“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”
“The answer is good things only happen to you if you’re good. Good? Honest is more what I mean… Be anything but a coward, a pretender, an emotional crook, a whore: I’d rather have cancer than a dishonest heart.”
You might want to grab some snacks before you settle in to read this one. Something tells me it is going to be a long post. We are living in some surreal times and I’m afraid our actions, or lack there off, are going to lead to some dire consequences unless we start getting honest with ourselves and people start speaking out when they hear untruths.
It seems like I have daily conversations where people say one thing in private and then turn around and spout the exact opposite in public. I don’t if the motivation derives from fear, self-interest, or just not wanting to step above the crowd. But it’s not doing anyone any favors, and there should be no reason why that dichotomy exists. Yet it does.
This past week Council education committee chairman Steve Glover held the last of his district listen and learns on education. I joined about 8 other parents under the guise of the council wanting a further understanding of Metro Nashville Public Schools in order to improve upon the budget process for this year. Keep in mind under the city charter, the metro council can only designate an amount of money. They can not designate how the school board uses that money once designated.
In addition to the parents, in attendance were school board rep Rachael Elrod, her husband CM Jeremy Elrod, Community Superintendent Dottie Critchlow, MNPS chief lobbyist Mark North, CM Brett Withers, and a couple of other folks from MNPS. I listened and here’s what I learned.
- Steve Glover and Mark North served on the School Board together and have seen everything. As such they have quite a few anecdotes, the evening was punctuated by frequent crosstalk between Glover and North in regards to how they handled various issues. I can only surmise that since the issues in question were still issues, their solutions weren’t very effective.
- Steve Glover is a self-described fighter, maverick, and someone who tells people what they don’t want to hear. I can only take him at his words because I never got a tangible picture of how he was going to bring those traits to bear for MNPS.
- Steve Glover doesn’t want to know too much about the issues. Any time things got a little bit in the weeds Glover, quickly pulled them out, stating, “That’s an issue for the schools’ board.” This was done in spite of the fact that there were only 8 other parents in attendance and people had dedicated 90 minutes to the meeting. Getting a little in the weeds might have led to greater understanding, but since he and North had served on school board…
That is the extent of what I learned at this listen and learn. Oh…I did learn one other thing. Steve Glover is considering a run for a council-at-large position. So, you can probably surmise the real reason for this meeting.
I did take one benefit away from the meeting, it provided me an opportunity to talk with CS Dottie Critchlow. Critchlow and I haven’t talked for several months, as I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with her continued support of policies that are, in my mind, detrimental to kids. Our conversation didn’t bridge any divides or even assuage any of my frustration, but it was a reminder that the people who hold these positions are real people who are wrestling with their own challenges.
Sometimes my frustration grows to a level that I lose compassion. That’s never a good thing. It’s fair to challenge. It’s fair to criticize. It is never fair to dehumanize. I have no insight whatsoever into the internal challenges that Critchlow and the other community supes are facing, nor the toll, and to what extent, it takes on them personally. That’s something none of us should ever lose sight of. So thank you, Dottie, for keeping it real. I needed that reminder.
SCHOOL BOARD MEETING
This past week’s board meeting was akin to the images of a Salvatore Dali painting come to life. I’m still searching for the connection to reality. Board Chair Sharon Gentry was quick to get the party started when she began by recounting a recent visit she and Dr. Joseph had taken to Carter Lawrence ES. She wanted to praise the principal but didn’t want to call her out because she knew she’d mispronounce her name. Huh?
Vice-Chair Buggs then told her the principals name, Sherleta. What’s hard to pronounce? Gentry offered up that she got the first name, but it was the last name. Sanders? The principal’s name is Sherleta Sanders. Say it with me, Sherleta Sanders. Imagine for one second how you would feel if your boss went to praise you in front of everyone but couldn’t remember your name. Inexcusable, but it gets worse.
The gist of the praise doled out by Gentry on Sanders was that she witnessed a child run up and give a hug to Sanders. I’m sure that Sanders is doing wonderful work, but are hugs really a true measure of the quality of work being done? If that’s how we are evaluating, then I need to be put in charge of the SEL department because every week when I go in to read, I’m inundated with hugs. As I walk the hallways to my designated classrooms I’m greeted with hugs and high-fives from kids from past classes I’ve read to. It doesn’t mean that I’m a superstar, this is just what happens with elementary school kids and adults who interact with them. Spend any time in schools and you would know that. It’s very rewarding and reaffirming, but it’s not a measurement tool.
Gentry ain’t done yet though. She then proceeds to point out the difference between what she witnessed this year and last year. According to her, this is an event that wouldn’t have happened last year. Really? Then why was last years principal promoted to a leadership position at the central office in the SEL department? Just one more sign of the level of disconnection between certain board members and schools.
At the 5:30 mark, head of instruction David Williams presents on a project connecting local summer camps and literacy. Williams and his team are to be applauded for getting 19 summer camps to do something that MNPS won’t allow its schools to do; designate 20 minutes a day to reading. Very worthy of accolades. It should have been enough to recognize the programs and the initiative, but alas we have to try to oversell data again.
A graph was displayed showing that by comparing the August and previous February MAP scores, students in the summer camps grew by an NCE score of .90. Board member Buggs asked what everybody was thinking, “What does NCE stand for?” Normal Curve Equivalency is the answer. Then everybody proceeds to act as if they understand what that means.
My issue lies in the attempt to show the camp and the kids scores as anything but a correlation. Over a 6 month period of time, it is virtually impossible to isolate the one variable that resulted in those kids increased scores. They could have gone to multiple camps over the summer, maybe grandparents worked extra with them over the summer, going to camp is an indication of having more involved parents and that could have an impact, there are just too many possibilities to name. This is indicative of this administration’s constant attempt to oversell things. Instead of just saying, “Hey we helped some kids a bit this summer” and leaving it at that, leadership has to try to add superlatives that can’t be supported.
This oversell process continues when you get to the 35-minute mark and data guru Paul Changus steps to the microphone to give an update on the districts key performance indicators(KPI). Look at the first KPI and it shows the district up-ticking by roughly 4% points. Ah, but that’s not an accurate number because it includes students that did not get accommodations – text-to-voice, read aloud – on previous tests but received them on the latest. Factor those numbers out and we are a mere 1.2% points higher.
Here’s an easy way to look at accommodation results. Say I have you run one race with your feet tied together. Then I time you two months later with your feet untied. There’s probably going to be quite a bit of difference between the two right? How is that going to be reflective of any training you did in the period between races? Same holds true with MAP testing.
“So how many kids are we talking about?”, you ask. How big an impact. According to Changus, 13% of all test takers had their accommodations restored. That’s a big number, no?
Changus himself admits towards the end of his presentation that these are the problems that you run into when you try to use an assessment for multiple uses. I’d add especially when you are trying to use it for things it wasn’t intended to be used for.
I’m also curious about how much the focus on lowering suspensions has impacted the other two KPI’s. The way it looks to me is, if you impact one, you impact both. If you factor out reduced suspensions, how much impact have your other strategies actually had on attendance?
Next up, Tony Majors and David Williams present on MTSS. MTSS stand for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. Many people equate it to Response to Intervention(RTI). They are very similar, but MTSS adds in supports for social-emotional learning. MTSS is designed to offer deeper enrichment then RTI. It a national initiative.
As part of this presentation, three principals from three different schools presented on their MTSS practices. Watch the presentation and you decide how these are examples of district supported initiatives and how much these are examples of individual schools carving out their own policies. For example, Williams makes mention of a grace year. What that means is that schools have until next year until they are forced to choose their intervention services off of a district created preferred vendor list. Currently, individual schools choose whomever they desire. During the summertime at a board meeting, Williams acknowledged that the district currently does not have a firm grasp on whom is using what to what extent. So…you connect the dots because I can’t.
The three schools presenting seem to be doing exemplary work, but is that work being replicated throughout the district and how do we know that? During the presentation, it’s pointed out that the district prodded schools to be deliberate in choosing a discipline model to follow – SEL Foundation, PBI, or Restorative. But not 3 minutes after that it is acknowledged that some schools are doing parts of all three. To me, that speaks of individual schools creating their models independent of the central office. All in all, the presentation left me with more questions than answers.
FOX NEWS GETS IN WRONG
Channel 17 News ran a report on this weeks board meeting and got several things wrong. I find it humorous that they went to former board chair Cheryl Mayes for a quote on the current board’s perceived dysfunction. Those of us with a memory longer than 2 months remember how little control Mayes had over her fellow board members during her leadership tenure. At that time, despite her best efforts, board member Will Pinkston regularly publicly attacked then Director of Schools Jesse Register. Those attacks served to move the board away from the policy of board governance and into its current policy mode. That change in policy was made official last year when the board adopted new policies that aligned with recommendations from the Tennessee School Board Association.
All one has to do is look at current policy and you will see that Gentry assertion of the board having only 3 responsibilities is merely her interpretation. The current policy explicitly outlines 4 areas of responsibility:
- Policy Oversight
- Educational Planning
- Fiscal planning
Board member Fran Bush’s questions during Tuesday’s board meeting clearly fall under 2 categories.
When Gentry name was submitted for board chair, concerns were raised about her lack of policy knowledge and familiarity with Robert’s Rules of Order. Robert’s Rules of order is the agreed upon manner in which meetings are conducted. Board members Gini Pupo-Walker, Will Pinkston, and Anna Shepherd were fully aware and warned about Gentry’s shortcomings and the consequences if Gentry was named the chair. They were told that she would not be allowed to run rough shop over meetings as she had done in the past. They chose to ignore those warnings and vote for Gentry. Nobody should be shocked where we are now.
A simple review of Roberts Rules of Order will reveal that the director was out of line for interrupting board member Bush while she had the floor. As chair, Gentry should have reeled the director in and informed him he was out-of-order and would get his turn when Bush relinquished the floor. Bush was merely defending her right to hold the floor.
The other part of Channel 17’s report that bothers me is the continuous reinforcing of the narrative that our school board is more contentious than other districts. It’s not true. Over the years, school board politics has gotten continually more contentious. Many are not going to like me saying this, but a large brunt of that contention lies on the shoulders of the reform movement. The introduction of charter schools and private entities has forced people to fall into, for the most part, one of two camps. Both camps equally passionate about their beliefs. It creates a recipe for continuous confrontation. That is on top of democracy itself being messy.
For proof of the challenges other districts face, all one has to do is cast an eye westward to Denver. Long considered at the forefront of the reform movement, they are now looking for a new director. A large part of the population is looking at this as a time to break with the reform movement, and policies they feel have proven unsuccessful. The board conducted a 4-month search at considerable expense. Deadlines were pushed back several times. The community expressed that it was very important to them that the search produces multiple finalists and that they have an opportunity to interview those finalists. Despite that expressed desire, the board last night returned…one finalist. An internal candidate.
Prince George County is another example. Just yesterday their chair resigned after a controversial run that saw charges of assault filed against him this summer by a fellow board member. MNPS board members Buggs and Speering may be having angry words on social media, but as far as I know, no charges have been filed.
The Fox News report focuses on how contention between board members hurts kids, I argue, what hurts kids and teachers is bad policy. It shouldn’t matter if board members like each other or not, the focus should be on outcomes. The school board is not a social club nor merely a PR mechanism for the director of schools. Per its own policy…The board shall strive to provide the best educational opportunities possible for all children.
In her written response to Fox 17 Gentry calls attention to the new discipline policy. A policy that was unveiled with no timeline, no communications plan, and no training schedule. A policy that many MNPS educators are concerned about. Though I must admit, I had a board member tell me the other day that they had not heard a single criticism of the policy. I found this hard to believe but if you have concerns and you are not sharing them with board members, they can’t recognize the issues. So please if you have issues with the policies, let board members know.
Local blogger Vesia Hawkins tweeted out a past blog post this morning that warrants repeating. In it, Hawkins reprints the words of one her kid’s former principals. Those words contain good advice that we should all heed.
Congratulations are in order for Croft and Antioch Middles Schools. The two are the recipients of a $5000 grant from Dell. Way to go you two!
Tusculum ES presents Aladdin tonight at 6:30. They look forward to presenting their fabulous production to everyone. The cast members were wearing purple and gold Aladdin shirts to school today. Proud of y’all.
The Oliver Band received a huge donation from Fork’s Drum Closet Nashville Jonah Hixon and Innovative Percussion, Inc. with products totaling over $5,000!!! This support along with the support from CMA Foundation makes Metro Nashville Public Schools The Best Place for Music Education! Great news!
Nashville’s Mayor is unhappy and thinking about not attending the city’s holiday Christmas Parade if Kid Rock remains as Grand Marshall. Really? The day before the parade we make this announcement? Look I’m no fan of Kid’s public persona, but this was announced months ago and not everybody is unhappy with it. My advice to the mayor is, suck it up, and head out to the parade. Your attendance is not an endorsement of Kid Rock, it is a celebration with Nashville’s citizens and some of them like the Kid. I ain’t one, but we got bigger fish to fry.
In case you don’t have enough comedy in your life, the Chiefs for Change have a new piece out on a future Chief... Nakia T Edwards. A clear indication of the kind of talent courted by the Chiefs for Change.
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