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:
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.
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.