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.”
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.
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.