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.
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.
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.