The best prophet of the future is the past – Lord Byron
If you are an even marginal level sports fan, odds are that you’ve experienced this scenario before. You are watching the game as it’s heading into the last quarter, your team is way behind. You’ve known since about half time that there was little, or no chance of your team winning, but you love your team, so you haven’t abandoned them. You’ve kept watching, holding out hope that a miracle will transpire and somehow they will grasp victory from the jaws of defeat.
Throughout the game it’s been readily apparent were the fault lies for the scoring disparity, but somehow the coach and his staff fails to adjust. If it is football we are talking, it may be a failure to switch out the running back to the secondary guy that can break things outside. Maybe if they tried a little more play action, instead of just handing the ball off and running it up the middle. Maybe if they’d work in some screen passes. But the changes never happen, and your team just keeps running the same play, with the same outcomes, and continues to fall further behind.
Sure, there may be a few bright spots and maybe a touchdown or two gets scored, which serves no purpose other than to get you hopeful again for a moment or two, before the march to the inevitable defeat continues. You know your team is not going to win and the only question that remains is, “How ugly is it going to get before it is over?”
That’s pretty much where we are with Metro Nashville Public Schools right now. Between failing to report discipline actions to the state as required by law, multiple lawsuits involving sexual misconduct by district employees, progress reports being delayed again, lack of real academic progress, a disastrous budget season, an inconclusive Metro Nashville audit, and the soon to be released priority schools list…it’s becoming increasingly clear even to the most casual observer that MNPS is not marching to victory. It is way past half time and Dr. Joseph has no Music City Miracle up his sleeve.
In response his dwindling list of supporters trot out the trope that Dr. Joseph never had a chance and that the hater’s where out to get him from the beginning. First of all that trope is more than a little disingenuous. Few Superintendents have walked into the job with more universal support. The Chamber of Commerce, the school board, the Mayor, Council, Public Education Foundations, and local universities all gave him unilateral support. Anybody who raised questions about any actions by Dr. Joseph was immediately exorcised from the conversation. Trust me I know, I’ve got the scars to prove it. Dr. Joseph burned his substantial political capital through his own actions, or lack there of.
Second of all, in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Part of the job description for any leader is handling critics and the opposition. Just like in sports, how you adjust your game plan correlates to the outcome of the game. Bill Belichick did not win all those Super Bowls by trotting out a game plan and not adjusting. No, he wins because of how he reacts to what’s happening on the field and adjusts accordingly. Some would argue that he lost this years Super Bowl because of a failure to adjust.
Joseph never adjusted. He never owned any of the mistakes, adjusted to opposition, nor even responded criticism. Instead he refused to have transparent conversations about policy and continued running the same plays that failed to instill public trust and were not producing better outcomes. Questions involving lead in the water, district spending, and lack of academic progress never made it to the board floor. Dr. Joseph arrived in Nashville with a reputation as a calming influence. As he refused to answer community questions, that reputation for calmness was replaced with one of arrogance. The perception has become, rightly or wrongly, that he will do as he pleases and considers himself beyond reproach.
The director of schools has a little under two years left on his contract. Personally, I don’t believe the district can take another two years under this administration. We’ve already taken a tremendous hit when it comes to personnel and institutional knowledge. The literacy plan continues to go backwards and as more and more parents lose faith, they will begin to explore other options – relocating, private school, charter school, home school. As those parents with options leave, segregation – racial and economic – will set in and with it some very difficult challenges. If you think we are under budgeted now, just wait until numbers decrease.
In my opinion, the school board election that just transpired this summer is an indicator that much of Nashville is waking up to the challenges the school system faces. Out of 4 races, 3 newcomers were elected. None with a platform of continuing blind support of Dr. Joseph and his agenda.
Soon to be ex-board chair Anna Shepherd, an ardent supporter of Joseph, did not draw a challenger. That lack of a challenger could be interpreted as indicating that no one felt strong enough opposition to Dr. Joseph’s work to challenge her and therefore he was given a de facto endorsement by MNPS district 4. Be that as it may, that still leaves 3 districts looking for adjustments.
The first indication of what those adjustments will look like could come tomorrow. That’s when the MNPS school board will decide who will lead the board for the next year. The decision seems to be between former chair Dr. Sharon Gentry and Amy Frogge. It’s clearly a choice between more of the same, likely with the same outcomes, or trying a different approach to try to change the outcomes.
Dr. Gentry was the board chairman during the two-years preceding Dr. Joseph’s arrival and continuing up to his first couple of months of employment. As such she oversaw, both superintendent searches. One that ended in Dr. Looney choosing at the last-minute to remain with WCS and the one that ultimately lead to Dr. Joseph’s hire. Neither of which could be described as exemplary.
Her tenure was rife with procedural problems, including calling an “emergency meeting” at a time when then vice-chair Anna Shepherd had informed her she would not be available. A meeting that turned out to be a train wreck. Interestingly enough, that gaff produced a stern public rebuke from board member Will Pinkston, who is rumored to be considering supporting Gentry in her current push for Chair. That meeting was just one procedural fumble from Gentry, whom also during her time in leadership took it upon herself to commission an outside report to further vet the true cost of charter schools. A move that caused Pinkston to declare that any faith he’d had in Gentry’s leadership had evaporated. I guess it’s rained since then.
But we don’t have to rehash old news in order to make a case against Gentry’s leadership. This year she has served as vice-chair to Pinkston on the committee charged with overseeing the director’s evaluation. To date, not a single director evaluation has been completed. Some of you may wonder about the one conducted over the summer, and while board members turned in their evaluations, there still has been no discussion on the evaluations nor a summary evaluation completed. The director and board members have both indicated that the process is incomplete awaiting the scheduling of a review. Promoting Gentry after this lack of effort would be true personification of the Peter Principle.
On the other hand, Ms. Frogge has been chair of the Governance committee this year. The governance committee is responsible for the overseeing and revision of board policy. This past year has seen the complete revision of board policy that moves them away from the policy governance model and into one endorsed by the Tennessee Organization of State Superintendents (TOSS). This is sweeping reform that puts more oversight power back in the hands of the school board. Currently new policy in three out of five areas has been approved with the implementation process expected to be completed by the end of the year. It’s kind of big deal and Frogge has definitely done the heavy lifting on this initiative.
Personally I believe that the push to make Gentry Chair stems out of a desire to prevent open criticism of the director going forward. I could be wrong, as there have been several times in the past year, during retreats and at board meetings, that Dr. Gentry has offered a rebuke of the way Joseph has conducted business. During discussions about moving 5th grade students back to elementary school she urged him and team to focus on improving instruction and not to get lost in the weeds. Advise they have failed to heed.
The reality is that going forth, trying to control the discussion on Dr. Joseph will become akin to trying to stuff twenty cats in a bag. They aren’t going to stay in the bag and ultimately you are going to get clawed up.
I’m also hoping that race isn’t playing a role in this discussion. Some have voiced an opinion that only someone of color can effectively manage Dr. Joseph, less the appearance of racism raises its ugly head. I reject such an argument on both principle and practice. In fact I would consider anybody giving serious thought to that argument as suffering from their own racial biases. Now more than ever we need to demonstrate that we are capable of engaging in those difficult conversations that have proven elusive in the past.
It’s high time we start to turn an eye to the future and start to plan what that’s going to look like. Like the coach who puts in the young QB to use the losing effort see what he’s got or opens the offense up in an effort to explore other possibilities, we’ve got to start planning for the future. As sad and disappointing as it may be, there is going to be no hail-mary that wins the game in the waning moments. There is going to be no strong defensive play that turns the momentum and allows the quarterback to reverse the teams fortunes. There is only more of the same, unless we force the conversation to look to the future.
In his waning years, Brett Farve was often criticized because he refused to step aside when it was clear he no longer had to skills to allow his team to be competitive. The Packer’s had a young QB in Aaron Rodgers that was ready to take the lead. It was a hard choice to make because Favre was much beloved and had brought some winning moments to Lambeau Field. Alas, it was time to make changes and time to move on. That willingness to move on has allowed the Packer’s to have continual success. The success of the organization has to come before the success of the individual.
Nashville parent David Jones is currently helping parents, teachers, and community members organize their voices in helping to shape the discussion. If you have an opinion and are unsure of how to harness its power I encourage you to reach out to him. His email is email@example.com.
TRAUMA INFORMED SCHOOLS
There has been a lot of talk about “trauma informed schools” over the last couple of years. It’s a needed conversation but as always it comes with some caveats. Any time you get into social issues you have to guard against “paternalism“. Paternalism is something that runs rampant in the world of education. A recent blog post in Spoon Vision, the education blog of Aaron Baker, 8th grade U.S. History teacher in Del City, Oklahoma, points out some pit falls in the “trauma informed schools” initiative.
Baker argues that the two fold assertion of trauma informed schools is that 1. Students have trauma that they bring to school every day and 2. Educators can be equipped to teach students how to deal with that trauma. The first is essential to recognize, while the second is where paternalism enters the equation; that educators can be equipped to teach students how to modify the behavior resulting from the trauma they have experienced.
Baker makes a lot of great points in his piece, but it is his conclusion that truly resonates with me and should be a cornerstone of any discussion on helping students.
Schools, community partners, and social service organizations have the opportunity to cooperatively transform the systems that create the occasions for trauma. The appropriate response to trauma is to tear down systems of oppression, not to teach coping skills. The last thing students with high levels of adverse childhood experiences need is self-regulation. What high ACE students need is a robust education in class warfare and the opportunity to take back their power from their oppressors. Schools must look beyond merely being “trauma informed” to being “trauma transforming.”
If you are an elementary school teacher in MNPS and you’ve never utilized the power of the Traveling Trunk, you need to rectify that ASAP. It’s a fantastic resource that’s available to everyone. Just call the Tennessee State Museum.
This morning, State Superintendent of Education Candice McQueen gave superintendents updates on the state’s strategic plan. It included a look at what data tells us is working, and where we will be if we continue on this path. Strangely, in looking at the picture, I feel like something’s missing. Not sure what it is, but I’m sure it’ll come to me.
Andy Spears has an update on the continuing quagmire that is the portfolio evaluation process. Once again the state continues to proceed in the wrong direction.
If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to read the exceptional article is this week NY Times on the power of libraries and why they need our support.
Libraries are the kinds of places where people with different backgrounds, passions and interests can take part in a living democratic culture. They are the kinds of places where the public, private and philanthropic sectors can work together to reach for something higher than the bottom line.
All I can say is, AMEN.
Over the week-end we saw good returns to this week’s questions. Let’s take a look.
The first question asked for your opinion of the PASSAGE’s policy that would call for a halt to any suspending, expelling, or arresting of children between K-4 unless it’s a level 500 offense. I think it goes without saying that everybody agrees that these are practices that should only be used in extreme situations. The question arises in trying to make a enforceable policy. Out of 120 respondents 47 of you indicated that you thought it could put students and teachers at risk. 22 of you supported the initiative with the caveat that we increase supports to schools. Only 4 of you indicated whole-hearted support. That would seem to be a harbinger for a wider conversation.
Here are the write-in votes,
|I don’t even know what this is, and I’m a teacher.||1|
|behavior is out of control in ES schools.||1|
|It is dangerous to students and teachers. Very.||1|
|We don’t have enough support as it is to deal with behavior.||1|
|Too many letters they need to tighten up those acronyms make them snappier||1|
|I AM TERRIFIED!!||1|
|Teachers will leave by the masses!||1|
|everything depends on implementation, fullout institutional support; requires $||1|
|Trauma informed schools||1|
|Terrible idea! Try being hit, cussed out, hit with books or a chair.|
Question 2 asked how you felt about the delay in middle school progress reports. This one received 138 responses with 50% espousing the belief that, “MNPS could screw up a one car parade.” That doesn’t feel like an endorsement for parade planning. 20% of you questioned how this repeatedly keeps happening. Here are those write-in answers,
|When it happened in elementary we had to do them by hand.||1|
|I’m on the inside. No surprise here.||1|
|no surprise; everyone shd understand progress report grades don’t mean anything||1|
|They should have listened earlier to their teachers who knew the problems!||1|
|Expected and unsurprising to anyone who uses Infinite Campus as a teacher||1|
|What’s the data to support change? Implementation failure||1|
|The whole thing is a mess and is awful for teachers and students.||1|
|Really they have the calendar 2 years in advance||1|
|Why does Central Office get paid? A teacher would be fired for incompetence||1|
|Does this mean middle schools push the term off fu||1|
|Everything is on the portal. Not a huge deal.|
The last question asked how concerned you were with the upcoming state priority school list. Not surprisingly the number one answer, 58 out of 127 responses, was it’s a list generated by a distrusted test administered by a distrusted education department. 44 of you did express concern about what the districts corrective action would look like. Here are those write-ins,
|Where is a plan???||1|
|Concerned but not surprised – I blame it on poor leadership and toxic culture.||1|
|Whole system is missing the point of education.||1|
|It is a fake list. Fake test numbers determine it. Desperate to test & punish.||1|
|I’m concerned Joseph will try to find another “spin”||1|
And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon.