Things keep getting more and more interesting around here. So much so, I felt like I had to write a little bonus post today. Though I doubt it will turn out to be so little.
Tuesday was the last official board meeting for Tyese Hunter, Mary Pierce, and JoAnne Brandon. It’s important to take a minute and say thank you for your service. This was also the last meeting that Anna Shepherd would preside over as chair.
Of note on the consent agenda was a renewal of the contract for Imagine Learning. While Imagine Learning is a computer based learning tool, I’ve seen it effectively used with EL teachers pairing students together and having them work as a team using english to communicate among themselves. It is a program that gets high marks from teachers and has produced results, but was unfortunately discontinued at the beginning of the year. Luckily wiser heads prevailed and it is being brought back.
That’s all fine and good except there seems to be a disturbing trend taking root, one of cutting supports to non-tested elementary school grades. Reading clinics, Literacy Partnership, Imagine Learning, and yes Reading Recovery, all on the chopping block. Which begs questions of the “programs that are replacing Reading Recovery and other… what are they and where is the support data? As schools lose supports without new ones ready to go, it gives the appearance that we seem to be moving into the realm of correction vs prevention.
You should not be able to remove a proven plan with having equally proven plan ready. To do so screams politics over policy.
The next thing on the agenda was the recently completed audit by Metro Nashville Government. The general consensus by those who have actually read the audit is that there is very little analysis and therefore the whole thing is inconclusive at best. Mark Swann, who over sees the Metropolitan Audit Division, could not be in attendance at Tuesday’s school board meeting but he sent internal auditor Mary Cole in his stead. Outgoing board chair Anna Shepherd tried to use Swann’s absence as grounds to avoid having a public discussion on the audits results. Instructing board members to write down their questions and she’ll get them answers. WTF?!?
Where is that stipulated in board policy? Where does it say that the board chair gets the privilege of filtering commentary? Discussion of the audit was on the agenda, why in god’s name did Shepherd feel that she is somehow empowered in her role as chair to limit conversation. Fortunately, board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering were not buying it. Frogge going as far to point out that all of Nashville was talking about the audit, so why wasn’t the board.
“This has obviously been a huge issue. An entire city is talking about it. Now that we have an opportunity, we are saying, well, you know, hey, just send something in writing and we or may not put it out publicly.”
Speering ignored Shepherd’s direction and proceeded to open discussion. As Speering began her questions and observations, board member Sharon Gentry could be heard talking. While it’s unclear who she was talking to, it appeared as if she was talking to herself. Either way Speering was undeterred.
Using the data included in the audit, Speering and Frogge, drew attention to several areas of concern,
“In 2018, when there was a freeze on teachers and administrators, the director went over his own travel budget by 283 percent. This reflects poorly about us living within our budget,” Speering said.
She also drilled into some departments that have been consistently over or under budget in recent years.
“I’m wondering,” she said, “why we are not adjusting?”
Another board member, Amy Frogge, zeroed in on a handful of vendor contracts over $100,000 that she said should have come to the board for review.
Answers were not forthcoming and I have little faith that they will be in the future either. MNPS administrators seem to be challenged by reality as evidenced by a press release, released on Wednesday, in which Dr. Joseph proclaims,
“This rigorous third-party audit process shows Metro Schools demonstrates strong, legal stewardship of taxpayer dollars relative to the education of our more than 85,000 students,”
It does nothing of the sort and to assert such is disingenuous. But MNPS is content to just make up stuff for themselves, they want other news organizations to help perpetrate their myths. MNPS continually pressures local news outlets to report stories in a matter that is flattering to the district. An example would be their recent success in getting The Tennessean to change a headline that proclaimed the audit inconclusive. Unfortunately the Tennessean gave in.
When the initial announcement of the audit was made, Joseph took umbrage and often told associates that when the audit came up clean he would be expecting apologies from everybody. Now the audit has, in his words now come up clean, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. Why? One would think that if the results were reaffirming as he is trying to portray them he would be shouting them from the mountain top. Instead, it’s the opposite that is happening, as leadership strives to limit conversation as much as possible. It truly begs the question of what tale do those numbers truly tell?
Despite the limited discussion, it did arise that the audit department was working on two additional investigations involving…wait for it…the Human Resources department. Joseph claimed that he had no knowledge of these yet to be concluded audits and but chose to focus on a commissioned audit by Bone, McCallester, and Norton PLLC that had been approved during the consent agenda and would cost upwards of $100k,
“We are not doing an investigation,” Joseph said. “We are looking at processes … We are looking at cases completed — if they were done appropriately, the best practices and a look over policies.”
Anybody want to bet me on how that “investigation” is going to turn out?
Board Member Will Pinkston stayed for the discussion just long enough to utter his current catch phrase, “We are an underfunded school district” as he scooted out the door. Let me be blunt here, we have 2 audits and a separate $100k expenditure necessitated by the actions of the current leadership of HR. Today there has been no accountability applied to either of these administrators. One was allowed to leave on a 3 week vacation and another was elevated to leading the division in her absence. Does that speak to good management of financial resources?
To add to the equation, there are several lawsuits out there waiting to be filled in response to actions, again, by HR leadership. Why would you leave them in power, to potentially cost the district more money, while 3 investigations are on going?
I don’t understand why it’s such a hard concept to understand that if you want more funding, and we need it, the public has to perceive that you are a good steward. If Pinkston want’s to solve the problem of underfunding, perhaps he should apply his considerable talents to making sure that the public believes MNPS is using resources wisely. Maybe, Phil Bredesen could give him a few days off the campaign trail so he could do the job that he was elected to.
If Pinkston doesn’t want to do the job, which includes talking to people, asking hard questions, and pushing an agenda other than his own, he needs to resign and let someone step in that will do the work. Someone that will ensure that our schools get the funding they need and that they follow good policy. Frogge and Speering, previously allies of his, are getting help in Fran Bush. But they cannot be the only ones. It’s way past time for others to step up.
TNReady results were also briefly discussed with one excuse being offered that kids’ did not try because they knew results were not going to count and thus, they scored lower on the High School tests. Really? Is that where we are at? I can’t even dive further into that one.
WHAT’S AN MOU?
At the end of last year MNPS and MNEA concluded the collaborative conferencing process and agreed upon several conditions that would define expectations for teachers. For the first time in years teacher’s went to work with a memorandum of understanding(MOU).A lot of good people put a lot of back-breaking work into getting the MOU passed and their efforts deserve recognition. Unfortunately we are now in the enforcement phase of the process and that’s where things get interesting.
At the beginning of the year, director of HR Sharon Pertiller -yes, that Sharon Pertiller – did a perfunctory presentation at a principal’s meeting that did little but piss off and confuse principals. By all accounts Pertiller didn’t understand the MOU, nor did she attach much importance to it. As a result, many teacher themselves were quite upset when it was communicated to them that a new attendance policy, that was part of the MOU meant they could be docked professionalism points if they used all of their professional days. An interpretation reportedly different from what was negotiated.
MNEA head Erick Huth has indicated that he arrived late at the principal’s meeting and therefore Pertiller was allowed to communicate a policy different then the one that was negotiated. Either way, things were off to an auspicious start.
Friday marks the first professional day and per page two of the MOU the day cannot be longer then 7 hours, include a one hour lunch which can be taken off campus, and three hours of individual planning. Shockingly – ok, not really – many teachers across the district received planning day agendas from individual schools that were not compliant with the MOU. This is where things get a little tricky, because who enforces the MOU? Many teacher’s will be hesitant to step forward in a manner that risks getting them labeled as troublemakers.
To their credit, MNEA leadership has stepped up and tried to address as many of the individual cases as possible. Hopefully, most principals will comply and the MOU will be adhered to. Once again, if you had a competent HR department, this wouldn’t be an issue. Planning day agendas would have been approved as being in compliance long before they made it into teachers hands and principals would have a deep understanding of what the expectations are.
JUST LISTEN TO THEM
The families that make up Eakin ES are finding themselves in a strange predicament these days. Eakin has a reputation as being one of the better elementary schools in the city and one were parent input was valued. Things have started to shift. It started two years ago when the community supported a different choice for principal then the district proposed. Things didn’t work out as planned for the district’s choice and at the end of last year the school found itself once again in search of a leader. Once again, the community made their preference known and again that preference was ignored. Hopefully this time things work out better than they did last time.
Back during budget season the community also took exception to the enrollment projections by the district. It was argued that the district numbers were too low. Again parents of Eakin, whom historically have had a good handle on the needs of their school, were overruled. This underestimation means that not enough kindergarten teachers were hired and as a result existing classes were over populated. This has been a pain point for parents since the start of school.
This week, the district conceded that the community was right and approved the hiring of a new kindergarten teacher. Great, but I have a few questions. Where will this high quality teacher be found? I don’t believe that there is a surplus of quality educators out of work in September. Which kids will get to be placed in the new teachers classroom while she becomes acclimated? As a Kindergarten parent I would be hesitant to have my child separated from a teacher they had already adapted to, but that’s just me.
Once again, a problem has arisen because district leadership just does not listen to anybody but the voices in their head. How many problems could have been avoided over the last couple of years if someone in the inner circle had just listened to someone else?
Furthermore, isn’t this the kind of situation in which the position of Community Superintendent was created for? There was a lot of lip service paid to knowing exactly what the supports the new principal needed, how was student population not caught earlier then this? In order for Community Supes to be effective they have to know their “Community” inside and out, hence the name.
One more side note, in sending a note home with kids, you might want to include staff in the distribution list. They never enjoy hearing news about their school from a loud mouth blogger. just saying.
Hopefully a new teacher will be quickly hired and they acclimate equally as quickly. But perhaps, just perhaps, leadership could learn something from this incident and maybe listen in the future.
That does it for this special edition. Make sure you tune in tomorrow when I’ll include the next round of poll questions. I leave you with a shot of what used to be Tusculum ES. A shot that took way to long to produce.