IT WAS THE WEEK BEFORE THANKSGIVING…

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
James Baldwin

“If you ain’t in the battle, don’t comment on the war.”
Chuck D

It’s the Monday before Thanksgiving and anticipation for the approaching holiday is running high. I went and read to my 1st-grade class last Friday and they couldn’t wait to eat turkey, chicken, corn, and mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving is a favorite of my wife and children’s as well and we as a family are looking forward to the time together.

One thing I am thankful for is the fantastic teaching at Tusculum ES where my kids attend. As you all know, Tusculum is a high needs school. It’s the kind of school that parents often fret about sending their children and school critics try to paint as a failing school. In truth, there is no need to fret and the school is anything but failing.

I’m often critical of MAP testing and continue to believe that as a district we are using it wrong. However, when used as intended – to reflect growth and guide instruction – it is a very useful tool.

Over the last couple of weeks, MNPS students have been taking the MAP tests. I like the way Tusculum does it, no fanfare, no hoopla, just, “Let’s see what you know.” I’m blessed to have two high achieving children and they score well on the MAP test. Which obviously makes me proud.  What makes me even prouder is that they continue to show growth.

As a parent, I’m no different from any other parent. We are all victims of the hype and fear mongering. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been told, “Don’t sacrifice your children at the altar of your ideology.” As a result, we often question whether we are making the right decisions for our children and if we are putting them in position to succeed. Looking at my children’s MAP scores for the last 2 years reaffirms my decision. They are growing academically and culturally, as a parent I couldn’t want for more.

So this Thanksgiving season let me take another moment to thank everybody at Tusculum ES, from the leadership team to the ladies that man the office and everyone in between, including the crossing guards. Every day I put my children in your hands and every day you reaffirm why that was a good decision. You are living proof that schools are more than just test scores and that parents from all demographics can feel good about putting their children in their local school. Thank you again.

MONDAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING IS PERFECT FOR POLICY CHANGE

Over the course of the year, there has been an intensive conversation about the suspension, expulsion, and arrest rates for children ages k-4. NOAH has led the conversation and believes that it is necessary for the district to great a policy prohibiting the suspension, expulsion, or arrest of any child in K-4 except for 500 level offenses. Today Principals should expect to receive notification of a policy change that reflects that belief. A policy change that I disagree with.

Before we get too deep in the weeds, let’s be clear that I do not support the suspension, expulsion, or arrest of children in K-4 either. But I don’t believe that you take tools out of the hands of principals without putting other tools in their hand and concrete instructions on how to apply those tools. I also believe the conversation takes the focus off of 95% of the students and places the focus on 5%. The reality is the vast majority of kids go to school, follow the rules, and stay out of trouble.

There is a reason that the kids who run afoul of the rules do so. Some of it stems from implied bias, and racism, and as such needs to be addressed. The majority of it comes from the severe level of trauma that many of our students face in their daily lives. As a result, they need very specific services in order for trained professionals to help them address that trauma. The key words in that sentence being trained professionals.

That’s where I take an exception to the new policy. It puts the horse in front of the proverbial cart. The problem being solved shouldn’t be whether a child remains in school or not, but rather, “How do we get the child the services that they require.” This new policy outlines none of that.

There is an assumption made that if students remain in school, those services will miraculously be made available. While we recognize that there are areas that need shoring up, we assume that eventually funding for those additional services will be secured. Little detail is given as to how those needs should be addressed until “eventually” arrives.

Unfortunately, “eventually” never seems to arive and teachers, with minimal training, are left to try to provide those high level required services. We scoff at the idea of TFA candidates being qualified to be classroom teachers after 6 weeks of training, but we readily accept the notion that with some PD days, a restorative circle, and some empathy, classroom teachers are equipped to meet the needs of students suffering from intense trauma. We also talk about the urgency of a students education, yet we ask those children who follow the rules and try to learn as much as possible, to sacrifice weeks of instruction while a teacher provides services for a troubled student due to a policy that limits options. Where is the equity in that?

We also choose to ignore the fact that our schools are understaffed with teachers already. Attend any PTA meeting across the district and you’ll hear parents talk about the lack of math teachers or the use of long-term subs to fill vacancies. How is a child who has very real needs better served sitting in front of a long-term sub versus sitting at home? I don’t have an answer to that question but I can tell you how adults benefit from the policy. An administrator gets to mark that student present and the district’s rate of chronic absenteeism drops. Under the new ESSA act, that chronic absenteeism number carries a lot of weight. Chronic attends not factors into funding and the distribution of other resources.

Talk to principals and teachers, few of them support this policy. They certainly believe in the idea behind it but they don’t believe this policy matches up with the ideal. Dive into the reasons why we are experiencing a nationwide teacher shortage and the subject of discipline rises to the top. Teachers don’t feel like they have any control and as a result, many don’t feel safe. I know when we talk elementary kids we picture cute little kids capable of little damage. As a parent of a third grader and a fourth grader, I can attest that is not the end of the story. It is not uncommon to find a 100-pound fourth grader or even one like my son who weighs 60lbs and is wicked strong. The point is, teacher fears are not unfounded.

In this proposed policy change, bullet point 3 says that “Law enforcement will not be called to arrest students in grade PreK, through 4 (except for 500 level offenses). Administrative staff will call the Community Superintendent rather than the police.” Take a look at the student handbook (Starting on page 40) and you’ll see that assaulting a teacher is a 400 level offense. As is sexual assault, and gang intimidation. In fact, the only 500 level offenses are attempted homicide, homicide, possession of explosives or a firearm, and dealing drugs – which I would argue should be a 400. Aggravated assault of a teacher is a 500 level offense but what defines aggravated?

According to the handbook, “aggravated” is anything that causes more than “basic first aid.” And who makes that determination? I can think of at least one administrator this past year that suffered the consequences of a concussion as a result of a student action. Did that initially require more than “basic first aid”? I just don’t know how you can tell a victim of assault they don’t have the right to call the police unless they run it by their boss.

My fear is that in implementing this policy we will negatively impact another area of need. If teachers do not feel safe in the classroom, they will ply their trade elsewhere. There is nothing, in my eyes, in this policy that takes into account teacher safety and the safety of fellow students. That should be problematic to everyone. Equity means everybody, not just selected sub-groups.

Another concern of mine is that once again we are implementing policy without the supporting work. Where is the timeline? Where is the training? Where is the communication plan? It is this complete lack of supporting implementation that always makes me suspect about whose needs we are actually serving.

Are we truly serving kids if we implement the change with no meaningful training? How effective can the policy be if we implement it but have only communicated the “what” and not the “why, how, or when”? What about the implementation before fully informing parents? Do they even understand the changes or the need? Should they not be fully versed on a policy with potentially adverse effects on their kids?

This is how this administration continually does things, in a check the box manner. Look at the changes in progress reports or the plan for priority schools, both share similar hallmarks. I understand the need for speed but getting it right should be equally important. It’s why I’ve always detested the districts recent mission statement, “To be the fastest rising school district in the country.”

Education should be about getting it right, not getting it fast. Is there a parent out there who thinks, “I like my school but we’re just not improving as fast as the kids in Houston’? Or conversely, “I don’t like my kid’s school but at least they are improving faster than schools in Las Vegas.” Quality needs to always trump speed.

I’ve got to ask where the sense of urgency comes from. A glance at the data supplied by NOAH shows that the district is trending in a positive direction. Suspensions and expulsions are declining, though racial disparities still exist and are maintaining their levels. That being the case, why the rush to write policy? What’s the actual problem that is being addressed here? Yes, work needs to be done, especially on racial disparities, but it should be deliberate, well thought out, and effective work. Work that also puts an equal burden on city and state leadership in addressing.

As for today’s announcement, being as it is the Monday before Thanksgiving, let’s see how many principals actually read the edict, let alone communicate it to staff.  Of course, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are always a prime time to address policy changes. That was sarcasm. One thing this letter does do is allow Dr. Joseph to check a box when he makes a case for a contract extension. But how is that really putting kids at the forefront?

QUICK HITS

School board member Amy Frogge continues to fight for teachers and students with her latest Facebook post. Many wish she would quit bringing these very real issues to light as if they would cease to exist if nobody acknowledged them. Critics of Frogge make the argument that her calling attention to the issues hurts funding. I argue that it’s the issues that hurt funding. Just like arguing in front of the kids doesn’t wreck a marriage. Not addressing the issues wrecks a marriage.

Chalkbeat TN takes an extensive look into what the transition of the state superintendent position may look like. It’s interesting to me that everyone seems to be making a mad dash to say something nice and ignore the realities of the last several years. But not everybody,

“She was a kinder, gentler Kevin Huffman,” said Dan Lawson, long-time school superintendent in Tullahoma. “They shared the same political agenda and underpinning, but Candice was able to deliver it in a smoother, less abrasive fashion.”

Andy Spears over at Tennessee Education report also does his best to deliver an honest assessment. He quotes Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown,

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”

From her lips to God’s ears.

POLL QUESTIONS

The poll response was a little light this week, but still some worthwhile answers. Let’s review.

The first question asked who you thought was going to bear the ire of Will Pinkston after the recent election. Not surprisingly the majority felt that he would ease into a familiar role as attack dog for a person of power. 56% believed that those who opposed Dr. Joseph would become the recipients of Pinkston’s ire. Optimistically, 3 of you felt that Pinkston would be the bigger man and learn from his missteps. In related news, unicorns have been spotted on the lawn at Bransford Ave. Here are the write-in votes,

I’m sure he’ll act very “presidential” towards everyone who doesn’t agree w/ him 1
Shawn Joseph 1
Anyone who actively challenges his ability do nothing well and still get paid 1
Self 1
All of the above and then some 1
Who cares 1
Hopefully he will actually do right by teachers

Question 2 asked for your opinion on the prospect of hiring 2 individuals in Metro’s audit department to oversee MNPS spending. 27% of you classified the move as “more political posturing” with the number two answer being, “Maybe if he’d just go to meetings this would already be in place.” Only 2 of you felt this was the kind of stuff Pinkston was elected for.

I really thought there would be more response to the Pinkston questions, but he seems to have created an air of fatigue around his brand. Supporters are tired of defending their support, and critics have grown equally weary. It is a shame because with his intellect he could have really done some good for the families and teachers of MNPS if he hadn’t gotten sidetracked with personal issues. Here are the write-ins,

Hope he starts with Maritza Gonzalez’s paycheck 1
So nice of him to show up for work. 1
Ridiculous waste of money. School board should just do it’s damn job! 1
ridiculous-Joseph needs to be gone- not protected 1
Clear indication of lack of board trust. Let’s be fis calmly responsible, Fire J

The last question asked who you thought should be the next State Superintendent of Education. I love that Hillsboro HS Principal Shuler Pelham garnered the most votes. The state could certainly do a whole worse than elevating this respected educator. Some of the write-ins made me laugh aloud.

Dad Gone Wild 2
Sito & Maritza… save MNPS 500 K in total compemsation 1
A veteran teacher from TN 1
A printable who knows elementary, middle and high school 1
Susan Kessler 1
Dr. Adrienne Battle 1
Ron Woodard 1
Dr. David Williams 1
None of the above 1
All no’s 1
Tamera Lipsey 1
Shawn Joseph-at least he’s out of MNPS 1
Dan Lawson 1
Aimee Wyatt 1
Dr. Joseph. We’d be happy to share him with the whole state. 1
A real, truces and true educator who is empathic and savvy. 1
Sara Morrison 1
Sonia Stewart 1
Jesse Register 1
Amy Frogge 1
Shawn Joseph. He’d screw us less than he is now.

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon. Peace out.

 

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THE BOXER

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“Unfortunately, we’re just operating in an environment in which negative attacks, unlimited outside dark money, and unbridled tribalism is trumping — both figuratively and literally — everything else. That may sound like sour grapes, but it’s the truth.” – Will Pinkston on the trouncing of Phil Bredesen

“I am just a poor boy though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest, hmmm” The Boxer, Simon and Garfunkel

 

The election is over, the dust has cleared. The results are in and it’s been proven, Will Pinkston is not the smartest man in the room. I guess that title belongs to Ward Baker, as Baker led his candidate – Marsha Blackburn – to a double-digit victory in the race for Tennessee State senator. Ironically he did it by utilizing the same dark arts that Pinkston so often employs against others.

Word on the street is that many of the strategies that ended up dampening support for Bredesen – the Kavenaugh response for instance – were designed by Pinkston. That shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody when you don’t believe in anything…well you can’t relate to people that do. Obviously, that one move didn’t doom Bredesen, but when you are involved in a race that tight, there is no margin for error. In the end, Baker was just more disciplined and as a result, Pinkston’s candidate got clobbered.

The question now on everybody’s lips is, what’s next for Pinkston? A renewed interest in his job on the school board? Throughout 2018 he missed several meeting and when he did attend, he usually departed shortly after the consent agenda was read. My thoughts were that surely he’d start staying for the whole meeting now that his schedule was freed up, but if this week is any indication – he left once again shortly after the consent agenda and before the presentation on ACT scores – bad habits are hard to break.

He did come out of the gate with some policy proposals this week. The first being that the threshold for board approval on contracts be lowered from $100k to $25. This is not a new proposal. Both Jill Speering and Amy Frogge have brought it up for consideration in the past, but there was no will to pass it. Maybe now there is.

The second proposal is much more intriguing though it reeks of political gamesmanship. Pinkston proposes that Metro’s audit office hire two auditors at a 100K a clip and their sole responsibility would be to maintain constant oversite on the director’s office. Interesting, but isn’t there already an elected board that has that responsibility. To me, this is like Marcus Mariotta proposing that he continue to play quarterback but the Titans pay somebody extra to come in and throw the ball. In the words of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, “Do your job.”

In proposing the policy change, Pinkston maintains that the action is not directed at Joseph and has been a long time coming. Problem with that theory is, as fellow blogger Zac Barnes points out in his weekly Tip Sheet, Pinkston has been on the board for 6 years. If this has been a long time coming, why now? Why has he not addressed the issue in the last 6 years? After all, isn’t fiduciary oversight a large part of a board members responsibility? Hasn’t he been screaming, “underfunded district” for years? How are you going to ask people to fill the bucket if you won’t even ensure the holes are plugged?

What do I think is really going on here? I think that Pinkston is going to grasp the reins on the drive to get Joseph a contract extension. After all, as he likes to tell people, he brought Joseph here and he is his guy. This oversight proposal is the establishment of one more bulwark for Joseph. How can he be criticized for wasteful spending if he’s got two emissaries in the mayor’s office watching? Here’s a question for you though, who are those auditors going to be and how are they going to know if a proposed usage is a prudent usage? How will they identify wasteful spending? Will these two individuals be educational budget specialists?

Let’s add some things up here for a minute. We are proposing outside overview of finances. Bone McCallister is fixing the human resource department. TNTP is handling professional development. The University of Pittsburgh has the curriculum taken care of. NOAH is writing discipline policy. Am I missing anybody? So what exactly is the director handling? Why exactly are we paying him $300k plus a year?

I guess that is a question that may be answered in January when the board conducts its formative review of the director. If they conduct that review, something they didn’t do last year. Pinkston bristles at criticism of the evaluation process but last I checked, the formative review from June hasn’t even formally be completed yet. Does anybody have Baker’s number? Maybe he can get it done.

Good news is that I suspect teachers will see a proposal for a raise of about 4% in this years budget proposal. Forget that it’s the right thing to do, and remember, Pinkston is going to need to drum up some support for Joseph’s contract extension, not to mention the proposed raise that will surely come with it. This one comes straight out of the Broad Academy Handbook. Mute the criticism by buttering up the union. That creates a potential situation that is good for teachers but is it good for everybody?

All of this is admittedly speculation. Pinkston hasn’t talked to me in two years and has blocked me from his social media feeds for almost as long. Which to be honest, has been kind of nice. I do know he is a bully. A bully who just got his ass kicked, In true bully fashion, he won’t learn from the experience, but rather will look for someone else to bully. It may be charter proponents, it may be fellow board members, it may be people at the state level, it may be private citizens. Though I would be willing to bet it won’t be anybody affiliated with Ward Baker.

THERE WILL BE A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN

Yesterday Tennessee State Education Superintendent Candice McQueen announced that she’ll be stepping down after the first of the year to take a position with National Institute for Excellence in Teaching(NIET). NIST is a non-profit that focuses on attracting, developing, and keeping high-quality educators. McQueen will reportedly head up the new Nashville Office.

McQueen is personally respected by many educators across the state but issues with testing, teacher evaluations, and the heavy hand of the state burned a lot of that capital over the last several years. Per Chalkbeat, McQueen said being education commissioner has been “the honor of a lifetime” and that her new job will allow her to “continue to be an advocate for Tennessee’s teachers and work to make sure every child is in a class led by an excellent teacher every day.” While I often disagreed with her policies, I do want to thank McQueen for the class and dignity she brought to the position. A far cry from her predecessor.

Speculation now begins on who her successor will be. Several names are already up for conversation. Dorsey Hopson’s name has arisen. The current head of Shelby County schools endorsed Bill Lee in his candidacy and this could be his reward. State Senator Janice Bowling, a former teacher who supported Lee during his run is reportedly on the short list. District Superintendents Johnny McDaniel, Jason Vance, and Bill Heath are names that have come up and are all certainly qualified. In the end, Lee may choose to stay at home and promote current deputy commissioner at the state department of education, Lyle Ailshie.

There is also the very real possibility that it could turn out to be somebody not on the radar. Bill Lee is not a career politician and therefore he doesn’t have a whole lot of political relationships. That could be a good thing; or not. Time will tell.

BOARD MEETING

This past week MNPS held a board meeting.

I urge you to watch it. There is a lot of information dispersed throughout. For our purposes, I’d like to fast forward to the 1:30 mark where discussion about this years ACT scores. After the presentation board member Gini Pupo-Walker raises some good question about the difference in the achievement gap on ACT and that on EOCs. In her words, it seems as if the differences are much starker when it comes to the ACT versus the EOC. Dr. Changus doesn’t really have an answer, other than to offer cut scores as a possible culprit for the difference. He goes on the describe work being done with John Hopkins on early indicators that is proving promising.

At the 2:08 mark, board member Fran Bush lays out just how serious these scores are to her and that where we are currently should be unacceptable to everyone. She pushes Changus hard and then gives the scores for each individual high school. It’s not pretty.

At the 2:27 mark fellow board member Amy Frogge lays out her concerns that Dr. Joseph is not taking these scores serious enough. In support of that charge, she reveals that a test prep company tried to meet with Dr. Joseph in order to help improve scores and were rebuffed. Instead of talking ACT, Joseph preferred to talk about the “7 in his pocket”, referring to school board members.

Joseph denies the charge and Frogge brushes his denial aside by responding that she knows two of the people who were in the room and it was said. She then goes on to point out that Joseph has never taken the time to figure out who the players are and how they are connected. That I would argue is the central failing of this administration. They continue to try and do the work without building the relationships. Nothing is going to succeed on scale until that failing is addressed.

Following Frogge, Chair Dr. Gentry tries to defend Joseph but Frogge ain’t having any of it and tells Gentry, “I’m tired of the constant defending of the director.” Frogge goes on to make a formal request that the director stops the bad mouthing of board members at meetings with outside entities, something he seems to engage in regularly.

Once she gets the floor back, Gentry gives a classic Frogge speech circa 2015 about how test scores are influenced by trauma and poverty. The kind of speech that three years ago board members would roll their eyes at whenever Frogge would give it. Bush wasn’t having any of this either though and proceeded with a no holds barred rebuke, all done with a smile and a bless you.

Gentry and veteran school board members are clearly frustrated with Bush. Understanding her is fairly easy though. While the others are concerned with optics and politics, her only concern is teachers and students. Perhaps a little more dedication protecting those in their charge and a little self-interest would make things smoother.

One last note on the ACT numbers, as evidence of growth, Changus show black students who scored a 21 or higher growing from 20% in 2017 to 20.8% in 2018. That sounds good until you do the math. In 2017 a total of 2010 black students took the test. 20%, or 402 students, scored a 21 or higher. In 2018. less black students actually took the test, 1985. Of 1985, 20.8% scored a 21 or higher. That comes to 413 students. A difference of 11 students. Do the same math for white and Hispanic students and you get 49 and 36 more students respectively. Does that sound like exceeding expectations?

QUICK HITS

The calendar for next year was passed at the board meeting. So those who have been awaiting it to be finalized in order to make plans for next year should be able to find it on the district website soon.

MNPS has been awarded the American Heart Association’s 2018 Gold designation for Workplace Health Achievement! Check out the video to find out what is taking place to help employees get and stay healthy:

 

(photo by Gina Elizabeth Grimes Kelley)

The reviews are in and Overton High Schools performance of Bonnie and Clyde is a hit. You owe it to yourself to check it out. Showtimes are 7:00 Friday, Saturday, and Monday at Overton High School in the auditorium. Students get in for $5.00 with their ID- $10.00 general admission. This is adult themed.
Good luck to all these fabulous kids!!!

TEA ways in with their thoughts on who should be considered as the new state superintendent of education.

Local Blogger Vesia Hawkins has some thoughts for Bill Lee on how he should pursue education policy. Pretty solid.

I often hear people say, “I’d like to research things a bit more but don’t know where to go.” Blogger Peter Greene offers some advice and places to go.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a 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.

 

 

 

 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE

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“All battles are fought by scared men who’d rather be some place else.”
John Wayne

“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”
Abraham Lincoln

It’s a rainy Veteran’s Day, but I’m hoping you are finding the time to share a few thank you’s – both public and private – to those who sacrificed to keep us free. I grew up a military brat; a member of a family to whom service was a tradition. My father and uncles were Air Force, as well as my sister. Both my niece and nephew currently serve, he in the Air Force and she in the Army. Priscilla’s family is also heavily populated with those who have served. To those, and all of America’s veterans, I offer a hearty thank you.

Schools are closed and therefore things are a little quiet as we head into the holiday season. I’ve been meaning to share an ongoing conversation with my daughter and now seems an appropriate time to do. It’s a conversation that reminds me that to every action there is a reaction, and we should always be aware of unintended consequences.

“Daddy, am I Dutch?” she asked me one day as we were driving home from school.

“You come from Dutch and German heritage, but you are American”, I replied.

“I don’t want to be American daddy. American is boring.”

“Slow down. What makes you say that? American is anything but boring. You should be proud to be American.”

“I am,” she said resignedly, “It’s just that my friends are just so proud of their heritage and American just seems boring. I want to be proud of my heritage just like they are.”

This was an eye-opener of a conversation for me. As I mentioned previously, I am a military brat. The son of a Russian refugee to Germany. Diversity has been central to my life since birth and exposing my children to families from different backgrounds has been a primary tenet of mine. But what if in the pursuit of diversity, I’ve inadvertently lowered the value of being an American, something I am fiercely proud of.

In this age of Trump, nationalism, and patriotism has morphed into something ugly. Celebrating the greatness of America is viewed as the celebration of the oppression of others and as a focus on “I” as opposed to “we”. We can not let that become the prevailing narrative. It’s important that we value our shared culture every bit as much as our individual cultures. We can’t be quick to celebrate and praise other cultures while being proud of our American heritage is seen as an endorsement of the country’s worst angels.

We celebrate the movie “Black Panther” while ignoring the deep and contradictory history of Africa. We enjoy the pageantry of Hispanic culture yet never discuss the darker portions of its own history. The same holds true for Muslim and Asian cultures as well. I’m willing to bet all of us have been to some sort of multi-cultural festival in the last year, but how many have been to a festival celebrating American Culture? How many of us in celebrating those other cultures also take the time to examine their shortcomings?

I’m not downplaying the importance of recognizing and celebrating diversity, but I do believe that in the end, we have to take pride in our shared heritage as Americans. Yes, America has done some horrendous things in the past, but we have also accomplished things no other country has been able to do. We’ve created a republic, that continues to exist despite overwhelming odds against it. We’ve fought bad wars, but we also ensured that Europe survived. We settled a raw and dangerous country and turned it into a land of opportunity that is the envy of the world.

It’s important that we recognize our mistakes, but not for the purpose of permanent penance, but rather that we can avoid them in the future in order to continue to progress towards fulfilling our promise. There is no other country like America, and while we should recognize and honor other cultures, it is equally as important to honor and celebrate our own heritage and culture. This Veteran’s Day might be a good time to remember that and to make sure our children know it as well.

We need to remember that a whole bunch of people believed that what this country stood for, and what it means to the world, was worth dying for. There is nothing boring about that.

EXPERIMENT TIME

On Friday I mentioned an upcoming experiment that MNPS will be partnering with Florida State University to conduct. Over the summer I gave you a brief outline of what was coming. Here’s a little refresher of what that study is proposed to look like:

Twenty-five MNPS schools (see list of participating schools attached) will be involved in this study. Schools were selected based on interest and/or student achievement data. Because this study is an experiment, 13 schools will be randomly assigned to the Treatment condition and 12 schools will be randomly assigned to the Control condition in November 2018. The study will roll outslowly with Kindergarten teachers in the Treatment Group of schools implementing CKLA’s Knowledge Strand this school year(2018-2019); 1st grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2019-2020, and 2nd grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2020-2021. Kindergarten teachers in the Control Group will implement the CKLA Knowledge Strand in 2019-2020; 1st grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2020-2021, and 2nd grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2021-2022. On- going professional development and ALL materials will be provided to each teacher at no cost to the school or district.

As previously stated the majority of the schools come from the NE and NW quadrants. in other words, Priority Schools. This was sold with Florida State taking on the brunt of the financial burden. Yet we recently allocated half a million dollars to TNTP – a major player in CKLA implementation – and this week it’s proposed we give another half a million dollars for CKLA implementation through Amplify, a company with quite the checkered past. It is beginning to feel as if we are the ones shouldering the burden.

In looking at things from the outside it seems as if MNPS is continuing to flounder for a plan to address the needs of our priority schools. It’s like we are following in the shoes of the Tennessee Achievement Schools District and trying to solve the issues through programming. A strategy that they proved was ineffectual. A strategy that has since been altered and due to that alteration, appears to be actually showing progress under the guidance of newly appointed director Sharon Griffen.

Griffen is a long time Memphis educator whose name ironically enough was floated as a possible candidate for the MNPS Superintendent job. Six months ago she took over the long-struggling Tennessee Achievement School District. The ASD was created by Chris Barbic in 2011 with the plan to take over the bottom 5% of schools and move them into the top 25% within 5 years. Barbic soon found out that some things are easier said than done. He left and Malika Anderson took over in 2015. Both came to the job with visions of increased rigor and promises of guiding families out of the wilderness.

Both of her predecessors missed what Griffen gets. It’s the same thing that MNPS leaders miss. Making improvements is not about rigorous curriculum, high expectations, or telling people what they should value. It’s about relationships. It’s about investing the time to earn trust. It’s about listening to stakeholders tell you what it is they value, By all accounts, Griffen is doing that work. She’s meeting people where they are; not expecting them to come to her. She’s building relationships one conversation at a time.

“One of my biggest goals was getting our communities to think differently about the district,” Griffin told Chalkbeat this month. “People only interact with the superintendent or the central office when there’s an issue. We want to meet people where they are and tell them what we are going to do for them.”

There is no way to predict whether Griffen’s approach will prove successful or not, but I do believe that she is laying the groundwork for serious improvements to occur. Her’s method is one that I wish MNPS would adopt. Everybody recognizes the power of parent involvement but few are willing to do the hard work required to see it to fruition.

Some of Griffin’s solutions rely a little heavy on charter schools for my taste, but she seems to understand the role that central should play.

“My goal is to work us out of a job,” Griffin said. “When we have empowered all of our teachers and leaders to build capacity within schools, the hope is that they won’t need us anymore.”

Just the opposite of what Dr. Joseph seems to preach. Let’s see who actually makes the most progress.

THE LESSON LEARNED FROM AUBURN

Football fans are probably familiar with the predicament that the Auburn University’s Football team finds themselves in. Let me catch the rest of you up. Gus Malzahn became Auburn’s coach in 2013 and led them to the precipice of the national championship. From 2014 to 2017 the team regressed and it became apparent that Malzahn wasn’t a very good football coach. Fans wanted him replaced, but somehow his Tigers managed to beat both Alabama and Georgia, two powerhouses, in 2017. Based on those wins, and forgetting the previous 3 seasons, Auburn gave Malzahn a contract extension through 2024 and gave him a raise from $4.725 million per year to an even $7 million average.

Now it’s 2018 and the Auburn season is a mess. Everything everybody already knew about Malzahn is being proven again. Fan’s are restless and want a change at the top. Ah, but now there is a catch. Fire him this year and the university has to pay him $32.1 million. Heck, even wait until 2021 and it will cost $16 million. In other words, Malzahn ain’t going anywhere for a long time.

The lesson to be learned here? Be careful in handing out contracts lest you tie your hands in the future. What you know now, is most likely what you’ll know in 2 years. Don’t get blinded by shiny things. I wonder if Dr. Joseph has a picture of Gus Malzahn on his office wall.

QUICK HITS

The parent of any child that receives services through the exceptional education is eligible to attend the meetings of the exceptional ed department’s parent advisory committee. There is a meeting this Wednesday at Robertson Academy from 11:30 to 12:30. Its a great way to spend a lunch hour.

You’ve utilized book-mobiles, mobile groomers, and food trucks, now there is a new mobile service, mobile pre-schools. Rural school districts have experimented with the concept but now they are coming to parts of Denver. Per a new report in Chalkbeat:

The rolling preschools, which travel to apartment complexes or mobile home parks a couple of times per week, are seen as an innovative way to reach children who can’t access traditional bricks-and-mortar preschools.

I must say I am fascinated by the concept, and it seems like a good way to help bring pre-k education to families that might not be able to participate in brick and mortar preschools. The mobile classrooms are not without their own challenges though. They are expensive and…

Ensuring basic sanitation can be a stumbling block, too. Since Dutmar has one Magic Bus without a bathroom, it must be parked near a public restroom. Especially in the winter, bundling up wiggly children just for a bathroom break eats up a lot of time, she said. The good news is the foundation just finished its fund-raising campaign for a second Magic Bus motor home, which will arrive bathroom-equipped next summer.

An independent investigation has exonerated Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney. This is in relation to an incident that took place last February where Looney was charged with assaulting a student and a parent at Franklin High School after police were called to handle a psychological episode. A judge dismissed the two assault charges in April. The new investigation goes even further.

“This review determined that Dr. Looney was acting within the scope of his legal authority,” City Administrator Eric Stuckey said. “Moreover, the City respects the conclusion reached by Williamson County Judge Tom Taylor dismissing the charges and recognizes that all records relating to the incident were expunged by order of the court.  As a result, no formal report relating to this internal investigation will be published. The evidence suggests that all school personnel and first responders acted in good faith and were seeking to provide a student with the care she needed.” 

Hopefully, this closes the book on a rather bizarre incident.

In all the hoopla over the last week, I forgot to congratulate one of my favorite people on a big win. Gloria Johnson is heading back to the statehouse and we all are going to be better for it.

Stan Lee has left the building. He will be sorely missed. I urge you to read a piece he did for the Atlantic where he offered a powerful definition of the American idea. Thank you, Stan the Man.

And as one great one exits the building another enters. Congratulations to Katie and David Jones as they welcome the newest addition to the Oliver family.

POLL RESULTS

As always, Monday’s mean results and here the results from this week’s poll questions.

The first question asked for your feeling on how education will fare under newly elected Governor Lee. Not surprisingly most of you, 43%, are taking the wait and see approach. However, 28% of you are predicting a trainwreck. While 18% of you thought it can’t be worse than it already is. Only 3% of you think it’s going to be fantastic. Here are the write-ins.

Please share the Vocational Ed was retired in 1994. CTE is the current policy 1
I’m worried. 1
I just hope he actually cares about compensating teachers. It’s abysmal. 1
I think he won’t really fix the BEP

Question two asked you to grade the Joseph administration on its encouragement of parental involvement. The results do not present a ringing endorsement for Dr. Joseph. 56% of you responded that it was a shame that you couldn’t score him lower than a 50. 20% of you scored the doctor a “D”. That means that over 75% of respondents gave a failing mark to the district. The highest grade received was a single “B”. Clearly, work needs to be done. Here are the write-ins.

think schools try to be intentional. But there is nothing from the district 1
I know tons of parents, myself included, looking for an opportunity 1
Better late than never? 1
F 1
Only happens when it benefits Joseph & Cronies. Farce. They don’t care. 1
Schools have so much to do already.Can’t do it all 1
They don’t listen to the parents who are already involved. 1
involved patrents are empowered enough to hold MNPS accountable …

The last question asked whether the district should renew the Teach For America contract when it comes up in a few weeks. 41% of you said under absolutely no circumstances with 30% of you indicating that the money could be put to better use elsewhere. If you are a board member and you are wondering how to vote, that’s over 70% that say “no”. Only 3% felt that TFA offered great teachers. Here are the write-ins.

No 1
Absolutely not. Demeans the teaching profession 1
Maybe if HR did their job, we wouldn’t need TFA 1
No, and investigate Roderick Webb at Marshall MS 1
I don’t like TFA but I’m not convinced the HR dept can fill vacancies without it 1
Who gets a kickback for this

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon. Peace out.

 

SNEAKING SALLY THROUGH THE ALLEY

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“There are books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story… don’t be like the book-snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words–the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers who won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.”
Stephen King

“I want to disabuse people of the idea that knowledge is power. Knowing how to get to Detroit is not the same thing as having the bus fare.”
Andrew Vachss

 

Things typically calm down around this time of year, but for whatever the reason, this week was a busy one on a lot of different fronts. Let’s see how much of it we can cover.

The first thing I want to get to is that mess of a blog post from Monday. I think I tried to do too much with limited space. Whatever the case, it became a convoluted mess that left several of my points buried and made it appear as if I undervalue SEL.

These are the points I was trying to make:

  • SEL is certainly very important, but equally important is a love of content and the art of teaching. Yes, teaching is an art.
  • SEL works best, in my opinion, when it is authentic. Bad SEL practice is every bit as harmful as a lack of SEL.
  • I’m still not clear on where the line between great teaching and SEL practices fall or if there even is a line.
  • Making it a job requirement to love everybody you are responsible for is a lot of pressure to put on someone. Imagine if I made it a job requirement for you to love everyone you work with. You can serve and respect, without love.
  • How do you differentiate between results derived from district policy and sheer determination of teachers to ensure kids succeed? Isn’t it possible that two points of growth in actually is a loss of growth, because if policy aligned with teacher practice, growth would have doubled?
  • We put too much on the plate of teachers both in expectations and in time requirements. Teachers are amazing, but we can’t expect them to be superhuman.
  • Lastly, great teaching comes in all shapes, sizes, and looks. We should foster great teaching, not try to jam it into a cookie cutter model that fits preconceived notions.

I hope that’s a little clearer.

Tuesday was parent/parent conference time in MNPS. I just have to take a moment and say how truly blessed the Weber’s as a family has been by the teachers assigned to my kids. This is Avery’s 5th year at Tusculum and Peter’s 4th and they have had great instructors every year. As I sat in conference with this year’s teachers I couldn’t help but be struck by just how good they were. Let me just say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. A million times thank you.

Speaking of SEL practices, Avery’s teacher utilizes the conversation carpet. As I’ve learned this year, 4th-grade girls have a lot of conflicts. The conversation carpet gives them a place to resolve those conflicts. But as I said, the best SEL is rooted in authenticity, and Ms. Economos has the rep of being a “chill girl”. It’s that rep that empowers the carpet and makes it effective.

PARENT VOICE

Moving on, you might have heard me mention that Dr. Joseph is getting to the twilight of his first contract and it’s my belief that he’s currently preparing to bring up the subject of his next contract with MNPS. The current contract ends June of 2020 and therefore in an effort to avoid going into the final year with lame-duck status, he’ll want to get it done between now and February when budget season begins. Who better to champion a new contract but parents, unfortunately, parent involvement over the past two years hasn’t exactly been a priority.

Previously in the district, there existed a Parent Advisory Committee. Each cluster had its own PAC which was made up of one representative from each school in the cluster. Each cluster PAC elected 2 representatives who would meet 4 times a year with other cluster representatives and the director of schools. It wasn’t always pretty but it did provide a pipeline to the director and allowed parents from across the district to come together and discuss district challenges and successes. The criterion for representation was transparent and uniform.

Despite having a president, Barry Barlow, since Dr. Joseph’s arrival the district PAC has not met once. Cluster PAC’s have also gone dormant with only 3 – Overton, Hillsboro, and Stratford – having consistently met over the last 2 and a half years. I’m very proud to say that Overton stayed active through the efforts of Abby Trotter and myself, plus the tremendous support of the school administrators in the Overton Cluster. I know y’all are partial to your own, but we really do have the best.

Last Monday, Dr.Joseph convened a group of roughly 25 parents from across the district to discuss what parent voice would look like going forth. He instructed the community superintendents to select one parent from each cluster across the district to be representative of their cluster. What were the criteria for selection? Who knows. That was left to the discretion of the superintendents who as far as I know, kept that information to themselves. Where did the other 13 parents come from you ask? Again, who knows. Everything was done in a very clandestine manner.

Why do I say clandestine? Because the very day before the district meeting community superintendents sat in meetings with cluster parents and never once mentioned that such a meeting was even pending. That to me is the very definition of clandestine. If parent voice was truly the goal, why was notice of the meeting not given along with notice of who the representation was and the criteria of why they were selected? Would an existing parent meeting not be a prime place to garner information on what actually involved parents would like to see from the district. Instead, nobody said anything and I wonder how many parents even know such a meeting took place. Furthermore, in a follow-up tweet Dr. Joseph referred to the meeting as a PAC meeting despite many elected PAC leaders being excluded.

Apparently, the meeting was such a success that another one is scheduled for the near future. In this meeting, further steps will be taken to shape how parent voice is expressed in the future. Twenty-five people hand selected by district leaders will now dictate the model for parent voice going forward. District leaders love saying words like “transparency” and “equity”, but seldom do they live those words.

Joseph also tweeted a bizarre tweet reassuring parents that they didn’t have to have a college degree in order to advocate for their child. Ok…glad that was cleared up.

WHAT ACCOMMODATIONS

Don’t think for one minute that we are done with the sneakiness. As many of you know, upon Dr. Joseph’s arrival MNPS instituted MAP testing 3 times a year. What you may, or may not know, is that when administrating these tests, special needs students and EL students are supposed to receive the same accommodations – text-speech, read aloud – that they would receive on TNReady testing. Students did not receive those accommodations on the tests administered at the start of the school year. Parents were not officially notified that their children would not receive the expected accommodations at that time. In fact, many didn’t find out until the day of testing.

MNPS’s reasoning?

Previously schools were directed not to administer the Reading portion of MAP with Read Aloud or Text-to-Speech accommodations due to concerns that administering with this accommodation could result in failure to identify students at risk. However, students eligible for accommodations have previously been identified as being academically at risk.

That statement makes absolutely no sense because, first of all, MAP IS NOT A SCREENER. Let me say that again because, despite the “Dr” in front of their name many in MNPS can’t seem to accept it,  MAP IS NOT A SCREENER. Per NWEA, the test creator, there is a screener version but the district utilizes the growth model. I know you’ve been led to believe that we have the Super Duper Magical MAP test that does all things for all people, but that is not true. Using the growth model for a screener is like using a hammer for a screwdriver. Both are useful tools but perform very different functions.

After several parents drew district leaders attention to the fact that by not allowing accommodations, the district was not in compliance with federal regulations, the accommodations were miraculously restored. This is important information for parents to know. Many of you will have parent/teacher conferences that include MAP data. Now that the accommodations have been restored, some special needs and EL students will show miraculous growth. Based on this growth, a parent may be presented with the theory that their child’s MAP scores suggest that they don’t require special services. Please don’t be fooled.

In a couple of weeks, we will begin a districtwide discussion about MAP scores. With at least 8000k students now receiving accommodations who didn’t receive them on the initial test, I don’t know how you have an authentic conversation about results. Are the scores of all those kids going to be factored out? And if so, how accurate a picture does that paint?

One last thought on data, which I unsuccessfully tried to address earlier in the week, how do we draw a cause and effect line when it comes to the data we have? All schools across the district are not implementing district policy with the same fidelity, so how can success, or failure, be attributed to policy. By Dr. Joseph’s own admission, all schools do not have access to the same resources required in order to fully implement district policy. How much impact does that have? How much impact do individual teachers have? It may just be me, but I see way too many variables to be able to discern whether it’s causation or correlation at work.

ENHANCED SCHOOLS 

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been a lot of whispers around funding next year for enhanced option schools. These are schools that were empowered with special provisions through past desegregation acts. One of the big provisions being the extended school day. The talk has been that the district put pressure on these schools to end the extended school days. The district says that’s not true. Their only desire is that schools be a lot more intentional with their funding.

2018-19 student enrollment at the Enhanced Option Schools runs between 242 to 385 students at each school. The funds provided to each school for the extra 45 minutes of school/day ranged from $200,000 – $280,000/school based on enrollment. Most of these schools also receive a baseline supplement because the small student enrollment does not generate adequate money to fully staff a building in the student based budgeting model; these baseline supplemental amounts ranged from $237,140- $423,682 per building for 2018-19. The schools will not lose that money, either. The only precaution given in the meeting with school leaders and in response to individual questions was that any request for an “exception hire” may not be honored. (An exception hire request is to cover a unique situation that was not included in budgeting.) Enhanced Option Schools receive Title I funds that can cover those unique types of requests. Only two Enhanced Option Schools received “exception hire” funding for the 2018-19 school year.

The district’s position appears to be a reasonable one. But, this is where the establishment of trust is so essential. District leaders have failed to build up the level of trust needed in order to be effective. As a result, reasonable initiatives are looked at with nefarious intentions, as in this case.

The other thing is timing. This administration loves to present things up against a deadline. That doesn’t work well with most people. You have to implement things on a proper timeline. Rush people and they’ll feel like you are trying to bully them into a position, even if that’s not your intention. Again, a factor in play here.

RANDOM STUFF

Tennessee has a new governor in Bill Lee and when it comes to education he’s already making missteps by referring to Tennessee’s education system as being at the bottom of the nation. He quickly walked that one back. Many public education advocates are already wringing their hands over what policy Lee, an avowed fan of vouchers, might push. Let’s take a deep breath and see what steps he takes first. I would remind you of the unpopularity of education reform policies – vouchers, wholesale charter school growth, Teach for America – across the country. Whether its Newark, Indianapolis, Denver, New Orleans, or Memphis, nowhere in the country do those policies hold widespread appeal. Hopefully, Governor Lee will surround himself with people who will advise him on much sounder practices.

The arguments only get tougher for the ED reform crowd as more data is now available as opposed to as recently as two years ago. There are some charter schools that perform at a high level, and some that do not. Just like traditional schools. In light of the fact that neither is a magic bullet, why dismantle a system that has served the country well for years? It doesn’t make sense. Let’s invest in our existing schools before peeling off resources for a new unproven system.

Speaking of Teach for America, they have now arrived in Chattanooga; 15 teachers, 4 years, one million dollars. But that’s not the whole of it.

Those in favor of the agreement — which will actually cost about $3.3 million over five years — emphasized that the board’s $250,000 a year commitment is coming out of state grant money for the district’s priority schools.

The district received $670,383.30 for the 2017-18 school year, and another $921,886.11 for the 2018-19 school year for its nine priority schools, but further priority school funding is not a guarantee with a new governor taking office soon.

But don’t fret Nashville, you’ll get an opportunity to spend more of your hard-earned priority school cash as well. The Nashville TFA contract is up for renewal soon. But perhaps, Nashville will have spent all its extra money bt then.

If you’ll remember, last month we gaven TNTP a half million dollars to provide professional development for teachers employed at priority schools. The school board approved this expenditure despite being told over the summer that not a single school was utilizing TNTP for PD. This month we’ve got another cash prize for TNTP.

VENDOR: Amplify Education, Inc.

SERVICE/GOODS (SOW): Amendment #2 to increase the total compensation by $434,601.72 to reach a new not-to-exceed amount of $595,326.52. Amplify Education, Inc. will provide Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) Classroom Kits and associated materials to MNPS Priority Schools.

Don’t be fooled by the name Amplify attached to this ask, TNTP is the vehicle being used to implement CKLA in metro schools. I plan to write more about this in the upcoming weeks, but the short version of the story is that we are investing this money in CKLA at the same time we are partnering with Florida State University and utilizing various MNPS schools to conduct an experiment on the effectiveness of CKLA. Which schools do you think are participating in this experiment? Have parents been fully briefed on the pending experiment? You would think such a high profile undertaking would be all over the MNPS website, but if you thought that you’d be wrong.

Education historian David Labaree has written an excellent piece on public education and its transition from a “public good” to a “private benefit”. The point that drives things home for me is the following:

All but gone is the assumption that the purpose of schooling is to benefit the community at large. Less and less often do Americans conceive of education as a cooperative effort in nation-building or a collective investment in workforce development. Increasingly, rather, school comes to be viewed as an intense competition among individuals to get ahead in society and avoid being left behind. It has begun to look, to a great extent, like a means of creating winners and losers in the pursuit of academic merit, with the results determining who becomes winners and losers in life.

Do you know what MNPS school board member is heading up what committee? I know it’s only November but I’ve yet to see an announcement.

Overton Model UN Delegate Conference is this weekend! We want to wish this great group much success!!! 5 teams and 3 officers!!

Dr. Kellie Hargis, Principal of Hume-Fogg HS and Mrs. Cathy Parsons, English Teacher, accepted the National Blue Ribbon Award from the US Department of Education this week. Congratulations to the entire Hume-Fogg community for your commitment to excellence!

Here’s some good news to share. MNPS, as a direct result of the decision to pay for tests, has increased the number of students taking advanced AP classes.

“Prior to last year, we didn’t ask students to take advanced academic tests because we couldn’t ask them to pay. Or they would opt out due to the cost,” said Laura-Lee Morin, Metro Nashville Public Schools advanced academics director.

“When we removed the cost barrier … we had some minor attrition from those classes at the beginning of the year, but the ones that stayed throughout the year participated and that resulted in a huge increase.”

This is a huge deal. Even though the number of students earning college credits didn’t increase – students earn credits by scoring a 3 or above – the number of students did not fall back. Some people may choose to focus on the results of those taking the test, but granting access is an important first step. This one deserves to be bragged on.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a 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.

TEACHER IMPACT COMES IN MANY FORMS

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“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”
Theodore Roosevelt

“Everybody gets a tag. If you listen to a Velvet Underground record, you don’t think, ‘Godfathers of Punk.’ You just think, ‘This sounds great.’ The tags are there in order to help try to sell something by giving it a name that’s going to stick in somebody’s memory. But it doesn’t describe it. So ‘depressing’ isn’t a word I would use to describe my music. But there is some sadness in it — there has to be so that the happiness in it will matter.”
Elliott Smith

As of late, I’ve spent a fair amount of time ruminating on the teachers I had growing up. I was fortunate enough as a kid to attend a number of very different schools. My father was military and so I attended an urban school in Texas, schools on bases in Colorado and Germany, and a rural school in Pennsylvania. At all those schools there were teachers that left a mark, and some not so much.

There was Mr. VonHendy in third grade. He was in his early thirties and the epitome of cool in that 70’s beard and turtleneck manner. He was fun to cut up with, dated the attractive social studies teacher, and we all wanted to be like him. In 5th grade, it was Mr. Anthony, a large man who was the opposite of Mr. VonHendy, but he knew all kinds of cool stuff and would show you how to use the encyclopedia to find out even more cool stuff if you asked.

In Junior High school I had an English teacher, whose name escapes me at the moment, that brought the classics to life for me. Since I was in trouble so much in her class, she’d probably be shocked to learn that I credit her with my appreciation of those said tomes. She taught me not to get hung on the language of Shakespeare, Hawthorne, or Dickens, and to instead focus on the themes which have proven universal. She might have scared me a bit, but thanks to her the fear of heavy reading left me. She also inspired my love of the Romantic poets by drawing the parallels between Byron and Doors vocalist Jim Morrison, Shelly and deceased Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones.

There was Herr Paultz my German teacher I loved to spar with. “Weber, you are good at walking on the fence”, he was fond of saying, “But someday you will fall off.” Oh, if he only knew. We might not have bonded but I certainly learned a lot from him.

Ms. Whitock was my drama teacher who pushed me to realize my potential, taught me the value of hard work, and scared the living bejebees out of me. Not to mention that I thought she might be a little crazy.

Mr. Denis, as I’ve mentioned in the past, was sarcastic and biting, but taught me lessons about environmental science that are still relevant today.

Mr. Melinkoff was a diminutive teacher of social studies who brought Russia to life for a bunch of High Schoolers. Mr. Below taught high school English and was a member of our church, maybe the nicest teacher I ever had. Both approached their subject with a difference in temperament, but a shared passion.

There were some bad ones as well. My high school soccer coach for three years, who spent the majority of that time telling me how the kid at a neighboring school was so much better than me because of his work ethic. He got so mad at me one time for letting a goal go through, that he kicked a medicine cabinet all the way down the sideline berating me the whole time. Truth is, he’s been a major influence on my coaching style. He showed me the wrong way to do things, and I avoid making those mistakes with my son’s teams.

These days, I read social media posts and articles where so much is said about the need for teachers to love their students. I find myself wondering, did any of those aforementioned teachers love me? To be honest, I don’t think so. I’m not even sure all of them liked me, and I am sure I was a source of major frustration to many of them. But loving me wasn’t their job. They had something more important than love for me, they had a love of teaching and a love of their subject matter that they wanted to pass on.

In the 90’s I found myself in need of legal representation. I hired an attorney with a flawless reputation. After telling him my tale over the phone, I asked him if I needed to come by the office.

“Will it make you feel better?” was his reply.

I got the message. Was I looking for a friend or was I looking for a lawyer? I chose the latter and never regretted it.

My teachers in school were cut from that cloth. They had a job to do and they were passionate about it. No matter what the subject was, I could feel those teachers excitement in exposing me to it. To this day I don’t pay attention to news about Russia because Mr. Melinkoff asked about my feelings but rather because of the feelings I got when he described being in the streets of Moscow to me. It all about the passion for learning as opposed to the passion for me.

That’s the lens that I look at the recent Social and Emotional Learning movement through. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the importance of sensitivity, empathy, and treating all with respect. But I think that’s all part of just being a decent person. Do we really need to invest millions of dollars and hundreds of hours in professional development to ensure that teachers are dealing with kids by being decent people? Shouldn’t we assume that the vast majority already are?

Think about this for a moment. Why do most teachers go into teaching? Financial reward? Looking for a low-stress job? Fame? Summers off? It’s none of those. By and large, it is a desire to be of service in preparing young people for adulthood. Odds are, if you are not sensitive, empathetic, or compassionate, you won’t be drawn towards the teaching profession. Odds are you wouldn’t take on gobs of student loan debt in order to pursue a degree that would enable you to practice a profession in which you’ll earn one-third of what your peers do if you didn’t already have the basic SEL tenets down.  It’s like taking a student right out of the seminary, hiring them at your church, and then enrolling them in classes proving the existence of God.

The building of relationships is huge, and obviously, I formed strong ones with some of my teachers, but authenticity is so important in forging lasting relationships. I see all the memes about teachers being positive, and charged up, and always energetic. That’s exhausting and just unsustainable. That’s also not a realistic mindset to model for kids that are just trying to get through life under some horrible circumstances.

Kids get it. Some days suck and seeing your teacher react to a tough day and persevere can be powerful. Especially if they are doing it in a manner that appears authentic and not some manufactured public display. It’s empowering to know that you can have days where you are just not feeling it, and tomorrow will be better.

Not every teacher practices SEL in a manner that looks identical, nor should they. There are a lot of kids to reach and a lot of different means to reach them. Let’s empower teachers innate abilities as opposed to creating some cookie cutter model that in the long run is not going to prove any more effective.

I just can’t buy into the narrative that there is a large number of teacher lollygagging around the teachers’ lounge talking about how dumb their charges are and how much they can’t stand them. Those people tend to get naturally weeded out and discover that there are a lot of easier ways to make 43K a year.

I’m not saying every teacher is spectacular but before we go devaluing them, let’s try paying them a solid salary, provide adequate resources, and allow them to utilize the inherent skills they have worked hard to develop. We used to kind of do that. I acknowledge that my generation has made a lot of mistakes, but we’ve done alright at keeping this country afloat and moving forward through some turbulent times. The last 30 years have seen some transformative social change and huge growth in technology. It would seem that our primary education has served us well.

One quick side note. I do find it amusing that there is a STEAM initiative due to the supposed need for people in related industries. But who’s getting the big money? Why those with Liberal Arts degrees of course. But are we rushing off to increase Liberal Arts programming?

Getting back on track, we think we understand the real impact of teachers but I question whether we really do or not. If we did would we be continually overloading them with initiatives that make it harder for them to fulfill their true mission? If we understood their true value would we continue to ignore their input?

District administrators like to take marginal results, be it test results, survey answers or otherwise, and offer them as signs that district policy is working. But how do we know that? How much of those results are the by-product of a teacher using their god given talents and skills to make damn sure that as many kids as possible make progress? How do you differentiate between growth that transpires due to policy and that which transpires due to teachers being willing to climb over glass shards to serve their kids? Have you ever met a teacher that says, “yea, that policy doesn’t work so we are just going to let it fail?” I haven’t. It is because most care that deeply.

Right now you are probably thinking, “All right TC, this is all mildly interesting, but what’s your point? What are you trying to say.”

I guess my point in all of this is, that if are going to have really great teachers we have to quit adding to their plate and start trusting that they are the experts in their field. We have to quit tightening the definition of quality teacher and start realizing that quality teachers come in all shapes and sizes. We have to recognize that some need more professional development and managing more than others. Differentiated management is every bit as important as differentiated learning. In other words, we need to free the inherent passion in education instead of continually trying to condense it into a prescribed look.

Maybe what I’m trying to say, is let’s try a little more substance and a lot less style.

QUICK HITS

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, H.G. Hill Middle School teachers and students will be participating in the Rise Against Hunger project. Volunteers are needed to help package meals. You can sign up to volunteer or learn more about the project here.

Tomorrow Metro Council meets at 5 to discuss and then vote on the funding for a new building for the Nashville School of the Arts. The old building has become completely inadequate, thus the importance of this initiative. It was 10 years ago that a new building was initially proposed, the time is now to get things moving. Please call your councilman and tell them this needs to get done.

Some new interesting artwork has begun to pop up around the district. I’m curious to see just how far it spreads. Thinking of making up and selling t-shirts.

The MAP testing window opens up this week for kids in grades 2-9. Parents were not officially notified, but accommodations have been returned to all EL and Special Needs kids. These accommodations – read-a-loud text – though outlined in individual IEPs and available through the MAP platform were not provided during testing at the beginning of the year. Please keep in mind this will have an impact on scores this go around and any future conversations on growth should recognize this variant.

Election day is tomorrow. If you haven’t voted yet, please make plans to do so. I’d like to go ahead and put one more unabashed plugin for Bob Freeman if I may. He’s run a fantastic campaign. One that illustrates exactly what he’ll bring to the job.

In some ways though,  I’m kind of disappointed that the election is coming to an end because that means no more comically unhinged attack fliers directed at Bob. He must have scared somebody because I’ve gotten at least a flier a day for the last 10 days, and I’ve already voted. Rest assured that none of the attacks are rooted in fact. Bob will make a great state representative, but only if you do your part and vote for him.

“He’s a very charismatic, very forceful person,” says at-large Metro Council member David Briley, “We’ve invested a lot of money in our schools over the last few years, and none of us wants to see that money wasted because we were afraid to make some changes.” Who was he referring to when he made that statement and I wonder if he remembers making it?

We talk a lot about the importance of having a person that looks like the majority of the children in MNPS as a director, but there is one glass ceiling that has yet to be broken. MNPS has had two men of color in the last 20 years but never a woman. Carol Johnson was the school boards initial choice before Pedro Garcia was hired. The official story is that Johnson was offered the job, negotiated a $30k raise, and then turned it down; electing to stay in Minneapolis. The unofficial story has always been that she was pressured to decline by board members who at the time would have preferred a man. It’s a bit shameful that an organization predominately made up of women has never had a woman at its head. Oh well, one glass ceiling at a time.

Croft Middle School is planning to do some tree planting in two weeks and they’d appreciate your help.

As part of their Veterans Day activism, J.T. Moore Middle School students are collecting items for care packages to send to troops overseas. Deadline for donations is Nov. 15. Packages will be mailed on Nov. 16. Please help by dropping items in the front office. – at J. T. Moore Middle School

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a look at the results from the weekend polls.

The first question asked for your opinion on the new charter collaborative. 39% of you answered, “here we go again”. 25% of you were unclear on the need it was addressing. 3% of you felt that the collaborative would provide a fresh voice in the conversation. Here are the write-in answers:

Negative 1
Worried 1
Does it really matter? We little people have no control. 1
Power in numbers 1
Why are they not collaborating with MNPS teachers it’s well? 1
When can we focus on retaining the quality teachers still left? 1
More money wasted!! Why can not the office of charter schools handle it? 1
organizing the opposition 1
Can’t believe it’s even a thing. 1
Joseph is luring Gini Walker to his side and sadly it appears to be working

The second question asked for your thoughts on the recent action taken by TSSAA over an altercation that transpired at an Antioch/Overton football game. 30% of you felt that it was appropriate, with 22% of you recognizing the need to take decisive action.

This incident is the root for some of my recent thoughts on SEL. As an athlete in High Schools, such an altercation would have never been tolerated. It was drilled in us right from the start that as an athlete I represented first myself, then my team, and lastly my school. That tenet was every bit as important as winning. The incident between Overton/Antioch was not an outlier. Over the last several years there have been more on-field fights than anyone would like to admit. It makes me question what guidance is being provided to these athletes. Here are the write-in votes:

Consequences are needed but these may punish more students that are not involved 1
they are not trying to keep suspensions down, good! 1
Why only “unfairly punishes Overton”? 1
Probably an adult issue that’s impacting students

The last question asked about the climate surveys that were just recently completed by teachers. The district has increased the importance of those surveys and as a result, there have been rumblings of administrators attempting to influence results. 42% of you responded that principals had merely pushed the completion of results at a greater frequency. 15% of you responded that it was business as usual. Here are the write-ins:

They know of it? 1
None. The results will be made public, and what bad principal wants that? 1
Email everyday 1
Lots but no suggested answers 1
Hmmmm 1
principals pressured to get teachers to complete 1
They are watching as we fill them out 1
We were directed to do it. So we did it. 1
Tons. Culture is horrid. If things stay status quo, most vets will leave soon. 1
Afraid of Dr Coverson.Someone help us! get him out 1

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon. Peace out.

 

 

WELCOME BACK TO THE THUNDER DOME

4

“We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“Make your interactions with people transformational, not just transactional.”
Patti Smith

 

I just finished the latest book by Bernard Cornwell. If you have never read Cornwell, you are doing your self a disservice. He writes well researched, keep-you-on-the-edge of your seat historical fiction. The book I just finished, War of the Wolf, is set in England at a time when Christian kings were trying to unite the country against the Danes, and the so-called pagans.

Uthred is the unofficial king of Northumbria, which is officially ruled by his son-in-law King Sigtryggr. As a sub-plot of the book King Edward is forcing Sigtryggr to swear fealty to him and become a Christian. This despite the fact that in Northumbria citizens are allowed to worship as they see fit. Sigtryggr does not want to swear allegiance, but he recognizes the disadvantage he finds himself with.

Uthred and he are discussing the pending swearing of allegiance which leads Sigtryggr to make the following statement about why he is agreeing to sign the proposed allegiance.

“I have the Scots to the north, my fellow Norseman to the west. And Saxons to the south, and fewer than two thousand men to fight them all. And that is why I am here.”

I stopped for a minute and thought, that is not unlike the situation that Metro Nashville Public Schools often seems to find themselves in. Truth is, I’d wager that it’s the circumstances that the very institution of public schools finds itself in. Public Education as we know it is under the constant threat of attack. This week and old force raised a new banner.

Per an article in the Tennessean, several local charter school leaders have been meeting informally over the last several months to address common challenges. That’s a good thing because through collaboration solutions are often more readily found then through the lens of one individual. The problem comes with the move to formalize the collaboration under the umbrella of an organization that has been politically active, the Tennessee Charter School Center.

According to the Tennessean, the goal is, “forming a collective in an effort to learn from one another and leverage resources”. And according to that press release “Talent Recruitment” is one of those resources. Furthermore, they claim that the formation of this formal collaboration will allow them to better communicate with MNPS. Huh?

Does MNPS not already have an office of charter schools? Does Dennis Queen not already have the reputation as the man who walks central office with nothing ever in his hands? Why are we paying him $155k a year if the charter schools need to form a collaboration in order to better communicate with MNPS? Of course, that begs the question, what are we paying him for the period?

But we all know that none of the previous reasons is why formal collaboration is being established. The reason for the formation of this collaboration is for the reason it’s always been, to grow the brand. If it was about educating kids, then the charters would take the relative anonymity that they’ve been given over the last two years and use that space to improve student outcomes. Outcomes for some members that are in definite need of improvement. I dare anyone of those involved in the new collaboration to argue that every one of those schools involved is a “high performing” charter schools. Because guess what, that not what has been said privately over the last year.

Let’s take a deeper look at the “success stories”. Something I’ve held off on doing this for the last year because my focus has been elsewhere and I’ve got no problem with schools that are serving their families and focusing on educating kids. I have repeatedly stated that I have no desire whatsoever to continue with the endless debate over charter schools, however, I will defend something that I believe in when it’s under attack and this creation of a collaboration is a sign of a pending attack.

Valor Flagship Academy. Doing an awesome job right? Setting records. Blowing the doors off MNPS schools. Let’s peel the onion back a minute. How many kids do you think are enrolled? Try 270. Of that 270, 14% are black and 15% are Hispanic. Yet Hispanic and Black kids make up 50% of suspensions. 49% of their students are considered impoverished. Vallor Collegiate SE is 230 kids. 19% black, 23% Hispanic and 50% white. 42% of out of school suspensions are by black students with 11% being Hispanic. 56% get free and reduced lunch.

Compare those numbers with nearby Croft and McMurray Middle Schools which serve 712 and 800 students respectively.  The percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunches are 70 and 94 percent. The percentage of non-white students is 63% at Croft and 82% at McMurray. Yet these 3 schools are all within 5 miles of each other. How can that be since its an equal playing field, right? Unless, like we’ve always known, it’s not a level playing field. But charter folks never seem satisfied, even with the rules tilted in their favor.

If the true intent of this new organization was just to create collaborations, why the need to make a PR push and create a hashtag? Is that hashtag suddenly going to ease communication between MNPS and the charter community or is it going to spur interest from families that weren’t previously considering a charter school? Is Randi Dowell suddenly going to want to talk more with Todd Dickson because it’s now a formalized collaboration, or will the increased communication come between them and those who write the checks?

The cynic in me believes it’s a lot harder to collect checks when it’s just Dickson and Dowell sitting around having coffee. It’s probably just coincidence that this announcement comes the week before the race for governor ends and Bill Lee, an avowed choice proponent takes office. Between Trump, Lee, and the culture they will collectively create, I suspect there will be no shortage to the cash heading towards charter schools operators and you got to have a formal organization to rake that in.

Local blogger Vesia Hawkins gets credit for saying what others try to talk around,

Charter leaders from the city’s highest performing schools representing more than 12,000 students have solidified a coalition under the umbrella of the Tennessee Charter School Center on the choice battleground that is Nashville, TN.

And it will become a battleground. Expect the school board race of 2020 to more closely resemble 2016 then the just recently passed election. I expect that zealots from both sides will quickly ramp up the rhetoric while our district continues to suffer. After all, this is a fight you can engage in with little fear of being called a racist and offers up straw men to attack for both sides and no shortage of candidates for villanhood.

Over the last year, I heard several people voice the belief that organization like the Scarlet Foundation, Nashville Public Education Foundation, and other traditional supporters of privatization efforts supported Dr. Joseph because his leadership weakened the district thereby providing fuel for increased charter school demand. I never really bought into it, but in reading the tea leaves over the last several months, it becomes a theory that is hard to dispute.

Meanwhile, who suffers? Teachers and kids. Instead of everybody focusing on their charges and growing things organically for the betterment of kids, we are going to dictate winners and losers and use kids learning to propel adult arguments. Instead of bragging in their press release about how this will benefit charter schools talent recruitment, tell me how this collaboration will benefit that kid at Joelton ES, a high poverty school that suffers from constant teacher attrition. Tell me how any of this benefits the majority of kids in MNPS and not just the select few that have resources to take advantage of the coming growth in charter schools.

We look at the schools on the priority school list and we scratch our head, “Why are things not improving?”, completely ignoring the fact that we continually do the same things over and over. We continually hire superintendents that try to use the same failed strategies and we remain forever locked in the same battle of charter versus traditional schools. As a result, nothing ever changes, And I mean nothing.

So welcome back to the Thunderdome. I hope you haven’t let your Twitter skills get ready or forgotten the old talking points. No need to learn new ones, the old ones will suffice just fine.

I’m just sad because I really have enjoyed my newly forged relationships with local reformers and I have felt that the conversations had matured. That’s what I get for being an optimist and believing that it really is about teachers and kids.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, then you are ignoring the fundamental fallacy of charter schools; you can’t run two school districts side by side while drawing resources from a single pool.

ACT SPIN

Hopefully, you’ve had the opportunity to read the recent article on ACT scores from McNeely, Pigott, and Fox – I mean the Tennessean. The article praises MNPS scores for raising from 18.8 to 18.9. In the article, Dr. Joseph accepts the accolades but offers some caution.

Right now, you might be scratching your head and thinking, “18.8? But Dr. Joseph has been accepting accolades for the last 6 months on scores of 19. I heard him on the radio saying we scored a 19. What’s the story?”

The story is that it was initially reported that MNPS scored a 19, but district officials have been appealing that score based on the belief that 150 students scores had been left out. The state recently revised the score to 18.8 and that means we grew .1 this year. There you have it.

QUICK HITS

The reading wars are once again heating up. I know, everything that is old is now new. Emily Hanford wrote an article making the accusation that teachers were ignoring science in the teaching of reading, and battle lines were quickly drawn. This week Erin Hinrichs has a thoughtful piece in the MinnPost that attempts to look even deeper into the use of phonetics in the teaching of reading. I find it curious that the same science warns of the dangers of teaching kids to read too early as well. Wonder if anyone will heed that advice?

Dr. Joseph once told a roomful of principals that there ain’t no crazy, like Nashville crazy. I’m not sure that is true. Seems to me that things are pretty crazy in Prince George County. There’s a school board race coming to a head and it’s drawn some bitter lines.

Those challenging the establishment-backed picks are touting their outsider status, saying it makes them more likely to provide strong oversight of a school system plagued by controversies including large pay raises to top aides, inflated graduation rates, a sex abuse scandal and the loss of a multimillion-dollar Head Start grant.

“I know there are problems in the schools, and I’m going to tell it all,” said Belinda Queen, who is challenging incumbent Carolyn Boston (District 6), the current board vice-chair. “I’m going to speak up for the people.”

Critics of the minority bloc accuse them of seeking the media spotlight and failing to work constructively with their fellow board members — problems they say would be exacerbated if the group adds new members Nov 6.

“It would be a disaster,” Boston said. “We need to work together and to speak with one voice.”

Good thing none of those issues are happening here in Nashville.

Blogger and educator Zac Barnes has his take on the recently created Charter Coalition. Obviously, it’s a bit different from mine, but I urge you to read it and make up your own mind. Congratulations to him as well for recently earning his doctorate.

On Friday passed a melee broke out at the Antioch/Overton High School Football game. As a result, Overton has been disqualified from this year’s playoffs and both teams have been banned from the playoffs for 2 years. A bit heavy-handed but this kind of stuff can’t happen.

This is what happens when you have an HR department that comes from a medical background instead of an education background. Here are some questions from the recently administered climate survey.

#33 How easy do you find interacting with students at your school who are from a different cultural background than your own?
#37 How easy would it be for you to teach a class with groups of students from very different religions from each other?
#39 How easily do you think you could make a particularly overweight student feel like a part of class? 

Let’s be clear here, there ain’t nothing “easy” about teaching. To insinuate such shows a lack of cultural sensitivity.

The former head of MNPS STEAM education, Kris Elliot, continues to do great things out west. Sure wish we had a program like this in Tennessee. It shows what can happen if you stop doing the same things over and over.

Some new principal announcements for you. Jessica Hardin will be the new principal at Inglewood. She was previously at Ivanetta H Davis Early Learning Center. Dana Eckman the current Director of Early Learning will replace Ms. Hardin. At Warner ES Ricky Gibbs will be returning to MNPS as their new principal. He’d previously rocked it at Glengarry ES before heading to Memphis. We are glad to have him back.

Only a few days left to cast your vote for Bob Freeman in District 56. Come on y’all.

My conservative friends may not like it, but check out the latest from my good friend Will Hoge.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a 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.