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.