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.

 

 

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10 comments on “HARD KNOCK LIFE

  1. Maggie says:

    I wonder if the LTDS training planned and scheduled for the week do the 16th will still occur….with a stipend…. or will they have to work for free?!

  2. Ryan Balch says:

    TC,

    I wanted to link to Carol Dweck’s response to the Conversation article you quoted (the authors link to it in their article). I think having both articles provides a more complete perspective. It’s important to keep in mind that the authors you quote found a significant and positive effect of interventions that teach students a growth mind set, especially with low income students. The disagreement is about whether this effect is meaningful (which is a good conversation to have).

    https://theconversation.com/growth-mindset-interventions-yield-impressive-results-97423

    I would also say that your description of a growth mindset is missing a piece. It’s not that it states the people can become anyone they want to academically, just that intelligence can be improved. There is a distinct role that genetics plays, but it’s more about developing persistence and resiliency instead of a belief that everyone is at the same level. If the approach is “anyone can be Einstein” than this is not accurate. As a former educator I saw first hand the damaging effects of a “I can’t do this so why try” perspective and a growth approach helped my students gain confidence that improvement was possible with effort.

    • norinrad10 says:

      Thank you Ryan for linking those articles. My overview was a bit perfunctory. It’s obviously a subject that has a lot of nuance and needs deeper exploration.

      I started to write a response and then realized if I wasn’t careful I’d end up writing a whole another blog post.

      I’m sure that I will revisit in the future and maybe you and I could do an interview type post on it.

      Thanks again.

      • Ryan Balch says:

        Of course. The funny thing is that I don’t think it needs any sort of paid intervention to be effective. There are some good free online resources linked to in the article that teachers can use and it’s not such a complicated concept that it requires training from consultants. In that regard I agree with McNamara and think resources could be better spent elsewhere.

  3. Sharon Smith says:

    re Growth Mind Set theory, and former math teacher

    I think you may be confusing the validity of Growth Mind Set theory itself w the underwhelming results from “interventions,” which is what the linked article is about – two very different questions.

    My experience is that there is a lot of truth to how a student’s (and their parents’) mindset affects their learning process and journey – People Who Can Do (Challenging) Math Just Have The Aptitude vs People Who Can Do (Challenging) Math Have Put Forth the Hard Effort To Learn, and (Mostly) Anyone Can Do That.

    I’ve watched the kids who “always made A’s in math” because “it was so easy for them” essentially give up when they hit the part that required actual effort to progress, because they didn’t know what to do once some effort was required. They essentially imploded, thinking something was wrong, that their natural abilities had failed them; they missed the part that sometimes they need to pick up their pencil and do some real work to make progress. Challenging problem-solving and “word problems” tend to not be these students’ strong suit. To quote the linked article, “Those with fixed mindsets are thought to interpret challenges as signs they lack the intelligence needed to be successful. This leads these individuals to give up when they struggle or to become ‘devastated by setbacks.’”

    I’ve watched kids who don’t have the natural smarts/aptitude make amazing gains when they hunker down, determined to push through to understanding, against all odds. Some of these have gone from full-out failing to making bona fide (not inflated) B’s and C’s, with occasional A’s thrown in for good measure. “… [P]eople who hold growth mindsets believe that intelligence – or other attributes – can grow with effort. They are thought to interpret challenges as learning opportunities. This leads to exerting more effort when struggling and overcoming setbacks.”

    Any day, I would rather have the student in my classroom who struggles but puts forth a good-faith effort, than the smarty-pants who won’t lift a pencil once it “gets hard.” The struggling student will never be a math genius, but s/he will develop solid skills and understanding to last a lifetime, plus have a mature work ethic to boot. The smarty-pants who banks on their smarts without effort can become insufferable, and they tend to overestimate their capabilities.

    On the flip side of interventions is the problem of sabotaging students. One of the biggest failures of MNPS’ Grading For Learning policy, their “50 Is the New Zero” policy, their Multiple Quiz/Test Retakes Until You Pass policy was its negative and sabotaging impact on a student’s learning process and the stated goal that students master the understanding of actual skills and knowledge. Suddenly, students were guaranteed a Pass, no matter what, with the result (no matter how Central Office spun it) that student grades and their actual skills and knowledge had no relationship to each other at all. Struggling students who cared, who once needed to put forth effort to learn and understand in order to pass, no longer needed to do so. Happy with a Pass for doing essentially nothing, it was Game Over for them. They had a Pass on their report card, but lacked the corresponding skills and knowledge that the grade represented. #policySideEffect #policyFail #demoralizing

    None of my comments here should be taken to mean that I under-appreciate or don’t recognize the roles of genetics, poverty, language barriers, and all the rest — how those factors contribute to any particular student’s learning journey. I just know for certain, regardless of the hurdles in their way, how a student views the balance/tension between their Effort (exercising their brain muscles) vs Natural Talent (it comes so easy / no effort required) can make all the difference in the world. Just because it is hard to cultivate a Growth Mindset in our students who live in a culture that blasts otherwise messages, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

  4. Inquiring mind says:

    At least there is a hiring update in the agenda sheet.

    What up with the $6 million to sprint for cell service?? Do I get one?!?!

  5. Follow da monay says:

    Maybe the capital needs committee was cancelled because the district is about to get financially thrashed when the whole bus depot thing falls through. Because that plan will not work. Heck they’re gonna be lucky to get the sales through that they need from other parcels just to make ends meet. Shameful.

    Longer term, a better property to sell is Stokes. You gotta figure that Lipscomb University would be willing to shell out 10 million for that one.

    But 10 mil doesn’t buy you what’s it used to these days. It barely covers the free lunch shortfall.

  6. Nashville Taxpayer says:

    It is crazy to have to sell anything. Our district must learn to live within their budget. we pay people dearly to run the district. How is it that they do not know when they are approaching being over budget?

    Charters are taking away teacher salary. They are also taking away money for each child once appropriated for Central Office. At some point, MNPS must cut Central Office jobs and understand that we cannot keep hiring additional people with astronomical salaries that don’t have enough expertise to avoid hiring more consultants. No more new curriculum, no more Central Office field trips, and no more consultants.

    We can start the cuts with the director’s driver, the $24,000 stipend for the wife of #2, and paying for one principal’s doctoral tuition. Then we will work on the $6 million cell phone bill.

    Let Councilman Steve Glover have the detailed (every single thing) itemized budget and he can find millions in no time flat. He is a former board member and an accountant. He knows the line items where they put the money.

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