MONEY, IT’S A GAS

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Saturday at 4:30 PM, early voting for this year’s school board race came to an end. Well, in all fairness, it was also the end of early voting for the governor primaries, the vice-mayor contest, and several other races. The early turnout for these races has been pretty impressive. A total of 56,843 people, or 14% of eligible voters, have already cast their ballot.

It was a long 10 days of early voting that saw me spending a great deal of time at the Edmondson Pike Library meeting voters. Something I enjoyed immensely. Y’all have the ability to touch my soul.

On the flip side though, I’ve discovered that running for office is one of those things that becomes so all-encompassing that it’s very easy to lose perspective. It becomes all you think about and you naturally begin to assume that it’s all other people are thinking about as well. And that they are attaching the same level of importance as you are to it.

Spend some time at the polls and that fallacy becomes exposed. Primary voter focus remains with the state level races, with the scraps falling to the other races. The good news is that the vast majority of voters are receptive to talking to you, and so with a solid pitch, and the credentials to back it up, you can sway people to your side. Never underestimate the power of a friendly greeting and a well-constructed elevator speech.

Unfortunately, the limited timeline and the need to constantly secure one more voter makes it very easy to lose sight of other priorities. I started to fall into that trap yesterday, but caught myself, and so I shut off the computer and asked the boy if he wanted to play some catch. We went out in the backyard and tossed the ball around for a bit, and then I took both kids to the pool. I didn’t secure any additional votes, but I certainly impacted two young lives.

With school getting started in about 10 days, I think this is an important lesson for teachers not to lose sight of. Over the next several weeks you’ll see school parking lots start to swell on weekends. There is a limited time schedule and the endless need to do just one last thing for their students, and it will cause teachers to begin sacrificing their own time to go in to work, uncompensated for their time.

Teachers, resist, and make sure you strike the proper work/life balance. Principals, don’t become enablers by publicly congratulating those who sacrifice their personal time. Don’t let unpaid work become even more of an expectation. SEL is just as important for teachers as it is for students, and we need to make sure that addressing teacher mental health is a priority.

While we are talking about the election, let’s talk money for a minute. This is another subject that has proved illuminating by being a candidate. Up until running for this election, and despite working on other’s campaigns in the past, I was fairly naive about the whole financing process of a campaign.

I knew that a candidate needed to raise money, and so they approached donors, but I didn’t really understand how that all worked or the real cost of a campaign. I was a little apprehensive because the money involved in the 2014 and 2016 races for school board was astronomical, with candidates raising a combined $350k. This year, things are considerably more subdued.

There are several reasons for the lack of money in this year’s school board race. First, many of the outside entities that contributed heavily in previous years are noticeably absent for this year’s race. Stand for Children and the Scarlett Foundation, two entities that invested tens of thousands in the last go around, have taken a pass this year.

Secondly, due to an unplanned Mayoral and Vice-Mayoral election, a crowded field for the gubernatorial primaries, and a high-profile state senatorial race, there is less money to trickle down to the school board level. The advice given to me back in May was raise early, spend early.

Lastly, fewer entities are doing endorsements this year. Endorsements tend to come with substantial financial rewards. As a prime example, neither the Nashville Scene, nor the Tennessean, have endorsed candidates this year. A break from the past.

Those organizations that are doing endorsements are attaching fewer financial rewards to them. Most endorsements are coming with either no money or a reasonable $500. Save for one, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. They are still trying to flex their muscles.

Here’s where things get interesting. Earlier in the year, I suspect due to the negative connotations they derived from previous elections, the Chamber changed the name of its political action committee to Nashvillians for a more Pliable School Board, or something like that. Ok, it’s actual name is Nashvillians for an Effective School Board (NESB). But you get the picture.

They are still handing out big money donations. Substantially more than other entities. For comparison, MNEA and SIEU both attached only $500 to their endorsement. But NESB awarded more than 10 times that amount to their preferred candidates.

In District 8, they gave their candidate Gini Pupo-Walker $4k. In my district, District, 2, they awarded their pick Rachael Elrod $7.5k. Hmmm… not sure why District 2 is worth more than District 8… but ok. District 4, Anna Shepherd, got no money because she’s running unopposed. In District 6, we have no idea how much they contributed because their candidate, incumbent Tyese Hunter, has yet to file a required financial disclosure. More on that in a second.

So let’s put this into perspective for a minute. That $7.5k the Chamber – let’s dispense with formalities and call them by their rightful name – infused into the race is $2k higher than my total earnings, which are a very respectable roughly $5k. An amount arrived at through donations from 35 different people. An amount I’m extremely proud of because I know the sacrifice that went into each of those donations. Many coming from teachers who this year will take home less money than they did last year. We’ll talk more about that in the future.

So with one fell swoop, the Chamber was able to give one candidate sufficient financial resources to put them in a place where they could focus on other responsibilities besides fundraising. Based on the fact that Mrs. Elrod only raised an additional $2,200, I can only assume that raising money did become less of a priority. I think it’s safe to say that the wife of a Metro Councilman with her background is capable of raising much more than $2,200 if necessary. But the Chamber made it unnecessary.

On an interesting side note, elections make strange bedfellows. Board member, and frequent critic of the Chamber, Will Pinkston, finds himself in alignment with the their goals, as he contributed $500 of the additional $2,200 Elrod raised. Just goes to show you… well, never mind.

In District 6, since we don’t know what their endorsed candidate received, we can only assume the Chamber awarded the full $7,500 to Tyese Hunter as well. That is significant because of her challengers, Aaron McGee has raised roughly $3,600, Fran Bush is in the hole, and Earl Latimore hasn’t filed disclosures. That Chamber money equates to giving a significant advantage to their chosen candidate. Unfortunately, money matters.

Right now you are probably thinking, “Whatever, TC. What’s the matter with a few business people who care about our school system donating some money to candidates that they think will improve outcomes? After all, businesses throw millions in to our schools with little return. So give it a rest and quit your belly aching.”

Fair point. Business leaders should be able to put their money wherever they want. That’s part of living in a democracy and is certainly their right. But is it their money we are talking about here?

During recent budget hearings, it came to light that the Metro Nashville Government subsidizes the Chamber to the tune of about $350k a year. In those budget hearings, CM David Rosenberg proposed cutting that subsidy. That seemed a reasonable proposition considering that city workers had their raises cut from the budget this year. Everyone should sacrifice. Council Members didn’t see it that way, and the Chamber got their money. I’m not going to give you the individual votes, but you look it up. You won’t be surprised.

To draw a clear picture, what’s happening here is that the Chamber is receiving tax payer money and investing in influencing local elections simultaneously. There may not be a direct line between the money received from tax payers and the money given to candidates, but ask yourself, if the Chamber has enough money to invest in candidates to the maximum legal amount allowed, while others are cutting their donations to candidates, do they really need your money to push their agenda?

For me, this influence isn’t a significant factor. In the immortal words of Sonny and Cher, “I got you, babe.” That, and 5 years of being in schools. 5 years of building relationships and establishing a reputation. Through this blog I have a platform to get my message out and to inform you on things that you might not normally be aware of. And let me tell you, your support, both over the years and at the polls, has been phenomenal.

In District 6, things are a little different, though. While all three challengers have excellent track records of working in schools with kids, along with great ideas to improve the system, they find themselves at a disadvantage in conveying those records and ideas to the general public due to financial restraints.

Mailers run around $1k a campaign and 100 signs run around $500, not including artwork which can run another $200. Not only is there little money for mailers and additional signs, but time that could be spent conveying their platform is instead spent on fundraising. I salute these District 6 candidates for their tenacity and willingness to try to climb the mountain in an effort to improve their communities, despite the considerable obstacle placed in their path. It’s a shame that their willingness is not rewarded with a level playing field.

So why has incumbent Tyese Hunter not filed her disclosures? I don’t know. There has been virtually no media coverage on the lack of information on who’s funding Hunter’s re-election. Which is inexcusable. This is exactly why a free and independent press is so vital to democracy. The fact that an incumbent can get to the final week of an election without meeting the prescribed election commission requirements should be of grave concern to everyone. Somebody needs to be held accountable.

I think it’s also imperative that going forth in next year’s Metropolitan Budget, we take a lot closer look at who’s getting subsidized and who’s not. We can’t just punish the people who make the city run while allowing others to continue to spread their influence unencumbered.

LAB RATS

Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) is coming to MNPS. Well, they were in 5 schools last year, but this year that list is expanding to 25 schools as part of a study by Florida State University. According to MNPS Chief of Instruction Monique Felder:

Twenty-five MNPS schools (see list of participating schools attached) will be involved in this study. Schools were selected based on interest and/or student achievement data. Because this study is an experiment, 13 schools will be randomly assigned to the Treatment condition and 12 schools will be randomly assigned to the Control condition in November 2018. The study will roll outslowly with Kindergarten teachers in the Treatment Group of schools implementing CKLA’s Knowledge Strand this school year(2018-2019); 1st grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2019-2020, and 2nd grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2020-2021. Kindergarten teachers in the Control Group will implement the CKLA Knowledge Strand in 2019-2020; 1st grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2020-2021, and 2nd grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2021-2022. On- going professional development and ALL materials will be provided to each teacher at no cost to the school or district.

Interestingly enough, all 25 participating schools are in the NW and NE quadrants. I’ve got some initial qualms. Primarily being the use of our students as guinea pigs. As a parent, I would have a hard time knowing my children would be placed in either the controlled or treatment group. I would want a guarantee that my kids are receiving the best possible instructional curriculum, not being used as a development tool.

Secondly, I’m real loathe to place even more responsibility on the shoulders of Kindergarten and first grade teachers that are already struggling to adapt to the state’s new evaluation tools. The state has put them in an untenable position by forcing them into a portfolio system of evaluation that is not fully developed, and now the district wants them to participate in a study that may do further damage to their professional reputation.

Sure, teachers are being told that CKLA lines up well with the portfolio model, but if that proves to be untrue, who pays the price? In a district that already suffers from a lack of trust, this just feels like a disaster waiting to happen.

National results indicate that CKLA has shown success, but in MNPS the results have not been as promising. Of the five schools currently piloting CKLA, none have shown overwhelming evidence of its effectiveness.

Further irony comes from the fact that several years ago, Tennesseans rejected the Common Core standards and created their own. MNPS is now conducting a study using a program that describes itself thus:

Only CKLA reflects what expert educators, cognitive scientists and the authors of the Common Core State Standards already know: background knowledge and foundational skills are the keys to early literacy.

POLL RESULTS

A lot of you had opinions this week. Unfortunately for Dr. Joseph and district leadership, they weren’t complimentary. Let’s look at the results.

The first question asked the question that NOAH asked at their school board candidate forums, “Do you support Dr. Joseph?”

150 of you responded, with 92 of you, 61%, saying “absolutely not.” 34 of you, 23%, indicated that you still wanted to say yes, but couldn’t. That means 84% of you answered in a negative manner. Only 1 of you answered, “absolutely.” 8 of you indicated that he still, despite challenges, had your support. I know that Dr. Joseph is a proponent of tuning out the noise, but it feels like the din is getting deafening.

Here are the write-ins:

I support good policy 1
MNPS Faculty member: I’m split between sadness and anger that my answer is NO. 1
He has the same issue as Braden! 1
The real question is does he support me as a teacher? Leaning no on that one. 1
Dr. Joseph should be supporting Staff and students. How I feel about him does n 1
NO. Dr. Joseph has become part of the problem, not the solution.

Question two asked for your opinion on the handling of principal Sam Braden’s actions at JFK Middle School. 145 of you answered this one, with 74 of you, 54%, referring to it as a dumpster fire. 48 of you, 34%, indicated that it was the same old incompetence. Only 1 of you, I’m assuming it’s the same person who answered affirmatively to the previous question, indicated it was being handled properly.

Here are the write-ins:

He has bullied teachers for years and gotten away with it. 1
This has been Sam Braden MO for years. Someone needs to check out the wife! 1
Despicable. No excuse for letting this go on 1
Intentional sweep under the rug 1
HR should have been put on administrative leave for gross incompetence! 1
There are others—Smith Springs is just as bad! 1
“I haven’t looked into it enough. That’s not my job.” — Tyese Hunter 1
Embarrassing! 1
Covering up slime. All HR has to go.

The last question asked for your prediction on the Vice-Mayor race. If Dad Gone Wild readers are to be believed, Sheri Weiner wins this race 51% to 35%. We appreciate MNEA head Erick Huth’s write-in vote.

Undecided 2
didn’t 1
I have not yet made up my mind. 1
Erick Huth… been around and knows all 1
*Who* not *how*

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. Feedback is always welcome and I will try to promote as many of the events that you send my way 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.

Above and beyond all… vote on Thursday. Tell your friends to vote on Thursday. Tell your friend’s friends to vote on Thursday. Every vote counts.

 

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IS THIS THING ON?

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“Experience has shown, and a true philosophy will always show, that a vast, perhaps the larger, portion of truth arises from the seemingly irrelevant.”
Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I write today’s post as dawn breaks. There are only two days left in early voting and I need to spend as much time at the polls as possible, and I’m trying to dash this off.

One of the joys of this campaign, has been the opportunity to meet and interact with so many of you. I can’t tell you the thrill I get when you walk up and confess to being a regular reader. It’s something that really fills me with pride and gratitude. I’m extremely grateful for your patronage.

It would be remiss if I didn’t mention the tremendous outpouring of support I’ve received from MNPS educators, both past and present. Y’all are the story of this election and when I win, it’s a story that needs to be repeated. This is what happens when teachers use their voice and I’ll make sure I amplify it. Not an hour goes by at the polls where I don’t meet either a teacher, or someone inspired by a teacher, coming to cast a ballot for me. All I can is…thank you.

CONTINUED HR FAILURE

The fall out continued this week over the actions, and subsequent mishandling of the investigation, of JFK MS Principal Sam Braden. On Tuesday he had a front row seat at the principal meeting seemingly impervious to charges of sexual and financial misconduct. On Wednesday, he was placed on administrative leave and MNPS HR announced a deeper investigation.

Last night, Channel 5’s investigative report Phil Williams went to the polling stations seeking feedback from school board candidates. Current school board member Tyese Hunter admitted that she hadn’t attended Tuesday’s closed door session of the school board because she was out campaigning.

When asked, “Based on what you know now, do you think it was properly investigated?”

Hunter replied,

“I don’t know enough now because I haven’t actually seen — I’m sure you probably did a show or something on it. I haven’t had an opportunity to see anything personally.”

Challengers for her seat, Fran Bush and Aaron McGee had their own opinions. With Bush stating,

“That is something that should have been handled very quickly,” she added. “Instead it lagged. It was not handled in a timely manner. That is the reason that the community was so concerned.”

McGee had the following to say,

“Once the allegation was made, the policy has to be followed to the T, and Dr. Braden should have been placed on administrative leave,”

Dr. Joseph has taken the unfolding controversy as an opportunity to admonish principals to adhere to the highest standards. At this weeks principal meeting he warned them of the perils of engaging in the act of gossip. I never understand why managers think that this tactic will work. It is a tactic that invariantly leads to more gossip.

If you don’t want people to gossip, than be transparent and supply a compelling narrative that is backed up by actions and facts. Devoid of a compelling narrative, people will supply their own and it is usually error ridden and negative. I think this is something that is covered during the first week of Leadership 101. Sorry, I’m tired and feeling a little snarky.

Joseph followed up his words with an email that was sent not once, but twice to district employees. An email that had many asking whether they worked for a school district or the Syndicate. My favorite was the bullet point saying leaders should not bribe. Up until this letter I was a little unclear on whether that was a go or no go. Consider the confusion cleared up.

Meanwhile as the Channel 5 story is still unfolding, over on Channel 2 another HR mishandling was being covered. Hey, if one news story is good…2 is great…right?

Long term MNPS employee Stephen Henry if you’ll remember was arrested a month ago on meth charges. Full disclosure here, I’ve known Henry for a number of years and consider him a friend. While I find his actions deplorable, I’ve also seen the flip side of Henry and fully understand the dark side of addiction. Thankfully he is seeking treatment and making progress. That however does not put things above reproach.

In light of those actions, Channel 2 took a closer look at his MNPS personal file and found that not everything was as it first appeared. Initially it was reported that Henry was transferred to Johnson Alternative Learning Center, a school were students are transferred because their behavior has led to expulsion, due to budgetary concerns. After News 2 asked multiple questions about this, a school spokesperson confirmed the real reason for the transfer was because of the parent complaints due to Henry’s job performance.

MNPS spokes person Dawn Rutledge broke out the common refrain used to defend MNPS HR this summer, she believes the error on the transfer form was a human mistake but that the school system is investigating what happened.

The investigation needs to go a lot deeper than this one incident and in fact, I would say a complete audit on the performance of HR needs to be conducted. It’s not enough to just shrug and say, “Human error” three times fast. Somebody needs to be accountable for the continuing incompetence that has plagued the MNPS Human Resource Department.

Unless of course it is all by design. In that case, we need to have a whole other conversation.

QUICK HITS

It’s been over a week now since the state of Tennessee has released the state and district results of this years TNReady tests, yet still there is not statement in response from the district on said results. Is the plan here to just ignore them and hope nobody will notice? It should be noted that the TN Department of Education makes results known to districts several weeks in advance before releasing them to the public.

Speaking of evaluations, the state mandated  pre-k/kindergarten portfolio model of evaluation has made it to my radar. Andy Spears of TNEd Report touched on some of the issues back in June. Last week scores were released and the clamor has only grown. While I don’t fully have my head wrapped around the issues yet, I’m dropping this here as a place holder for further investigation in the coming month.

Professional educator Zac Barnes continues to offer insight into educational issues via his recently launched Tip Sheet. Check it out.

NOAH this week completed a series of forums with this year’s school board candidates. One of their questions to each candidate was, “Do you support Dr. Joseph?” My response was that I support good policy and that should be the metric, not whether an individual is supported or not. I went further and said that I believe entirely too much focus is placed on whether individual board members support Dr. Joseph or not.

In my eyes, a board member’s job is not to support the director but rather to supervise them and ensure that they are carrying out the board’s directives as dictated by the folks that elected the board member. A role reversal seems to have occurred where some think that it is the director that supervises the board instead of the other way around. A correction needs to be made and the focus shouldn’t be on whether the board member supports Dr. Joseph,but rather, if the community supports Dr. Joseph. That is where question one of this week’s poll derives from. Just thought I’d offer some clarification.

Governor Hallam is on the way out the door and Andy Spears evaluates his exit interview.

I can’t seem to stop listening to the new Jayhawks record.

The new marquee is up at Tusculum ES and it looks fabulous. What a long strange trip it’s been. Now let’s talk about those needed additional classrooms that were cut from the original plans.

School starts back in two weeks. Send me your back to school pictures. The email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’d love to share them on the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Hope springs eternal.

Looking for school supply lists? View the lists here:

Colorado, like Tennessee, created the seal of biliteracy in order to recognize multilingual students. Unfortunately not many districts have taken on the work. Aurora isn’t yet offering the new seal of biliteracy, so Math teacher Susan Holloway took it upon herself to help 15 seniors at her school win the recognition.

While benefits of the seal of bi-literacy have been slow to materialize, Halloway offered this hope.

“I hope, No. 1, that it allows them to know just how good they are, she said. “This is above the high school level. It’s an advanced level of proficiency. I hope it invites them to participate in our world and I hope it helps to get them a job and that they take that whole understanding of their global citizenship with them.”

Wish I had time to write more, but the polls are calling. If you come out to the Edmondson Library make sure you give me a shout out.

Make sure you answer tis week’s poll questions and 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 campaign web page and sign up to help if you can.
 
 

 

 

LET NONE PRESUME TO WEAR AN UNDESERVED DIGNITY

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I try to adhere to a schedule of posting a new column regularly on Mondays and Fridays. At times, Monday has turned into Tuesday, but for the most part, I try to follow a set schedule. There are times when a midweek entry is deemed a necessity, and on occasion I’ll throw in the stray guest column or educator interview – I know, the great Tim Drinkwine interview is still lost to wander in editing purgatory.

This being the last week before election day, the last thing on my radar was the writing of a midweek piece. Unfortunately, the fates conspired against me, and a number of events occurred that couldn’t be left until Friday without comment. So here we are with a special midweek edition.

‘The fault, dear Brutus, lies not within the stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.’

The week kicked off with a special report from Phil Williams at Channel 5 News covering the accusations against JFK Middle School principal Sam Braden. Due to the story’s prurient nature, it could only be aired at 10pm. I think it’s safe to say that most viewers found the story extremely disconcerting. If the accusations hold to be true, then once again, MNPS Human Resources has dropped the ball.

It needs to be noted that before stories of this nature even hit the air, they are excruciatingly vetted by the news station’s legal department. I think, at times, there is a misconception that reporters write and air stories with little vetting. Nothing could be further from the truth. Legal makes damn sure that facts are verified and that the station faces as little legal exposure as possible.

While the story that aired is disturbing enough, it’s the documentation from MNPS files that is shared online by Channel 5 that pushes things over the top. It’s 130 pages long, filled with accusations against Braden and little indication of action by MNPS.

MNPS spokesperson Dawn Rutledge initially acknowledged that Braden should have been put on administrative leave pending an investigation, but, according to Channel 5 News, she claims that the initial leave letter was improperly drafted:

“There was some confusion regarding reissuing a corrected leave letter to reflect our current practice,” she said. “Unfortunately, the re-issuance of the correct version of the administrative leave letter did not take place and Dr. Braden returned to work.”

Huh? That makes no sense. It’s almost like admitting there was no priority attached to properly vetting the charges. It’s like they are saying, “We meant to correct that letter, but we got busy and…. well, you know.”

That should be unacceptable to everybody, and there should be some accountability when a task of this magnitude fails to get properly completed. Unfortunately, MNPS prefers to circle the wagons rather than address its failings in a transparent manner.

Word on the street is that Braden is not going anywhere. Dr. Joseph is going to leave him in place as the principal at JFK MS. How anybody thinks he can be effective in light of recent events is a mystery to me. But if you think about it, the strategy is no different than that employed over the last two years at Antioch HS. Deny, deny, deny, and when you can’t deny anymore… deny some more.

The school board has little to say about the situation. At a recent community forum for District 6 candidates, the question was asked if the candidates support Dr. Joseph. Incumbent Tyese Hunter replied in the affirmative, “100%. You can count on me to serve him.”

What’s that song again?

You know they can’t play on my court
Can’t hang with the big dogs
Stay on the porch 

‘All that Glitters is not Gold’

After three years as the head of MNPS English Learners program, Kevin Stacey resigned as Executive Director of EL two months ago and was replaced by Director Molly Stovall. Instead of posting the opening, conducting interviews, checking references, and hiring the best candidate to take Stovall’s place, Director of Schools Shawn Joseph promoted former Prince George’s County colleague and current principal of Paragon Mills ES, Dr. Joie Austria, to the position.

This move has raised some eyebrows because Austria’s tenure at Paragon Mills, by most accounts, could be, at best, considered a troubled one. Internal climate surveys did not paint a picture of an administrator who was deft at handling staff. There were also questions in relation to Austria’s qualifications for the position.

Let’s hop in the way-back machine for a second, and head back to January of 2017. That’s when Channel 5 News ran the story about several principal transplants who were not properly licensed in the state of Tennessee. Austria was among that group, and she had just become licensed in December after being employed by MNPS for nearly 6 months.

Apparently that mistake was not an outlier. When checking the TN Department of Education website and looking her up by her legal name, Maria Delores Nones Austria, I find that she has a Beginning Administrator License (ILL-B) with an endorsement for “Beginning Administrator PreK-12.” What she doesn’t have is an endorsement for English Learner Instruction.

Wait a minute. I had to check again. When I looked again at her licenses in Tennessee, something curious caught my eye. As of July 10, 2018, just two weeks ago, Austria was issued a “Practitioner Teacher” License with endorsements in both English 6-12 and ESL PreK-12. A practitioner teacher license is what is issued to a beginning teacher. Someone who is just starting out in the classroom. This begs the question: does she have the necessary experience to lead the English Learners program in this district considering she was only recently granted a beginning teacher license with an ESL endorsement in Tennessee? How does that make her qualified to lead this very important part of MNPS?

How does this not get caught by HR as a red flag? What exactly are the qualifications for a high level position such as this? Is this beginning teacher license the kind of qualifications needed for this position? It just doesn’t seem right. And given that she served in this position for months without any kind of EL certification or endorsement at all, I have to ask: is this the importance that we attach to the instruction of some of our most neediest kids?

A meeting is scheduled later this month between leaders of the immigrant and refugee community and Dr. Joseph. I hope that someone demands some accountability for this shortcoming. Having a second-in-command who does not hold the proper credentials or experience should not be acceptable to anyone. But what do I know?

‘Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?’

The MNPS District 6 school board race gets weirder and weirder everyday. A couple of weeks ago, there was a forum held, and all the candidates were invited to participate. The incumbent, Tyese Hunter, chose not to attend this one. All other candidates were in attendance.

The day after the forum, the facilitator of the forum posted a message to social media saying:

Hello Friends,
I was alerted that some information shared during Saturday’s District 6 School Board Candidate Forum may not have been accurate according to Metro Schools. I received the following information today from Metro Nashville Public Schools as a means of correcting any inaccuracies shared by candidates during the forum. Please contact Metro Schools directly for any additional clarification or information.

Two days later, a fact sheet from MNPS was posted. Huh?

I’m not even going to get into a debate about the veracity of the “fact sheet,” though I have to wonder how it is that on social media two weeks ago, Antioch HS had 37 openings, while according to the “fact sheet” only 17 teachers left. That’s some new math.

What I find concerning is that MNPS feels compelled to fact check a forum where the incumbent was not present. In other words, they are refuting statements made by her challengers that bring into question her effectiveness. That’s not their job, and in my opinion, crosses the line into Little Hatch Territory (Hatch Act).

If there were inaccuracies stated at the forum, it’s the job of the incumbent to counter argue. It is not the school district’s place to paint challengers as misinformed by doing the incumbent’s job. By weighing in here, MNPS is putting the candidates at a disadvantage. Not only are they now battling for the seat, but they are fighting against the district. Very troubling.

‘This is very midsummer madness.’

It has been an absolutely horrible summer for the MNPS Human Resources Department. In fact, I’d argue that under the leadership of Deborah Story and Sharon Pertiller, the department has plunged to new depths and regularly fails to meet the needs of the MNPS staff, whom they are supposed to serve.

Yesterday, Pertiller presented the recently agreed upon Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the service unions and MNPS. It was a 30-minute presentation, and it was clear to everyone watching that she wanted to be anywhere but at that meeting explaining employee rights.

These MOU’s are a huge deal that represent a great deal of from all sides. They deserve more than a cursory explanation that leaves principals with more questions than answers. The intent is to improve the climate at MNPS. Yet, Pertiller refuses to place any investment in them. Without HR’s full support, these agreements become toothless.

Coupled with all the other errors made by HR this summer, one has to wonder what is it going to take before Dr. Joseph holds them accountable? Based on the way investigations into sexual misconduct have recently been handled, could an employee, if needed, count on HR? Where would an employee turn to with the expectation of fair treatment if placed in an untenable position? Who’s going to enforce the MOU, seeing as the heads of HR seem, at best, unfamiliar with its contents?

The Human Resources Department can not continue to conduct business as they have over the last year. The department heads seem under the impression that their primary job responsibility is to protect Dr. Joseph. Sadly they’ve been allowed to continue under this illusion.

Hey, I’ve got an idea. Maybe the Communications Department could create a “fact sheet” on the responsibilities and obligations of the Human Resources Department. That could prove helpful.

That’s it for today. Early voting is going on as we speak until Saturday. Please, if you want to change the conversation, and you live in District 2, get out the vote for Thomas Weber. Also, if you are so inclined, check out my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can. I need every vote.

TEST FOR ECHO

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This past weekend, I sat down at the computer fully intending to take a deep dive into the newly released TNReady test scores. As happens so often, before I got to my intended task, I got sidetracked.

First, I read Andy Spear’s piece on the results at the TN Ed Report. Andy’s takeaway is as follows:

“So, we had a testing season full of lies, deception, disruption, and mixed-up tests but we’re supposed to look at the “results” of those tests and take them seriously? No thanks.”

Then I ended up over at Volume and Light blog reading Vesia Hawkins’ interpretation. Hawkins acknowledges the problems with this year’s tests, but argues they still have value:

Last year’s shockingly deplorable literacy scores sent me into an apoplectic rage. I simply could not grasp that more than 80 percent of children of color and 85 percent economically disadvantaged were not reading at grade level. Sadly, here we are one year later, still, more than 80 percent of Black, Brown, and children in poverty are not reading at grade level. A group of students in Detroit recently sued the state of Michigan for this very reason. Reading is the key that unlocks every other aspect of the educational experience. Without it, what else? Back to the chase: we have test scores. We must use them.”

I must stop and point out one, for lack of a better word, fallacy in Hawkins’ piece. She applauds MNPS Director of School’s Shawn Joseph for his repurposing of Reading Recovery teachers as first instruction teachers:

All I know is what I heard and the public position taken during the presentation resonates with me. Dr. Joseph proposed “restructuring” the Reading Recovery system in two ways: place the highly skilled Reading Recovery teachers in the twenty-one priority schools because as he so plainly stated, “priority schools have to be a priority” and instead of focusing on Tier 3 (greatest need) students, the former Reading Recovery teachers will focus on Tier 1 – whole group instruction. Nothing about this says restructuring, but I like it.

Call me when new Titan’s coach Mike Vrabel receives accolades for turning his wide receivers into linebackers. Teaching is like any other team sport; everybody has a role to play, and the team is most successful when you utilize people in a manner that reflects their skill set. But that’s another argument for another day.

After finishing Hawkins’ piece, I read PET director JC Bowman’s take. He points out:

Students improved most in early grades reading, and narrowed achievement gaps.  In addition, the results show a need for deeper, more sustained work to support improvement.  The release of the results of the latest statewide assessment, while flawed, do provide a data point for educators to consider.  We encourage them to look at the results, take the result seriously and consider the steps they need to take to help all students and schools succeed.

A key point that Bowman also makes, that I hope policy makers read repeatedly:

In general, we must always be careful in determining teacher performance based strictly on the test scores of students to whom the teacher is assigned during a school year. The risk of misidentifying and mislabeling teacher performance based on test scores is too high for it to be the major indicator of teacher performance, especially when you look at issues such as student demographic characteristics.

After reading all three of these excellent opinion pieces, I came to a realization. Before we can fully utilize the data that TNReady provides, we need to first agree that it is a valid form of measurement.

It’s like this, if I show up to help build a house, everybody involved in the construction agrees that a yard stick is a valid measurement tool. We all utilize the same yard stick, and so when we lay a board that is supposed to be 17 inches long, we all lay a board the same length.

That doesn’t happen in education. Here we lay out results and then everybody shows up with their own measuring stick. Some of those sticks are 35 inches long and some are 42 inches. Some of us even bring two measuring sticks and we utilize them in order to tell the narrative we desire.

On Twitter this past week, I read a statement on TNReady from MNPS board member Mary Pierce that got me thinking:

Initially, I must admit that I started an eye roll, but she’s not wrong. You seldom hear an argument about the results of a measurement using a yard stick. It’s an agreed upon measurement that continually produces consistent measurements. The yard stick measurement in Franklin is the same as the one produced in Nashville. The same cannot be said for state achievement tests. There is never a narrative around a decrease, but there is nearly always one around a growth point.

I’m not a testing guy. Full disclosure: in my opinion, entirely too much weight is given to them, and the results they produce form an incomplete picture that is prone to be used for political fodder. I think they can be useful as mile markers and to guide instruction if results are released in a timely fashion. However, school starts in three weeks. How much instruction are these test results actually guiding?

The other thing that bothers me about these tests, and this probably will get me in trouble, is the way we group students. We group students based on race and economic level. But do those grouping serve as true representations of the students placed in them. Are all black students the same? All Hispanic? I would argue that with some of these students, if you created a Venn diagram, the only similarity would be the color of their skin.

There is rightfully some celebration that minority groups scores grew and therefore the gaps are shrinking. But what does that really mean?

When we say scores for black students increased 1 point, what does that say? By now it’s commonly accepted that scores on standardized are as much a reflection of socio-economic status as they are learning. By placing students in sub-groups based on race we are subconsciously saying that all members of that sub-group have the same socio-economic status. I don’t think anybody would make that argument.

Let’s look at Hispanics for a second, since they as a sub-group showed a large amount of gains on this year’s test results. We all read the news and see the impact that the Trump presidency has had on immigration. That decline changes the socio-economic makeup of this particular sub-group. Is it not possible that some of those gains recorded this year are as much as a result of that shift as they are of actual performance? It has to play some role.

As more members of the individual sub-groups make socio-economic gains, it only falls to reason that students from those families will produce better results. Which again reiterates the importance of robust government policies for pre-K, affordable housing, increased wages, health care, and incarceration rates.

I understand that the creation of these sub-groups was necessitated because of members historically being chronically underserved. I’m just not sure that as America has become more diverse that the focus on the sub-groups doesn’t provide cover for hiding some of those students who are still being underserved and in fact gives us a distorted picture of achievement. At the very least it’s a conversation we should be having.

I suspect that this year’s results will produce an echo in the various silos of opinion across the state. But for an endeavor that requires as many resources and devotion of time as TNReady does, that shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone. We need a measurement tool that isn’t open to individual interpretation but rather one that acts as a consistent form of measurement.

IT’S THE CLIMATE

These days, principal pipelines are all the rage. There is good money in recruiting and training school leaders. And with good reason, as anybody who has ever worked under a bad principal can attest – I hear you Paragon Mills ES and Antioch HS.

There is also a growing awareness of the importance of culture in any organization. The most successful businesses all have healthy cultures. People want to be a part of them. Think about it, how often do you choose Publix over other options just because of the way you feel when you shop there?

Studies are showing that the same holds true in schools. According to study co-author and director of UChicago’s Consortium for School Research Elaine Allensworth:

A lot of times people think school climate is something you work on and take care of so you can get to the real work of teaching and learning, but what we find is learning is inherently social and emotional. If students don’t feel safe and engaged, they aren’t learning.

I concur wholeheartedly. Nobody impacts school climate like a principal. That point can not be overstated. I encourage you to read the whole article from EdWeek.

QUICK HITS

NOAH_Action is facilitating Candidate Meeting for School Board District 6 and 2 this week. Yours truly will be participating on Thursday. This, unfortunately, is one of the few opportunities this election season to see candidates on stage together discussing what matters, the issues. Please take advantage of the opportunity.

Big Picture High School student Emma Miller and Hillwood High School student Latiana Carter spent their summer writing and producing a two-hour play locally. “The Story That Ends” finished its run this past weekend at The Barbershop Theater. Kudos to the duo!

Many of you have either participated in or followed the many discussions this summer in regards to the value of teaching the classics. Maplewood HS teacher, and Project Lit founder Jarred Amato has been a driving force locally in that conversation. But he’s not alone.

According to the Chicago Tribune, four educators — Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena German, Kimberly N. Parker and Julia E. Torres — are aiming to foster a nationwide discussion to challenge existing sentiment about these books, while suggesting the persistence of the traditional canon is crowding out other perspectives.

Their project is called Disrupt Texts, and I urge everyone to check it out. The conversation can get discomforting, but we all need a little discomfort in our life.

Back to school time means back to school sales and ads. This year there seems to be an increased number directed at educators. I guess we are just not pretending anymore, and it’s become an expectation that teachers will utilize their own funds for school supplies. That’s not okay. Teachers, I urge you to resist this subtle entrenchment.

POLL QUESTIONS

I love it when a good poll comes together, and based on the amount of responses generated, this week was a good poll. Thank you for your participation. Let’s review.

Question 1 asked what your mindset was with school set to start soon. Out of 127 responses, 24% of you admitted anxiety was starting to creep in. 22% of you were already working on your classrooms. 9% of you were still deciding if you were going to show up, and only 3% of you were excited. Those results make me a little uneasy and highlight the work that needs to be done in teacher recruitment and retention.

Here are the write-ins:

counting vacancies and wondering about SUB situation with no ESS 1
Hoping to sub 1
Not able to get in the building. 1
going on vacation 1
Thankful I just retired! 1
Thank goodness Austria left Paragon Mills and we have sanity 1
Pissed I was hit 3x. No Cost of living adjustment, No Step, Insurance went up 1
Anxiety never left over the summer & it is getting worse now

Question 2 asked for your take on TNReady results. 130 of you responded to that question, with 31% answering that results were meaningless. 25% indicated they were about what you expected and 18% admitted they had no expectations. Only 1 of you indicated that they exceeded expectations. I appreciate Dr. Felder’s participation.

Here are the write-ins:

Sad. Very sad. All the while Joseph has convinced 1
So disappointed 1
Our instruction was rigorous & test-aligned. Scratching our heads now. WTH?! 1
Classes sizes are enormous. 35 is far too many. 1
Waiting for the spin doctoring. 1
What is high school DOING?!? 1
blah test scores. Just saying… 1
dysfunctional scope and sequence with lack of materials = duh! 1
You mean MAP predictions were wrong? How could that be? 1
It appears the teachers were right,teaching more new stuff doesn’t help scores! 1
Testing company was a flop 1
Growth measure is more important to me. 1
These tests this year are meaningless 1
SAD 😦 1
extremely disappointed…mnps is backsliding 1
Sad to hear that results were no better. 1
Wow. We really suck, don’t we?

The last question asked for your opinion on board member Jill Speering’s public criticism of Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. This was a popular question, and 135 of you responded to it. Out of that 135, 39% of you wished that other board members would see what she sees, and 24% applauded her for speaking up. All told, 86% of responses were of a positive nature. Only 5 people thought she was out of line, and 4 indicated she should turn it down a bit. Hopefully other board members are paying attention.

Before I give you the whole write-in list, I would like to respond to the first comment – “I love Jill… I don’t want TC on the board. You have an axe to grind’!” I just want to point out that if this is true, I’m just keeping with a South Nashville tradition. Current board member JoAnn Brannon ran in response to being dismissed as a principal by then-Director Pedro Garcia. Safe to say she had an ax to grind as well, yet she served with distinction for several years. It’d be an honor to follow in her foot steps.

Here’s the rest of the write-ins:

it’s too 1 sided and may be an outlier 1
very disappointed in the board evaluations of the other 7 1
Dr. J is hurting students of color. Wake up! 1
She’s rightfully frustrated but going to the media isn’t helping views of MNPS 1
Go get him Jill! I praise your truth! 1
It’s hard to know what the truth is—somewhere in that murkey gray area. 1
People are over it. We need to focus on our students. 1
Her evaluation was full of supporting data, unlike any of the positive evals. 1
Where is Will Pinkston? Used to respect his willingness to speak his mind. 1
Where’s Will Pinkston’s bravado now?

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. Feedback is always welcome and I 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 is underway… so please vote.

DAMN, BUT I’M TIRED.

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I know candidates from the last two school board races are going to scoff at me when I say this aloud, but it’s two days into early voting and I’m already worn out. I know that this year’s race pales in comparison to previous races in both scope and commitment, but still, running a campaign is hard work.

You may think that since you’ve helped out people in the past, you have an understanding of just how all-encompassing it is. I know I used to think that way, but trust me, it is so much more than you could ever imagine. Being a candidate has a way of overtaking everything in your life and pushing it to the background. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like in the past when the intensity started ratcheting up in early May. I don’t know that I could stand up to 3 months of what the last month has been like. So my hat is off to my predecessors.

I’ve come to realize how many really nice people there are out here. I’ve met some real decent people at doors and at polls. My favorite quote comes from a woman who, leaving the polls, stopped me and said, “I voted for you, though I don’t know anything about you. But you talked to me going in and standing in the hot sun has its rewards.”

I’ve also come to realize that we like to talk about fair elections and how everybody has a shot to win a position. That’s another nice myth, but the reality is that the game is rigged for those in the political class. Sure anybody can print fliers, place signs, and knock on doors. The reality is that all of those require a certain knowledge and understanding in order to execute them in an effective manner.

Access to donors is something that is contingent upon who in the political class you have  relationships with. You quickly find out that people aren’t just standing out here handing out money.

Left to your own devices, the simple task creating of a flier, getting it printed at a reasonable cost, and effectively distributed, can eat up the majority of your campaign time. And you still have to create walk lists to effectively knock on doors, design mailers, and coordinate volunteers. It’s all very daunting.

I’m not saying any of this to complain – okay, maybe a little bit – but merely to point out that 8 of the 11 candidates seeking a seat on the school board are participating in their first campaign as a candidate. That’s a big deal, and I’d like to give a little shout out to my fellow rookies. I’d be willing to bet that few of us knew exactly what we were getting into.

NO, IT’S NOT SWEEPS WEEK

School starts in about three weeks and MNPS can’t stay off the news again. Last week, Board Vice Chair Jill Speering appeared in a story that Channel 4 News aired on MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph’s evaluation by the MNPS school board. Speering and fellow board member Amy Frogge were quite critical of Joseph, and Speering was very frank in her responses to Channel 4’s questions.

While some may have taken exception to Speering’s remarks, I think it’s worth noting that for over a year she tried to deal with issues behind closed doors. Unfortunately, behind closed doors, answers to questions were not quite forthcoming or even adequate. There was little correlation between what she was hearing from teachers and what was being told to her by the administration. It would behoove us to remember that Speering taught for 35 years and she might know a thing or two about best practices.

Some have tried to mute her criticism by claiming that she only began speaking out after Joseph refused to fund Speering’s favored reading program, Reading Recovery. That argument falls apart, though, when you look at the timeline. Joseph, in fact, cut Reading Recovery in an apparent response to Speering’s increased criticism. Speering was critical well before RR was cut.

It’s also worth noting that virtually all school board candidates have been critical of Joseph to some degree. Is the expectation that whomever wins a seat on the board will become muzzled once they are on the board or will the board start to outwardly address the growing criticism by the public? Time will tell.

It looks like Phil Williams over at Channel 5 News has a new series of stories ready to drop come Monday. I must admit that I’m not sure exactly what he plans on covering, but if the promo is any indication, it’ll be on the rampant sexual misconduct occuring throughout the district. The stories that I have personally heard over the last two years are simply appalling, and the district’s response to some of these cases has been seriously lacking. Again, I don’t know what stories Williams is covering in this report, but you might want to tune in on Monday.

QUICK HITS

TNReady results came out this week. Their release was conveniently timed with Dr. Joseph’s vacation to Spain. After all the hoopla over MAP scores over the last several months, expectations were running high. Unfortunately the results did not meet the hype. Per an article in the Tennessean, MNPS students scored as follows:

  • English —  26.7 percent of third through eighth students are on track or higher in the subject, up from 25.4 percent in the 2016-17 school year; 18.1 percent of high school students are on track or higher, down from 24.4 percent last year.
  • Math — 26.1 percent of third through eighth students scored on track or higher, down from 27.2 last year; 9.5 percent of high school students are on track or higher, down from 12.1 percent last year.
  • Science — 42.7 percent of third through eighth students were on track or higher, down from 46 percent last year ; 25.6 percent of high school students are on track or higher, down from 35.7 percent last year.
  • U.S. History — And 10.3 percent of the district’s students scored on track or mastered the subject, down from 14.9 percent in the previous year.

I’ll look at scores a lot closer this weekend and offer some thoughts on Monday. My preliminary thoughts are that I don’t think these scores exceed anybody’s expectations.

I’m hearing this week that belated congratulations are due to recently departed Executive Director of Innovative Schools LeTrecia Gloster. Word is that she is expecting a child. I know ladies at central office are disappointed that she left before they had a chance to throw a baby shower. Everybody loves a shower.

Two weeks ago, DGW ran a poll on who y’all thought would win the school board seat in District 6 and the result was a big win for the incumbent. This past weekend there was a forum held in District 6, and the results of the straw poll taken afterwards were a bit different. I’ve got to say, in Aaron McGee and Fran Bush, District 6 has two really good candidates. Take time to talk with them, to get to know them, you’ll be impressed. I’m glad it’s not me having to choose between them.

Remember that time when we told everybody we were really broke, but then we went from 5 LTDS leads to 8. But one quit the day before training started and we asked current LTDS’s to apply for the job even though the LTDS pool was empty and a replacement would have to come from a classroom teacher, therefore leaving a classroom uncovered? Fun times.

Remember that other time when we told board members that we only had 186 teacher openings which was better than last year when we had 266 openings, but we didn’t remind board members that this year we had 500 students fewer than last year? Fun times.

Out in Denver, Superintendent Tom Boasberg is stepping down after nearly 10 years. Per ChalkbeatCO:

Boasberg, 52, and his wife have three children, ages 17, 15, and 14. He said his decision was personal and not driven by the politics of the district. His oldest daughter, Nola, graduated from high school this year – a milestone he said made him stop and think about his commitments to his family, as well as his commitments to the district and to Denver students.

I wonder if they’ve gotten Sito Narcisse’s resume yet?

This is the time of year when my social media feed is filled up with pictures of administrators and teachers engaged in data sharing activities. Not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but few things inspire me less. Just saying.

Wish I had more for ya this week, but that’s all I got. Tomorrow it’s back to the campaign trail.

Hope y’all have an awesome weekend. Don’t forget to answer the poll questions. And if you are eligible to vote in District 2, please get out and vote. 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 campaign web page and sign up to help if you can.
 

 

 

 

 

 

TELL ME A STORY…

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I’ve often said, “I’m not the smartest man in the room, I’m just fortunate enough to know a lot of really smart people.” To me the greatest benefit to the growth of the Dad Gone Wild blog is the access it provides to the ever-growing network of educators who are regular readers. I’ll write a story and then learn even more on the subject through reader feedback. Friday’s story on Advanced Academics is a prime example.

To get a handle on what’s going on with AA in our schools can be a difficult proposition. There are several different programs – International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, Cambridge, AVID, and Dual Enrollment – and even within the same programs, they look different at whatever school your child attends. Policy has shifted, at all levels, over the last couple years further complicating things.

That said, AA is clearly an area that MNPS is making progress in and is deserving of accolades. I was discussing MNPS’s lack of promotion with a parent this weekend and they remarked, “They release the scores and they give accolades. What more do you want?”

That opened up the door to a much larger issue in my opinion. My answer to the question is, I need the narrative. You can’t just tell me the work is important. You have to tell me the why. You can’t just tell me we are making progress. You have to show me how. I need to see real world impact. Give me the narrative.

Dr. Ryan Jackson offers a prime example of what I’m talking about. Jackson was the Assistant Principal at Maplewood HS until two years ago when he went over to Maury County after his Maplewood Principal, Ron Woodard, took the Number 2 job there. Jackson has a deep commitment to STEAM programming and believes in its merits.

Yet he didn’t show up at Mt. Pleasant HS and say we are doing STEAM and you better get on board because I think it’s important. Instead he told the narrative. He demonstrated why he believed in the programming and why it was important. He doesn’t just supply theory and supposition; he uses real world applications and tells the stories of how individuals are impacted. He uses the narrative to build excitement and buy-in.

When Jackson shows up to ask for increased funding, he has tangible reasons for why he needs that money and concrete ways it will benefit students and their families. It’s not just phrases like,”It increases equity” or “it is good for kids.” He tells you why “it is good for kids” and how “it increases equity.”

One of the most important line items in last year’s budget was the paying of fees for individual students’ Advanced Academics tests. This was one of the largest moves towards equity in access that the district had made in years, yet it sat squarely on the chopping block.

Advocates fought to have it funded, and they were successful, but how much were they helped by MNPS? How many council members knew the individual cost of the tests and exactly how families are impacted? How many knew the benefits that other students had already reaped through the successful completion of these programs? How many understood the results from past years or knew the trajectory MNPS was on? Every one of them should have, but I suspect less than a quarter did.

You may argue that the district doesn’t have time for this kind of PR work. I’d argue the opposite; the district does not have the time not to do this work. You can throw all the key performance indicators in the world up on a projection screen at a board meeting and, sans a narrative, it won’t mean a thing. You’ve got to tell the story and make it compelling.

You can be mad at Metro Council and the mayor for not fully funding schools all you want, but you if can’t tell them the why, then you can’t be surprised if they don’t find the how. School Board member Will Pinkston lectured at the last board meeting on the importance of 7 words, “We are a chronically underfunded school system.” I would argue that we only need to focus on one word: “Why?”

Here’s one of the Advanced Academics stories that I think you’ll find illuminating. There is an unspoken myth about the kind of student that enters the AA programs. The truth is, few students enter at the national norm of “readiness” for the course work, as the knowledge needed for TNReady does not necessarily translate to AP. Some have seldom done regular homework before or read an entire book or written a paper longer than a page and a half (though some have). Yet, many of them are successful at learning college material. Even for those who do not pass the AP Exam, surveys a year later show that they earned A’s in college their freshman year.

On Friday, I talked about kids earning diplomas through the International Baccalaureate program. What that means can be a little confusing. Earning a diploma is a very daunting task and without understanding the process, it’s equally difficult to evaluate the success of the program. As one MNPS educator explained to me:

IB Diplomas are what the district often shines a light upon, but they are a poor measure of IB success. The IB Diploma just means that a student earned enough points across a range of courses from IB assignments/exams; however, IB students also earn certificates for each course. Each IB course is graded by the IBO on a scale of 1-7. A score of 4 typically earns college credit for the course. The IB diploma is earned when a student achieves 24 cumulative points across six courses, but it gives little extra benefit versus doing well in individual courses. As such, a student could do well in IB History and IB Math but struggle some in IB English and not get the IB Diploma. The student would still earn college certificates for History & Math but not earn the whole diploma. I would argue that this was still a successful student and that IB was a cumulative benefit.

It’s also important to remember that some students take individual classes, but not the whole IB program. Their goal is to earn 1-2 classes of college credit; diploma percentages would not capture any benefit to them.

I mentioned that kids who take the advanced classes risk taking a hit to their GPA. For clarification, the students keep their GPA boost if they stay in the course, regardless of the exam. They do lose two perks: they lose their +5 point incentive points added to their third quarter and fourth quarter grade, and they lose their automatic exemption for the teacher’s final exam (for which the AP exam replaces). Important considerations.

The exams being paid for (IB students still pay a registration fee of $122 that MNPS does not cover) is one of the most transformative things that MNPS has done and has changed classrooms in a positive manner. Again, in the words of an MNPS educator:

With AP exams paid for, my AP enrollment was the largest in years as fewer students tried to transfer out. I went from 22 in the class to 31 students, and I went from 12 test-takers in 2018 to 29 this year. The students had a greater sense of focus as well, despite the greater participation, our average score did not drop.

As other kids see kids that look like them and live like them, thrive in the advanced academic programs, it’s only a natural progression that they will want to join in. The programs can only get bigger and more successful. But that can only happen if we do our part, if we tell the narrative. We have to stop focusing on the what – more resources – and begin focusing on the why – the impact on the classroom and the individual students.

DID I NOT MENTION THAT?

Here’s another tale about the power of the Dad Gone Wild network. On Friday, I wrote about MNPS school board member Amy Frogge pulling the extension of the TNTP contract from the consent agenda at the last school board meeting. Her objection was more to the vendor than to the individual contract. In defending the extension, it was argued that this contract was for PD only, and that nobody was using it. The implication being that TNTP was not being utilized in the district. An implication that many readers found puzzling.

Several of you wrote to me that TNTP was in fact being utilized by Jere Baxter MS and Joelton MS. I was further informed that all priority schools were utilizing TNTP and that new priority school head Lisa Coons is a big proponent of TNTP. Here’s where the soup gets a little thicker: TNTP is a proponent of Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA). CKLA is being pushed by district leadership, despite a lack of buy-in from principals. There are those who believe, not without merit, that Reading Recovery was canceled in part to make room for CKLA.

To be fair, there are those that believe in CKLA. I take no issue with the pushing of a curriculum as long as it’s research backed. My questions would be, why are we not having a more transparent conversation around its implementation? It would have taken but a minute to clarify that schools are utilizing the services of TNTP through other contracts. I would also wonder aloud why we are utilizing one curriculum for priority schools and not using the same curriculum in our not-as-high needs schools.

This whole exchange just drives home the point to me why reports from the teaching and learning committee need to be included in board meetings. If those reports were given regularly, then all of us would have a better understanding of what is actually happening in the classroom and the impact board decisions are having in the classroom. Which is supposed to be the reason why we are all here, right?

NEED A JOB?

According to the Tennessean, MNPS has 189 vacancies that need filling. Presenting at last week’s board meeting, Sharon Pertiller, the Human Resources talent strategy director for MNPS, updated the board on the district’s hiring status. Pertiller indicated that the hiring position this year was improved over last year, when the district needed to fill 266 vacancies.

Let’s keep a few things in mind, though. Briefly mentioned at the bottom of the article is the information that MNPS displaced 82 teachers. What nobody is talking about are the Glenn/Caldwell teachers who were displaced when the two schools were merged. So we created a pool of teachers in need of jobs and we used that pool to fill openings. Not exactly a result of improved recruiting.

In order to actually evaluate the success of recruiting efforts, we’d have to know the actual number of certificated positions at this time last year and this year. The article says MNPS has about 6,400 teachers and administrators. If last year we had 6700 and this year we had 6400, then 189 versus 266 does not indicate progress. To be fair, I doubt the swing is that much, but with 162 schools in the district, if each school lost 2 positions… it could be.

The question of the number of positions becomes more important in lieu of a recent email from central office to principals that would seem to indicate a hiring freeze. Though to be fair, despite repeated readings, I can’t decipher the intent of the email. Combine this email with a bullet point in Pertiller’s Power Point presentation to the board that stated, “Adjust staffing, e.g. combining classrooms and utilizing subs to support the teacher of record”, and you’ve got some red flags.

QUICK HITS

Man, there ain’t no crazy like Prince George’s County crazy. In today’s episode, the PGCPS school board appointed Monica Goldson as acting CEO of schools. News that wasn’t exactly welcomed by the community.

The Metro Health and Educational Facilities board approved on Thursday $13.6 million in tax exempt bonds for KIPP Academy to build a new elementary school in Antioch. I certainly am not looking to restart the charter war, but this is a bit of a problem. KIPP runs 5 schools already and this one’s application was rejected by the district. They took advantage of a new law that allows for a school that’s been rejected by the local LEA to apply to the state. The state approved the application.

It’s my opinion that if the state approves the application, the state should foot the bill. To circumvent the local board and then present them with the tab shouldn’t be an option.

Hard to believe, but freshmen orientations have already started for MNPS students. Here’s the schedule for the 2018-2019 school year. Some schools will offer transportation for students, so please check with your child’s school.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a quick look at last week’s poll questions.

The first question asked your opinion on the amount of questioning some board members have been doing as of late. 90% of you answered in a manner that indicated you appreciate the questions and would welcome more. Four of you thought the board needs to ease up and stay in their lane. Here are the write-in answers:

The only 2 doing their duty are Speering and Frogge. 1
MNPS Board Job: Don’t be a shill. Looking at you, CBuggs et al #itstheanswers 1
How has the ?ing made the school system better 1
The blind defense of Dr J is hurting kids 1
Did Maritza have to pay back her stipend?!? 1
Only Frogge and Speering are doing their job 1
Why are the only two asking questions always getting eye rolls and voted down wh 1
We need to change the law and elect a teacher to the BOE 1
Why don’t most board members really seem to care at all about employees?

Question two asked those of you who’d been involved with MNPS’s advanced academic programs to give feedback on your experience. The majority indicated that it was a favorable experience but acknowledged that improvements could be made. Here are the write-in votes:

Better than reg classes, but like everything else, sabotaged by central office 1
Further segregates kids within a school. Look at stats.

The last question asked if you had ever given a cash donation in a school board race. The majority of you had not, and those that had, only a handful of times. You can rectify that, you know. All you have to do is go to tcforschools.com. Just saying. Here are the write-in votes:

any day to get a new board 1
Not often enough; will participate more in future. 1
Only for Weber, Frogge and Speering

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. Feedback is always welcome and I 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.

DO WE HAVE THE CORRECT EQUATION?

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There has been much talk, as of late, about the value of advanced academic coursework in public education. MNPS makes the International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge, and Advanced Placement (AP) programs available to kids across the district. This year there was increased access to those programs because MNPS agreed to pay for testing costs associated with them. Last week, results were released for students who participated in the IB program.

Some of you may not have known that IB, Cambridge, and AP classes all have fees attached to them, some for every test taken and some just for a student’s senior year. In the past, those fees have impacted access, and only the kids whose families could afford these fees enrolled in the courses. I know, some of you are jumping to the defense here to argue that no child has ever been turned away because of the fees and that schools have always found a way to ensure those kids who wanted to take the classes could take them. Fair enough, but I’ve always wondered about those kids who never made it to the gate because of the specter of cost.

To some kids, the fees meant they took the class, but they never took the test. This is a bit of an issue, because without taking the tests, students couldn’t potentially earn the college credits that came with passing the tests. It was argued though, that students’ exposure to the rigor of the coursework was highly beneficial to them even if they never took the tests and earned the credits.

Last year, a couple of things transpired on the national, state, and local levels to change the game. On the national level, as part of the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), districts and schools were given credit towards their evaluation for the number of students enrolled in advanced classes. Thus, an impetus was created to get more students enrolled in advanced classes.

On the state level, policy changed on how advanced classes impacted student GPA. Previously if a student enrolled in an advanced academic class, they received points towards their GPA. The state changed that policy to one that states if students don’t take the test, they don’t get points towards their GPA. So in essence, the benefit of just taking the class is now offset by the potential hit, due to engaging in more rigorous coursework, to a student’s GPA.

Locally, MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Joseph recognized the inequity created by forcing families to shoulder this financial burden. In response, he declared that for the first year ever, the district would pay for these tests. Make no mistake, this was a huge step towards granting access to all. That cannot be undervalued.

I understand that this recap is a very cursory overview of a subject that really needs a book to be fully covered. I spent a lot of time this past year studying our advanced academic programs. They are multi-tiered, complex, and, at times, confusing for stakeholders. It is an area that, for the most part, MNPS is doing really good work.

So back to those recently released scores. I noticed that upon release, there was a great celebration of the scores on social media. This made me excited, and I prepared to write a congratulatory story. Then the results were sent to me and I faced a quandary.

In what world is a 56% success rate considered celebratory? Surely the number should be much higher in order to indicate success.

To be fair, I expected advanced academic scores might be low this year because we were now granting access to extra rigorous coursework to students who have previously not had that experience. It was my theory that scores in these initial years might be low, but with increased exposure, increased success would follow. Now is the time to focus on access and allow results time to follow. Still, 56%…

I went in search of people whose opinions I trust and asked them, “Does this really count as a win?”

The answer was a resounding, “Hell yeah, this counts as a win!” As a friend told me,

“The thing most people don’t understand about IB is that the classes are at least as difficult as AP. I would argue math HL (higher level) and foreign language classes are much more demanding. So we are talking about a cohort of kids who decided at 16 that they would enroll in what amounts to 6 AP classes. Getting the diploma means they passed in all six classes. 56% of the kids who undertook this marathon won. And won big. Tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships.”

Individual stories paint an amazing picture. One kid won a full free ride to Belmont. Another received, based on their scores, $30k towards their education at UC Boulder. Still another was awarded $17k in assistance towards her education based on her IB coursework.

It was further explained to me that,

“In 2017, Hillsboro High School had 32 diplomas. These cohorts are not the magnet leftovers. They are from Antioch and West Meade and Crieve Hall and they choose to come for this challenge. The IB program at HHS averages a 26 on ACT. We’ve had national merit finalists each of the last four years. 56% is huge for recruitment. To tell kids, ‘Look, others who come from the same backgrounds and neighborhoods did this, and you can too.’ Yes, it’s demanding and challenging, but that’s what life is all about, doing hard things that we didn’t think we were capable of. I get fired up thinking about what we’ve accomplished.”

Let’s be clear as well, a 14% growth rate is nothing to shake a stick at.

The advanced academic programs are not perfect. I’ve heard from several parents that navigating the waters can be very treacherous, and I think communication needs to be tailored in a manner that recognizes that it is not just students embarking on this journey for the first time, but families as well.

It is disheartening that the only real celebration of these scores comes from individual schools and teachers. MNPS, as a district, has remained strangely quiet. Choosing instead to trumpet MAP scores that don’t hold up under scrutiny.

If you’d like to know more about advanced academics, I urge you to call the people over at the AA office. I promise you that you will not find a more transparent and helpful department in all of MNPS, and that’s not a backhanded compliment. They are just good people, doing good work. There are also quality people at each of the individual schools willing to help and inform as well. Take advantage of them.

Later in the year, the Cambridge programs results will be released, and I look forward to celebrating them as well. ‘Til then, way to rock it, IB kids!

QUESTIONS

At this week’s MNPS board meeting, a list of 30-something PD consultants was brought before the board on the consent menu to have their contracts extended. The contracts are part of a list of potential vendors for individual schools that have been subjected to the RFP process. I urge you to watch this conversation, as it contains quite a bit of information that may not be generally known. The conversation starts at around the 9-minute mark.

The fun starts when board member Amy Frogge asks to pull the contract for TNTP. TNTP was formerly known as the New Teacher Project and was founded in 1997 by Michelle Rhee. Frogge’s opinion was that research has shown that TNTP has not been as effective as it could be. Furthermore, since we have local resources like Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and Lipscomb University, it was her opinion that increased investment with those institutions would pay greater dividends. A reasonable argument.

It was then explained that due to state regulations, individual schools are permitted to choose their own vendors and that the district attempts to compile a list for schools to choose from in order to provide some uniformity. Frogge says, “Fine, but I don’t think TNTP should be on the list.”

Mary Clark from MNPS’s Federal Programs department reiterates that they are just one entrant on the menu from which schools can choose. They are just one vendor in a group who were selected to be on the menu in 2014 after being put through the RFP process. The contract expires at the end of this month and this was an attempt to keep the menu robust by extending their contract. Upon further prodding, it was revealed that nobody is actually using the program, but since it’s already been through the RFP process, so they want to leave it. Huh?

Here is my restaurant analogy. I might have a Spam sandwich on my menu because a couple of years ago I thought people might like it. But that assertion has proven false and nobody ever orders it. Am I just going to continue to leave that sandwich on the menu, or am I going to try to add one people might order?

I understand that the analogy isn’t perfect. Keeping an item on a food menu requires having inventory items on hand, and I don’t believe that’s the case with TNTP, but still. Shouldn’t we focus on quality over quantity? If nobody is using it, pull it, replace it. Seems simple.

Speering then proceeds to pull 11 individual contracts from the consent menu and ask that we put them on the agenda for a teacher and learning committee to review. Again, a reasonable request. Here’s where things get interesting.

When the floor is opened, board member Christiane Buggs is the first to speak. After discussing her research into the board adding a property tax referendum to the August ballot, she goes on to say,

“We may be to blame for why we are having these budgetary issues. Because we have caused Nashville, and the greater community, to lose faith in us. And when I say us, I don’t just mean the board, I mean MNPS.”

She goes on to describe how the board, through its raising of issues, has negatively impacted the school district. She concedes that robust conversations could have improved the byproduct, but it’s unclear exactly when she thinks those conversations should have taken place, though she alludes to several months ago. It’s clear that she feels that the open questioning of Dr. Joseph is the primary element in the lack of trust MNPS is currently infected with. She goes on to say that,

“To have council members approach me and say if we trusted you all more, we probably could have passed it (funding bill), if we just had more faith. And sometimes they would say Dr. Joseph, but realistically, they could have been saying the administration, or MNPS as a whole. If we just had more faith we could have given you more money.”

The rest of her speech is a lecture to other board members, I’m assuming the brunt being directed at Speering and Frogge, on how the board has done a disservice to the students of Nashville. In her opinion, the board should merely serve as a vehicle to promote the district and raise money.

Board member Will Pinkston picks up where Buggs leaves off, “You had me at hello.” He goes on to reiterate what she just said and states,

“You are correct. This board has failed for over a decade to make the case for adequate funding. We need to educate people on 7 words, we are a chronically underfunded school system.”

First of all, I don’t understand how a board member whose recent attendance rate at board meetings is of the level of Pinkston’s feels he has room to lecture anyone about failing students. If he were a student, his chronic attendance would qualify him for check and consent status, Secondly, both he, Buggs, and the majority of the board, have the equation flipped. It’s not the questions that cause the distrust of the system; it’s the answers. So instead of continually blindly publicly defending Dr. Joseph, they should start demanding better answers.

Are we really arrogant enough to think that if board members just remain quiet, and say nothing but positive stuff, the public won’t form their own questions? Without seeing anybody actually raise those questions, and devoid of satisfactory answers from the district, they’ll create their own answers. I can promise you that the majority will default to the negative if left to independently form their own opinions. Transparency doesn’t create distrust; the opposite does.

Buggs is right on one thing, though. This board has let the students of Nashville down. They’ve done so by placing the defending of a director above the defending of the quality of education the children of Nashville receive. They’ve chosen to place a higher value on symbolism, as opposed to achievement. They’ve refused to do their job of oversight, and furthermore, by not publicly reassuring the public that they are diligently watching their investment, and ensuring that it’s returning proper dividends, they’ve eroded that trust that would potentially afford greater resources devoted to the district.

This concept that people are just going to blindly fund public education devoid of any evidence of return is foolish. If your 14-year-old son walked through your living room wearing expensive sneakers with a comic book tucked into his back pocket slurping on a milkshake and told you that his allowance wasn’t allowing him to meet his needs, would you immediately raise it? Yet that’s the expectation when it comes to the funding of public education.

Yes, we should focus on the 7 words Pinkston mentioned. Public schools are chronically underfunded. But part of the problem is that they also chronically fail to convince people that they are being good stewards of current resources. The only way that I persuade anyone to give me more money is if I convince them that I truly need it.

Any good salesman will tell you that you can’t sell a product if you don’t 100 percent believe in it. We should be focused on convincing the board members and the community that MNPS and its leadership are good investments. You can’t do that without honesty and transparency. Lose either and you foster distrust.

Not all of this lack of trust should be laid at Dr. Joseph’s feet. But the lack of discernible progress in increasing trust the last two years belongs squarely on his shoulders. A year ago, then-STEAM executive director Kris Elliot stood up at a central office meeting and said, “I’m just going to go ahead and talk about the elephant in the room. MNPS suffers from a lack of trust. Nobody trusts anybody.” Within two months of making that statement, Elliot was gone. Failing to face truths does not solve problems.

If the MNPS school board is going to do nothing but hire a director and evaluate him once a year, what’s the point of their existence? Why even meet twice a month? Why not just write the evaluations from home and phone them in? They are already overly depending on the data that Dr. Joseph provides them without independent verification. We could save over $100k in salaries and spare us all the drama. That’s the question the state was asking in 2008. Do we want to open the door to that question again?

This campaign season, I’ve had people donate $25, $50, $100, $250 to my campaign. I’ve quite honestly been very humbled by these donations. It’s money from people who have many other things they could use it for. If I’m going to take their money, then I think I owe them something other than a “thank you” and a yard sign. At the very least, I owe it to them to do my best to protect their interests. I take that responsibility very seriously and believe others should as well.

A lengthy conversation ensues at the board meeting on the topic of approving contracts, one that hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to revisit in the future as MNPS executives David Williams and Tie Hodack raise several salient points and issues. Some of which I think are rather concerning, and I’m grateful that they are attempting to get a handle on these issues.

In closing, Dr. Gentry warns that the board is getting into the “sausage making.” I’d argue that not enough of the board members understand how the sausage is made and are voting on policy they have no idea on how it will impact classrooms. This is made evident by the face of surprise Dr. Gentry made upon being informed about the vendor vetting process – akin to the look that Queen Elizabeth likely made on being informed that Columbus had discovered America.

Like I said, I’ve got much more to say on this conversation, but if I continue… it’ll be another 3000 words. So I’ll leave it here for right now, but encourage you to watch the video and form your own opinions. As always, I am interested in hearing them.

QUICK HITS

Since I’ve already written too much, I’m going to leave you with just a couple quick hits. Long term MNPS educator Stephen Henry seems to be making great progress on his road to recovery after his arrest for meth. Addiction is a terrible master. Friends have started a GoFundMe account. If you can help, please do so.

I don’t know how many of you are paying attention to what’s been transpiring in Prince George’s County Public Schools as of late, but since I’m a firm believer in “you can tell where a man is going by looking at where he has been,” I’ve kept an eye on them. Quick update: Last week the Washington Post did an article on why CEO Kevin Maxwell said he’s leaving, yet he hasn’t left yet. Yesterday it was announced that the board had agreed to an $800k settlement with Maxwell. On top of that, apparently yesterday one of the board members was assaulted by the board chair. I wonder if Anna Shepherd knew this option was open to her?

Here’s a side note for you: the chair in PGCPS is a relative of County Executive Rushern Baker III. Joseph brought Baker to an MNPS principal meeting in February where he introduced him and solicited support for him. At last look, none of the MNPS principals voted in the PGC Democratic primary, which unfortunately for him, Baker lost. Is this MNPS’s future?

Dr. Monica Goldson will take the temporary role of CEO, the PGCPS Board of Education announced Thursday night. Goldson is the Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning at Prince George’s County Public Schools. County Executive Rushern Baker will appoint the interim CEO “in the very near future,” the school system said in a release.

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome weekend. Don’t forget to answer the poll questions. And if you are eligible to vote in District 2, please get out and vote. 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 campaign web page and sign up to help if you can.

THE RESULTS ARE IN

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One of the most frequently asked questions as of late is, “When is the school board going to evaluate the director of schools?” I now finally have an answer. This week, the board completed their assignment, and the results are in.

Upon hearing that all evaluations were completed, I filed an open records request. Here are the evaluations for your evaluation.

Director’s evaluation – Individual Board Members

Directors Evaluation – Composite

I reviewed these evaluations yesterday and weighed my opinion. In the end, I decided that my opinion was no more important than anyone else’s, therefore I would just share the evaluations with minimal commentary in order to allow you to form your own opinions unencumbered. Hopefully, some of you will choose to share your observations with me.

That said, there are a few things that I would be remiss if I didn’t point out.

Many of you have already read board member Jill Speering’s evaluation, as she’s posted it on her Facebook page. To say that Ms. Speering is critical would be an understatement. To say that she lacks supporting evidence to support that position would also be an understatement.

At a time when leaders repeatedly refuse to lead, Speering should be applauded for her courage and her diligence. It is never easy to be the one who speaks out and calls attention to problems. It’s even harder to dedicate the personal time and resources to do the work and document why you are being critical. Speering does both.

Agree or disagree with Speering’s position, you can’t refute that she has done her homework and presented her arguments in a clear, concise manner. As a reward for her efforts, others have attempted to ostracize her, marginalize her, and outright dismiss her. Through it all, Speering has kept her feet on the path and continued to move forward.

I always find it ironic that we loudly proclaim that we want children to be “critical thinkers,” yet we castigate adults who actually display those traits. Doing the research, evaluating the research, forming an opinion based upon conducted research, and then defending that opinion is not always a pleasant task. In fact, as the kids say, often it sucks. Many leaders try to stick their toe in the water and then succumb to the pressure and back out of the pool. It’s nice to see one walk the talk.

Secondly, there seems to be an entrenched narrative that when Dr. Joseph took over, MNPS was in a state of utter disrepair. Much like Trump declaring that he had to save America, there is an attempt to paint Dr. Joseph as a savior striding into the wasteland to save the natives from themselves. That story is not rooted in reality, and is perpetrated by those who are attempting to drive an agenda or are ignorant of history.

In 2009, when Dr. Register arrived in MNPS, the district was under corrective action and on the cusp of being taken over by the state. Register’s arrival coincided with a time where the district had failed to meet state achievement goals 5 years running and a 6th failure could lead to the school board being disbanded and the state completely taking over the district. In short, the “old white dude” from Chattanooga had his work cut out for him.

In contrast, Joseph arrived at a time when the district was no longer in corrective action. The Academies had been established at our high schools and were receiving national recognition. MNPS’s EL department had begun consistently meeting state established goals. Enrollment in MNPS was growing and schools had begun making academic gains. Board member Will Pinkston himself even recognized that Register had made some positive gains:

“If you’re flying an airplane and you start spinning out of control, the first thing that they teach you is to get the wings level so you can keep flying,” says Will Pinkston, a school board member. “No one argues that Register got the wings level, and that’s a monumental feat.”

Now that doesn’t mean that the world was perfectly rosy under Register. There were definite improvements needed, and upon arrival, Joseph has faced some daunting challenges. Interestingly enough, upon arrival Joseph listed one of those challenges as follows: “When I walked in, I saw 22 principal vacancies; I think we had 10 or 15 central office vacancies.”

This year has seen 27 principal vacancies filled and at least 15 central office positions filled. It should be noted that most of those vacancies upon Joseph’s arrival were due to the board chair ordering a pause in hiring, in order that the new director could choose some of his own candidates. District leaders were on a pace at the time to have all positions filled by Memorial Day.

Three years after his departure, I’m not sure how relevant it is to continue to make comparisons with Dr. Register. Continually bashing Register is like blasting a man who just emerged from a hole for not building a house. Sometimes you need an excavator and sometimes you need a contractor. Both are difficult jobs and both have their unique challenges.

I encourage you to read the director evaluations and form your own opinions. Keep in mind after reading them that this year, the even-numbered seats on the school board are up for election. Early voting starts this Friday and election day is August 2nd. There is no better way to voice your evaluation than through the voting process.

WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE…

On Friday, I told you about the SEL training that was canceled due to a lack of funding. A move that many found troubling, as it’s hard to grasp why the district would have financial shortfalls one week into the new fiscal year.

In a true Marie Antoinette moment, district leaders headed off this week to Harvard to discuss the very subject that Nashville teachers were poised to receive training on. Reportedly at a cost of $30K for a team of 8 to participate in a week of training. Our team of 8 consisted of Dr. Joseph, Tony Majors, Shree Walker, Robin Wall (McGavock), Watrecia Lawless (Napier), Pippa Merriwether, Judge Calloway, and Melissa Jaggers (Alignment Nashville). It should be noted that Calloway and Jaggers paid their own airfare.

Sometimes in writing this blog, I’m put in a position where I have to criticize people I truly respect. This is one of those cases.

SEL implementation falls under the Department of Student Services, which is headed up by Tony Majors. It’s bad enough for district leadership to participate in this trip after failing teachers, but it is particularly galling for Majors to be a participant. SEL training should be a priority and as such, to not recognize that training for MNPS teachers was not adequately funded in a timely manner is a major fail on many different levels. One that shouldn’t earn a trip to Harvard. Think about the difference in perception if Majors had owned the failing and recused himself from the trip as a result. That’s called modeling and it’s a form of instruction that is continually lacking from a district that continually touts the importance of SEL while not backing up those words through its actions.

The funding of teacher training stipends was an issue that arose last year and therefore should have been on people’s radars; that it wasn’t is inexcusable. I write this down as another example of the price we are paying for having a culture where leadership is not held accountable, and personal gain is placed as a priority. It is hard to get children to buy in to SEL principles when adults refuse to adopt them themselves. I continue to be a big fan of Majors and I’m sure I’ve irritated him with this assessment. But the truth is, on this one he struck out, and one never wants to get a reputation of giving a pass to those you favor.

Putting out a statement that training was canceled due to budget constraints is going to have implications throughout the year. Whenever a resource is not made available for any initiative, the perception will be that it is because the district is broke. During my years in the restaurant business, it was always drilled into me to never let people think you are financially struggling or else they will go somewhere different. I can’t help but think the same holds true with a school district. Let’s cross our fingers that this doesn’t hold true.

QUICK HITS

I have been meaning to mention this one for a while. It appears that buses for field trips are going up in cost this year – from $120 to $175 for three hours (overtime cost is also going up per hour). This will impact equity. Economically disadvantaged kids need the rich experiences of field trips they may not otherwise have, yet they’ll have to stretch the most to absorb the additional cost. Title I schools can almost always find reduced admission or grants to cover admission cost for field trips, but the buses (and paying for them) are kind of a separate piece, harder to get donations to cover. I hate to think about all the teams now having to decide what field trips to cut from their kids because of this hike. (Teachers will probably just dig deeper into their own pockets to make up the difference.)

The increase is without a doubt reasonable, as rates have probably been static for at least a decade, but I wish that we would put more thought into the impact on ED kids when making these moves. Once again, we talk about equity while our actions say otherwise.

Speaking of experiences, long time readers know how important I think recess and play is. And when I say recess, I mean unstructured play. I’ve posted in the past how recess increases learning and decreases discipline issues. Despite mounds of evidence touting its benefits, play has to continually fight for space in the school day. Peter Greene writes an excellent piece on why we have to fight even harder to preserve its importance. As he states, “There’s a certain kind of adult in the world, a kind of adult who looks at a bunch of children running around a yard laughing and playing and thinks, ‘Man, somebody needs to get those kids organized.'” Don’t be that adult.

Man, the rumors about the motivation for the departure of recent Maryland transfers are swirling like sands through the hourglass.

At today’s principal meeting, number 2 guy Sito Narcisse purportedly announced that the budget freeze for schools has been lifted. Though he won’t be putting that in an email. Plausible deniability?

Lisa Coons has become the new EDSSI in charge of priority schools. Coons has been doing a lot of the work already so this should be a seamless transfer, and actually an upgrade at the position.

Congratulations are in order! Dr. Braina Corke, assistant director of Metro Schools’ Nutrition Services, was recently awarded the President’s Award of Achievement at the National School Nutrition Conference. Dr. Corke currently serves as the president of Tennessee’s School Nutrition Association.

Have y’all seen this? Pretty cool, huh? Thank you again to MNEA for your endorsement.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a quick look at last week’s poll results.

The first question asked for your opinion on growth mindset theory. This one received quite a few comments emailed to me. Those comments fell on both sides of the discussion. Everybody does agree, though, that it is important to try to be as positive as possible.

I did receive some comments about the value of students who work hard versus those with a general aptitude who refuse to work hard. It’s always been my experience that if you have an inbred disposition towards something, you will naturally work harder at it. Those who practice guitar the most diligently tend to be those who have some innate talent. That makes it hard to separate where innate talent ends and hard work begins.

Furthermore, when we say kids aren’t working hard at something or applying themselves, often that relates to what adults want them to work hard on or apply themselves to as opposed to actually depicting their work effort. At some point I’ll try to explore how much of measuring learning is really about measuring compliance. That should heat things up.

The number one answer to the first question, 36%, was ‘I take some, I leave some.” The answer “A bunch of bunk” came in second with 29% of the vote. Here are the write-in votes:

Not surprised something new is on the horizon without research to back it. 1
Sounds bogus, but somebody is going to make a bundle of money off of this. 1
It’s good to try your best and then try again but no student is ever the same 1
It does help show that there is room for growth. It encourages effort. What’s wr 1
I’m on board with it for the purposes MNPS is using it for. Not for extreme case 1
Dweck’s work was never meant as an intervention 1
agree with your take on it 1
Another case of academics who haven’t been in a school for a minute 1
A fad that isn’t even implemented well…

Question two asked which of Dr. Joseph’s recently departed hires you’ll miss the most. This one was won by the write-ins with 47 responses. Number two was “my favorite is still in the wings” with 36 votes. Mo Carrasco came in third with 8. Here are those write-ins, though I must admit that I’m confused by the inclusion of Hank Clay:

None of the above 5
None 4
None. 1
Who are these people? 1
Joseph is still here… 1
None of them! I hope the rest leave SOON!! 1
All were awful 1
Good riddance to bad rubbish 1
I’m supposed to miss them? 1
won’t miss any of them and wish more would leave 1
Maybe they should all go? 1
You are using sarcasm, right? 1
I won’t miss any of them. 1
LOL please leave Sito 1
I’ll be happy when we see tail lights of the entire entourage. 1
None.. will be glad when he, Felder, & Narcisse leave 1
LOL fire them all 1
I wish more would go 1
Good riddance 1
None of these. 1
Sito needs to leave! He does nothing! 1
Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you. 1
None! Can more leave? 1
These folks sit in the ivory tower. I never interact with them in my school. 1
How long until Michelle Michaud is gone? 1
Can Sito please leave already…. 1
Who are these people? Temps? 1
Nobody! None of them helped me or the kids I teach, but they made some money. 1
Peace out to them all. 1
Won’t miss any of these 1
How can we miss them when they didn’t do anything? 1
None of them 1
The ones yet to hit the exit door 1
none of the above? 1
None of them! He should go too! 1
Waiting for Joseph’s departure. What a mess. 1
At the end of the day, what did they contribute? 1
Hank clay

The last question asked for who you thought was going to win the school board race for District 6. I must admit that I’m surprised that Tyese Hunter comes out on top with 42% of the vote. Knowing the number of readers I have in the Antioch area, I would give some weight to those numbers. Fran Bush comes in number 2, trailed by Aaron McGee. What I suspect is happening is that McGee and Bush are splitting the vote and allowing Hunter to potentially win re-election. There is a candidate forum scheduled or this Saturday.

Here are the write-ins:

Someone who will speak TRUTH on Dr. J 1
Anyone but Hunter please!!! 1
Who I want to win and who I think will aren’t the same. 1
Does Joseph have a favorite 1
Go Earl! 1
I will attend the forum with an open mind 1
Still deciding 1
Hopefully not Tyese 1
Don’t know 1
hopefully someone other than Hunter

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. Feedback is always welcome and I 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.

HARD KNOCK LIFE

10

‘Stead of treated, we get tricked
‘Stead of kisses, we get kicked
It’s the hard knock life!

– Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z

School starts for MNPS in just over a month. And it may be July, but like a character from a Charles Dickens novel, the ghost of budgets past continues to haunt current district leadership.

Next week, many of MNPS’s teachers were scheduled to engage in training on restorative practices and other SEL-related initiatives. After a very successful SEL conference, teachers were excited to get started expanding their knowledge and practice of SEL principles. Alas, it was not to be. Midweek, those scheduled to participate received the following in an email:

Due to the funding that Student Services received, based on the 2018-19 operating budget for MNPS, all SEL professional learning for the month of July will be cancelled.  This will include professional learning sessions in the areas of Restorative Practices, COMP, and SEL Foundations.  Dr. Major’s team will be notifying educators who enrolled in these SEL sessions through Performance Matters, but I wanted you to also know about this situation.  The major issue is that there are no funds available to pay stipends to staff during the summer.

Schools should still focus on implementing their Tier 1 behavior management plan and MTSS which will be reinforced during our Leadership Launch Week July 9-13.  Student Services will offer additional  professional development opportunities after school starts, and teachers can use PD days to attend, or if your school set aside money for Code 16 days, you may want to offer that time to some ha to attend.  Schools that had arranged for a SEL training as part of their in-service can plan to proceed as originally scheduled.

I am very sorry for this disruption in the opportunity for our educators to learn more about SEL practices.

Unbelievable. A couple of weeks ago, MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph penned an op-ed for the Tennessean titled Our The Best Days are Ahead of Us. In it, he painted a rosy picture of the future for MNPS. Ironically enough, one of the imperatives he cited was this:

As we move into the next school year, the board and my team must collaborate on strategies to continue to support our employees, giving them the training and compensation that they deserve to afford our children a world-class education. 

Yet, here we are, 5 days into the new fiscal year, and cancelling essential trainings due to budgetary constraints. The disconnect between what is said and what is done is poised to engulf another year.

In my eyes, this is akin to a husband and wife having a lengthy conversation about the household budget after a series of financial setbacks. The husband tells the wife things will be tight, but he has got it all under control, all she has to do is believe in him. The wife is reassured and feels good. She loves her husband and wants to believe in him. Three days after payday, she goes to buy groceries only to have her debit card rejected due to lack of funds. Trust takes a hit.

I’m sure that MNPS leadership has some kind of convoluted, with just a touch of reason, excuse for why this budget shortfall happened. They may even try to cite the lack of funding by the city as an excuse. However, like the husband in the story above, shouldn’t MNPS know what their income and resources are? Do they not have their priorities set to ensure that those things are fully covered?

Whatever the excuse, the bottom line is that training on a so-called district priority got canceled because of lack of funds only 5 days into the fiscal year. The message sent is that despite their lip service, the district doesn’t feel that SEL training is essential. If they did, the money would be there. It’s really quite simple.

Let’s rewind the Dr. Joseph “Summer Hits” tape back a bit further and replay his speech from the SEL Conference. Remember where he vowed to take better care of adults and made the joke about “feeding the teachers or they’ll eat the kids”? Not so much, huh? Once again, we are provided with an example of why many in the room found no humor in the joke when it was made.

In canceling SEL training, the district not only denied teachers essential training, but once again they took money out of teachers’ pockets. Here’s the dirty little secret that you may not know unless you are a teacher, or the spouse of one: teachers count on summer professional development pay, not only as a means to improve job performance, but also as a vital income supplement.

Those teachers who were signing up for training next week were counting on being paid $85 a day for three days. That’s roughly $250 that now will not make it to their bank accounts. Add this instance to the fact that due to a lack of a raise this year, paired with increased insurance costs, next year many teachers will take home less money than they did last year. Then there are supply costs and let’s not forget the texts for the IFL units that teachers bought last year. What starts to emerge is the picture of an administration that not only doesn’t want to hand money to teachers, but one that can’t keep their hands out of their pockets.

I don’t know about you, but if you promised to pay me for a job, and I cleared my schedule in order to perform it, only to have you tell me a week out that you couldn’t pay me for that job, I’d be highly skeptical about the next assignment you offered me.

Of course we are not supposed to ask why there are “no funds available to pay stipends to staff during the summer.” Like the aforementioned wife, we are supposed to be trusting and just have faith. Even though funds come up short for essentials. After all, this is nothing but a disruption in opportunity.

You know what’s not being disrupted? Dr. Joseph and his hand-selected team traveling to Harvard University’s PELP Summer Institute. No lack of funds for that trip. Remember what we budget for is public validation of what we consider important.

This latest budgetary conflagration comes on the heels of frozen school budgets, dips into the rainy day fund, contract overruns, and inaccurate budgetary numbers. There is currently an ongoing audit, coupled with an investigation, of MNPS spending. Joseph has been very defensive about this audit, indignantly proclaiming that he has done nothing wrong and when the audit finds no fraud, he expects an apology.

Personally, fraud is at the lower end of my concerns at the moment. My first question would be where is the money and does anybody have idea how much is being spent and where? After we pull the budgetary threads together, and there is some semblance of clarity, whether there is fraud or not will reveal itself. But first, we have to get a clear picture of exactly what our financial situation is, and currently, I don’t think anybody can answer that question with any certainty. In fact, this all is starting to feel a whole lot like one of those teen movies from the 80’s where Mom and Dad go out of town and return to find out that the kids have thrown a kegger and the house has been wrecked.

Some school board members don’t see it that way and are reluctant to dive into the monitoring of the money. They argue that their job is one of governance and is not administrative. By asking too many questions, independent of Dr. Joseph’s input, they are getting out of their lane and getting into administrative work. For them, I refer back to 2009, when MNPS was taken over by the state. What I wrote almost two years ago based on the Garcia administration is becoming almost prophetic.

To make matters even more interesting, this week also saw school board member Dr. Sharon Gentry send a letter to Metro Council (Letter to Metro Council – MNPS Capital Needs) raising questions about the proposed sale of the MNPS Transportation Center located at 336 Woodycrest Avenue. As Gentry points out in her letter,

The Transportation Center is not a parking lot, but rather a site where buses and other vehicles are maintained, fueled, and repaired. Without this property, MNPS would be unable to manage the fleet required to operate the school system. Selling this property likely would result in no additional revenue because the district would need to acquire and equip another piece of property where similar functions can occur. The replacement cost could exceed revenue generated by selling the property. Funds for a new location and to move the Transportation Center were not included in the capital improvement budget recently passed by the Council.

Very legitimate concerns. Based on this letter, it appears like we may be in for a protracted discussion about which properties to sell. My question would be, where will the $13 million needed for operations come from while that discussion takes place?

When it comes to this year’s budget, there seems to be a lot more questions than answers. I hope somebody comes up with some answers soon. In other words, I hope Mom and Dad get home quickly.

BOARD MEETING

Next Tuesday, July 10, is the only board meeting of the month. Looking at the agenda, it appears little ground will be covered outside of the consent agenda. Often times I get comments from readers that warrant being cited in a post. In regards to next week’s board meeting, one reader writes,

Will the board mail it in on the final meeting date this coming Tuesday? My guess is yes, since there has been so little governance this year. In Joseph’s first year, a good job was done getting the board to cooperate with itself (less charter arguments) but in year two now it seems that all that work was mainly to quell dissent with respect to the Director. With multiple canceled or missed opportunities for governance in the last year, there seems to be little united push going on. Missed retreats and even this week a missed capital needs meeting (aren’t we rebuilding two high schools at the moment?) mean we aren’t talking about the long term. And the long term is scary. Redistricting and more closures are coming. People just haven’t woken up yet, especially the board.
Questions that should be asked on July 10 but I doubt they will be:
What takeaways are there from the board’s evaluation of the Director?
AP results should be in. Did greater access pay off?
How will schools get families on assistance signed up for lunch subsidies? It’s not automatic.
What’s the plan for filling all the open math positions?
Inquiring minds want to know.
MINDSET THEORY
A year or so ago, at a PAC meeting for Advanced Academics, I watched a presentation on the Growth Mindset. Essentially, the argument was that a child was capable of growing their IQ if they just had a growth mindset. Growth mindset interventions typically teach students that the brain is like a muscle and can grow with effort. I was skeptical at the time and as mindset theory has taken a greater hold on the education world, my skepticism has only grown.
The whole concept seems to me to be a denial of the role of genetics in our inherent potential. NEWSFLASH… I can have a growth mindset and practice guitar all day long for 20 years, but I will still never be John Mayer. The good news is he’ll never be me either. That’s what we should be celebrating, our individual talents.
We readily accept the role of genetics in athletics and to some extent the arts, but for some reason we dismiss their role when it comes to academics. We fall prey to the “either/or” mentality of either “All kids can become exceptional at academics” or the “you don’t believe all kids can learn” trope. The truth is hard work and perseverance can overcome a lot of obstacles, but that doesn’t mean everyone is capable of performing at the same level. But I don’t think everybody should perform at the same level. We all have different talents and skills, each worthy of recognition.
Online magazine The Conversation reveals that recently completed studies have shown little evidence that supports mindset theory. In looking at the research they make the following conclusion:
Our findings suggest that at least some of the claims about growth mindsets – such as how they supposedly have profound effects on academic achievement, benefit both high- and low-achieving students, or are especially important for students facing situational challenges– are not warranted. In fact, in more than two-thirds of the studies the effects were not statistically significantly different from zero, meaning most of the time, the interventions were ineffective.

They also offer a warning that, in the current environment, should probably be heeded:

Time and money spent on one thing means that those funds and that time are not being spent on something else. School officials, policymakers and other stakeholders may want to think twice before they buy a growth mindset intervention product or dedicate part of their curriculum to teaching growth mindsets thinking it’s going to make a difference in children’s academic performance. Our research suggests there is a good chance it won’t.

QUICK HITS

Here’s what Dr. Joseph is reading this summer:

  • Outward Mindset, Arbinger Institute
  • The Four Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, Jim Huling
  • The Purpose Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren
  • No Opportunity Wasted: The Art of Execution, Bishop Joseph Walker
  • Leadership on the Line, Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky

Hmmmm… I thought that Outward Mindset was on the list last year. Isn’t Arbinger the same group who wrote Leadership and Self-Deception? Don’t they have contracts within the district? Oh well… move along… nothing to see here.

Principals don’t have to worry about their training being cancelled next week. When it comes to money, we may not have it for teacher stipends, but we always have it for consultants and outside vendors. The district has 5 days of fun planned for them including a workshop on 5 key points school leaders must consider before responding to student activism with regard to their First Amendment considerations. Not rights, but  considerations. I want you elementary school principals taking copious notes during that one.

And another one is gone. EDSSI/Priority School head Latricia Gloster is reportedly on her way back to the DC area. Gloster was another one of Dr. Joseph’s recruits.

Rumors are swirling that change is also in the wind in the MNPS communications department. Word is that it’s no more warmest regards and a quick promotion in the public information officer position. If you are keeping score at home, that’ll make number 3 since Janel Lacy held the position.

REMINDER: DISTRICT 6 SCHOOL BOARD FORUM:
Meet and hear from the candidates* running for the District 6 (Southeast Nashville) seat on the MNPS Board of Education. The event is FREE and open to the public.

*Note: Ms. Hunter has respectfully declined to participate in this event and has been given an opportunity to provide a statement of support for her campaign.

Event registration link: https://district6forum.eventbrite.com

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome weekend. Don’t forget to answer poll questions. 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.
 
 

 

 

OH, OH, TRUST ISSUES

7

Over the last several months, I’ve been highly critical of MNPS leadership and some of the policies they’ve enacted. In talking with teacher friends, they acknowledge the shortcomings of leadership but counter with the argument that in spite of all the turmoil, teachers are doing amazing work in the classroom. An assertion I don’t dispute.

Other people will offer skepticism to my criticism and say, “It sounds like you don’t think that anybody is competent in MNPS.” An argument I wholeheartedly refute. In fact, I would offer that I feel just the opposite. In the teaching ranks, and at the administration level, MNPS is filled with some incredible talent, albeit not as much as there once was, but incredible still the same.

It’s that very talent and dedication that gives cover to the district’s lack of leadership and the bad policies being implemented. What invariably happens when a shortcoming is exposed is that teachers and administrators – who, for brevity’s sake, I will lump under teachers – get together and figure out a workaround. The workaround allows progress to go forth, but it doesn’t allow the system to operate at full capacity or long term sustainability.

As Marshal Leslie points out in her blog post, The “Art” of Workarounds:

At their core, workarounds are caused by processes and systems that do not support the work that must be completed.  While they are typically temporary fixes, workarounds are also testaments to the creativity of staff that are not equipped with the tools needed to accomplish the job at hand.  So often we commend these actions as brilliant displays of “out of the box” thinking.  In reality, workarounds represent a glaring example of tradeoff thinking.  In order to achieve performance in one area, another key element (Satisfaction, Quality/Safety, Time/Utilization, or Financial) is sacrificed.  Take the example of medication overrides.  While valiant efforts are being made to reduce or eliminate override occurrences, workaround processes still exist that allow deviation from the approved (and safest) process for medication administration.  Allowing this deviation reduces the need for the real time problem solving efforts that will eventually lead to the resolution of the issue.  A short term need has been met, but long term patient safety has been degraded.  When the system is stressed, failures will likely occur.

That example is from the medical world, but the same holds true in education as well. A prime example would be last year’s literacy plan. By September it had become apparent that for numerous reasons – inappropriateness of texts, progress rate, lack of materials – the literacy plan was not going to work. Teachers immediately got together and collaborated on creating individual workarounds for their individual buildings. Any progress that was made in literacy this past year came through those individual workarounds.

Personally, I appreciate the ingenuity and skill of our teachers, but unfortunately those workarounds allow district leadership to claim credit for gains that they didn’t earn. Those gains allow for the false presumption that quality policy had been enacted, and while it may need some tweaking, wholesale changes are not required. Because of that false assumption, the system will continue to function based on the workarounds created by teachers, which will provide some success but never reach capacity.

The literacy plan is but one example – hiring practices, screening for gifted students, substitute teacher procurement, and testing being others – of policy that forces those doing the work to create workarounds in order to achieve any measurable success. I would argue that MNPS as a whole is becoming a district built upon workarounds.

The tragic outcomes of depending upon workarounds for solutions means that we fail to create and implement policy that has the ability to hold up under pressure and produce lasting and replicable results. Go back to last year’s literacy plan and ask the following questions:

  • How do we replicate results due to teacher turnover and variation of implementation in individual schools?
  • Since the quality of the workaround varies from school to school, how do you insure that the “opportunity gap” does not grow?

Having to rely on a workaround solution puts undue pressure on those who are doing the work. Look at the sports world for an example. Lebron James is considered to be one of the greatest NBA players of all time, yet he has very few rings comparative to his talent. It’s widely recognized that his lack of rings is due to the lack of supports he’s had in his career. Whether it’s been due to lack of coaching, lack of quality game plans, or lack of supporting staff, the reality is that James’s career has been one of having to find a constant workaround.

James has the skill, like many of MNPS’s teachers, to create workarounds that result in a degree of success. In James’s case, he’s been to the NBA Finals 9 times. He’s only won the title 3 times though. Every time his team was beaten by a team that was recognized for having superior organization. Imagine if he had always played on teams that allowed him to play to his strengths and not have to create workarounds? How many rings would he have won?

James is set to join his 3rd team in his 16-year career, since he joined Cleveland twice. Invariably there comes a point in each stint where James comes to the realization that the workarounds aren’t getting him rings and he searches for a situation that will provide better supports. It’s not much different for teachers. They grow weary of the work involved in developing workarounds and they explore other options. Thus we see the large churn of teachers MNPS is experiencing this summer.

So keep in mind that when I criticize, it’s not the teachers who are my targets. I am fully aware and supportive of what they bring to the table.

Some might also argue that I have a negative bent. I would counter that argument by saying I am positive that we have some of the most gifted educators in the country, and with the proper supports, we wouldn’t be just winning games… we’d be winning rings.

NEW APPOINTMENTS

Last week, it was announced that there were two new appointees for the positions of district Executive Directors of School Support and Improvement (EDSSI), Steve Ball and Carl Carter. Ball was previously at East High Magnet and Carter was at the Academy at Opry Mills. Both are highly respected educators. While some question the depth of Carter’s experience, everyone praises both him and his family’s decency. It is safe to say that both of these gentleman fall into the category of good people. And we wish to congratulate them and wish them success.

It is the process I find myself once again questioning. I refer to these as appointments because near as I can tell, neither EDSSI job was ever posted. “Wait a minute!” you say, “I thought it was MNPS board policy that all job openings had to be posted.”

Well, technically that is correct. Section 5.105 states:

The board is committed to efficient and cost effective recruitment practices.  Vacancies shall be advertised using appropriate internal and external recruitment sources in accordance with established procedure.  A deadline for receiving applications shall be established and disseminated with the vacancy notice.

But you have to have somebody willing to enforce board policy. And well… that hasn’t exactly been a strong suit of late. Keep in mind that board policies are also in the process of being updated, so there may be some confusion.

That doesn’t soothe the irritation of long-term MNPS educators who have been diligently working for years and feel that they are ready to take the next step in their careers, only to be denied the opportunity. It also doesn’t quell the assumption that MNPS has a hidden agenda in their appointments. While I personally don’t know Carter, Ball’s reputation is certainly not that of a “yes” man. Still, due to the lack of transparency, the two men will begin their tenure amid a clamor of whispers that can potentially make a hard job even harder. Are you seeing a pattern yet?

A MATTER OF TRUST

Friday I mentioned a comment that Dr. Joseph made at the Music City SEL Conference. He stated that next year the district will take greater care of the adults because they’ve learned “if you don’t feed the teachers, they’ll eat the students.”

Some folks understood the reference and shrugged it off. Some wrote it off as a joke in poor taste. Many teachers were offended. Facing a year where teachers would be assuming more responsibilities and taking home less money, it showed a lack of empathy. A bigger problem that is illuminated here is the wide scale lack of trust that Joseph and his team have earned.

Many people I talk to have used the defense that when Joseph is criticized for inappropriate remarks, those remarks were made under the guise of humor. That may very well be true, but you cannot use humor without trust. Your audience has to trust you enough to be attuned to your intent. They have to believe that you are speaking as one of them and making an observation akin to their own, not an outsider pointing out their foibles.

Looking at the reaction to several purported attempts at humor clearly indicates that Dr. Joseph has not earned that wide scale trust. Whether it’s these recent comments, or the playing of a rap song, or repeated references to “ain’t no crazy like Nashville crazy,” all are indicators of work that needs to be done in the realm of trust for Joseph.

This assertion is further backed up by his own survey results that show only 2 people in central office believe that they work in a trusting environment that allows for a free exchange of ideas. That’s the beginning and the end of the story right there. It doesn’t matter how many people think you are making progress, if after two years you can’t get more than two people to say they work in a trusting environment. You have problems, critical ones. And you can’t be successful without earning that trust.

Joseph arrived in Nashville pitching organizational change. Change that will prove an impossible feat without trust. CEO of Emergent Performance Solutions Jennifer Stanford highlights the importance of trust in change by pointing out in a recent blog post entitled The Role of Trust in Change how creating trust ultimately results in four conditions that truly define an organization changing at maximum potential:

  • Condition 1. Trust is evident everywhere. Employees demonstrate a belief in leadership and have high-trust relationships that reduce the perception of risk in daily activities. There’s significant delegation and clear accountability, as well as the practice of servant leadership.
  • Condition 2. Alignment is actualized. Employees are aligned with the organization’s vision and strategy, with the organization using a cascading goals process to ensure alignment at every level. Individuals and teams understand each person’s part in vision attainment.
  • Condition 3. Processes support people. The organization operates like a well-oiled machine; processes and systems are smart, effective, and nonbureaucratic. There are many opportunities to learn and grow, and the organization has defined career tracks. Finally, the organization has a conscious and careful onboarding process and invests in the development of leaders.
  • Condition 4. Clarity creates cohesion. The organization knows what success looks like, and performance objectives are clear. The rewards and recognition are meted out fairly, and there is a transparent understanding of what it takes for both the individual and the team to get to the next level. Leaders coach and uplift.

Ask yourself, which of these conditions exist in MNPS?

RANDOM NOTES

Two more veteran MNPS administrators are starting new jobs this summer. Terry Schrader will join Davidson Academy as Upper School Head/Principal. Vanessa Garcia joins Lipscomb University as its Director of Instructional Practice Programs and Assistant Professor (DIPPAP in MNPS talk). Both previously worked on the principal pipeline which supplied principals to fill several recent openings. We thank both for their service and know they’ll do great things.

Congratulations go out to former AZ Kelley ES AP Jeffrey “Kirk” Gilmore. Gilmore has been named the interim principal at McGavock ES.

Those of you who have been long-term readers know that I’m not a fan of social media posts celebrating teachers for going into school and working uncompensated on their own time. I’ve often spoken of the unintended consequences of such praise. As teacher Pernille Ripp points out in a recent blog post, “It hard to sometimes believe you are of any kind of worth when you are constantly reminding me of all the things you should be doing if only you were a great teacher.” I encourage you to read her whole post and its observations on student engagement: “How about instead of pretending that everything is under the control of teachers, we actually realized that the very best classrooms are those where students share the control and thus have to invest to actually learn?”

The Tennessean has a cool look back at Overton High School through the years.

POLL RESULTS

We good response to this week’s poll questions. Let’s review.

The first question asked for your impression of Dr. Joseph’s self evaluation (SJoseph Summative Self-Eval Evidence Companion – June 2018 to Board 06.1…). Your responses seem to mirror the central theme of this week’s blog post. Out of 122 responses, 91 of you called it “smoke and mirrors.” It should be noted that 3 of you did feel we are making progress. Here are the write-ins:

Just another lie by a dishonest man 1
Let the man do his job! 1
how was I supposed to know about this? 1
B.S. 1
It’s a load a crap, just like him. 1
Why does he get to control the narrative? This whole thing reeks. 1
self hype and out of touch 1
His score is reflective of student test score-teachers are made to use this

Question 2 asked how confident you were in MNPS’s financial situation. Out of 119 responses, 102 of you expressed a level of concern. Apparently out of the 3 of you who felt the district was improving, only 1 of you felt secure about its financial status. This is not a good indicator. Here are the write-ins, and they express some real concerns:

If I am to make less this year, then there’s a real problem. 1
This is a Nashville gov problem that happens to be impacting MNPS 1
Not as bad as you want to make it seem 1
On a scale of one to the changing climate, this is a suspicious looking mole… 1
Very concerned. Frivolous spending with ZERO accountability 1
Considering everyone’s paycheck is about to decrease? Catastrophic 1
I have lots of concerns – seems like our finances are a hot mess! 1
What stability? Nobody seems to know what anything will REALLY costs

The last question had to do with Music City SEL Conference. Surprisingly, 50% of you responded that it was more touchy-feely stuff while discipline suffered.

Your responses reinforce a growing concern of mine. I get the feeling that the door for meaningful discussion on restorative practices is beginning to swing shut. I think most believe in the theory, but are wanting to see actual, scalable results. We all recognize the importance of restorative practices and SEL, but policies have been in place long enough now that people are looking for some meat. A lot of the skepticism has to fall at the feet of MNPS and the poor job they have done in scalable implementation. More than once I’ve heard it said that restorative practices should sue MNPS for misrepresentation. To be fair, there have been pockets of success, just not on the widespread level needed for wide scale conversion on non-believers.

I think overall there was a high degree of satisfaction with the conference, but my unsolicited advice would be to make next year’s conference focused more on results and telling the narrative of success. Once people become disbelievers, it is hard to turn them into converts. Especially when it’s an idea they agree with in theory but practice has disappointed.

Or, I could be wrong, and there were plenty of results for the taking at this year’s conference and most people are already converts. I’m just sharing my general sense in talking to people, both at the conference and outside.

Agree or disagree with the content, the quality of the organization of the conference is undebatable. This was one well put together conference. I know I’ve probably overstated that, but when the home team hits a grand slam, you gotta stand.

Here are the write-ins:

Some of us have to work during the day to make end 1
sad to miss it! 1
Loved the Quaver addition!! Music is SEL! 1
Kyla wrote his speaking notes-not re: eating kids 1
Didn’t attend 1
It’s all a show, no real fuel behind it 1
I wish I could say – stuck on the waitlist 1
Why are people talking about MEASURING SEL? NO! 1
did not attend – but Kyla’s dept. does seem to be one of the few that functions 1
wasn’t there 1
I did not attend. Their events are a waste of time. 1
I didn’t attend 1
Unable to attend as it was during the day when I was working my summer job

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.