A DAY OF RECKONING

14

“There’s something happening here, I know it. It’s right in front of my face, but I just can’t see it.”
Elmore Leonard, Unknown Man #89

“And time is but an essence

Encased upon the wall
That brings our day of reckoning-
Much closer to us all.”

– Paul Weller, There is No Drinking After You Are Dead

The end of September is almost upon us and that means one more month until it’s time for another election. I know y’all have had about enough of elections in Nashville, and I can’t say I blame you. This one coming up in November, though, it is the big one.

Tennesseans will pick their Governor, choosing between Bill Lee and Karl Dean. As much as it pains me, I have to lean towards Dean. They’ll also chose who will represent them in the U.S. Senate, between Phil Bredesen and Marsha Blackburn. Begrudgingly again, I’m leaning Bredesen. I wish I had a little more enthusiasm for either candidate in these races, but it is what it is. But there is one candidate I believe in wholeheartedly.

Bob Freeman is running to replace Beth Harwell in representing District 56 in the Tennessee State House of Representatives. Many of you may recognize the last name, and yes, he is the son of former mayoral candidate Bill Freeman. To be honest, as much as I admire Bill, I’m loathe to draw the connection between father and son because Bob truly is his own man.

Bob and I got to know each other during his father’s run for mayor and became friends. Campaigns are often the springboards to relationships of convenience, but that was never true with Bob. After the election ended, he was just as assessable and intellectually inquisitive as he was during the campaign. Over the years, he’s reached out often, either with questions or looking for clarity on educational issues. In that time, he’s shown himself to be deeply committed to public education and helping teachers and families.

You’ll never see Bob Freeman walking around with an “I love teachers” button; instead you’ll see him expressing that sentiment through his actions. In my eyes, a refreshing change. You’ll witness him taking time to listen to teachers, researching their issues, and advocating for more funding for our public schools. Beth Harwell used to like to tell people how committed she was to education; Bob Freeman won’t do that. But you won’t need him to because you’ll be able to see it in his actions.

I always say, “Don’t tell me how honest you are, just be honest. I’ll be able to figure it out.” With Bob Freeman, I’ve figured it out.

If you live in District 56, I’m asking you to cast a vote for Bob Freeman. We need him in the state house. Don’t worry, I’ll probably remind you a couple of times.

PRIORITY SCHOOL LIST

Today is going to mark the beginning of a very interesting conversation for Metro Nashville Public Schools. Today the state of Tennessee released the list of schools to be included on the so-called “priority schools” list. Priority schools, as designated by the state, are those in Tennessee’s bottom 5 percent, the threshold for determining state investments such as extra money — and interventions as harsh as takeover and even closure. It’s not a list one wants to be on. Unfortunately, MNPS has lots of representation.

Before we get into the meat of the issue, I’ve included the above video from a board meeting on 10/11/16 in which Dr. Joseph addressed the subject of the current schools on the priority school list to wet your whistle. At that time there were 11 priority schools. The discussion begins around the 32:30 minute mark.

“All of us around this board table can agree that we have no time to lose in making gains in our lowest performing schools” is how Dr. Joseph began a presentation on the strategies he planned to employ to help our lowest performing schools. A strategy that clearly has not worked. A strategy that employed a plank of rebranding these school as “innovation schools.” A plank Dr. Joseph is still clinging to, as an item on next week’s school board meeting, under director’s report, calls for a discussion of “innovation schools.” The state calls them priority schools.

Interestingly enough, if you watch the video, several board members – Pinkston and Gentry included – warned Joseph about not studying past reports and not throwing out strategies that were having an impact. Advice that I think it’s safe to say was ignored, and therefore here we are.

The priority list comes out every three years. The state was kind enough to provide a “Cusp list” to schools back in the fall of 2017. Efforts were made to give districts ample time to make adjustments and implement strategies.

Calculating this year’s list is not without its challenges. Per Chalkbeat TN:

Because technical problems marred Tennessee’s return to online testing this spring, state lawmakers passed legislation ordering that the most recent scores can’t be used to place new schools on the priority list or move them into the state’s Achievement School District for assignment to charter networks. Instead, the newest priority schools are based mostly on student achievement from the two prior school years. However, a school on the 2014 list could potentially come off the new roster if its scores were good this year.

Some schools that have previously been on the list – Whitsitt ES and Inglewood ES – scored high enough on this year’s testing to come off the list. I’m also proud to say that my kid’s school, Tusculum ES, perennially on the cusp, improved significantly enough that they exited the bottom 10%. Those are causes for celebration.

Here’s the list of schools that have been designated as priority schools:

  • Alex Green Elementary
  • Amqui ES
  • Antioch Middle
  • McKissack MS
  • Belshire ES
  • Caldwell ES
  • Cumberland ES (Home of the highest paid ES principal who hails from PGCPS)
  • Gra-Mar MS
  • Haynes ES (State managed to spell it correctly)
  • Jere Baxter MS
  • Joelton MS
  • Robert E Lilliard ES
  • Maplewood High
  • McMurray MS
  • Rosebank ES
  • Madison MS
  • Tom Joy ES
  • Warner ES
  • Whites Creek HS
  • Wright MS
  • The Cohn Learning Center

That’s a whole lot of innovation taking place. 23 names. Add Buena Vista and Robert Churchwell as getting comprehensive supports. I would argue that McMurray deserves a bit of a break because those kids have been going to class at a construction site for the last 18 months.

I’m sure that Dr. Joseph will tell us that TNReady is a flawed test and that its results do not line up with our internal data which shows great progress being made. Maybe he’ll point to the letter that Mr. Pinkston wrote, and he signed, calling for a halt to TNReady. None of those arguments will change the fact that MNPS has 23 schools that have consistently scored among the lowest 5% in the district. None of that will change the fact that the number of schools on his “innovation” list have doubled under his watch.

Dr. Joseph makes the argument that being on the priority list has a negative connotation attached to those schools, but there is also a benefit. Landing on the list means extra resources, and his administration has identified an aggressive four-part plan to help move schools off the priority list. In Joseph’s words, “Whether or not these schools were on a state list, they were on my list for schools that need to improve.” Hmmm… does that not beg a question?

In 2014, when the priority school list had 14 names on it, board member Will Pinkston picked up his poison pen and wrote an Op-Ed to the Tennessean:

The evidence is clear. In two years, MNPS has more than doubled its number of low-performing schools on the state of Tennessee’s “priority” list, which identifies the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state. Our school system went from having six schools on the list in 2012 to, as of last week, 14 schools. Put differently: The number of students in exceedingly low-performing schools has risen from 2,260 to 6,272, according to enrollment data in the state’s Report Card.

The Metro school board should act decisively to confront this crisis.

I’m ashamed to admit that, during the past two years, the school board has not had a single conversation about persistently failing schools and how to turn them around. The reality is: Schools Director Jesse Register has been setting the agenda, and failing schools do not fit in management’s glossy narrative. It’s overdue time for the elected board to assert authority on behalf of students, parents and taxpayers.

Funny how your words come back to haunt you. I wonder if Pinkston will bring the same sense of urgency to the table when the board discusses Joseph’s innovation plans at next week’s board meeting or, since it no longer suits his political agenda, he’ll allow the good doctor to spin a fanciful yarn on the merits of his strategies over the last two years.

In looking over the list, I find it appalling that if you are in the White’s Creek cluster, there is only one school option that is not on the priority school list, Joelton ES. Think about that, as a parent of limited means you have no option but to send your child, no matter what age, to a school on the priority school list. That should be unacceptable to everyone.

Interestingly enough, none of the priority schools are located on the West side of town, nor do they fall into any of the wealthier neighborhoods. So how much of the list is a result of socio-economic factors and how much is a factor of poor schooling? That is a question that bears asking.

In contrast, here’s the “good” list, the reward schools list:

  • Andrew Jackson ES
  • Cameron College Prep
  • Charlotte Park ES
  • Crieve Hall ES
  • Dan Mills ES
  • Eakin ES
  • Glendale ES
  • Gower ES
  • Head MS
  • Hume-Fogg HS
  • Intrepid College Preparatory Charter School
  • KIPP Academy Nashville
  • Lockeland Springs ES
  • Martin Luther King Jr School
  • Meigs MS
  • Neely’s Bend ES
  • Purpose Prep
  • Rocketship United
  • Shwab ES
  • Smithson Craighead Academy
  • Valor Flagship Academy
  • Valor Voyager Academy

Reward schools are generally those that are improving in terms of achievement and growth for students. A school cannot achieve reward status if any student group performs in the bottom 5% in the state for that group or if it’s in need of Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) or Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) Note the neighborhoods most of those are found in.

Mayor Briley, who seems oblivious to the socio-economic challenges facing Nashvillians, offered his own insight into the released lists. In his statement, he fails to acknowledge the role Nashville’s city government may play into the creating of these lists. Policies that promote a better way of life for some Nashvillians while ignoring the challenges to others.

Amazingly, Briley, Board Chair Sharon Gentry, Shawn Joseph and newly elected Vice-Mayor Jim Shulman found the time to pen their own op-ed piece that urges Nashvillians to stop bickering over our schools, and get to following them:

Debating matters about how to improve our schools is productive, but only when it is grounded in mutual respect, and an appreciation for joint creativity.  When it comes to investing in the future of the City’s youth, we believe that our signing this guest column is an important signal to Nashville — a signal that we are prepared to be supportive of one another in pursuit of our schools being safe places where students flourish.

In other words, we know best and instead of LISTENING to the administrators, teachers, and families of MNPS as they call out for help and warn of a school system that is in crisis, they are going to double down on the failed policies of the last two years.

This is my favorite quote from the piece:

“Our work on the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success is the envy of and a model for school districts nationwide; we now must build on that model more broadly.”

In the immortal words of Horton Hears a Who, “Who, who, who?” Please supply me a list of names and contact information of the envious ones. I’d like to talk with them.

My fear is that parents, teachers, and administrators will stop bickering and resort to protesting with their feet. In other words, we will see increased disengagement and people leaving, the end result being a school district that only serves those who have no other options. The amount of central office employees and teachers that already left should be enough of a warning siren of a pending crisis for anybody paying attention. If you think we are underfunded now, just wait 5 years if nothing changes. Costs will increase as resources decrease, leaving a cratered school system dependent on charter schools and private schools to educate its more affluent students. Kinda like Prince George’s County Public Schools is currently, which makes one wonder if that hasn’t been the goal all along.

For those who didn’t read the press release too closely, there is additional bad news in there: the state has also assigned MNPS the designation of a “school district in need of improvement.” That’s not just a friendly reminder of shortcomings, it’s a warning that the district either gets their shit together or the state will repeat their 2009 action, a district takeover.

I find Briley’s signing of this op-ed piece particularly disturbing in light of his recent attacks on Council Member Bob Mendes for disagreeing with the his assertion that Nashville does not have an affordable housing crisis. Per the mayor:

“For people to think that we’re in some sort of fiscal crisis is either just a fundamental lack of understanding of how our budget works or some sort of political grandstanding, and it needs to come to an end.”

He went on to accuse Mendes of “rooting against city.” When Briley got elected, I believed he was a mayor that was dedicated to finding solutions to mounting problems facing Nashville. Solutions that served all Nashvillians. I never suspected that he would believe good policy was based on “rooting” for or against the city. The wrong leadership can not be overcome by placating and leading cheers. It requires decisive action, action that I’m beginning to doubt Briley is capable of.

I find the tone of his rebuttal deeply disturbing when taken in line with his co-signed op-ed. One time is an instance, twice is a trend. A disturbing and disappointing trend. In my opinion, further evidence that Nashville suffers from a leadership crisis. When leadership fails to see things clearly, we all suffer.

One thing that should be clear to all is that we can’t ask our teachers to work any harder or care anymore. In fact, I would argue that we have already tied their hands enough through our implementation of bad policy and scripted lesson plans. I know, the district is not utilizing “scripted” lesson plans, yet somehow when I talk to teachers that is the perception that they convey. Maybe if we depended more on the people doing the actual work, the outcomes would be a little different. Now that would be some innovation.

On Monday, MNPS will hold a press event to unveil their plans. Joseph has made it mandatory that principals of those schools on the priority list stand on the podium with him. Once again, failing to take responsibility for his own failings and continually looking for someone else to shift blame to. Hey, Sharon Gentry will be there as well, so maybe Shulman and Briley can jump on stage as well and sing “Kumbaya” while the district still continues to practice bad policy. And then we can give a “5…6…7…8… who do we appreciate” cheer and everything will miraculously improve. More likely it will be “That all right, it’s ok, you will work for us someday.”

Before wrapping things up, I’d like to return to Pinkston’s op-ed from 2014 in which he closes thus:

Our goal should be: no MNPS schools on the state’s priority list by the time it’s released again in 2016. We need to deal with this crisis on behalf of the 6,272 students in these 14 schools. They deserve the very best chance in life, and the school board should feel obligated to act with urgency.

QUICK HITS

The state’s portfolio model of evaluation continues to be fraught with problems. Luckily for teachers, there is help out there.

Pre-K or K teachers, if you received a 1 on your portfolio last year and it wasn’t reviewed or it was a submission error, please email Mary Campbell with TEA at mcampbell@tnea.org. She will help you go over your options and it only takes about 10 minutes.

Some of you have stopped caring what number you have been given and that is understandable. However, can you hear the State saying that this really wasn’t a big deal because no one did anything? Mary will come out to your school or meet you before or after school to go over options and what will work best for you. Take advantage of the resource.

We often hear how education policy should be rooted in research. Unfortunately all research is not created equal. Blogger Peter Greene writes an excellent piece on what to look for when evaluating education research.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) announced that 11 Metro Nashville Public Schools students are semifinalists in the 64th annual National Merit Scholarship Program. Congratulations to the following:

  • Ella D. Halbert, Hume-Fogg Academic High School
  • Christine L. Li, Hume-Fogg Academic High School
  • Elizabeth G. Riddle, Hume-Fogg Academic High School
  • Sarah T. Sheppard, Hume-Fogg Academic High School
  • Julia An, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Joseph M. Friedman, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Maya R. Johnson, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Boone Kinney, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Katherine G. Reed, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Bryce Troia, MLK Jr. Magnet High School
  • Quinn J. Troia, MLK Jr. Magnet High School

Lorenzo Carrion and Brandon Majors, both 2018 graduates of Cane Ridge High School, were awarded the inaugural Butch McCord Legacy Scholarship by Major League Baseball’s Nashville RBI program on Sept. 19. Hats off to them!

Last week I wrote about the use of clubs during RTI time at Tusculum ES. In my over zealousness to report good news, I failed to make it clear that all kids were being included in clubs. Inadvertently, I gave the impression that some kids were being excluded from participating. That was wrong and I owe a huge apology to the school’s AP Mr. Holmes. There is no school more inclusive that Tusculum. I need to remember that good news needs to be vetted as thoroughly as bad news. It’s important to hold myself to the same standard I expect from others. Please forgive my error.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon.

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14 comments on “A DAY OF RECKONING

  1. JA says:

    Hi TC.
    What source did you use for the priority list? I’m noticing some differences from other lists. Particularly Buena Vista and Robert churchwell. Could you please link your source?
    Thank you.

  2. Suzanne says:

    I find this piece of your blog post particularly troubling: “On Monday MNPS will hold a press event to unveil their plans. Joseph has made it mandatory that principals of those schools on the priority list stand on the podium with him. ….” Is this what is called “principal shaming”???! Could you imagine if teachers made the students with a score in the lowest 5% of the class stand in front of the class or the whole grade or the whole school????!!!! Was Joseph ever a teacher????!!! 😳😳 Public shaming does not motivate…. it does not inspire a desire to try harder… In kids, it results in a total shutdown. In adults I imagine it would result in close to the same… or just a WALK OUT! If I was a principal asked to stand on that podium, it would take every ounce of self control to not tell Joseph where he could put his podium. Frankly I’m beyond disgusted right now! I’m sick to death of listening to an incompetent “leader” talking about improving schools when he can’t manage a budget and somehow leaves the district with a $17 million shortfall, resulting in no step increases or COLA for teachers. But did Joseph experience any kind of personal salary cut??!! No! Did he give up his chauffeur?? Not that I’m aware of!! What else is it going to take for the board to declare this waste of money “not up to the task” and acknowledge his failure to bring any improvement to the lowest performing schools and FIRE HIM???!!!! And bring in someone who WILL WORK WITH TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS AND PARENTS to get the job done!!!

  3. Sarah says:

    I wish there were a more concrete way to designate priority schools. There will ALWAYS be at bottom 5% of schools, no matter how hard schools and teachers work to improve. This is a zero sum game for our state.

    • I have never experienced this type of shame and blame in my professional life and in fact my personal life for if I did in either I would not be a part of it. It is akin to Domestic Violence. And I agree to put the Principals on the front stage seems utterly absurd. Many if not most of these schools have been on this list for years. Have the Principals been there the entire time? I believe at Wright that Principal has been there since last year so she is accountable for this?

      It is clear that testing a massive problems for years, schools without the resources necessary to address the lengthy problems in the wider community that is another issue which requires the Mayor to stand up on that stage as well. Throw up the Governor and that McQueen woman as well… I hear they are good listeners.

      Add to it that many of these schools have many ESL students whose parents are not able to communicate nor have the time and access needed. hello transit and housing and that whole infrastructure thing. As many kids I meet live in temporary housing arrangements that make it difficult to establish a permanent residence and in turn family relationships key to working with kids. Again the reality of the situation is not addressed in an optic or some promise and pledge. Actions speak louder than words. Allocation of resources, commitment to a plan with stages of growth and measurements in place to see if they are being attained and if not finding out why and changing course and plan to accommodate that in which to accomplish said goal. Funny just like a real classroom does. Wow who woulda thunk it!

  4. Pissed the Fuck Off Glencliff Teacher says:

    I am glad to see these asshat officials have set aside this special time to freakishly humiliate themselves in such a public manner. Can they not fucking see the spin DJ Joseph is throwing down on the turntables of education? Maybe at the next principal’s meeting instead of ”Blow the Whistle” he can play Flo Rida’s ”Right Round.”

    🎼You spin my head right round, right round
    When you go down, when you go down down
    You spin my head right round, right round
    When you go down, when you go down down🎼

    What a joke this administration has become.

  5. Teacher says:

    I cannot understand the insistence on talking about MAP and the literacy blueprint as successes. Dr. Joseph, you aren’t even a good spin doctor! The oped smells. You cannot convince anyone that the number of schools in the bottom 5% growing from 6 to 21 over a decade is progress, no matter what your MAP says. The idea of a press conference to show a roll up our sleeves mentality is likely to disaffect some more of the people you need to convince, such as business leaders (you talk about private partnerships and do you really think they will come flooding in after the press conference?!) and the very teachers you cannot afford to have leave your system.

    Your biggest problem in the coming months is going to be managing a thinner and thinner talent pool for admins and the need to get a good sized raise to the finish line. Otherwise I don’t think you’ll have much talent left to work with. Singing about MAP and a literacy plan that is literally just on paper (truly in all my time I have never seen anything less well formed that anyone called a “plan”) will not accomplish this.

    Let’s stop spinning. Let’s unburden our staff. Let’s focus on extremely simple actions for literacy and not buzzwords. We have to start somewhere.

    Some humility at the press conference wouldn’t hurt either. That is, if you don’t want to be run out on a stick.

    • Truthy mctruthface says:

      Short of human sacrifice I don’t know what Joseph would have to do before he would face consequence. Even then with the board I have my doubts. Also, humility is not his strong suit so don’t hold your breath.

  6. GoBobcats says:

    Overton also had a National Merit Scholar semifinalist: Sean Pak, as well as a National Merit Commended Scholar, Zachary Cate.

  7. Truthy mctruthface says:

    With the current board chair and board Joseph has little to worry about. He is safe for another year no matter what. The board chair election assured that

  8. Ex machina says:

    I am bufuzzled by the news conference. What orgs does SJ think he’s recruiting? Scarlett? What army of volunteers does he think is hiding under a rock? It smacks of not understanding the community once again. I do like the aspirationalness but are we pinning our hopes on this alone? He says he knows what it takes to move the needle. And this is it? I respectfully disagree that this priority school “plan” is sufficient.

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