the admission from the TNDOE that aliens did not interfere with the administration of this year’s TN Ready tests. It was just good old fashioned administrative error. I’m just shocked. Who would have known?

By the end of the week, everybody had gotten in the spirit of things as it was revealed that the Bill Gates initiative on teacher evaluation was just another shortfall. Rooted in research that showed the value of a quality teacher, the Gates initiative was intended to keep good teachers in the classroom and root out bad ones. The re-tooled evaluation system was supposed to ensure that all kids benefited from a quality teacher.

Unfortunately, that’s not what the data showed. According to the report,

“Central-office staff in [Hillsborough County] reported that teachers were reluctant to transfer to high-need schools despite the cash incentive and extra support because they believed that obtaining a good VAM score would be difficult at a high-need school.”

The initiative also proved to be costly both in time and in money. Once again, I’m left wondering, who could have known? Maybe now we can focus on things that do work – smaller classes, fully funding schools, providing kids time in school to read, less testing, treating teachers like professionals.

Don’t think for one minute though that Gates is done helping. Nope. The Gates Foundation is now shifting its focus to curriculum. At some point, someone is going to put their arm around Bill and quietly explain to him, as they walk him out of the room, it might be time for a break. It’s not you, Bill, it’s us, and of course we can still be friends.

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?

This week, the Nashville budget season came to an end. It hasn’t been a pretty one and has produced few “winners.”

Tuesday’s council meeting lasted until well past midnight before producing a budget that awarded MNPS just $7 million more than last year, significantly shorter than the $44.7 million initially requested. According to MNPS senior leadership, that puts them in the hole for $22 million.

Unless you are counting the $3.5 million they needed to reconcile this year’s expenditures. Earlier during Tuesday’s council meeting, MNPS was granted permission to take that money from reserves. Quick questions I have here are when were these shortfalls discovered, and were adjustments placed in the coming year’s budget to account for them? Why is the need just being expressed now?

In the case of benefit shortfalls cited, open enrollment ended in November. By February, reconciliation should have taken place and district leaders should have been aware of the shortfall. What accommodations were made at that time? Once again, the loss in enrollment is being cited as a contributor to the shortfall. I fail to understand how such a minuscule amount, $7.5 million, can continue to have such a devastating effect.

There was a plan on the floor to raise property taxes by 50 cents that would have provided full funding for the schools as well as raises for city employees. That initiative failed by a vote of 20-19, with acting Vice-Mayor Sheri Weiner casting the tie-breaking vote. Don’t think that initiative ends there, though.

MNPS School Board member Christiane Buggs has begun pushing for the board to use its power to call for a referendum on raising property taxes to fund schools. According to Buggs, she wants to explore the possibility of having the School Board propose a referendum for voters to decide the question of a property tax increase as early as August. Per Channel 5 News, Buggs is not trying to circumvent the processes already in place with the Metro Council and the Mayor, but says she just wants to explore all possible options.

I’m not sure this is the right move for a number of reasons. Mainly because we have a school board that barely has an understanding of their own budget initiating an action that will impact the city’s future ability to raise revenue through a tax increase. Where would such an action leave raises for other city employees going forward? What if another financial crisis arrived in the near future for the city, would the board’s action potentially hinder the city’s options?

I 100% believe that public education is underfunded. The increase in funding, though, needs to come first from the state. One thing that board member Will Pinkston gets right is the need for the state to meet their financial obligation, something they’ve continually failed to do.

It would also behoove us to take a closer look at how Denver Public Schools is now doing their budget book. It shows a true commitment to transparency and public understanding. “We rely, in Colorado, on voters’ trust and voters’ support for our work in education,” Superintendent Boasberg says. “And we know that at the heart of that trust lies a high degree of transparency.”

Elections are right around the corner. Nothing sends a message to an elected official like an election. Everybody needs to register to vote, and then actually vote. Vote for people you know will enact policy that will provide increased resources to public education. It’s past time to mobilize and make sure your voice is heard.

QUICK HITS

Many of you have been asking, where is the MNPS Director of Schools evaluation? Some of you have even noted that it was scheduled for January but hasn’t yet been executed. Rumor has it that board members are working on it right now. Hopefully, their evaluations will be shorter than the 48 pages Dr. Joseph utilized for his self-evaluation.

There is a new blogger in town. Those of you who are familiar with David Jones via Facebook know he has some strong opinions on education and other subjects. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed. And he’s a senior editor at a publishing firm, so you know the writing will be better than mine.

There is always a Nashville connection. Most of you, by now, are familiar with the abhorrent actions being taken down on our southern border. Now, raise your hand if you knew that CoreCivic is operating 8 immigrant detention centers down there? In all fairness, CoreCivic released a statement last week that says, “None of our facilities provides housing for children who aren’t under the supervision of a parent.”

Keep in mind, CoreCivic used to be CCA until they decided a rebranding was in order. Did you know that the head of CoreCivic sits on the board for the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF)? Just putting it out there.

Prince George’s County Public Schools continues to be hotbed of action. Supposedly they are in the process of getting a new superintendent, but the way things are unfurling, who knows when that’ll happen. Watching events transpire in PGCPS certainly gives insight into events here in Nashville. We are all a product of where we come from.

Word out of Robertson County is that former MNEA head and MNPS teacher Stephen Henry is taking very positive steps on his road to recovery. Our prayers here at DGW continue to be with him as he progresses in his journey. Addiction is a horrible master.

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome weekend. Don’t forget to answer poll questions. 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 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.
 
 

IT’S A MATTER OF CULTURE

9

“Books are fun, Nicholas, he says,
they’re like
amusement parks
for readers.

Yeah, well, maybe
they would be fun
if I got to pick
the rides
sometimes, you answer.”

– Kwame Alexander, Booked

This past weekend, I attended the very first ProjectLit Literacy Summit. All indications are that it won’t be the last. On a Saturday morning at Maplewood High School, over 200 people gathered to discuss books written for and about young people. We live in a time where there is an abundance of quality literature being produced for young readers, and ProjectLit celebrates that abundance.

ProjectLit is a movement created by Maplewood students and facilitated by their teacher Jarred Amato. It’s a movement that grew out of a study on what to do about book deserts and the realization that there are kids in Nashville who don’t have unfettered access to books. Out of that initial focus has grown a community that does more to hook kids on the power of reading than any other initiative in Nashville.

There are two main reasons for the rapid growth of ProjectLit. The first is that the focus sits squarely on students. Students pick the direction of the organization, the books, and facilitate the book discussions. This isn’t one of circumstance where adults are driving the train. In truth, most of the adults are along merely for the ride. ProjectLit doesn’t just ask for student buy in; it demands it.

Secondly, Amato gets what nearly every other adult in the city fails to grasp: it’s all about culture. Sure, the majority of his books are culturally relevant – we’ll talk more about that in a minute – but more importantly is the culture centered around literacy that Amato and his team foster. Reading is fun. It’s cool. It’s attractive. It’s something you want to do and do more often.

This belief in the power of culture is something I share with Amato. It was in that spirit that my wife and I loaded up both kids, aged 7 and 8, and headed to Maplewood on Saturday morning. The kids, to be honest, weren’t exactly chomping at the bit to go, but they’ve sorta gotten used to this kinda thing. Community meetings, school board functions, trips to legislative sessions, candidate door knocking – these are all activities they have had to endure in their short lives. You see, these are all part of the foundation of our family culture.

Politics, intellectual curiosity, compassion, empathy, athletics, and literacy are all among the bedrock of our family’s culture. They are not things we just talk about in an abstract sense, but rather things we try to put into practice as well. I believe in exposing kids to things that they may not fully grasp, nor be overly interested in at the time. After all, you can’t get a Redwood without first planting the seed.

We arrived on Saturday morning shortly after author Kwame Alexander started speaking. I could fill a whole blog post full of inspirational quotes from Alexander. Beyond being an incredible author, he’s an inspirational speaker as well. I strongly urge anyone who has an opportunity to attend one of his talks to do so.

During Alexander’s talk, my kids did not silent in rapt attention. They wanted to check out the books around the room and sample the eats available. The were fascinated by a calendar filled with author birthdates. I encouraged my son to ask Kwame Alexander a question during the Q and A period because I’m also a believer in the importance of call and response between adults and children when it comes to brain development. I’m trying to raise children who are never afraid to question adults. Alexander was extremely gracious in his response.

After the author talk, as the room broke into small groups, we took our leave. First appearances would indicate that the kids took very little away from the morning. However, as we got in the car, the first words out of their mouths were, “Can we go to Barnes and Noble?”

We went to Barnes and Noble, and we bought several books. My daughter spent a large portion of the remainder of the weekend consuming those purchases. My son, not quite as much, but the foundation is continuing to be built. The culture was reinforced.

It seems that we are continually focusing on trying to increase literacy rates, but are never willing to do the work to create a culture that supports that goal. We decry society’s focus on sports and lament that the same importance isn’t attached to education. But why should reading be held in higher esteem when we don’t open the doors like we do for sports?

We represent reading as a chore. Something that needs to be done to achieve a reward, with little focus on its inherent value. It’s an activity almost entirely directed by adults, and we justify that by proclaiming how it’s important to read the right texts. Confession: I spent a year as an emerging reader reading nothing but Sweet Valley High romances. Confusion is further created in children because reading seems to be a “do as I say, not as I do” activity. How many of those adults pushing reading lists this summer will read more than 2 books themselves? If they read that many books.

Sports, on the other hand, comes with no prerequisites. No adult is telling you how many games you must watch this summer or even how many you must play. Can you imagine a campaign that gave kids a free cheeseburger if they attended 10 baseball games or played in 9 dodgeball games? It would be considered ripe for ridicule. Instead, with sports, kids are left to discover their passion at their own pace.

My son has fallen in love with the Golden State Warriors, a team I share no affinity for, but am all too willing to discuss with him. He utilizes his iPad to scour the internet for information about the team, frequently returning to me to share newly acquired knowledge. We spend a fair amount of time these days discussing the Warriors and as a direct result, basketball. He has what I would describe as a fever to know more about his chosen team. Imagine if I would have told him he had to cheer for the Utah Jazz and then demanded he bring me facts back. I don’t doubt he’d be as enthused, but that’s what we do with reading.

Currently his interest in sports continues to grow and expand into other areas. It’s a pursuit that he feels he has ownership of. He chooses the players that inspire him and the teams he chooses to cheer for. He establishes in his own mind ownership of content. He is inspired by Steph Curry, not because an adult told him that Curry is the “right” athlete to cheer for, but rather because of the qualities that Curry exhibits that resonate with him.

How many times have I sat around with other fathers discussing how we took our children to sporting events knowing full well it wouldn’t hold their attention for the duration. We freely admitted we were priming them for the future. We would speak with pride on how they made it to the 2nd period and what an improvement it was over last year. Yet, we seldom drag kids to literacy events. Instead we offer the excuse that they would find it boring and uninteresting, perhaps when they are older.

Exposure at an early age allows a love of sports to take root and grow into adulthood. I think about my own travels to adulthood and how a love of Penn State football always served as a connection with my father, even when all others failed. I continue to follow Penn State football today, despite my father passing away several years ago, not just because of the entertainment factor but because it’s a constant conduit and reminder of the values of my family. My wife shares a love of reading as a similar conduit with her own father.

The analogy to sports is not perfect. Some kids never develop a love of sports, but substitute music, movies, or other recreational activities. Think about the things that anchor the culture of your family. For some of you, it may already be reading. Think about how those activities became integral and ask yourself, what if we recreated the process with literacy? Why don’t we take a similar approach to reading?

What if kids constantly saw city and school leaders with a book in their possession? What if adults stopped and asked kids what their favorite book is like we currently ask kids their favorite athlete or musician? What if we bought kids apparel adorned by images of books like we currently purchase sports jerseys? What if we allowed kids to see us reading like they currently witness us watching games? I just don’t believe you can underestimate the power of “culture.”

One last observation on reading and literacy. Over the last several years, there has been a push to make sure kids are reading “culturally relevant” books. I agree with the concept that books can serve as mirrors and that students will take a greater interest in books that reflect their lives. However, even in the interest of producing better readers, we can not sacrifice the power of books as windows and time machines.

I’m not a Jewish boy growing up in NYC in the 50’s, but I interact with enough adults who were. Therefore, reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn provides me a greater understanding of their motivations. I know little about life in Scandinavia, but by reading Jo Nesbo books I get a glimpse of what life is like for people who live there. Few of us may run away from home and live on a mountain, but in the pages of My Side of the Mountain we can discover how those who bear little outward resemblance to us share several inner traits. We discover that fear, loneliness, a desire for self-sufficiency are not traits exclusive to certain individuals.

Books can provide role models of who we want to be as adults. They can show us the consequences of certain choices that we all face daily. They can instill empathy for those who may appear foreign.

I just finished a book call Lightning Men, a mystery set in 1953 Atlanta. It’s a book that not only drives home the serious implications of racism on individual lives but also helps explain why changing laws sometimes just isn’t enough. As a mystery book, written primarily for entertainment, I’m sure it’s a book that few would place on the “right kind of reading” list. But that’s the power of the written word; it can entertain and inform simultaneously.

Personally, and I must add my disclaimer that I am not a teacher nor do I play one on TV, I would love to see instruction that placed To Kill A Mockingbird next to The Hate U Give. How are the characters similar and how are they different? Have times changed much? What are the universal themes that both express? The possibilities are endless.

Lord knows I don’t want to undervalue the importance of decoding and phonics and other strategies, but if you don’t get the cultural aspect right, then they won’t take root either. Drill a kid on phonics and watch his eyes glaze over and attention waver. Get them caught up in the narrative and its inherent power, and they are yours to work with.

I think that the work Amato is doing is vital to creating a culture of literacy districtwide. He’s pushing boundaries further and in a more sustainable manner than any previous initiatives. It’s my belief that real gains could be made if district leadership embraced his, and his students’ work. Like children themselves, if allowed to grow unencumbered to its full potential, there is no telling what benefits mights be reaped from ProjectLit.

QUICK HITS

Congratulations to Steve Ball who was recently announced as the latest Executive Director of School Support and Improvement (EDSSI). What? You missed the job opening being posted? That’s all right, near as I can tell nobody else saw it either. Nor the posting for the East High Magnet School principal position which will reportedly be filled by AP Jamie Jenkins. In defense, I suspect Jenkin’s appointment will be as a temporary principal with a job posting to come in the future.

Former MNPS teacher Scott Bennett – many of you cite his guest post as your favorite of the year – whose family recently relocated to South Africa, was back in Nashville for graduation services. I encourage you to read his reflections from that visit. I know my wife will appreciate his inclusion of a Murakami quote.

Former MNPS Executive Aimee Wyatt has received a promotion after less than a year with SREB. She is moving into the position of Director of State and District Partnerships at Southern Regional Education Board. Her team will be serving the states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York. Another example of quality talent plying their trade elsewhere.

Congratulations are in order! Alexander Davis, a graduate of Martin Luther King Jr Magnet- Pearl High School, received a college-sponsored National Merit scholarship from Northeastern University.

For the last four years, Metro Schools has participated in the Community Eligibility Program (CEP), the federal reimbursement program that allows school districts to offer lunch at no cost to students. Eligibility is based on poverty as measured by the direct certification numbers used for participants of government assistance programs. Effective with the 2018-2019 school year, MNPS is no longer eligible to participate system-wide and can no longer offer this program to all students at all schools. I cannot understate the travesty of this development. Families, make sure you check out who’s eligible for what.

Indiana is taking a slightly different approach on how it incorporates STEM principles into the classroom. I’ll let you decide what you think.

The Renowned Sound of Cane Ridge HS has been selected to participate in the 2018 World Series of Marching Bands representing MNPS and the State of Tennessee. Knock them dead, kids.

The MNPS budgetary needs continues to get muddier and muddier. First, the district asked the city for an increase in funds of $45 million. When the mayor responded with a budget that only allocated an increase of $5 million, the district announced that they were now $17.5 million short for next year based on expenditures that weren’t even outlined in the first ask. Friday – yeah, I know – MNPS announced that they needed an additional $3.5 million just to get through this year. Does anybody have any idea on just how much money MNPS needs?

I’m still waiting for someone to name the person who replaced someone at MNPS and is doing a better job than the person they replaced. In other words, name me the upgrade.

POLL RESULTS

Time to take a look at this weekend’s poll results. Thank you to all who participated.

The first question asked was which department of MNPS did you think was performing at a high level. The English Learners department easily garnered the most votes, with 38% of you citing them as your answer. Special Ed finished second, and Curriculum and Instruction finished a surprising third.

As is par for the current course, MNPS has let EL Director Kevin Stacy go to another district and has elected to replace him in leadership with a number two who flamed out at an elementary school this year. Remember what I said earlier about letting quality talent get away?

This one garnered a lot of write-in votes:

None 3
None of the above 3
Performing Arts 1
Special Ed is amazing, yet it needs work on the local school level. 1
Classroom instruction 1
Math 1
NONE! Not under Joseph’s leadership 1
Advanced Academics 1
None of them 1
none of the above? 1
None… total chaos.. #hungergames 1
Visual Art 1
None, at this point every dept has been dismantled. 1
EL department until Dr. A gets her hands all over it 1
Can’t vote for any of these. 1
Pre-K 1
The teachers in all the schools! 1
Don’t have a clue 1
Layoff team 1
The HS Academy office–at least they try to stay in touch with “on the ground” 1
I have no earthly idea. I don’t think any of them are. 1
Some individual school sites 1
All departments could improve. 1
Is this asked with a straight face? Then, none. 1
Nutrition 1
HR for top of the top – only 1
Jason Walsh and Allison Ross for VAPA 1
none 1
You’re joking, right? 1
Federal Programs 1
I don’t have faith in any of them 1
Federal Programs and Grants Facilitators 1
Student Services 1
Everything in too much churn (leadership turnover) to really be at high level. 1
lol

Question 2 asked for your reaction to the district’s relationship with ERDI. Out of 112 responses, 54 of you expressed grave concerns and 32 of you indicated a need for further research. Only 4 of you expressed a lack of concern. Hmmm… there are four chiefs… never mind. Here are the write-ins:

Will someone ask how much ERDI is paying SJ and his minions? 1
No, you’re reaching 1
Stipends for their salaries concerns me

The last question asked about summer camp attendance. I must admit that I was a bit surprised by the responses. I expected the usage to be greater. 35% indicated 1-2 camps, but 31% of you said none. Here are those write-ins:

don’t have kids. 2
My kids are grown now. 1
I don’t have kids. 🙂 1
No children 1
I have no kids at home 1
I don’t have kids. 1
I prefer to spend time with them. 1
Working instead 1
No kids 1
Don’t have children 1
I don’t have kids of my own 1
N/A

And that’s a wrap. 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 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.

 

 

PROCESS? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING PROCESS

2

If you watch MNPS School Board meetings, sometimes you’ll see the oddest conversations. This week’s meeting provides a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

If you don’t regularly watch board meetings you may not be familiar with the term “consent agenda.” Every meeting, there are a number of contracts for services that the board must approve. Currently the board must approve any contract over $100k, but that’s in the process of being lowered.

In order to save time, the board usually approves all of these contracts in one fell swoop, instead of dealing with them individually. That’s called the “consent agenda.” Occasionally, there will be a contract that one or more board members has an issue with, and they’ll have the option to pull it off the consent agenda in order to have further discussion and a separate vote. It’s not all that common for an item to be pulled.

On Tuesday, Board member Amy Frogge pulled the contract for Performance Matters off the consent agenda based on some very legitimate questions and concerns. I’m going to try to walk you through those questions and concerns, but I’m warning you ahead of time, it is a tangled web we weave.

The district is so vast that the use of a data management platform is essential. This platform is used to manage assessments, reporting, and instructional tools throughout the district. Prior to Dr. Joseph’s arrival, MNPS used a Pearson product, Schoolnet. Coinciding with, but independent of Joseph’s arrival, Pearson made the decision to discontinue support of Schoolnet, necessitating the need for MNPS to procure a new vendor.

Normally, whenever MNPS requires services from am outside vendor, they utilize a process that starts with a request for proposal (RFP). The RFP is published and based on it, outside vendors submit a service proposal, or bid. The bids are reviewed and the best is selected.

In this case, it was decided that there was not sufficient time to go through the regular process, which would have required 90-120 days. Everybody was familiar with Performance Matters and felt that they would be the best option to provide the needed data platform, so the choice was made. Especially since several other districts in Tennessee utilize the vendor.

Since time was of the essence, the decision was made employing a strategy called “piggybacking.” What this means is that you look for districts of similar size who require work of similar scope, and you use their RFP to satisfy the need to create a separate RFP. Obviously that’s an oversimplification of the process, but that is the gist of it. It is a legal process but does leave a district open for some problems. In the case of Performance Matters, in order to match the scope of work, the district piggybacked off RFP’s from Shelby County, Tennessee, and Orange County, Florida.

The contract the board approved was for $1.1 million and one year, while the contract actually filed with Metro was for 2 years, not to exceed $1.8 million. Per Dr. Joseph’s explanation, the discrepancy came about because then-head of procurement Gary Apenfelder was able to negotiate a lower rate that necessitated a longer term. He did so without Dr. Joseph’s, nor the board’s, approval. That was a bit of a jaw dropper for me. I wasn’t aware that department heads are allowed to change the terms on district contracts independent of the director or the board’s approval. Nobody, except for board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge, seemed bothered by this fact.

Dr. Joseph further explained that everybody was aware that the second year of the contract would have to be approved by the board, yet nobody felt compelled to bring the extension before the board until 2 weeks before the approved term was set to expire. I would take this as being indicative of district leadership’s view of the board. The assumption being that the board will just pass whatever is brought before them without question. Unfortunately for them, Amy Frogge has tired of that game.

We need to be clear here, this is not the first time a contract has been brought before the board with a similar cavalier attitude. In the past two years, there have been numerous occasions where contracts have even been brought forward for approval after services had been rendered. The TFA Summer Institute contract from last summer would be an example.

Here’s where things get even more confusing. At the heart of this discussion is a company called Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI). ERDI is a company that serves as a conduit between vendors and district leaders across the country. Vendors pay a fee in order to meet twice a year with school district leaders across the country. These meetings are to solicit feedback from district leaders on the vendor’s product. District leaders are paid a stipend, usually a couple thousand dollars, to participate. It’s a very formalized process.

As with all conferences, nights are filled with cocktail parties. At these parties, things get a little more informal as vendors and school official mingle. It’s easy to imagine the types of conversations that take place. I like your product so why shouldn’t I give you a heads up on what exactly we’ll be placing in our RFP? Perhaps you know of some similar districts with similar requirements that I could piggyback off, saving time on research. I can’t verify that this, and more, is happening, but you must admit the potential for subverting the procurement process is present. After all, vendors are paying up to $10k for the opportunity to meet with school officials. Dr. Monique Felder is one of those leaders, and Performance Matters is one of those companies.

According to Dr. Joseph, before Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder accepted work with ERDI, approval for the work was run through district legal counsel Cory Harkey, and she saw no issues. I asked for a copy of that opinion under an open records request, but was told that it fell under purview of client attorney privilege. Okay, but I can’t believe that Harkey would give her stamp of approval based on the history of ERDI. My guess is that he she gave a general answer, and Felder and Joseph didn’t supply any additional information.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Joseph, in defense of the procurement process and Felder’s work for EDRI, stated, “People across the country do bad things, but we don’t.” Let’s take a look at who these nebulous “people who do bad things” actually are.

One of those people is long-term associate, and former head of Baltimore Schools, Dallas Dance. Dance’s association with ERDI is a major contributor to his being currently incarnated by the state of Maryland for fraud. Joseph brought Dance here and utilized him in an integral role to craft his transition plan. In my eyes, that cannot be overstated, yet has never been acknowledged by Joseph nor addressed openly by the board. Instead it’s quietly swept under the table and we are expected never to raise the issue.

I look at it like this. If my best friend – with whom I share friends and places we frequent – gets caught cheating on his wife, I guarantee my wife is going to have a lot of questions. Odds are, at the very least, I won’t be seeing those same friends and frequenting those same places anymore. We teach our kids from a very early age that people form opinions about us based on who we associate with. A lesson that Joseph seems to think doesn’t apply to him.

Looking at the sentencing report for Dance gives more than a little cause for pause. The document details the method in which contracts were piggybacked in order to avoid RFP’s. A method that bears sticking similarities with actions in Nashville.

So Joseph’s team presents a contract proposal that incorporates ERDI, one of their clients, and involves tactics that a known associate has used to circumvent the law in order to secure a financial benefit, yet everybody is shocked, and Joseph takes offense, when Frogge raises questions. How is this possible?

Not only does nobody raise any real concerns, but board member Gentry argues that instead of holding the district hostage, the board should just pass this contract and work on the process later. Which seems to be consistent with how the board is handling other processes, like the director’s evaluation. That evaluation is now 6 months overdue and the second evaluation of the year is due this month.

Processes exist for a reason and they are created to be followed. I’m sorry that demanding that Joseph and his team adhere to the process is causing inconvenience, but… they should have followed the process. Play by the rules and nobody gets hurt.

Joseph brought Dance here. He chose to use a piggyback method to procure services. He allowed a department head leeway to negotiate contracts sans approval. He chose to not bring up the extension for a vote until 2 weeks before expiration. This is all on him and blame should not be laid at the feet of board members for making him adhere to policy. Once again, we have a self-inflicted crisis. Maybe this time will be different, and district leadership will actually learn from their mistakes. One can only hope.

WHEN REALITY TOO CLOSELY MIRRORS TELEVISION

I’m sure that by now, most of you are aware of the arrest of long time MNPS employee, and former MNEA head, Stephen Henry for the use and manufacture of meth. It’s a very sad set of circumstances exacerbated by the district once again being incapable of putting together a coherent response.

When asked for a comment to the arrest of a 30-year veteran of MNPS by Channel 4 news reporter Edward Burch, the district responded, “Because it is summer break, no response is required.”

Really?!? That’s the best we can do? No mention of looking into the impact on the kids Henry interacted with? After all, Henry did work at a school that specializes in kids with high needs. Needs that include dealing with their own addiction issues.

How about a little sympathy for a man who has spent the brunt of his professional career serving Nashville’s school district? Obviously, addiction issues are at play here and it’s my prayer that Henry gets the help he needs. Addiction severely impairs the addict’s ability to make rational decisions, and as a result, has a devastating impact on people’s lives. This is a prime example.

We talk endlessly about the importance of SEL, but every time the district is presented with an opportunity to model what that learning might look like, we drop the ball. If you want kinder, more thoughtful, empathetic kids, maybe we need kinder, more thoughtful, empathetic adults.

There are a lot of questions that will arise from this incident over the next several days. Chief among them is how did Henry come to be assigned to the school he was at? How did his addiction go undiscovered to this point? Are we properly vetting the teachers that get assigned to our neediest kids? In all fairness, addicts are very adept at hiding the truth, still these are all very valid questions.

This should also serve to remind us that we don’t pay nearly enough attention to the mental health of our educators. In our relentless pursuit of being the “fastest improving district in the country,” have we lost sight of the fact that our students and teachers aren’t just data points, but rather people? Are we paying enough attention to the potential health risks we are exposing educators to through the stress produced by ever escalating demands?

Stephen Henry has always been extremely kind to me. As someone who’s been in recovery for 18 years, moments like this always create a “there by the grace of God, go I” feeling. I understand the long road ahead for Mr. Henry, and it makes me say a silent prayer that his impaired decision-making powers didn’t put any children at increased risk. I pray he looks at this as an opportunity to heal and embraces it.

QUICK HITS

Former founding member of the Tennessee Ed report Zack Barnes returns to the blogging world this week by resurrecting his Tip Sheet. Doing it old school, the Tip Sheet is a newsletter that Barnes emails out weekly and focuses on education issues. You’ll want to sign up for this one. Welcome back, Mr. Kotter.

The very first ProjectLit Summit will take place this weekend. The Weber family plans to be in attendance and we are very excited. say hello if you decide to go.

TN Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen calls this year one of the most successful online administrations for the state to date when it comes to TNReady. This prompts TN Ed Report author Andy Spears to ask for a definition of success.

MNPS is sponsoring a summer meals program to ensure that children and their families don’t go hungry over the summer. Summer meals are available at no cost to children 18 and under.

This Saturday, June 16, is hosting a pop-up “Build a Mobile App in a Day” workshop! This workshop will focus on mobile app development using the MIT AppInventor.

Congratulations to MNPS’s Executive Officer Tony Majors. All in one day, his son officially signs with Columbia State, then goes 1-2 with an RBI and a run scored in the MidTN Senior AllStar game. That’s called… winning. Well done.

Things are getting interesting in Prince George’s County Public Schools. Earlier in the year, CEO Kevin Maxwell announced that he’d be leaving at the end of the year. Well it’s now the end of the year and he has yet to submit a resignation letter. Money could be at the root of it all.

Vesia Hawkins talks early childhood education and a garden-based curriculum in her latest. It’s news that will make you smile.

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome weekend. Don’t forget to answer poll questions. This week we evaluate the performance of district leaders. 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 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.
 
 

SHADES OF DORIAN GRAY

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I know it’s not a perfect analogy, but every time MNPS rolls out a new presentation, it’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that comes to mind. In the Oscar Wilde-written novel, the character, Dorian Gray, wishes to remain young and beautiful and so he makes a promise that transfers all the effects of his sins onto a painting that is stored in his attic. Gray continues to appear untouched by age while the hidden painting shows the effects of age and his sins.

Whenever MNPS releases a new plan, the presentation is always slick and beautiful, as long as you don’t peer beneath the surface. Because it is below the surface where all the flaws and inconsistencies reside. The same holds true for the new Literacy Plan that will be unveiled at tomorrow’s school board meeting.

Since it’s June and most people are starting vacations, June is the perfect time to do a presentation on a new literacy plan. The fewer eyes, the better, after all. Why do this when families and the community actually had a opportunity to be engaged? But I digress.

The plan, which is included in the board meeting agenda, at first glance, seems like a marvelous piece of work. One filled with inspiring quotes, lofty goals, and enough edutalk to quiet and intimidate most potential critics. None of which should be surprising to anyone, since the brunt of the work was written by a paid consultant with ties to the state. I am sure tomorrow’s presentation will adequately play to the gallery. But let’s look a little closer at the picture and see if it holds up under scrutiny. After all, this is advertised as a proposal and not a final draft.

An attachment to the plan includes a list of all the minds that worked on this literacy plan. Notice anything missing? That’s a softball question because it should be readily apparent that there is but one classroom teacher on the list. How come there is not an EL teacher cited? 24% of the district receives EL services and it’s not considered necessary to include an EL teacher? Why is Dr. Felder’s friend Caroline Cobb involved in this plan instead of one of our principals who actually has a doctorate? We had a five-member team attend the state-initiated Read to be Ready training, so why weren’t those participants included on the committee?

One classroom teacher in the whole bunch. Did no one sit around at a drafting meeting and think, “Hey, you know who doesn’t have enough of a voice in this project? The people that will actually be doing the work.” It’s unbelievable to me that nobody thought to add more classroom teachers to the project.

I’m sure that district leadership will raise the defense that things were vetted by the teacher panel as the plan was created. My counter argument would be, where does the true power lie, with the proofreaders or the authors and why are their names not listed in the acknowledgements? At least 1/3 of the authors of the literacy plan should have been culled from the ranks of those who are in the classroom and in our schools every day teaching students to be readers.

My next observation is in relation to the stated key performances indicators (KPI). Let me pause here for one second and point out how ridiculous it is that we have KPI’s with no explanation of how we plan to achieve them. Do you think Bill Belicheck stands before the Patriots and tells them that the goal is to score 4 more touchdowns a game, and then fails to reveal any details about how they are going to accomplish that feat? Do you think he just tells them that they are going to pass the ball and run the ball, and then tells them some anecdotes about other teams that ran the ball and passed the ball? Or do you think he might actually include a few actual plays so that players get a sense where he is going?

That’s what this whole literacy plan is, one big hypothetical statement on what we believe, some why we believe it, with very little explanation of how we are going to arrive at results. What tools are we going to utilize to realize our aspirations? We just cut a successful intervention for most high risk k-2 kids, surely there is an alternative plan to address those needs, shouldn’t that be included in this literacy plan?

We know that 1 in 5 kids suffer from dyslexia. We know that Orton-Gillingham (OG) has proven successful with kids diagnosed with dyslexia, but currently MNPS doesn’t have enough staff trained in OG. Shouldn’t a district literacy plan that stretches out until the year 2025 at least have a thumbnail sketch of how we are going to address the need to train more interventionists?

The plan talks a whole lot about what we are going to expect from third graders, but how are we going to lay the groundwork to meet those expectations? What about interventions at the higher grade levels? What are they going to look like? Why does this document clearly skip struggling readers? What is the plan for the bottom 15% students? What about RTI for our students? Yeah… I got questions.

Now back to those KPI’s, how are we going to measure our success? Two tests is how. One that the state hasn’t been able to administer without any fidelity for the last four years and another that MNPS hasn’t been able to administer with fidelity for the last two years. If that is not enough of a concern, how about the fact that we are utilizing a tool in a manner that was it never intended to be utilized?

A FAQ from Howard School District in Maryland answers the question of what is the purpose of MAP testing:

The MAP assessment is designed to measure a student’s academic achievement and growth over time in reading and mathematics. MAP assessment items are designed to align to objectives in the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards, which are now being taught throughout the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS). Together with other classroom-based information, information from MAP can help teachers make instructional decisions that match the needs of each child.

The Northwest Evaluation Association, the group that administers MAP testing, wrote the following in 2013:

In recent months, however, some questions have been raised about MAP and its role in the classroom. As educators are asked to do more with less, student performance data is now being applied to educator evaluation and instructional time is increasingly threatened by high-stakes accountability exams. Many are questioning the validity and value of tests. Interim assessments, such as MAP, have been caught up in such debates.

It is important to understand the different types of tests and their purposes in the ongoing discussion about testing, as each test is used to make different educational decisions. MAP is an interim test typically administered fall, winter, and spring. The purpose of MAP is to measure academic status, irrespective of the grade level at which a student is performing, and to calculate academic growth over time so that these measures can inform instruction during the year.

Apparently nobody bothered to read NWEA before creating this literacy plan. Which surprises me a little because most of the research cited by this administration is circa 2013.

If you like shiny objects, and lots of words that people use because consultants convinced them that they make them sound smarter, by all means read the whole plan and watch Tuesday’s presentation. Myself? I’m of the opinion that if you are not going to have a plan that explains in depth the “how,” I would rather go with ProjectLit founder and Maplewood HS literature teacher Jarred Amato’s concept: “Commit to surrounding every student with great books. Every day. Even, especially, over the summer. What if we took all that testing money, all that scripted curriculum, and spent it on books that all kids could read in school and bring home?” That would be a literacy plan I could support.

ANOTHER SPILL IN HR

You know when you are in the grocery store and a call goes out over the intercom, “We need a mop on aisle 5 please. We’ve got a spill”? That’s the constant chorus over in MNPS HR these days. A call that continually seems to go unheeded. Nobody shows up with a mop and the messes continue to grow.

Three weeks ago, notices were sent out informing tenured teachers whose positions had been eliminated at individual schools that they been terminated. Oops… came the reply a couple days later. “You are not terminated. You are just unassigned, but still eligible for assignment. We’ll be in touch.”

Apparently that incident was so much fun, that MNPS decided to do it all over again. Yep, another round of non-termination termination letters. Here’s a news flash for the folks at Human Resources: if you’ve worked for the district over a decade and your employer keeps sending you termination notices, eventually you are going to take your skills and go elsewhere. As an added note, it’s just good manners to notify the people who applied for and didn’t get a position before you announce who did get the position. Two simple things that could make a world of difference in current events.

I often hear Dr. Joseph refer to himself as being like Obama. The truth is, that in practice, this administration more closely emulates the current occupier of the White House than the former. District chiefs are constantly in pursuit of supposed leakers while touting transparency, overly vindictive of perceived opponents, intellectually incurious with little attention paid to the past, and constantly complaining about fake news. And much like the current president, Dr. Joseph is better at running a talent relocation service than he is at leading an administration. MNPS is creating an unprecedented talent windfall for surrounding counties at an unprecedented pace.

If chasing talent off isn’t enough, MNPS has been equally inept at recruiting talent. Please name me one replacement that is even equally competent to the person they replaced? I struggle with this question daily. Two years ago there were people in the HR department that I would have helped pack up their office in anticipation of their departure. Fast forward a year, and I’d wash their car weekly if they would come back. A sentiment that I don’t believe I am alone in. I honestly don’t know if MNPS can take another year of this.

I’m obviously not devoid of hope; otherwise, why would I be running for school board? Especially since I know exactly how much work this is going to take to fix. But it’s time for all of us to begin rolling up our sleeves and demanding some accountability. We cannot continue to treat people like this.

Despite what some may claim, I have never called for the dismissal of Dr. Joseph and I’m still not quite there yet. But damn, some things have got to change. Teachers, students, and their families deserve better.

WHATCHA TALKIN’ ‘BOUT, WILLIS?

Here’s another one in the “so dumb I think I’m missing something” series. Since TNReady was such a train wreck again this year, legislation was passed that stated scores could not have adverse effects on schools, teachers, or students.That means that the state’s plans to grade schools on an A-F scale had to be scrapped. But in what is being hailed as a “creative and ambitious” action, the state will instead rate each school on a scale of 0-4 on six different performance indicators. And in a major concession to local district leaders, schools won’t receive a single overall grade or rating as initially planned.

Ok, I must admit, apparently I am not as smart as people leading the TNDOE because I don’t see how there is anything creative or ambitious in this action, nor do I agree with TN Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen, who according to ChalkbeatTN said the change complies with a new state law ordering that this year’s TNReady scores “shall not be used to assign a letter grade to a school” — a nod to concerns that the test results may be unreliable. Um…if a 4 is an A, 3 is a B, 2 is a C…what’s changed? Are parents going to have more faith in a school that has 3 “3”‘s and 3 “2”‘s than one that is considered a “C” school? Are the schools that have “3”‘s going to suffer consequences? In my opinion, this a flagrant violation of the intent of the legislation that was passed this year.

Further cementing my opinion is the fact that scores will not be available until… wait for it… December. Please explain to me how scores from last year that are not available until midway through the current year will help parents and communities have robust conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of their schools. Once again, personal agendas trump what’s best for kids and families. This reeks of stuff my kids would pull and then defend by saying, “Technically…”

QUICK TAKES

The rumor mill is grinding on imminent departures and arrivals.  Some have voiced doubts to the veracity of DGW. Well, time shall tell and we shall see. I just report what I hear. Well, not everything I hear. Lucky for some.

P.L. Thomas is a former South Carolina high school teacher who now teaches teachers and writes a blog. His latest is called Everything You Know is Wrong. I consider it a must read, but I may be wrong.

Interesting budget news – at the end of each fiscal year, MNPS is required to provide final budget projections to Metro City Council. Word is that there was an increase in three areas of fixed cost spending: Health insurance, MDHA, and Charter school enrollment. What that translates into is a need to ask Metro Council for a nice round number of $3.5 extra to close out this year’s books. Everyday I’m shuffling.

POLL RESULTS

A modest response to this week’s poll questions. To those who participated, I thank you. Let’s review.

This week we graded the MNPS Chief’s performance over the last school year. First up is frequent flier Dr. Sito Narcisse. Based on poll results, I would say he’s not the only one hoping he gets a new job. Out of 112 responses, 67 of you answered that you were not sure what he did last year. 17 of you wondered if he still worked here. 1 person gave him a solid “B” or as the TNDOE likes to say… a “3.” Not exactly results that would lead to another district beating down the door to make him the number 1 guy. Here are the write-ins:

Fail 1
He’s the guy not hiding the fact that he wants out 1
He’s horrible…”Am I making this up?” 1
Still did not address issues at my school so F 1
Less then average. He knows it. Smoke & mirrors touted as truths & run for better 1
Talks a lot of BS and can’t make a firm decision. 1
If his role is Dr. Joseph’s hype man, then he knocked it out of the park… 1
Loser!

Next up is fellow transplant Dr. Monique Felder. Interestingly enough, there seems to be a softening in opinion around Dr. Felder. Out of 109 respondents, she managed to receive 13 votes that could be considered positive. Now that pales in comparison to the 64 that volunteered to help her pack to go home. Still, that is a more positive response than in the past, so maybe, just maybe. Here are write-ins:

Who? 2
Who’s she? 1
If she is a leader, shouldn’t we have heard something positive from her? 1
if she knows so much, why hire all those consultants? 1
Plans look good on paper but what about the execution? 1
Rumor has it that she is basically doing all of Dr. J’s work for him but also ha 1
Poor communicator. Still gets nervous talking in front of people. 1
Don’t let Austria ruin the only functioning MNPS dept 1
Another loser!

Last poll was for the hometown boy, Chris Henson. Doesn’t seem like playing on the home field has helped him much, as out of 107 responses, 70 asked if we could have the old Chris Henson back. I got nothing to add that. After the way he’s taken point on the lead in school drinking water issue, I lost faith. Here are the write-ins:

Who’s he? 1
If you only knew how bad he really is… 1
If he guts and another job, he should tell Joseph to cover his own butt 1
He has changd—and not for the better 1
Partner in crime with Dr. Joseph if you ask me. 1
He’s gone to the dark side 1
He is their puppet. 1
I bet he can’t wait til the MD crew is out. 1
Snake oil salesman 1
he’s a puppet 1
He’s been awful for years

And that’s a wrap. 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 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.

SUMMER IN THE CITY

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Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

Those words by the Lovin’ Spoonful seem to be the perfect summation of the past week in Nashville. A city where things seem to get hotter everyday.

Tuesday I joined a slew of teachers at TEA headquarters and went over to the Metro Courthouse for council’s hearing on this year’s city budget. In case you haven’t been following, Metro Nashville Public Schools asked for a $45 million increase in their share of the budget this year. Being a tight year, the Mayor’s proposed budget gives them $5 million. Metro council has the ability to amend the mayor’s budget and so they’ve been doing the heavy lifting of trying to find more money. At risk are raises for public employees.

There is no doubt that public education is underfunded. We continually ask for schools to do more with less and teachers continually go into their pocket to make ends meet. At the current funding rates, it is not a sustainable model and teachers realize it. That said, I still have questions.

So, say you come to me and you want to buy a new car with a high dollar stereo, rims, and hydraulics – you’re wanting to really trick it out. You tell me this car will cost $45k. I say, “Sorry I love you, but I don’t have $45k. Here’s $5k. Get yourself something a little more modest.” My thinking is that you’ll just cut out the stereo, rims, and hydraulics. Maybe you’ll look at a more affordable model or cut out some things in your current budget in order to afford the car you want, sans additions.

Instead you respond, “I can’t buy anything now because I already owe $25k and since you didn’t give me the $45k, I have to try and figure out how to pay that debt off before I can buy another car.”

Huh!?!

So my question then would be, how were you going to originally buy that car for $45k, when obviously you needed $70k? Were you just not going to buy the additions to the car that you’d described and use the excess money for your debts? When were you going to disclose your debts? Why didn’t you strip the stereo, rims, and hydraulics out of your original ask and just ask for what your real need was? If I give you more money now, how do I trust you are going to use it for what you requested?

That in a nutshell is what has transpired as of late between MNPS leaders and the city. When told that they wouldn’t get their ask of $45 million, MNPS suddenly informed the public that the only getting $5 million would actually mean a $17 million shortfall. It would appear to me that the district actually needed $65 million, not $45 million.

I spent a couple hours on Monday hanging in the foyer talking to city leaders. I didn’t hear a single one say, “I hate teachers.” I didn’t hear a single one say, “Public school sucks and we shouldn’t give them a dime.” I did hear several say, “I’m just not sure that if we give extra money to MNPS that they’ll use it for salary increases or where they say they are going to.”

My answer to that one was, “Take a look around. See all the red? That’s teacher taking time to be here to stress the importance of funding public education. I think you can count on them to make sure the money gets used as intended.”

Furthermore, I don’t understand why the public is being asked to beg for money to fund a program that has proven successful in opening access for students, the paying of testing fees. We are talking about $1.3 million to make it happen and we’ve been repeatedly told that your budget is your public declaration of what you consider important. The only conclusion I can draw is that district leadership attaches higher importance to other items, but if the public wants to try and secure funding, so be it.

To say this has been the craziest budget season in years would be an understatement. It is coming to an end though. The fiscal year starts on July 1. Currently there is a plan for a slight tax increase, or adjustment, waiting for approval. Obviously I support any tax that increases teacher salary, but if I was a legislator I’d make sure that I fully knew where the money from a tax increase was going to be spent. Historically Davidson County residents don’t care for tax increases.

I’m told that if passed, the tax increase would provide enough revenue to pay for raises for all city employees. Let’s not forget that fireman and police officers are in the same boat as teachers and paraprofessionals. We have to take care of those that take care of us. If you have the time, and the inclination, I urge you to contact your council member and ask them to vote for the tax adjustment.

WHERE IS THE LOVE?

I could walk into MNPS HR today, without any training, and immediately start doing a better job then what’s being done. Dumpster fires are currently turning towards them and saying, “Hey guys, get your act together you are giving us a bad name.”

I don’t say that lightly, nor with any satisfaction. But the stories that have been told to me by teachers over the past month are just simply inexcusable.

  • Teachers who think they have an assignment getting an email telling them their new assignment.
  • Teacher’s being told that they have been terminated only to get an email 2 days later telling them that, “oops, we were mistaken.”
  • Teacher’s being encourage to seek out an assignment only to be told once they found an assignment, “oops, we made a mistake. You are on the ineligible to be hired list.”
  • Candidates confirming interview times only to be told, “oops, we made a mistake. You’re not getting an interview.”
  • Candidates not getting notice that they didn’t get the position applied for before the public is notified about who did get the job.
  • Highly qualified candidates being told by principals, “We’d love to hire you but can’t get HR approval. Maybe in a couple weeks.”

It’s just been endless stream of horror stories. On top of all that are the hiring freezes. The elementary school freeze was just lifted this week, but the Assistant Principal freeze is still in place. I know the majority of HR employees come from a medical background, so maybe they don’t know that school starts the first week in August. Hires need to be made by June 1. How many great teachers have gone elsewhere because they didn’t have the patience, nor the inclination, to play games with HR.

It’s awful nice that the administration brings donuts to teachers at schools and that NPEF lights up buildings to signify respect for teachers, but do you know what really makes teachers feel valued? Human resources not jerking them around. “Oops, I made a mistake”, constitutes jerking them around.

MNPS is currently hemorrhaging talent. Everyday I hear about another teacher who has gone to Wilson County, Maury County, Rutherford County, or Sumner County not to mention Williamson County. It is hard to retain talent when the city is pricing them out at the same time the district is treating them like a commodity. Hopefully, somebody wakes up soon because Nashville can not afford to lose more professional educators. News flash: once those educators are gone, they are gone for a long time.

ALL I COULD DO WAS CRY

Two weeks it was announced that executive director of English Learners Kevin Stacy was leaving the district. Luckily we have a talented administrator in Molly Hegwood ready to step up. Hegwood has worked side by side with Stacey for the last several years and is the very picture of competence. Shouldn’t be much to worry about right? Wrong.

There was a plan being floated, prior to Stacy’s departure, to bring EL teachers out of the EL department and put them under the curriculum department. Details, admittedly were sketchy, but the goal was to increase integration between the classroom teachers and EL teachers. The thought process being that virtually every teacher in MNPS would probably have an EL student in their class, so why not ingrain EL strategies in all teacher professional development?

On paper it sounds good, but as always the devil is in the details. If EL teachers were focused on supporting classroom teachers, when and how would they receive their necessary supports? If we focus on curriculum how much does language acquisition suffer? Why are making wholesale changes to a successful program, instead of just tweaking things? I suspect that between the heads of both departments greater integration could transpire without dismantling one department. So what’s the actual goal here?

Further complicating things is Dr. Joseph’s decision to promote to the position of Director of EL, Dr. Joie Austria. Dr. Austria came to Nashville with Dr. Joseph and she is absolutely and unequivocally the wrong person for this position. If you don’t believe me, talk to any teacher who works, or has worked, at Paragon Mills over the last 2 years. The culture she created at the school was nothing short of toxic.

Dr. Joseph likes to say we shouldn’t talk publicly about shortcomings lest they prove untrue. Well in this case, any charges are backed up by both her evaluation and internal results from the recently completed spring culture survey. Both paint a picture of a leader that is hurting their school. A school made up of a large percentage of English Learners.

I shouldn’t be surprised that district leadership is not only defending, but also promoting, a poor performing associate. It’s a pattern that has played out at Antioch HS, Sylvain Park ES, and Cumberland ES along with several other schools over the last two years. Again, light up all the buildings you want, but if you consistently allow associates to create toxic environments, teachers are not going to feel your love and they will not stick around.

About now you might be thinking, “Damn, Dad, you’re being harsh.” Maybe, but I’m tired of adult agendas taking precedence over what’s good for kids. I’m tired of people, in the name of politeness, implicitly supporting policies that are not only not good for kids but are actually hurting them. This support is doing real damage to the system and it is past time to start having honest conversations, before the damage is irrevocable. Once families and educators have checked out, they are not coming back.

In response to these recent developments a 21-member coalition of organizations that work with the immigrant community have sent a letter to Dr. Joseph respectfully requesting that they be involved in the process. Not an unfair request and one that Dr. Joseph, who espouses transparency and community engagement, should embrace.

Per the Tennessean, Dr. Joseph’s response indicated a deferral on action until after school was back in session. I don’t believe that response is a response that conveys the proper amount of urgency. My kid’s friends are made up of children requiring EL services. As a result, I’ve experienced their lives first hand and am familiar with the depth of their needs. Their needs are such that they can’t wait until “school starts” for the district to address required action.

Over the past several years, MNPS’s have come light years away from where they once were in regard to EL services. In Hegwood’s hands that progress can continue, but only if she is given the room to use her experience and knowledge to continue doing what has proven best for kids. She doesn’t need to be hampered by an under qualified associate of Dr. Joseph’s who was incapable of producing a culture of inclusion at a school. I urge anyone who cares about EL students to call their school board representative and voice their concerns.

QUICK HITS

MNPS’s Curriculum and Instruction department has been working overtime to improve their processes. As part of that initiative, they’ve revealed a brand new website. The site houses the district’s scope and sequence as well as other information pertinent to MNPS’s curriculum and instruction. I think it looks good and urge you to check it out.

This week MNPS loses a couple more long time associates. SEL coordinator Derek Williams announced that he is leaving the district to take another position with a local non-profit. Current Charlotte Park ES principal Amy Downey has also accepted a position outside of the district. Dad Gone Wild thanks them for their long term service and wishes them the best of luck.

It’s probably no secret that I’m not a huge fan of summer reading lists. Anything that turns reading into a chore, or competition, will never get my seal of approval. Education blogger Nancy Bailey echoes those feelings when she concludes a new piece by saying:

In the end, if one doesn’t like to read, they just won’t do it. And that means there is probably a real reading problem that requires fixing, or the student never really learned the great joy that can come from reading.

We can never lose sight that the goal can’t merely be that kids read on grade level, they also have to learn to appreciate the value of reading.

Local Education Blogger Vesia Hawkins is out promoting next weekends ProjectLit Summit and more. As always, I encourage you to give her a read.

Matthew Portell is a third-year principal at Fall-Hamilton ES, but you wouldn’t know that by the work he’s producing. It’s the work of a much more experienced principal.Portell is fast becoming the Jarred Amato of the SEL world. Few understand the needs, and policies required to meet those needs, better then Portell. Recently he wrote about why adults need social and emotional support as well.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) recently announced its 2018-19 class of Tennessee Educator Fellows, and six Metro Schools educators were selected. Thirty-eight educators were chosen from across the state of Tennessee for the fellowship program. Congratulations to these fine educators. I’d be willing to bet there is a DGW reader or two in the bunch.

Steven Hale has an in-depth piece in the newest edition of the Nashville Scene that takes a look at North Nashville and it’s seemingly endless cycle of poverty. I’m pretty sure that this level of writing is what lead to Bill Freeman recognizing the Scene as a city treasure, one that he plans to protect by purchasing. I strongly encourage everyone to read this piece.

Quick up date on the “30 jobs cut at Central Office” meme. Three of those position are in the charter school office and are shown as being moved to special revenue. It’s been explained to me that state funds, due to a change in state law, will now fund those positions instead of local funds. So while those positions are off of MNPS books, do they really count as cut positions?

Rumor has it that a certain veteran coach and administrator has contacted a lawyer in order to continue to dispute charges leveled at him by the district. Lawyers and therapist certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Joseph, as his policies have led to a financial windfall for both.

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome week. Don’t forget to answer poll questions. This week we evaluate the performance of district leaders. 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 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.
 
 

JUST HOW EXPENSIVE IS READING RECOVERY?

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Last night I attended the Metropolitan Nashville Council meeting and spoke out on the pending budget. I’m not going to pretend that I was anywhere near as eloquent as those who spoke before and after me. Truth is, I’m pretty torn about the whole budget this year. What I’ve seen hasn’t been pretty, and I am not convinced that we are utilizing our current resources to the best of our abilities. I’m not sure we are taking the city’s financial situation seriously.

For example, MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and CFO Chris Henson stood before the council two weeks ago and told them that the district had cut 30 jobs. The truth is most of those positions were currently unfilled, and those that were filled were held by either part-timers or people who made less than $35k a year.

Meanwhile, MNPS has added a new Chief of Staff – a position unfilled since November – at a $170k salary. They’ve added an Executive Director of STEAM, despite the initiative being paused and the position also being unfilled most of the year, at roughly $130k. They’ve hired a new Executive Officer of Organizational Development, another position unfilled since November, at roughly another $130k.

On top of that, MNPS still has an Executive Officer of Charter Schools making $155k despite the fact that charter schools really take no direction from the district. We have an Executive Officer of Equity and Diversity who makes a combined – between salary and stipend – $155k, despite nobody taking direction from her. We’ve got an elementary school principal who doesn’t hold a doctorate and has only been in the district for two years who makes as much as our highest paid high school principal. But again, I digress.

The point is, MNPS is still spending money at the same apparent rate despite the fact that paraprofessionals and teachers are woefully underpaid. That’s why I decided to speak last night. If district leadership won’t stand up for teachers, then the least I can do is lend my voice to their chorus.

During budget talks – well, actually at the last minute – Dr. Joseph cut the Reading Recovery program under the guise of a cost benefit. He said that the program was too expensive for the district. But I have to ask, what is expensive? I don’t know if Reading Recovery is expensive. I know it costs $7.5 million, and that is a lot of money. But what are its results and can they be gotten cheaper? I don’t know, but I do know that nobody has shown me a plan that produces the same results at a lower cost.

I also know that when we talk budgets and costs, we toss around numbers like they are unconnected to real live people. People whose lives are changed by these programs.

As we lined up to speak, I admit I cheated and tried to line up early. The guard chased me back a couple of times, and I noticed another young lady who was also repeatedly getting chased back. She really wanted to speak against the budget and it was clear the importance of this moment to her. After hearing her words, I fully understand why she so deeply felt the need to speak. We all need to listen just as deeply. Sometimes we need reminding that those numbers on the paper mean so much more than what we assume.

Here are her words:

“Hello everyone, my name is Maggie Kooperman. I would like to thank the members of the Metro Council for allowing me to speak this evening. Due to the extraordinary impact that Reading Recovery and Jill Speering had on my life, I felt the need to speak tonight regarding this matter. Everyone sitting here today would not have gotten to their current position without some help along the way. Be it a teacher, a parent, a friend, or in my case, my mother and a dedicated teacher who refused to give up on kids.

My story itself is not that unique, but it could have ended quite differently if it had not been for Reading Recovery. My elementary school’s only suggestion over my reading issues was to place me in Special Education. My mother knew that this was not the solution and began looking on her own to find someone or something that could help me, and that is when she found out about Reading Recovery, as well as one of the few people trained to teach this method at that time: Jill Speering.

My mother told Ms. Jill about my situation, including my school’s suggestion that I should be placed in Special Education. After testing me, Ms. Jill agreed with my mother that that was unnecessary. Through this testing Ms. Jill determined I was dyslexic as well. Something my family had always suspected. Within six weeks, I could read, I could write sentences, and I could actually understand what I was reading.

Upon my completion of the program, my own first grade teacher told my mother that in all of her fourteen years of teaching, she just witnessed her first educational miracle.

Due to my struggles prior to Reading Recovery, my mother felt that I had missed too much of the first grade, I did pass, but my mom knew that I needed a better foundation than what I had, so I repeated the first grade. Which I have always felt was highly beneficial. Which brings me to my next point; it is hard for me to understand the reasoning behind cutting the budget and doing away with a program that has had such life changing results for so many of its participants. I am only one woman, and when I was in Reading Recovery I was just one little girl. The impact that Reading Recovery had on my life has never gone away.

I graduated high school among the top of my class. After high school graduation, I attended Nashville State in the Pathways program, and saved a lot of money! I now attend MTSU, where I am currently on the Dean’s list, and will graduate in December of this year With a BS in History, and a minor in Paralegal studies. When my school decided to give up on me, Reading Recovery refused to do the same. When I began researching the current state of the program, I wondered if any other children almost fell victim to a situation like mine, or if mine was a thing of the past. While reading an article on News Channel Five’s website, I found a recent account of a child set to begin Special Education courses, until a teacher named Brandy Johnson began tutoring her in the program. According to this same article, this child is getting closer to reading on her grade level and is “confident in her reading.” I recall that same feeling of newly found confidence, and truly wish that more children struggling to learn to read in Metro Schools would get to benefit from this program and get to feel that wonderful sense of confidence that I and so many other children felt, upon our successful completion of this program.

So please, I urge all of you sitting here tonight, that have the power of life or death over this program, to please allow a program that has had such a positive, life changing effect, for so many people to continue doing the wonderful work it has been doing.

Thank you.”

IN SEARCH OF EQUITY

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It seems like you can’t hold a conversation these days about Metro Nashville Public Schools without also discussing race, class, and equity. On a lot of levels, that’s a very good thing. For too long, we’ve put our collective heads in the sand and hoped that the issues would solve themselves. We’ve perpetually focused on saying the right things, as opposed to doing the right things.

Few will argue that the American public school system has a long history of denying equal access to all children. Initially, schools were segregated. Even after desegregation became the law of the land, there was resistance. We’ve made progress, but take a look at the challenges facing newly-hired New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza as he takes office and tries to further desegregate New York City schools. Over 60 years may have passed since Brown vs Board of Education, but we still have a long way to go.

I think part of the issue is that so much of the past is still ingrained in the present. We are a society that likes quick fixes, and issues of race, class, and the role they play in creating inequities do not provide a platform for quick fixes. In the absence of a quick fix, we default to the strategy of taking from those who previously benefited from their majority status and awarding the benefits to those who were deprived. That doesn’t solve the issues; it merely shifts the benefits and creates a new set of inequities.

There is also a tendency to think about racism as a thing of the past, and some white people bristle at demands to address the past by claiming they had no part in it and therefore shouldn’t be held accountable. We act as if the past is this isolated bubble that has no tendrils to the present. Unfortunately, that is a misconception that prevents us from moving forward.

The ill effects of racism and class discrimination are still fresh within minority communities throughout the city. Many of the mothers and fathers of children currently enrolled in MNPS have felt the pain of policies rooted in racism. That pain is not one that is easily erased. While we should not remain tethered to the past, it is important that we acknowledge people’s experiences and how it affects their perceptions today. There cannot be an honest conversation without acknowledgement and acceptance.

By the same token, race shouldn’t be used as a means to defend bad policy. Especially when we are aware that said policy is hurting the very kids we be should be protecting. I’m constantly amazed at the number of members of the black community who, in private, recognize the shortcomings of the current administration, yet publicly, lend their voices to the chorus to defend and support the current Director of Schools. That fact alone should be a prime indicator of the complexities of the subject and how much work we have to do on all sides.

I’ve got a standing invitation to anyone who believes that my criticisms of the current administration are rooted in racism. Join me for coffee or lunch, and discuss how current policy is benefiting kids, and I will counter those arguments. I will never claim that I am completely free of bias because that is a claim none of us can make. We all bring our own biases to the table. Biases that are a summation of our individual experiences, which are unique to all of us. I am always willing to listen and learn if you are willing to share.

I’ll give you an example of bad policy that hurts the ones who need the most: the recent cutting of MNPS paying for all advanced placement tests. Why is the community having to show up and beg the Metro council to fund this line item? It’s $1.3 million and easily the most effective step the district has taken toward narrowing the equity gap. This would be like me showing up at football practice and saying we aren’t going to run anymore. It’s too hard. Why is the paying for tests not a non-negotiable? Is there really something in the budget that is more important? If so, please identify it for me because I don’t see it.

I wholeheartedly believe that Nashville needs a deeper conversation on equity, but we are missing a prime opportunity to have that conversation. With the arrival of Dr. Joseph, we had a real opportunity to start a break from the past and begin to forge a path forward. Whom better to lead the conversation than a career educator who has purposely chosen to make Nashville his family’s new home?

But he’s chosen the path of a politician over that of an educator. Does a math teacher separate a classroom full of students based on their understanding of math? Do they attempt to divide those students with greater understanding from those with lesser understanding and act disparagingly towards those who underperform? Or do they take extra time and employ extra patience to ensure that they grasp the principles in a manner that excites the student and encourages growth? It’s the politician who is focused on their agenda and uses every tool for self accomplishment over the betterment of the community. We needed the former, but we got the latter.

Unfortunately district leadership is continues to act in a manner that employs a divide and conquer mentality. Last week in the Tennessean, a letter to the editor appeared from Arnett Bodenhammer defending the Director of Schools on his choice of music played at a principals meeting. The letter acknowledges that Joseph should be subject to criticism, but raises the specter of racism being at the root of current board criticism. It’s a subtle attempt to paint certain board members in an unflattering light, and in turn, prevent them from asking the really hard questions. The questions that this administration has not been very good at answering.

Interestingly enough, a look at Joseph’s calendar for last week shows a meeting with one Art Bodenhammer. Hmmm… wonder what the subject was? Bodenhammer is a coach at Overton HS, so perhaps they discussed athletics. However, it’s a realistic assumption that the subject of Bodenhammer’s upcoming letter to the editor came up. One has to wonder what that conversation sounded like. The result is just one more missed opportunity.

Dr. Joseph recently updated the list of principal openings for the 2018-2019 school year. Of the 17 positions announced as filled, 14 went to African-American candidates. That certainly demonstrates a step towards the fulfillment our community’s commitment to making Nashville’s leadership ranks more diverse. On the surface, the hirings should be applauded.

This is where I reflect upon the lessons taught to me by Dr. Drinkwine. He reminded me that just because you have fewer white people or less wealthier families, you are not more diverse. Diversity means that ALL are represented. That ALL have a seat at the table. Equity means that ALL have opportunities afforded to one.

In looking at the principal announcements in that light, we see that there is not one position that went to a Hispanic candidate. Not one position that was filled by an Asian candidate. Not one that went to a candidate of Middle Eastern descent. This, despite all three demographics being well represented in MNPS.

Despite making up 25% of the population of MNPS, only two schools in the district are led by principals who are Hispanic. Central office previously had three positions held by people who are Hispanic, but one of those positions has been eliminated, so that lowers the number to two.

Ironically, one of the positions in central office is held by the MNPS Chief of Schools’ spouse, Maritza Gonzales. In 2013, Gonzales was hired by Prince George’s County Public Schools, MNPS’s Director of Schools former district, in response to a backlash from Hispanic community leaders over a perceived lack of response to the Hispanic community. Once again, today’s conversation has roots in the past.

Further complicating things are rumblings of a plan to move previous Paragon Mills Principal Dr. Maria Joie Austria to central office to fill a leadership vacancy in the EL department. Austria was brought to Paragon Mills from Maryland by Dr. Joseph upon his arrival. By most accounts, her tenure at Paragon Mills has not been successful.

What makes leadership think she’ll be any better at central office? While she does hold a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, she has limited experience in EL instruction. Experience that I would consider essential to any position in the EL department.

Austria’s promotion would align with the district’s move to an emphasis on first instruction. There is talk that MNPS is contemplating moving EL teachers into more of a support role than one of direct instruction. In the past, Austria has spoken of the value of that approach.

That move, if true, does raise several flags. MNPS’s EL department has been quite successful over the last several years, and at the root of that success is the commitment to striking a balance between supporting classroom teachers and supporting EL teachers. How would that practice continue? How would we ensure that EL teachers are getting the required level of support?

Curriculum is obviously quite important, but it can’t overshadow language acquisition. Just as language acquisition cannot overshadow curriculum. The state’s recent move to make all teachers who teach ANY EL kids WIDA-fluent adds a higher level of importance to an understanding of language acquisition instruction.

I don’t believe that it is an unreasonable concern to worry that promoting someone without a proven track record in language acquisition, and a spotty one in leadership, will hurt our kids. Remember, roughly 24% of MNPS kids require EL services. That does not just include Hispanic kids. What evidence do we have that Austria understands the depth and breadth of our EL population? If we are going make our school system truly equitable, getting EL services right has to be a key component.

Equity also has to encompass how we treat our teachers. By now I’m sure you are aware that the district cut 80 Reading Recovery teachers. In doing so, they applauded them as being the best and brightest in the system and guaranteed them employment for the 2018-2019 school year. Of course, nobody had a plan for what that employment would look like. The idea was floated that these specialists would just become classroom teachers and students would instantly benefit from their skills.

Here is a question for you: how many of you would rush out and buy season tickets to the Titans tomorrow if Mike Vrabel announced tonight that since his linebackers were the best players on the team, he was going to move them all to the receiver position. I can just imagine the phones lighting up at sports talk radio shows if he floated such a ludicrous idea. Yet, Dr. Joseph proclaims an equally ludicrous idea and public school “fans” just nod in agreement.

That makes me think for a second, we decry the emphasis on professional sports over education, but perhaps if we became as versed in public education policy as sport fans are in their chosen sport, we’d see fewer inequities. We have no problem second guessing the coach of a sport we’ve never played, yet balk at applying the same level of inquiry to an administrator who oversees an endeavor we’ve all participated in. You never hear anyone make the argument that questioning a professional coach’s judgement hurts his team’s performance, yet when it comes to education, that argument is considered an accepted truth. But I digress.

Back to our Reading Recovery teachers. It’s June so you’d expect that they would have an assignment by now. That would be a wrong assumption. As of Thursday, when MNPS sent a written reply to Metro council on the number placed, there were 26 still unassigned. Friday night around 6:30, teachers started receiving emails with their new assignments. Some of those teachers who received emails were under the impression that they already had assignments at other schools. For those who actually read the email, that led to a weekend filled with panic and uncertainty.

Let’s have a show of hands. Teachers, how many of you regularly check your MNPS email during the summer? Hmmm… that many of you? If you are going to manage a work force, shouldn’t you have a working understanding of their culture? What if a teacher didn’t check their email for several weeks? What kind of deliberation went into where a teacher was assigned? Once again, policy is being delivered that is more about “checking a box” than improving outcomes. Reading Recovery teachers placed… check.

Please understand that any conversation about equity has to include how we treat our professional educators. Schools are more than just the students who attend them. Cultivating diversity means attracting all types of people and providing all with equitable access.

Are we treating people in a manner that we would want to be treated? Are we providing for all kids in a manner that we would want our kids to be provided for? Are we supplying experiences for all kids that we would want provided for our kids? If the answer to any of those questions is no, then our system is not equitable. It’s a simple measure. You cannot have equity if one group is treated with preference over another. Again, it’s a simple equation. In order to find true equity, we are going to have to search a little harder.

QUICK HITS

Look’s like a recent transplant from Boston is on the move again. And with that, there are now 2 EDSSI openings.

Come say your piece on Tuesday on why Metro council should increase funding to MNPS. I’m torn on this one. There are things that remain in the budget in lieu of things I feel should be cut. There are positions that are still funded in the budget despite lack of evidence that they are needed. Yet as long as teacher and support staff salaries are in play, I’ll lend my voice. Bring yours.

Is anybody else wondering if Dr. Joseph will make an appearance at tomorrow’s public hearing or if he’ll just stay in Chattanooga and let the public make his plea?

The national blog Russ on Reading just hit the million reader mark. In honor of that, I want to share this post of his from 2016 on the non-negotiables of reading instruction. Read it and take notes. There will be a quiz later.

Congrats to two young women from MNPS who were awarded Sportswoman of the Year at the annual Tennessean sports awards banquet. Job well done, ladies!

Over the weekend, it also came to DGW’s attention that Derrick Williams has decided to accept a position outside of MNPS. Derrick is truly one of the good guys. I don’t know how long we can keep losing people of his caliber without anybody noticing. The hits just keep coming and the band keeps playing. Thank you for your service, sir.

Did you know that MNPS used to have a compensation specialist? Did you know that job has been unfilled for almost 2 years? Just saying.

Has anybody seen the MNPS spring climate survey? It must be hanging out with the MNPS school board’s director evaluation.

POLL QUESTIONS

Thank you to all who participated this week. Participation remained high, though the number of write-ins was lower than in previous times. Let’s look at the results.

The first question asked how you would feel if the state created a mandatory Outdoor School. 71% of you expressed an openness to the idea. 19% considered it a waste of resources. Interesting. Personally, I think it would do everyone a world of good. We could all use a little more appreciation of the natural world. Her are the write-ins:

we have bigger problems; how about reading books? 1
For this type of thing to be meaningful we have to lose our test score focus. 1
I believe the District’s money can be used to fund more pressing needs, Raises 1
It would be nice in ALL schools 1
Awesome idea- once upon a time we had School in the Woods. It was amazing!

Question 2 asked for feedback on teacher attrition and whether MNPS would see more or less this year. Out of 125 responses, 77% of you indicated that the numbers would be rising. 14% of you indicated that the number would be about the same as in previous years. Three of you said that fewer teachers were leaving. Here are the write-ins:

They are trying but there are only so many jobs in other counties 1
We are losing so many great people.

The last question asked for your opinion on morale within MNPS. 56% of you indicated that it is worse than ever, with 18% of you referring to it as polarizing. How many times and how many ways? Not surprisingly, 3 people indicated things were getting better. Here are the write-ins:

Good at schools with strong leaders, struggling for district level leadership​ 1
Staff is scared to death to speak up. Lots of bullies. 1
Depends on your location

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 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.

HE STEPS UP TO THE PLATE – SMILING

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I’m going to ask for a little indulgence today. You see, I coach my son’s 7-9-year-old Little League baseball team, and yesterday we won our first tournament game in what I can only describe as a matchup of epic proportions. I may be a little hyperbolic, but the win has made me a little reflective.

Baseball, as a sport, has fallen a little out of favor over the last several years. It’s a sport that moves at its own pace, and in a world where we demand immediacy, not everyone has the patience for the game. It’s a simple game: throw the ball, catch the ball, hit the ball. But colored within that simplicity is a complexity that requires knowledge in order to compete at a higher level, not dissimilar from the game of life.

Every spring, teams assemble. A few of the players have played on other teams, but there are many new faces and units must be built anew. Excitement is high and the possibilities are endless. As things come together, there is a feeling-out period where you start to get a sense of what the script for the season will look like. Will it be success out of the gate or will it take a while to hit full stride?

The boys are shy around each other as they try to get a sense of what kind of teammates they have and what their role will be in the overall dynamic. For some players, their role will become clear almost instantly. Others will search longer to find their niche. In a worst case scenario, some boys will go the whole year without finding their place. As a coach, I work hard to prevent that scenario from transpiring.

For my son, this was to be a transitional year. He would be moving up to the next level. He’d been accustomed to being one of the best players on the team, but where would he fall in this new age bracket? The past provides no guarantees.

The season starts and after a few games, a picture of the team emerges. It’s clear that it’s going to take a while for this entity to gel. They struggle with some of the mental aspects. They can hit the ball, but they don’t run to first as hard as they could, so they are often thrown out. They are young, so they don’t always listen to their coaches as they should, which results in missed opportunities.

In the field, the throws to first are often wild. Balls are frequently thrown to the wrong base and opposing teams score off these lapses in judgement. Fielders hold the ball because of an inability to make a decision, which results in more runs being scored. Physically, the team is not overmatched, but other teams are more experienced and better versed in the complexities of the game. There is a learning curve.

My son, Peter, struggles. In my overzealousness to make him as prepared as possible for the season, I took him to the batting cages several times. There, he faced 40 mph balls being pitched at him. A speed that he wasn’t mentally prepared to face nor a speed that he would face in games. The result was a timidness that had never existed took root and his timing was way off. During the first several games, he failed to make contact with the ball, repeatedly striking out, a situation that was unfamiliar to him.

The game had also stopped being fun for Peter. He and I were often at odds. I felt he wasn’t focused enough, nor trying hard enough. He thought I was a jerk.

As the season progressed, the kids continued to work. They discovered that they liked each other. They had fun together. They learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Fathers began to pitch in and help. I’ve never employed a very formal assistant coaching system. I really don’t assign roles and welcome any, without qualification, who want to help. Slowly, kids gained confidence, skills became more proficient, and games became closer.

I decided to make a complete switch in my approach with Peter. He doesn’t respond well to yelling, so I did my best to refrain from yelling. Okay, I admit I wasn’t always successful. I am a work in progress. His timing began to return and he started to become intrigued by the mental aspects of the game. He loved his teammates and reveled in the time spent with them. Things were getting fun again.

As the season closed, we began to win games. Kids who weren’t hitting at the beginning of the season were now making contact. Balls were thrown to the right location with increased frequency. Several times they were down in games only to come back and win. They developed confidence in both their skills and their teammates.

Peter’s timing was also improving and he was getting on base regularly. He’d always been the kid who was overactive. The one who would cover both the pitcher’s mound, center field, and everything in between. A trait that was both a blessing and a curse. As the season progressed, he became less out of control and began to exhibit more faith in his teammates and a deeper understanding of the game. Instead of his energy being a detriment, it was developing into an asset.

Yesterday’s game actually started the day before. In the first inning, the boys were completely out of sync. They were missing routine throws, failing to field balls, and making poor decisions. As a result they were down 6-0 at the end of the first inning. They only managed to score one run during their time at bat.

They took the field at the top of the 2nd with a renewed sense of confidence. As a result, they only allowed one run to be scored. That’s when the rains arrived. The storm hit and play was halted. It would resume the next day, with my Rangers down 8-1.

When play resumed the next day, it was anyone’s guess how it would go. Peter was up first and after fouling off a couple of foul balls, he drove one to mid-right center. That led off an inning in which we’d cut the lead by just one run. The next inning we scored 7 runs and took a 1-run lead.

Over the next couple of innings, the score flip-flopped as both teams played stellar defense. The last inning found us down by three runs.

The opposing team managed to put our first two batters out. We were one out from losing, and up to bat was a young man who had struck out twice today already. This was going to be different though. He got a hit that sparked a 3-run rally, and we were going to extra innings. An important lesson on not allowing past shortcomings to hamper the future was learned.

Our defense held them to one run. All we needed to win was two. We scored one run and then got an out. The next two batters got hits and we found ourselves with a runner on second and third and one out. Peter was up next.

The first two pitches I threw to him, he swung at wildly. “Concentrate!” I shouted. Didn’t he realize what a big moment this was for him? This was a chance to win the game and be a hero. Why was he squandering it?

Looking at him, it quickly became apparent that I was doing it to him again. My perceived effort and motivating were actually having a counter-effect. His body language indicated that he was in the process of shutting down. I was leading him down the path of failure instead of helping him find his own path of strength. It was me who needed to focus, not him.

I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “We will either win this game now or we won’t. He’ll either shine in this moment or he won’t. But this moment is not life-defining. It is just one snapshot of who he is and who he will potentially become. I am fostering my hopes, fears, and desires on his shoulders, and I need to stop.”

I smiled at him and said, “Just relax. Let’s get this. He promptly cracked his hardest hit ball of the season to right center. As the ball rolled to the fence, the winning runs crossed the plate. Peter’s joy was unbound and his teammates embraced him as they celebrated the win.

It was one great moment in a game of great moments. Watching our shortstop leap in the air after making a put out at first with a strike. A throw and a catch that had never been a gimme. Watching our center fielder barrel down the first base line intently focused on the bag after a season of oft being thrown out because he watched the ball he’d hit. Watching our third baseman, who’d made an error on a previous play, cleanly field a hard hit grounder and then step on the bag for the out. These are all the little moments that seem so insignificant but are really mile markers. They were matching physical skills with mental insight, a winning combination.

As we gathered after the game, I couldn’t have been prouder of these young men. They’d learned to work as a team. To trust and encourage each other. They learned that everybody brings different talents to a game and success is based on melding those talents together. They’d seen that by sticking with a task and retaining a positive attitude, success could be achieved.

They also learned that failure wasn’t permanent. Our hard-hitting first baseman hit a monster shot to centerfield only to be thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. His next at bat, he hit it deep again and this time made it to second.

It is not only through sports that kids learn these lessons. Through music, band members have similar experiences. Forensic teams, the same. These lessons learned, and more like them, are all so important, yet we lump them under the dismissive title of extra-curricular activities. I would call it part of a well-rounded education.

The lessons don’t just apply to kids either. They are there for adults as well. How often have I heard a frustrated teacher say administrators are critical over a student’s achievement level while failing to acknowledge the accomplishments they had made? How often have we emphasized pace over acquisition? How often have we let our expectations lead a child down the path of failure instead of helping them find their path to success?

High expectations are wonderful except when they become debilitating. We need to always remember that education is a process. A lifelong process. One test score, one grade in a class, is not life-defining. I always tell my baseball team that it’s not the mistake or the shortcomings that should be the focus, but rather what you do after the mistake or the shortcomings. Those actions are what will define you.

QUICK HITS

For those of you keeping score, the official count of quality leadership that has exited the district over the last 2 years has now broached the 50-people mark. Yep, 50 people who held leadership positions in MNPS are now plying their craft elsewhere. They are leading departments at universities, establishing state outdoor education programs, working with national consulting companies, leading other school districts and schools. In other words, others have recognized what MNPS leadership has failed to recognize – there was a lot of quality in MNPS.

Now that the cupboard is starting to become bare, here is your homework assignment. Name me one replacement who is better than the person they replaced. Good luck and I’ll check back with you next week.

Speaking of former MNPS leaders. I don’t know if it’s official or not, but from what I hear, former Eakin ES principal Tim Drinkwine will be the new principal at Mount Pleasant Middle School in Spring Hill. The high school is headed up by former Maplewood AP Ryan Jackson who is making headlines with his STEAM initiative. The two working together could be dangerous. Former Maplewood HS principal Ron Woodard is the Number 2 person in the district.

Speaking of Tennessee Teachers of the Year, the TNDOE announced its 9 finalists for this year. Unfortunately there are no MNPS teachers among the finalists. That means that no state teachers of the year will be working in the district since this year’s TOY Cicely Woodard will now be working in the Franklin Special School District.

It does appear that Dr. Narcisse will be with MNPS again next year. This week, Newark named Roger Leon as their new superintendent. Interestingly enough, the Newark School Board originally tapped Leon in 2015, but was under state control at the time and their decision was overruled. Chalbeat Newark notes:

The board’s decision to again tap Leon seemed to signal a definitive break from the era of sweeping, controversial changes enacted by outsiders — namely, Cerf and his predecessor, Cami Anderson. Instead, after the state ended its decades-long takeover of the district in February and put the board back in charge of the schools, the board’s choice for superintendent suggests that it will rely on local talent and ideas to guide New Jersey’s largest school system in the new era of local control.

Of further interest is an article in Chalkbeat Colorado that discusses the realization in Denver that progress towards their lofty goals is a little slow. Me believes there is some reassessing going on across the country. As voiced by board vice-president Barbara O’Brien:

“We’ve got to get past this chasing the shiny object and focus on some key things that will benefit kids and teachers and implement, implement, implement, (and then) come up for air and see where we are, and learn and go forward harder.”

From her lips to God’s ear.

Last year, the Oregon State Legislature passed a law that used a portion of lottery receipts to fund outdoor school for all 5th and 6th graders in the state. The initiative was designed to “get our next generation of leaders off the couch and out into Oregon’s great outdoors.” They needed a leader to head things up, so they came and grabbed then-MNPS Director of STEAM Kris Elliot to lead the initiative. The program is off to a fantastic start, which leads me to two wishes. One, I wish Tennessee had a program like this. And two, can we have Kris Elliot back?

The Volunteer State turns 222 years old today! Happy Tennessee Statehood Day!

Remember, if you can, your presence is requested at the courthouse to speak out for public education on Tuesday, June 5th.

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome week. Don’t forget to answer 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 will try to promote as many of the events that you send 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.