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.
I haven’t read a more eloquently put debate . For a child to feel confident in an area that they once struggled in leads to other important character building steps. The earlier this is introduced could mean all the difference in the outcome of that childs life. Speaking from my own experince as a child that struggled in early reading.
I feel frustrated. I want to stop calling this a fight for Reading Recovery, because though I love the program, and it is the most successful early literacy intervention, we need to discuss what was lost. Board members tune us out because it is just a program. However the budget of that program contained 5 million dollars worth of people. What was cut in April, with little deliberation from the board was five million dollars in professional capital. Five million dollars in teachers.
Those teachers served the schools that struggle most. Those positions are gone from those schools, even if the teachers were poured into empty positions. It was not a change in role as Sharon Gentry stated in that meeting… it was a loss of work force. If it was a change in role… the confusion of putting these teachers in positions would not exist.
Our school board eliminated all the positions when they cut the program. Those teachers could have done any number of other things if they had been repurposed. Smaller class sizes because those school had those positions and could use them as they wanted..or more interventions or coaches. That IS NOT what happened. No matter what side of this you land on… take the Reading Recovery blinders off. We lost people.
Central Office is secretly adding positions. Some were created just for principals that Joseph wanted at Central Office. They don’t have specialized skills or training for these jobs, but they have been filled by minorities.
Everyone seems to know about these new jobs. Why has MNPS not announced them? Now we will have schools that need principals and the whole charade of letting the community select the new leader begins. Want to know the new leaders? Check local real estate brokers and see who has moved in from Maryland?
Joseph tricked teachers and parents into begging for more money for him and he will spend it on these new jobs.
Joseph will hide behind Chris Henson to answer his questions. Once he gets the council to give him the money, he will tell Henson that his services are no longer needed. He has used Henson. Has he threatened him? Is Henson close to retirement and afraid he will not get his pension? Where is the audit and the investigation? It needs to come out before the city gives MNPS any money at all.
I’d just like to see an ACTUAL literacy intervention PLAN for the district for K-8. There is none, and there hasn’t really been any since the state started the RTI mandate. And we’re not alone in this respect among districts. It’s just that we beat the burden of large numbers needing remediation.
So, Speering was at least thinking a little ahead of her time- grasping for what is at least a decent PLAN. Can it be improved on? Maybe. But you don’t gut your only thing that looks like a plan for the lowest level schools and then replace it with …… nothing.
In that sense, TC, you are 100% correct that the program didn’t “cost much”. It will cost “more” to have no plan in the long run. But our director only bears that “cost” concerning a literacy plan if he sticks around to see this story out to its conclusion.
you can almost see joseph pulling henson’s strings.