I thought all night about what’d I’d say about yesterday’s school board election results. Don’t be too bitter. Be gracious. Be optimistic. And after all that rumination, the best I can come up with is… losing sucks. Getting your ass kicked… sucks even more. And no matter how you slice it… I got my ass kicked.
I lost by over 2,000 votes to a woman who listed “being the only mom in the race” as one of her top qualifications and who is married to a sitting Metro Council member. Something that I thought would be a cause for pause among voters, but apparently, I’m alone in my concerns about conflicts of interest.
I only managed a handful of votes more than a man who raised less than a thousand dollars, placed no signs, and had no presence at the polls on election day. In fact, he managed to garner over 1,500 votes. That is not insignificant.
Another man who literally did absolutely nothing managed to secure 763 votes. To this day, I’ve never met the man and couldn’t pick him out if he was one of only two people in front of me.
Eddie Arnold, who ran in 2014, managed to double his vote total this year from his last go around. He raked in over 1,200 votes.
Taken together, it’s safe to say that I did not create a compelling narrative. That’s on me, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow.
What makes it especially hard to swallow is that I didn’t run for the personal honor of serving on the school board, but rather to give amplification to the voices that have so long gone unheard. There is only one reason that I got as many votes as I did: teachers. Teachers stepped out of their comfort zone and not only supported me with their words, but with their actions as well. Each of them would probably offer a counter, but I let them down and that will always be a mark on me.
I didn’t have a big PAC giving me donations of several thousand dollars. What I had was teachers and families reaching into their pockets and giving me checks of $25 and $50. Think about that – you’ve got people, knowing that they are going to take home less money next year, taking from their budget and giving you money they can easily find better uses for because they believe in you. I don’t take that lightly.
It wasn’t out of personal ambition that I ran for the board. I believe that MNPS is on a disastrous path and that I have a special skill set that could possibly change that. A skill set that was acquired through hard work and the trust of educators. Nothing has changed there. I still believe that. The way that the current administration conducts business is not good for kids, families, or professional educators. That is not opinion, but rather fact that can be backed with data.
It is my fear that in response to these bad policies, teachers and principals will retreat into their individual classrooms and schools, shut the door, and mitigate policy in a manner that works for their schools. Some of you may think that is a good thing. Nobody knows their schools like the people in the building, right?
That may be true, but you are making the assumption that all principals are created equal. That all schools have the same demographics and resources. That all teachers are created equal and that there is endless supply of quality educators. That’s not true. A lack of strong district policy will lead to greater inequities across the district. Some schools will thrive, but many will falter and those will be swept into the shadows.
The new board members do give me some cause for guarded optimism. Gini Pupo-Walker knows the system as well as anyone, is a tireless worker, and is usually on the side of angels, though her positive positions on both testing and Teach For America give me concerns. In the past, her bark has often been worse than her bite and I’m hoping – ok, praying – that in her new role she bites a little more.
She’s going to need all of her moxie to stand up to the influence of board member Will Pinkston and Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. Pinkston, who despite his inability to regularly attend school board meetings, continues to be an effective shadow warrior manipulating fellow board members and giving continuous cover to Shawn Joseph as he focuses the majority of his considerable expertise on Bredesen’s Senate campaign. Pupo-Walker and Pinkston have had their differences in the past, so it should be interesting to watch that relationship play out.
When it comes to Rachael Anne Elrod, I’ve been guarded in my opinions over the last several months. But now that I’ve removed my candidate hat, and my blogger hat is fully affixed, I’ve got some opinions. I hope she does her homework. Her grasp of the issues so far has struck me as tenuous at best. She taught almost a decade ago and the realities have changed a whole lot since then.
The good news is that she seems to project a desire to emulate current board member Amy Frogge. That is cause for optimism as long as she remembers nobody does their homework like Frogge.
As an active father of two kids, I’m not sure how you balance the demands of two 4-year-olds, a husband who is a council member, and the time demands being a school board member requires. Furthermore, I’m interested to see how future votes in both Metro Council and MNPS will play out when the two entities are entwined. Bottom line, though, is that voters in District 2 elected her by a large margin to be our representative, and she deserves the support that comes with that.
Which brings me to Fran Bush. I’m going to be as blunt as possible here and if it offends, what do I have to lose? MNEA and SEIU need to get their heads out of their ass. Both unions not only failed to support Bush, but actively worked against her. That’s on them and to their detriment, and Bush has already taken the high road.
On Channel 5’s Open Line forum this week, Bush not only wore red in solidarity with teachers, but spoke of a deep commitment to improving their lives within MNPS. People need to reach out to her and support her efforts. That’s where the raises are going to come from. Wearing red isn’t enough.
There was an effort during the election season to paint her as “crazy.” After meeting her and doing the research, I’ve come away with the opinion that she’s “crazy” like Amy Frogge was 6 years ago. We need more of that “crazy.”
Crazy, in this case, means passionate, idealistic, hard-working, and willing to learn. Bush will have some missteps; she’s a neophyte, after all. But I get the feeling she’s a fast learner. She comes off as a very classy lady, but she’s the mother of 5 boys, so don’t think for a moment that she’s going to be a pushover.
Former board member Tyese Hunter learned that the hard way. She tried to intimidate Bush several times at the polls, and Bush never once backed down. This victory fills me with the most optimism, and I’m convinced Bush is headed to greatness.
A couple last notes on Fran Bush. She beat an incumbent and did it with no money. Frogge’s grassroots victory 6 years ago was impressive, but she had some funding. Bush’s last financial disclosure shows she’s $2k in the hole.
Bush also not only beat an incumbent, but one who had the MNPS Director of Schools as an ally. An ally who not only used his position as Director of Schools, but also the official MNPS communications system, as a tool to undermine her campaign. That can not be understated.
So, what’s it all mean for Director of Schools Shawn Joseph? I don’t know. Much depends upon who becomes board chair. I suspect that Pinkston will continue to wrangle board members into compliance and Joseph will be left to his own devices. That in itself does not bode well for Joseph and his administration.
Whether I write another word, or the board asks a single question, the biggest obstacle for Shawn Joseph remains Shawn Joseph. But I believe we’ve reached a tipping point. There are already rumblings that he tried to use his influence to undermine Sheri Weiner’s campaign for Vice Mayor. The district has canceled much-needed professional development for SEL due to budget constraints. Yesterday, teachers were put in a time machine and sent back to 1995 for district wide professional development, thereby eating up valuable classroom prep time. It’s not ideological issues that will be his undoing, just the inability to do the day-to-day job.
Going forth, current board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering will need our support more than ever. I suspect there will be an increased effort to isolate the two, especially Speering, by fellow board members. That can’t happen, and it’s important that new board members resist those efforts. Open questioning and transparency shouldn’t be an offense, but rather the norm.
The one thing I consistently heard from people at the polls is that this lack of transparency is killing MNPS. Board members need to understand that destruction won’t come with a mustachioed villain tying the school district to the railroad track. It’ll come with families quietly, systematically disengaging. Once that trend becomes wholesale, it’ll become impossible to reverse.
Families who leave aren’t coming back. Professional educators who leave aren’t coming back. As school starts back up, I urge you to take a look around and note just how many are already missing. A charter school operator asked me a couple of weeks ago what I thought they should do. My reply was, “Nothing but call architects.”
It wasn’t by accident, or due to recent defeats, that kept charter school money out of this year’s school board race. There just wasn’t a compelling reason to invest as things are already trending in their favor. And this shouldn’t be considered criticism against them – I’m certainly not getting back into that fight while the district serves as their best recruiter – it’s just an indictment of our current landscape. I do find it ironic that Pinkston’s machinations serve to empower his self-proclaimed enemies.
He’ll point to no new charter schools opening during the last 2 years as a sign of success, while failing to acknowledge the growth in the number of students attending the existing schools. Without a correction in how MNPS is performing, increased charter growth is inevitable. That may anger some, but it’s the reality.
That’s one thing that is freeing about not being on the school board and having had my background publicly exposed – I no longer have to worry about retribution from Will Pinkston and can freely discuss his failings as a school board member.
Who knows, maybe now he’ll manage to stay for a whole meeting sometime in the future. My hope is that he’ll head off to Washington DC and allow somebody to take his place that will put the needs of MNPS staff and families in the forefront and not treat them as an afterthought to someone else’s political aspirations.
I would be remiss at this time if I didn’t take a moment to thank Mary Pierce for her service. We didn’t always, or even often, agree. But I admire her work ethic and the fierceness in which she defended the families who looked to her for leadership. Enjoy that family, Mary, and I look with anticipation to your future endeavors.
I also need to take a moment to point out the pitiful state that education reporting has gotten to in the Tennessean. They were able to fully investigate my past while failing to give full coverage to the District’s response to TNReady results, the Director’s evaluation, or any meaningful coverage to the school board race.
It should be noted that the Tennessean was instrumental in the selection of Joseph as Director of Schools, and as a result, they seem to have become more comfortable in the role of cheerleader instead of public watchdog. I’m actually not sure if Jason Gonzales’s office is at Bransford Avenue or in the McNeely, Pigott, and Fox office suite. Hopefully, since Frank Daniels has experience with education reporting, the new Nashville Scene will fill the void left by the Tennessean’s abdication of responsibility. A free and independent press is essential.
I need to thank Pam Swoner, Laura Kelley, Karen Hensley, and a player to be named later who all volunteered to man a poll position for 12 hours yesterday. You ladies are amazing.
So now we get to myself. What am I going to do? I admit, I’m hurting today, and I suspect I’ll be hurting for a number of days. Maybe weeks. I wanted this, maybe as much as I’ve wanted anything in the last decade. But it wasn’t to be.
The one thing I can’t ignore is that over 2,000 of you gave me one of the most precious things you have to offer, your vote. There were 37 of you who dug in your pocket and financially supported me. I don’t take any of that lightly. I owe you something for your investment, and I plan to deliver. That you can count on.
During the election, Valor Collegiate Academy families brought up that I had not visited their school. A valid criticism, and I promised to rectify that. I’ll try to honor that promise this month. I also promised a bus driver that I would ride a route with them – if they’ll contact me, I’ll honor that promise as well.
I take further solace in that my son and I had a fantastic day yesterday. It’s amazing to me that at just 7 years old, he was able to work the whole day at the polls with me. He’s a good kid, and I have a good daughter and a good wife. A wife who is going to do amazing things at H.G. Hill Middle School this year.
I would also caution sitting politicians not to discount the 2k voters who gave me support. Now would be the time to start discussions on a budget for next year that includes raises for teachers and support staff. We’ll be watching, and you can count on engagement if next year’s budget looks anything like this year’s budget.
I hope people don’t think I’m going anywhere. I take inspiration from the words of Joseph Campbell:
“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems the most challenging.”
Thank you all for your support.
I didn’t mean for this whole post to be about the election. There is still a lot for us to talk about. Things like kindergarten and fine arts portfolios, capital needs, the old Tusculum building coming down, the status of English Learners, etc. We’ll get into that on Monday.
Until then, as always, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. We’ll have lots of pictures up of the first day of school. As always, make sure you answer the poll questions. See ya Monday.