“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”
Once again we have arrived at the end of another year. I’m not sure that 2018 will qualify as a bang-up year by anyone’s definition, but on this side of the keyboard, it’s been a challenging one. Still, I gaze towards 2019 with optimism. But I ask, what should be our focus? In my opinion, if we are serious about improving educational outcomes in Nashville, we’ve got to make the following the focal points. Fail on any of them and we are looking at a continued backward march.
TEACHERS ARE NUMBER 1
Last week saw another national article about teacher attrition making the rounds on social media. These articles have popped up about once a month for the last couple of years and every time they do, I find myself more and more irritated by them. But not for the reason you might think.
Every time these articles appear, everybody rends their garments, clutches their pearls and then they do nothing. These articles provide cover for those that should be addressing the issue locally, to offer false compassion and then act is they are not part of the problem. After all, “What do you expect us to do? It’s a national problem. Have you seen the cover of Time magazine?”
Yes, teacher attrition is a national problem, one that is growing, but that does not absolve local districts of responsibility for finding solutions. Nashville finds itself in an especially precarious position. Growth over the past decade has resulted in an inflated cost of living, a cost of living that is contributing to driving teachers from the district. Discipline policy’s, more on that later, have made the classroom less safe and the introduction of the scripted curriculum has made the job even less rewarding. We continually increase expectations while lowering supports. Whether it’s true or not, the prevailing feeling among MNPS teachers is that “leadership could give two shits” about their opinion. Not an environment conducive to attracting and retaining professional educators.
To further muddy up things, MNEA, which should be protecting teachers, is purportedly telling school board members that teacher morale is not nearly as bad as reported elsewhere. Giving the union the benefit of the doubt, I can only suppose that union leadership is betting support of the director will offer a perception of stability, and without that perception, raises will be even harder to come by. Logically that makes sense but comes with no guarantees.
Admittedly since the recent school board election, my perception of the both MNEA and SEIU is diminished. Formerly a staunch supporter, running for election exposed to me to an ugly side of the union. One where it’s leadership is too often focused on their own agenda as opposed to its members. The current leadership team has been in power for almost 20 years. That fact, coupled with the lack of improvement in teacher compensation and working conditions over the last 2 decades, gives a pretty clear indication of where their priorities lie.
The priority of teacher recruitment and retention cannot be overstated. Too many of the district’s children are being educated via computer or by long-term substitutes. Teachers dissatisfaction has risen to a point where they are no longer waiting to leave employment during winter and summer break, but rather departing throughout the year. The district has lost over 150 professional educators since the start of school. Some defenders may use statistics to diffuse the impact of that number, but I find it alarming. Do the math – an average of 20 students per teacher – and you’ll realize this exodus has at minimum impacted 3000 kids. That is not minor.
The little effort made by MNPS in retention and recruitment focuses primarily on new teachers. District leadership will point to diminishing attrition numbers for first and second-year teachers as a sign of improvement. Wonderful, but that’s not the crux of our issues. MNPS’s very own data shows that when it comes to teachers with 5 plus years of experience, those numbers leaving are growing. I’ve yet to see numbers for early retirement, but if anecdotal data bears out, those are high as well.
In a recent speech, Dr. Joseph defended the use of scripted curriculum due to lack of capacity and teachers voicing being overwhelmed by class prep work as being responsive to teacher needs. Addressing the latter first, I would ask how many of those teachers who voiced that need were first-year teachers? Then addressing the former, how do you develop capacity if you rely increasingly on a packaged curriculum. That reliance only serves to create a permanent need. District leaders argue that they recognize that issue and have plans in place to mediate the impact, but I have yet to see evidence of such a strategy.
The teacher compensation committee is scheduled to report in January and hopefully, some of these issues will be addressed. The solutions do not lie in creating alternative licensing paths, increasing the Teach for America contract, or utilizing more long-term subs. The solutions lie in compensating and treating teachers like the professionals they are.
One last side note, usually in close proximity to the articles bemoaning teacher attrition are ones that openly criticize their ability to do their job. Articles that attack teacher prep programs, curriculum, or accuse teachers of ignoring scientific research in their teaching.
It all reminds me of one New Years Eve where this one man was pushing another, seeing how far he could go before the other exploded. “No, No No…I don’t think you are dumb at all. It’s not your fault that you didn’t get a good education. I think you are incredible.”
Our conversations with teachers, unfortunately, are not dissimilar. We have to stop and devote our full attention to improving the culture and compensation for teachers. Teacher issues are student issues.
Has anybody noticed that our kids are killing each other at ever-increasing rates over the last two years? I’m not being flippant, it just seems as if nobody is really noticing. In my eyes, we hit crisis level a number of years ago and things have only grown worse since then. Just over the holiday season, there was a loaded gun found in the backpack of a Stratford and an 11-year-old JT Moore student was shot in the face. These are not isolated issues and are occurring all too frequently.
We as a community have got to get a handle on this situation and quick. Perhaps it’s time to start asking the hard questions of Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway and MNPS’s Executive Officer Tony Majors. Both have received more accolades than they’ve produced results. MNPS has been at the restorative practices game for all most 5 years, and while there has been great work done, will anyone, besides Dr. Majors and his staff, argue that our schools are safer today then they were 5 years ago. Has the decline in suspensions correlated with a decline in actual incidents or even the number of guns in schools?
I know that Major’s will argue the societal component to the equation, and how he can’t control that, but that’s where his counterpart Calloway comes in. Is juvenile crime in decline? Has the increased use of restorative practices led to a decline in kids getting shot? What are we going to do, besides hold high-level conversations among adults, to keep our kids safe? I’d argue that keeping our kids’ safe ranks among the top three priorities we have as a society and based on the number of shootings we’ve seen over the last year, we are failing by any measure.
I suspect that over the next couple of years a real backlash against restorative practices is going to take place. Which is a shame because I believe there is a lot of value in those practices. But this should be another lesson in the importance of properly implementing policy. We have got to get this right, in our schools and in our city. We can’t educate kids properly who are perpetually in danger of being shot. We have to get a handle on it and Majors and Calloway needs to step to the plate or let someone else with less personal accolades get more results.
Dr. Joseph recently bragged that Cigna trained 88 MNPS leaders to better support project management. Going on to say that he participated in the all-day training, and participants learned a process to develop and execute on project plans. Cigna plans facilitate media training with key leaders next week. Great, but why do we central office folks that require training in project management? Isn’t that the crux of the job? Why do we have people in charge of creating and implementing policy who are not competent at creating and implementing policy?
Which brings me to the next focus.
NEW DISTRICT LEADERSHIP
Over the last 2 years, I’ve been critical but I’ve hedged a bit on whether it’s time for team Joseph to move on or not. 2019 marks the time to stop hedging. Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools needs new leadership. Period. We’ve got two and a half years of data that shows that this administration is incapable of making real change. In those two years, they have continually shown the inability to learn from past mistakes and have demonstrated an inability to stay out of the news for even a week at a time, let alone improve educational outcomes. The number of priority schools has grown and test results are flat at best.
Some of Dr. Joseph’s defenders will point to Nashville inherent racism, and say that he never stood a chance. I’m not going to deny that racism played a role in Dr. Joseph’s failure to move the needle, but will argue that upon arrival he had all the city’s power base united behind him. His actions, not racism, eroded that support. What prevented him from stepping to the microphone and addressing the district’s issues instead of leading reporters on an embarrassing exploration of the city library’s exits? What prevented him from being more intentional in the words he chose when holding staff meetings? It’s true that he inherited employees that engaged in bad behavior, though Carrasco came with him, but what prevented him from dealing with these issues in a transparent and professional manner? what prevented him from adhering to TNDOE state policy?
Under Joseph’s tutelage, district officials have been more concerned about how problems were discovered then the actual issues themselves – yes guys, I know about Antioch High School’s demonstration school status and the RAMP designation timeline. Joseph touts transparency on a regular basis, well if you are truly transparent there should be absolutely zero conversation on how the problem was revealed. The focus should be on solutions. This administration has lost that focus and 2019 needs to be the year that it is restored.
Some are concerned that conducting a search for a new director of schools at the same time a mayoral election is going on could be problematic. I give you that, but is there ever really a good time? Are we going to wait until we lose more professional educators? Are we going to wait until more families chose to look for other venues to educate their children? Sometimes you just have to rip the band-aid off and let the healing begin.
Bill Belichick was once the coach of the Cleveland Browns. It didn’t go so well for him and he was let go. He then went on to become a hall of fame coach with the Patriots. Was Belichick a bad coach with the Browns? No. Was the organization wrong for letting him go? No. He was the wrong fit for the job. For whatever reason, he wasn’t meant to be the head coach for the Cleveland Browns. The same holds true for Dr. Joseph. He’s the wrong fit to lead MNPS, and it’s time we admit that and look for the right fit. It may be painful to admit, but sometimes growth only comes through pain.
Teacher and blogger Mary Holden has a new one out and it should bring a smile to your face. It’s always beneficial to take a moment and reflect on what we are grateful for. I’m grateful that the Holden’s are our family friends.
Fall-Hamilton has collaborated with several community partners on several grants to support students, families, and teachers! Recently the school received news that it has been awarded three different grants! The school collaborated with Fifty Forward, Nashville Adult Literacy Council, and the Nashville food project to receive the SPARK grant which will be used to support English classes, child care, and home libraries. The second grant announcement came from the collaboration with the Faith and Culture Center. This grant is going to provide supplies and volunteers for 300 food packs for underserved school families. It will also include four staff lunches to promote community within the school. The last grant is funded from the Tennessee Department of Education. The school received $36,000 from Read to be Ready to provide a summer experience for students struggling in literacy. Kudo’s to all.
A couple of things to put on your calendar for January:
16 – Egyptian Culture Exchange – 12:00-1:30 – Presenters from the MNPS Translation and Interpretation Department and Nashville International Center for Empowerment– Location: Wellness Center Large Conf. Room A
Please join us for an Equity and Diversity Brown Bag Lunch & Learn session that would include MNPS Egyptian staff, students, parents, and community stakeholders. This course, reviews common cultural norms, values, beliefs, and practices of Egyptian families and outlines best practices for educators to effectively engage with Egyptian students and families to promote student success. Please come and engage in dialogue with other central office and MNPS staff! **Snowed out date: January 24, same time and location***RSVP:http://bit.ly/EgyptianCultureExchange011619
23 – Supporting Students with Disabilities – 12:00-1:30 – MNPS Exceptional Education Team – Location: Wellness Center Large Conf. Room A. This course offers practical tips about how to support students with disabilities and to engage families as allies.
Over TNEd Report Andy has a piece from a teacher on the TNDOE. As always I encourage you to check it out. While you are there make sure you bookmark TNEd Report. You’ll need it during the upcoming legislative session.
Over at Volume and Light, Veshia Hawkin’s does a little reflecting on 2018.
Let’s take a look at the results from last week’s poll questions.
The first question asked, “What January news story are you most anticipating?” According to the results, 30%, most of you are looking forward to the coming evaluation of Dr. Joseph by the school board. That evaluation is slated to be a formative assessment, so I’m not sure how strong it will be. But let’s see. Here are the write-in votes:
|A story that reveals all the truths and ends SJ’s||1|
|All of the above||1|
|Josephs resignation. Fingers crossed.||1|
|watching for the Board to start holding Dr Joseph accountable||1|
|1. Teacher Compensation 2. Joseph’s Evaluation||1|
|Shawn Joseph’s ouster! Or resignation! Don’t care which, just go!|
Question 2 asked about holding a conversation on high school start times. MNPS schools have among the earliest start times in the country and there has been a considerable conversation over the last couple decades about changing it. 24% of you indicated that due to a lack of district resources, you’d rather focus elsewhere. 16% of you wanted to hold the conversation but weren’t optimistic about it’s outcome. Here are the write-ins:
|Another one bites the dust||1|
|Will cost way too much money. We need to focus on teacher compensation||1|
|Would seriously hurt teens that need to work to help families.||1|
|important, but shd not be used to shift the focus from Dr Joseph’s failures||1|
|Why waste teacher’s time? Our voice is not heard!|
The last question asked for your feedback on who the next mayor should be. Per usual, since he’s a friend of public education, Bill Freeman took the most votes. It’s a setiment that I share. Here are the write-ins:
|ohn Ray Clemmons||1|
|Anyone who will have a little bit of backbone for regular people.||1|
|There has to be someone better than who’s listed here.||1|
|Not sure yet.||1|
|Sharon Gentry-anything to get rid of her||1|
|Anyone w/the guts to fund PUBLIC education, reduce free $ to corps., & fix roads||1|
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great New Year!
I’ll re-print the number 1 and number 2 most read pieces on the second and third.