“You risked your life, but what else have you ever risked? Have you risked disapproval? Have you ever risked economic security? Have you ever risked a belief? I see nothing particularly courageous about risking one’s life. So you lose it, you go to your hero’s heaven and everything is milk and honey ’til the end of time. Right? You get your reward and suffer no earthly consequences. That’s not courage. Real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one’s clichés.”
On Monday the latest lawsuit involving Metro Nashville Public Schools and their Human Resources department was filed. This one was filed by former human resources investigator Scott Lindsey and paints a picture of an HR department that exists to serve the director of schools instead of the school system.
The lawsuit is tied to ongoing issues with MNPS’s human resources department that has already resulted in several lawsuits and necessitated an outside analysis by local law firm Bone Mcallister. Interestingly enough the Tennessean article on Lindsey’s lawsuit chooses to focus on the connection with a lawsuit filed against former JFK principal Sam Braden, though the roots of the issue clearly stem from the handling of the investigation into Joseph associate and former MNPS executive Mo Carrasco.
Lindsey, a seven-year veteran of MNPS, was a well-respected employee with exemplary performance reviews up until his findings on the Carrasco case led to Carrasco being forced to resign. Carrasco and Joseph have a history together that stretches back to when Joseph was the principal for Carrasco’s child and went through his principal training program. Carrasco also helped train central office staff during Joseph’s tenure as director in the Seaford County School District. After Lindsey’s investigation failed to produce the desired results of exonerating Carrasco, his work was constantly questioned and picked apart by HR number 2 Sharon Pertiller.
Pertiller inserted herself into the Carrasco case in spite of having a complaint filed against her by one of the women involved in the complaint against Carrasco. She clearly should have recused herself, but chose instead to try to use her position to influence the investigation in order to protect Dr.Joseph. Failing in that endeavor, she chose to punish the chief investigator that had uncovered facts that ran counter to leadership’s desired narrative.
There have been whispers that Lindsey, in filing his lawsuit, is just “trying to get paid.” Of course, those doing the whispering don’t counter the facts and MNPS itself has conceded that much of what is in the Braden lawsuit is factual and as a result, Lindsey has good cause to file a lawsuit. MNPS has reportedly already begun mediation with the former employees. An already underfunded school district can ill afford to pay out additional expenditures due to leadership ineptitude. Unfortunately little has been done to correct things, and I’m sure this won’t be the last lawsuit filed.
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE REPORT CARD UNVEILED
Tuesday saw the unveiling of this year’s Chamber Report Card on Education. Annually the chamber forms a committee that looks at data, visits a few schools, and then postulates about what the district should do for kids they’ll never interact with. That may seem a little harsh, but it is the reality. Though I should clarify, that comment is directed at the Chamber itself and not the Report Card Committee. I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that many of the members who serve on the committee are in our high need schools on a weekly basis doing exemplary work. For that they deserve recognition.
This year’s criticism is rooted in my observations standing in the lobby before the presentation and watching people act is if the district is not creating policies that hurt kids and endanger teachers. The dichotomy between being a parent caught up in the personal ramifications of district policy and being an observer of the demeanor of those creating the policy was a bit more jarring than usual. I know that I’m supposed to fight against coming off as an angry man, but on the flip side, I get angry because more people aren’t angry. My wife ofter accuses me of being hyper critical and perhaps thats a fair criticism. That said, unlike some others, I don’t completely dismiss the work of the chamber’s education committee and welcome their attention to our schools.
I’m a big believer that we need more people involved in the conversation about MNPS, not less. So while I may not agree with the findings of the chamber committee and I may take the exception to their methods, I wholeheartedly appreciate their involvement and am grateful for the work they do. I mean that with all sincerity, despite the fact that in the past too much of their findings have been agenda driven. I think there are some very dedicated people dedicated to changing that narrative, and they should be applauded.
This year’s presentation, with its focus on social-emotional learning, was a little difficult for me. Out of respect for my children’s privacy, I won’t go too much into detail, but suffice it to say that we as a family are struggling with the ramifications of the districts discipline policy. As a result, we are being forced to re-examine our commitment to our public school and are having to have very difficult conversations with our children. Conversions that make me a little emotionally raw. I’m sure other parents can relate.
I drop my children off at school every morning, and to leave them in an uncertain situation and then walk into another room whose occupants were focused on schools but were miles removed from reality, was a very difficult proposition. One I probably didn’t handle the best I could have, but I am a work in progress. I almost left before the presentation began, and am grateful for those who encouraged me to stay.
There are many things about yesterday’s report card unveiling that I could discuss. Some of which I need to dig into deeper. Talk to more people, In the interest of what passes for brevity with me, I’ll only focus on a few.
The Nashville public schools board should enact, except in the worst cases, a policy that ends out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or arrests in pre-k through 4th grade.
Nobody wants to suspend, expel, or arrest kids in kindergarten through 4th grade. And yes, implied bias does exist and an inordinate amount of black children are suspended. But there are also thousands of black children that go to school every day to focus on learning and can’t due to class disruptions. There is also the impact of poverty and trauma on students that can’t be minimized.
Back before Thanksgiving, Dr. Joseph enacted a policy of not suspending, expelling, or arresting kids in K-4. What this policy didn’t include was how those children were going to receive the services they desperately needed. It also didn’t include how the district was going to protect the valuable instructional time of kids who didn’t have behavioral issues. Nor did it outline how we were going to ensure the safety of teachers and students.
In short, MNPS has created a policy that doesn’t promise to get kids required services to those kids that need them and puts other students and teachers at risk. It is a policy that in it’s current form, hurts kids. There is a saying, “Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works” that certainly applies here.
When pushed on the policies shortcomings, district leaders response is almost universal; we are having high-level conversations around those very concerns and there is a financial component that still needs to come into play. A financial component whose delivery is far from assured. Enacting this policy is akin to jumping out of an airplane without checking to make sure your parachute is packed correctly. You hope that it’ll open right, but if it doesn’t…it’s a long way down.
When further pressed for a reason why the need to implement a new discipline policy now, district leaders cite a need for expediency. In looking at the data provided in the 2018 Report Card, that call for expediency is not supported.
First and foremost, I believe if you are going to make a call for action then you should offer data that supports that call for action. The suspension data chart supplied by the report card does not segregate out the number of K-4 suspensions. It also doesn’t clarify that the number of suspensions does not equal the number of kids suspended. Multiple suspensions could be attached to one student. While the number of suspensions is important, I would argue that the number of students impacted should take precedent.
Let’s look at the data supplied in the report card. It shows that in 2013-2014 the number of suspensions was 10,837. That number steadily culminating in 2017-2018 where the number of suspensions falls to 8823.
For Black students, it went from 7397 in 13/14 to 5882 in 17/18. A couple of things in this data call out for closer inspection. First, there was a drop in suspensions for Black students between 15/16 and 16/17 by 1163 suspensions. That’s a pretty significant number that would evoke my curiosity as to why. Was it a culture change? A policy change? Is it replicable?
The second thing that catches my eye is that suspensions rose overall by 367 incidents between 16/17 and 17/18, but the difference for black students was only 6 incidents. Once again a number that would seem to signify a trend in the right direction. In looking at all the data, the district appears to be trending in the right direction and there is nothing that indicates a need to rush to create policy before supports are fully in place.
Now if we look at the data for Hispanic students, there is a need to be concerned. The number of suspensions for Hispanic students grew from 1354 in 13/14 to 1420 in 17/18. That’s not trending in the right direction.
I now want to draw your attention to the demographic chart included in the report card. It shows that in 14/15 black students made up 44.4% of the district’s population. In 18/19 that number has fallen to 41.6%. Meanwhile, the Hispanic percentage of students which was 20.1% in 14/15 has risen to 25.9%. Yet, for the most part, Hispanics are being left out of the conversation. Something that needs to be immediately corrected.
For further evidence of this exclusion, we can look at the districts KPI’s. At the beginning of the year, MNPS created a key performance indicator that focused on the suspension of black students. My question would be why create a KPI focused on a declining population that is trending in the right direction versus an increasing population trending in the wrong direction? Under this KPI a director could be perceived as successful if black student suspension rates diminished even while Hispanic rates grew. It sends a message that our Hispanic students are not as important, and that shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.
Drop down a couple of lines on the demographic chart and you’ll see my biggest cause for concern, % Economically Disadvantaged. That number has grown from 30.9% in 14/15 to the current rate of 47.9%. Knowing what we know about the impact of poverty on kids, a growth of that magnitude should be a source of alarm for all of us. Instead of talking about the cool new places to eat in town, the mayor should be talking about the families Nashville is leaving behind and how we are going to address that issue.
Kids who live in poverty experience a high level of trauma. There is no shortage of information on how poverty creates trauma in kids, and how that trauma affects behavior. I would argue that a trauma specialist in every school coupled with a pledge towards continued working towards a reduction in suspensions would be more effective than a policy that effectively bans suspensions. Implied bias is certainly important, but the numbers presented by the chamber call out for a focus on poverty.
The creating of a trauma specialist in every school more closely aligns with the recommendations from the teacher cabinet that Dr. Joseph created. Recommendations that were disregarded in the crafting of district policy. Some would argue differently, but to me this a sign of politics entering the conversation. In fact, the whole policy smacks more of building a political base then helping kids to me. Sorry if this offends, but I’m just calling it as I see it.
I’m aware that these numbers don’t tell the complete story, but they are the numbers we are given in support of the story being sold. And as such, cry out for deeper examination.
One further note, in discussing the district’s current policy of not suspending students K-4 without approval from a community superintendent, it was brought to my attention that we were debating the policy on a purely academic level. What if the reality was that Community Supes caved, which is within the realm of possibility, and just approved very recommendation? In that case, nothing is changed but the blame.
At the end of the day, I believe that the goal to reduce suspensions is a worthy one, but only if we do so in a manner that doesn’t put other students and teachers at risk. Only if we have taken the time to ensure that kids are receiving the supports they need. Keeping kids in school just to warehouse them isn’t serving anyone’s best interests. Just the opposite, it’s hurting kids.
THE PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE TAO OF THE CHAIR
The report card committee afforded board chair, Dr. Gentry, an opportunity to address the community. Dr. Gentry used that opportunity to toss shade at fellow board members with whom she has found herself at odds.
She opens her remarks by stating that she would never, ever, publicly criticize a fellow board member and then proceeded to do so. Even the most casual of school board observers are well aware of which board members Gentry is speaking about when offering that pseudo-pledge so she might as well had called them out by name. Some are uncomfortable with my personal criticisms of Dr. Gentry. I would answer that by saying that she continually tries to frame the conversation in a dishonest manner and because her position carries with it a degree of authenticity, the dishonesty has to be challenged.
Remember the very first vote after Gentry was elected was on a contract involving Arbinger. A company that Gentry works for. She fully intended to vote on that contract, a clear conflict of interest, until other board members called her on it. Hence the need to stay constantly vigilant.
Back to Tuesday’s event, Gentry proceeded to try to paint herself as being deeply self-reflective and with a never sated intellectual curiosity. These character traits had led her to readings that illuminated the ways in which leaders lose their way. How they become vengeful and search for retribution and as a result lose their sense of purpose.
It was clear that she was trying to paint her political opponents as being driven by self-serving interests, while she continually tries to retain focus on protecting the interests of the children and families of MNPS. It’s a narrative that fails to hold up to any kind of closer scrutiny. It just doesn’t pass the stress test.
Gentry, with Pinkston by her side, has one agenda, keep Dr. Joseph in a position of power and to ultimately preserve their position of power. That’s why they conspired together to ensure her election as chair and that’s why they continue to remain in lockstep over policy. They do so despite the fact that Dr. Joseph and his team continually fail to move the needle academically and enact policy – scripted curriculum, discipline, lack of support for teachers – that is bad for kids. Most often the kids being hurt are the very ones we swear to protect.
I appreciate calls for civility. At Tuesday’s event, Mayor Briley made a comment that fighting was fine, but once we fought, we all should get in line and move in the same direction. Good advice. Right now there is a fight between whether Dr. Joseph should get a contract renewal or whether he should be allowed to move on at the end of his contract. In the spirit of the Mayor’s words, I’m all for getting in line and allowing him to move on while we begin the search for a competent director that will practice what they preach. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the type of getting in line that the mayor and Madame Chairwoman are envisioning.
Maybe it’s just me, but can we please stop using comparisons to other districts across the country as yardsticks to performance? I as a parent am primarily concerned that we are serving my child to the best of our ability. It does not matter to me if our benchmarks are higher than other districts in the nation if we are not best serving our kids. Here in Nashville, our priorities may be a little different from those in Kansas City. Or Seattle. Or Newark.
Do you ever hear a parent say, “I’m trying to be the fastest improving mother in America”? Or, “I’m a better father than Joe in San Diego”? Or do you hear them say, “I’m just trying to be the best that I can be for my kids every day”?
If that mantra is good enough for parents why is it not good enough for the school district? I suspect it’s because we only have one real goal. It’s not to be the future Chief Father for New Jersey. It’s not to have MotherWeek write an article about the groundbreaking work we are doing in the field of parenting. It’s not so we can go to the annual conference of Parenting Forward and bask in the accolades of our peers. There is no Council of Great City Parents ranking us on our work. It’s just us striving every day to do better by our kids. The focus always remains on our kids.
I could care a less if we are the fastest rising district in the country, as long as we are working harder every day to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our children, Nashville’s children. Just a thought.
Once again thank you to those on the report card committee for their hard work. I sincerely mean that. I know how much hard work and self-sacrifice it takes and I truly appreciate your efforts. Though I will continue to push you to make your reports less agenda driven.
Speaking of report cards…MNPS just announced that in order to allow teachers more time to grade and prepare after winter break, they are delaying the distribution of report cards from January 9th to January 16th. That’s twice this year that the district has proven incapable of following its own timeline on issuing reports to parents.
Friday we’ll talk about leadership theories and why culture change from the middle is impossible, as well as newly released Tennessee State Comptrollers audit on TN Ready. Till then, just remember only 2 more days until Winter Break.