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.
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.
We are making progress
We need to address this area
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?
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.
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.
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|
|Historically Nashvillians do not raise their own taxes.||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:
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.