CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM

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“THREE THINGS TO REMEMBER As long as you’re dancing, you can break the rules. Sometimes breaking the rules is just extending the rules. Sometimes there are no rules.”
Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing. – Malcolm X

Inspiration is drawn from the oddest places. This week it comes for me from an episode of the television show Black-ish. If you haven’t seen the show, Black-ish is about an upper-middle-class black family led by a mother and father named Dre and Rainbow, living in Los Angeles. Kinda like the Cosby show but with crisper writing and a social conscience. If you are a white person, watching Black-ish will probably make you a little uncomfortable at times, but you’ll also probably learn a few things.

A recent episode centered around Christmas Day and the family going to the movies. They had to choose between a hot new action picture or one based on Rosa Parks called “Get on the Bus”. The family, much to Dre’s chagrin, chose the action picture. While standing in line to buy tickets Dre and his father were struck by their sense of social responsibility and instead bought tickets to the Rosa Parks movie. (Below is a 50-second clip of their exchange)

The family was upset but eventually accepted Dre’s arguments – supporting Black artists, the importance of history, the debt owed to your predecessors, cultural pride. They reluctantly agreed to watch the movie. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the movie was terrible. Slowly the conversation began to evolve into at what point does the family abandon their cultural obligations and go see the other film.

Obviously, the show is a sitcom, and thus the scenes are played for laughs, but the underlining theme is not dissimilar to what is playing out right now in Nashville when it comes to the leader of its school system. On one level, we are having this very ugly public conversation about race. One that I predicted we were headed to towards 2 years ago. But after talking to a number of people across the city who are White, Black, and Hispanic, I’ve come to the realization that there is a whole another underlying conversation taking place in communities, churches, and homes across the district.

We tout things as being “historical” or “groundbreaking” but then we act as if the mere appointing, or beginning, is the end of the process. Nashville has never had a Black superintendent before, or for that matter a black mayor. Which means a Black superintendent has never faced criticism from Nashville citizens before. Since this is all new territory, is it really a stretch to realize that as a city we are pretty bad at it? I suspect that once a woman is hired as superintendent, we’ll go through a similar process again.

Meanwhile, citizens are trying to figure out just how much of their criticisms are racist and how many are solidly based on performance? What is the proper way to voice criticism? What is the proper way to defend? What role does Nashville’s history play in the discussion? At what point, like the Johnson family, do you accept that the movie is poor and move on?

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, but the mere fact that I hear those conversations taking place is cause for optimism. The conversation on the main stage suffers from inflated egos’ and posturing. Much of it comes down to promoting personal ambitions. Unlike the public conversation, the private conversations are held with an intent to heal and find clarity. Ultimately, private conversations will influence the public one, and that will be a better day for all of us.

The irony that all of this is playing out as we approach another celebration of Martin Luther King Day is not lost on me. If you’ve never been to the annual march on Jefferson Street, or even if you have, I urge you to go this year. Things get started around 10AM. But even if you don’t attend please take a moment to reflect on Dr. Kings message and his commitment to unity.

I understand that it, not the place of an old white guy to dictate how a civil rights icon’s holiday is celebrated. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t have prayers. And my prayers are that the day is used in the pursuit of healing and not as a means to further divide us.

THE STATE’S NEW TOP DOG OF EDUCATION

Those of you who follow Dad Gone Wild on Twitter were not surprised by the announcement of Penny Schwinn as the new Tennessee State Education commissioner. By now you are more than likely well aware of the baggage her appointment brings to town. I don’t want to get too deep into her lack of qualifications, Momma Bears does a better job then I could, but I do want to make some observations that you may not be privy to.

This appointment has the fingerprints of failed TNDOE head Kevin Huffman all over it. Schwinn and he have Teach For America, Chief’s of Change, and the Broad Academy in common. I’ve heard rumors over the last several months that Bill Lee had been getting advice from Huffman and this selection seems to bear that out. To what level I don’t know, but like lead in drinking water, there is no safe level when it comes to educational advice from Kevin Huffman.

In scouring Schwinn’s past I see no overt support for vouchers nor Educational Saving Accounts(ESA). I’m told that any candidate that didn’t indicate support for vouchers or ESA’s was eliminated from consideration, but here is something to consider. Schwinn is known for her focus on priority schools and is an advocate for a state role in turnaround strategies. It’s kind of hard to take schools over and then give everyone a coupon to go elsewhere. Time will tell.

Schwinn is described as very personable and reportedly is known for her ability to handle criticism with grace. Her supporters have indicated that she actually seems to thrive under attack. That is a skill she’ll need to rely on during her tenure in Tennessee. When it comes to education policy…we don’t play.

So what does this all mean for MNPS? A perusal of Schwinn’s resume shows that in 2014/2015 she was the Chief Accountability Officer for the Delaware Department of Education. That indicates that her and MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph most likely have crossed paths. The natural assumption would be that the two have a positive relationship.

Keep in mind though that Joseph left his position as head of the Seaford School District mid-year after a tax referendum failed. That failure left the new director the very challenging job of fixing the upcoming school budget as it had been written with the assumption that the referendum would pass. Which may mean that the relationship between Joseph and Schwinn ain’t so tight.

As always, all of this will play out how it’s going to play out. As long as our definitions of success are congruent, I wish her success. When they are not congruent, I’ll be lining up with other like-minded citizens to oppose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

IN THE PUBLIC ARENA

Social media gadfly, and part-time MNPS Board member, Will Pinkston hit the center stage again this week. At the beginning of the week he look to the 16th District’s Facebook page to tout his new plan to utilize property across from the new soccer stadium for workforce housing for teachers. When some citizens voiced concerns or even asked questions, Pinkston quickly became contentious. In no time at all the dialog spiraled out of control with him labeling those who disagreed as “cranks” and threatening to take his property and go home.

As the discourse lasted late into the evening and grew more vitriolic, I began to realize that there was more involved here than just thin skin. As a result, I took up Pinkston’s offer and emailed him. An action he did not take kindly to and resulted in him emailing board liaison David Sevier at 11:30pm asking him to inform MNPS security and MNPD that he was being harassed.

Pinkston’s boorish behavior has long been tolerated out of respect for his intellect, and work on behalf of working-class people. That recognition has arguably jumped the shark. In the present climate, and with the many pressing needs of MNPS, it’s time to rescind that acceptance and recognize that he’s actively contributing to the dysfunction of the board.

Once again it is the middle of January and the formative assessment that should be well underway is mired in bureaucracy. Pinkston chairs the committee charged with overseeing the development of the superintendent evaluation. Will it be done, by the end of the month and to what end? Seeing as there has been only one evaluation in 2 years, prospects aren’t promising. Pinkston attends board meetings at whim, and when in attendance seldom stays until the director’s report. I’m curious how one chairs the evaluation of someone who’s presentations they don’t attend.

When you take into account that the property that he is proposing be used for workforce housing is located in an area undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation, it seems that once again Pinkston is attempting to create a distraction. But to what end? He often touts his close relationship with Mayor Briley but his behavior can’t be helpful to Briley getting re-elected. His own career as an elected official is likely coming to an end come next summer, so what he hopes to accomplish is undecipherable.

WATER WATER

On the docket for Tuesday’s board meeting is a policy update for water testing. The new policy calls for water to be tested every two years. If water tests above 15 ppb but under 20 ppb then the school should test levels annually. Only when the lead levels are above 20 ppb will the district be required to take the water supply off-line. What the…

Haven’t we been over this enough? The EPA sets an action level at 15 ppb. That does not translate to everything under 15 being safe. Anything above 15 ppb is most certainly not safe. Currently, MNPS is using 5 and 10 ppb as desirable levels. So since we already are adhering to tighter standards, why would we want to give some wiggle room.

Board members have countered that this is a policy recommended by TSBA. It’s my surmise that TSBA set the looser limits because there are rural school districts with lots of aging buildings and no cash. Putting too tight of constraints on those districts might lead to them adopting no new policy. Better to get them started on a weaker policy than none. Still, MNPS has already adopted stronger standards so I see no reason why the standards and the policy shouldn’t align. If they don’t, what is to keep the district from slipping back to weaker standards at some time in the future when the spotlight is turned off?

NOT CHOOSING DONORS

It seems like nobody at Bransford Avenue is happy unless there is a whole bunch of disruption going on. Coming hot on the heels of that proposed workforce housing for teachers, last night Channel 4 News reported that last month the district had suspended use of the popular site DonorsChoose. DonorsChoose is a national 501(c)(3) that helps teachers secure resources for their classrooms by providing a platform for donors to fund individual projects. As of August 3, more than 72,000 projects were posted on DonorsChoose.org, where teachers raise money for everything from books to clothing for students. That’s up from 39,391 on the same date in 2016 and 23,599 in 2015.

Last month the district notified teachers in an email loaded with some legalese that most teacher’s translated into, “We can’t have you out raising money for your classroom because we don’t trust that you’ll actually use it for your classroom.” You can dress it up better, but that’s the basic message.

So let’s review. Dr. Joseph often states that teachers know that he loves and supports them but in the last 6 months he has directly or indirectly delivered the following messages,

  • Teachers are like the crowd cheering on gladiators in the ring. Clamoring for blood in the form of suspensions for innocent kids.
  • Incapable of delivering rigorous instruction without the implementation of scripted lesson plans.
  •  Expected to sacrifice personal time to do unpaid work for their classes, but not trustworthy of independently raising money to fund innovative plans.

The district claims that the directive came at the request of the state comptroller’s office and it may very well have. However once again, the district did not feel the need to adequately explain a policy change to those most impacted by the change. As a result, one more disruption in a world where disruption has become the rule and not the exception.

MEDIATION OR MEDICATION

I briefly attended today’s school board retreat, despite my apprehension over my impending arrest. While there I listened to a debate about the board hiring a mediator. Both newly elected board members Gini Pupo-Walker and Rachael Elrod were adamant in their belief that one is needed to reunite the board. The proposed action comes with some cost though, board chair Sharon Gentry stated that it would cost 250 dollars an hour with a minimum requirement of 9 hours per board member if the board utilized the Tennessee School Board Association. That information runs counter to numbers put forward by fellow board member Amy Frogge.

My surreal moment came when the gentleman currently facilitating the meeting suggested that his company could offer the service as well and would supply Tommy Chang the former Boston Superintendent who was recently forced to resign, to conduct the mediation.  A simple Google search shows that Chang resigned amid growing concerns from Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh about his struggle to deliver significant improvements to the city’s school system. Furthermore, he was accused by student groups of failing to disclose whether the school system handed over student information to federal immigration authorities. Eventually, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh declared,’“we need a long-term education leader with a proven record in management who can gain the confidence of the community on the strategic vision for the district.’’ Does that really sound like who we need mediating our school board?

To the board’s credit they never seriously considered Chang and instead have opted to pursue TSBA’s assistance. However, I would question the choice of who’s leading the retreats. Considering that we are paying FourPoint Education Partners upwards of 64K for their advisement, they should be a little more sensitive to the current culture and realize the inappropriateness of utilizing Chang.

Three board members were not in attendance at today’s retreat due to trust issues that spring from dealings with controversial individuals like Chang. In light of recent revelations, every effort should be made to steer away from people tainted by excessive controversy. Either the whole education world is a little bit shady, or we seem to attract the wrong players. Either way, the mere recommendation makes me wonder about other recommendations that FourPoints has offered.

Personally, I’m not sold on the value of mediation. Board members are elected to serve the needs of their constituents and at present, while everybody is unhappy with board behavior, I don’t see evidence that they are overwhelmingly unhappy with their board member’s behavior. An important distinction. Board member A altering their behavior may make board member B happier, but is it going to make either’s constituents happier? Are we going to spend money on mediation when we are just 18 months away from an election that may see as many as 5 seats change hands?

In that light, I’m not sure that the bang is going to be equal to the buck and if mediation is already necessary a mere 4 months after 3 new members were elected, something else might be amiss. If you consider that based on required paperwork and other obligations it would probably be summer until any actual sessions took place, maybe we just need to let people get their act together and find their own way forward. No offense to the new members, but I’ve never worked anywhere that the newest members got to demand action to improve outcomes before they spent significant time at the job. Just saying.

QUICK HITS

Another week, another student loses their life to gun violence. It’s got to stop. Just offering prayers to Jose Gutierrez’s family and friends is not enough.

Isaac Litton is hosting the NE Quadrants next Conversation Café with Dr. Cathey on Wednesday, January 24, 2019 at 5:30. Everyone is welcome and teachers in the NE Quadrant to attend.

Thanks to donations from various groups, Harris-Hillman has received new equipment for the school’s therapy rooms. The new equipment includes such items such as an indoor therapy slide, new large indoor swing and other types of specialized equipment. Two Harris Hillman teachers presented at the TN Association for Assistive Technology statewide conference and shared some of the effective practices that the school has developed for students.

Congratulations to Rosebank, Harpeth Valley, Shwab, Lockeland and Chadwell Elementary School for state-level recognition! These schools were selected by The Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Behavior Supports Project (TBSP) as either Schools of Recognition or Model of Demonstration Schools for their implementation of Response to Instruction and Intervention for Behavior (RTI2-B). These awards are given in recognition of the RTI-B (or MTSS) team’s hard work and dedication in improving learning and positive behavior within their school. The purpose of this identification is to enable schools to share their practices, examples, and celebrate each school’s effort and dedication to meeting the needs of all students.

MNPS will host a vendor fair for academic interventions at the Martin Center on February 5th and 6th (8:00 – 3:30 both days). The fair will include Tier II, Tier III, and Special Education literacy and math interventions that were identified through an RFP process and are approved for purchase for the 2019-20 school year.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of a teacher of year announcements. 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. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!

 

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PERHAPS THERE IS MORE GOING ON THAN WHAT MEETS THE EYE

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“It is easy to love your friend, but sometimes the hardest lesson to learn is to love your enemy.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

“Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.”
George S. Patton Jr.

Over the last several weeks I’ve been circling around an idea without ever really grabbing hold of it. The idea is rooted in trying to understand why so many smart people are continually supporting MNPS Superintendent Shawn Joseph in spite of all the tangible evidence. “What am I missing?”, I ask myself.

It’s started to dawn on me that there are some very familiar elements currently at play. Elements that I’ve missed because I’ve been so determined to move past the charter school conversation and instead focus on making our traditional schools better.

Throughout the last two years, I’ve repeatedly preached that the argument over charter schools was passé and it was time to move on. It’s long been my argument that a winning strategy needed to focus on demand and not on supply. But what if I was wrong?

If you look where Dr.Joseph’s support comes from outside of the African-American community you’ll find leaders of the choice movement strongly in his camp. At a recent principals meeting, Joe Scarlett appeared on stage with Dr. Joseph with Dr.Joseph referring to him as a mentor. Interesting, over the last decade few people have spent as much money trying to break up MNPS as Joe Scarlett has through his family’s Scarlet Foundation.

Are we supposed to believe that Mr. Scarlett has suddenly had a change of heart and in Shawn Joseph, he sees a leader that can make school district succeed where he has accused it of failing for years? Has he suddenly had a change of heart on charters and vouchers? These are two ideas he’s championed throughout his tenure as vice-chairman on the board of the Beacon Center of Tennessee.

A quick trip to the Beacon Center page reveals their commitment to putting “parents back in the driver’s seat” and their vision of how that happens.

  • Expand the Individualized Education Account program’s eligibility to include more student populations across the state.
  • Allow third-party providers such as universities and trade schools to expand the number of courses offered in the new Course Access Program.
  • Pass a robust education savings account program for students across the state, regardless of their demographic, geographic area, or income levels.

So what exactly is Mr. Scarlett mentoring Dr. Joseph in?

Supporters of choice will quickly point out the many different organizations across the city that receive support from the Scarlett Foundation. While it is an impressive list, it’s one tilted towards organizations that share a similar mindset towards educational choice. It’s also disturbing to me to see a number of organizations that employ MNPS board members on the list as well.

Back over the summer when I was running for school board, I met with several leaders of Nashville’s Choice community in order to secure their support. More than once it was brought to my attention that Dr. Joseph had been good for the Nashville school choice movement. While he wasn’t a supporter, he left them alone and didn’t try to restrict them in any way. I was known as a detractor of Joseph’s, so why would they want to risk drawing his ire in order to support me?

That’s a good question and one I haven’t spent enough time asking myself. What’s in it for the school choice crowd if Joseph is removed before the end of his contract? They know what they have in him, a non-supporter but one that won’t restrict them.

There is no guarantee that a new superintendent would share his vision and plenty of risks that a new chief could potentially be adversarial to the choice philosophy. With the current board there is no guarantee that the new superintendent would be sympathetic to the choice agenda. Why would anyone want to dance with a new devil when they could live with the one they had?

Whenever I would respond to choice leaders question by listing a number of Joseph’s shortcomings, they would wave them away and cite a lack of details. Or they would acknowledge and chalk the missteps up to inexperience. In all my conversations, I’ve never heard one person offer the opinion that Dr. Joseph was doing a good job. Yet publicly all offer support.

Currently, a popular postulate being advanced is that if left alone, Dr. Joseph will just come to the end of his contract and sans extension, he will just leave. Sounds good if you say it fast. It’s clean, it avoids all the messy arguments about job performance and we don’t have to worry about that pesky negative picture. I’ve heard this position privately advanced by several choice leaders.

That scenario though comes with a lot of benefits for the choice movement. Joseph’s current contract ends 2 months before the next school board election. That means that the next school board will be charged with selecting the next superintendent of MNPS. It’s a school board that in all likelihood won’t have Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, or Will Pinkston as board members.

In watching board meetings it’s clear that both Frogge and Speering are exhausted by the constant battles. As a side note, I hear detractors accuse both of only trying to satisfy their egos, trust me there is a much less painful manner of stroking one’s ego than fighting for kids and teachers on the school board. If you’ve never been alone on an island defending your personal convictions, try it sometime, it makes a root canal feel like a tickle party. It doesn’t matter that the masses eventually join you on that island, the waiting for their arrival is excruciating.

Pinkston may choose to run again, but let’s be honest, his opponents are licking their chops at the opportunity. They are already raising money and considering candidates. I’m pretty confident in the prediction that if they do nothing else in the 2020 election, they will deny Pinkston a seat on the board.

Perhaps 2016 will repeat, and once again all the choice candidates lose. Like them or not, it is undeniable that Speering and Frogge are among the most popular board members. No new board will bring the muscle possessed by these two.

In all likelihood, a new board with a deeper sympathy toward charter schools will be seated in 2020. When it comes to choosing a superintendent they will have a couple of options open to them. First, they could keep Joseph and just pressure him to support charter schools. Or they could remove him based on the long litany of offenses already documented. It really is a win/win for them.

Look around the city and you’ll see more and more choice proponents and organizations taking prominence. The mayor has a solid choice supporter in his education advisor In Indira Dammu. Nashville Public Education Foundation just drew a new executive director from the choice ranks in Katy Cour. The The New Teacher Project after being on life support for years has seen a big expansion of its role in Metro Schools over the last year and a contract extension for Teach For America is sure to pass next month.

Today’s paper has news of a plan to build workforce housing on property currently owned by MNPS. If such housing is built who looks the benefit the most? TFA would be able to tell their new recruits, come to Nashville and we’ve got housing covered. I suspect it would become an incredible recruitment tool.

Skeptics have argued with me that the public thirst for charter schools has abated, but I counter that the number of students in Nashville served by charter schools continues to grow despite no new schools being added in the last 4 years. Some point to the extension of grade levels as a cause for that growth. But remember in order to maintain, or increase growth by grade level, they need to be successful at back filling as well and Nashville’s charter are continuing to fill lower grade levels as existing students move into higher grade level offerings.

I’m not contending that some great conspiracy theory is afoot in Nashville, but rather that some folks are just taking advantage of opportunities as they are presenting themselves. They will likely argue that they are making rational decisions based on the data. Some may argue that they would never put kids second to a political agenda and that it is irresponsible for me to even suggest such a thing.

But remember, in 2016 there was a number of people who believed strongly enough in the theory that MNPS was failing to serve students that they were willing to invest nearly half a million dollars in order to elect officials that agreed with that position. Why a mere 3 years later would that view change?

They could justify their actions for enabling Dr. Joseph with the argument that MNPS has failed children and that they are merely protecting the only vehicles of change available until 2020 when real meaningful change can be made. It’s a very rational argument and if you truly believe that charter schools exist as primary change agents of change, an easy one to accept.

Last month 12 of Nashville’s Charter organization united under a common umbrella as the Nashville Charter School Collaborative for the auspicious purpose of increasing collaboration. None of the members of this organization have been shy about getting involved in politics in the past, so there is no reason to believe they will be in the future.

I must say that the prospect of re-fighting the charter school wars in the near future depresses the hell out of me. Over the last few years, I’ve at a minimum mended fences with members of the choice crowd, and become dear friends with others. I love them as people while being deeply opposed to their views on public education. The fight this go around will be as much about perceiving those relationships as it is fighting their policies. Not an attractive prospect.

Back in 2016, the Nashville Scene did an article about the 2016 school board election. In it, I am quoted as follows,

“I think it’s coming down to what it always comes down to,” says T.C. Weber, the parent of a student at Tusculum Elementary, when asked what he makes of this round of school board elections. “It’s never about charter schools until it’s actually about charter schools. And it’s always about charter schools.”

I sure hope I am not a prophet.

SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDER

On Friday, while the public called for calm from the school board, Dr. Joseph decided to further stoke fires with his weekly update to the board. Update to the board is a bit of misnomer as members of council and state representatives are also emailed the update. dr. joseph weekly memo 01.11.19

In his memo Dr. Joseph makes the charge that after consulting with an attorney from the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents(TOSS), he is of the opinion that board members Fran Bush, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering are in violation of Tennessee State Sunshine Laws for an editorial they wrote several months ago. He describes his action steps in this paragraph.

I contacted the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) for a legal opinion, and that opinion was delivered to me in mid-December. As I have done previously when Board members broke from our written board policies, I did not comment because I did not want to bring negative attention to the board. However, after this week’s outcry, I realized that I should provide the board with the information given to me.

Let me get this straight, he suspected policy was being broken, confirmed it, and then followed an established pattern by…doing nothing out of fear of bad publicity. But after this week’s outcry, he feels compelled to come forward, though this week’s outcry had nothing to do with Sunshine Laws or even formal charges of violating board policy.

That paragraph is an amazing piece of writing for a man who leads a school district facing multiple sexual lawsuits based on the accusation that they knew of the incidents and failed to act. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I would think the question of, “In what other instances did you know of policy being broken and “didn’t comment”, begs to be asked.  Was it board policy you were speaking of or district policy is a follow-up question I have.

Is there a shortage of mobile phones that I am unaware of? Nobody in Nashville government seems to have the ability to call anyone. How is there a risk of negative publicity if the director picks up the phone, calls the board member, and says, “Hey I think you are breaking board policy. Let’s talk about it.”

What Joseph publicly admits in this newsletter is that he does not have the ability to effectively communicate with his boss. I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life, but I never had one where I succeeded if I couldn’t communicate with the boss.

Like it or not, the board, and by de facto, the public, are Joseph’s boss. Last week it was expressed to me that some people didn’t like the board reminding him of such, they regarded that as a microaggression. If that’s true, I’ve experienced a lot of microaggressions in my life.

But it’s not just the rogue board members that he is not effectively communicating with as evidenced by this paragraph,

To that end, I am taking this moment to express my concern about the action taken by three board members to evaluate my performance outside of the established Board process, and to publish that evaluation in the form of a letter to the Tennessean. When the letter was published, I spoke with Board Chair Dr. Sharon Gentry about it because I felt it was inappropriate. My evaluation should be conducted through the Evaluation Committee that Mr. Will Pinkston and Dr. Gentry chair and co- chair, respectively. I asked Dr. Gentry whether it was legally appropriate for such a letter to be written, and she suggested that I obtain a legal opinion for the board to be able to determine next steps.

In other words, he brought concerns to the chair and she sloughed him off. Per the information contained in the newsletter, she didn’t say she would speak with the offenders, nor did she say she would investigate it further, she just suggested he obtain a legal opinion. Am I the only one who sees a pattern of behavior here?

I appreciate Joseph’s overture to have a deeper discussion about Sunshine laws. We can talk about out-of-town retreats, retreats that aren’t properly publicized, committee meetings without publicly available agendas, committee meeting without minutes available to the public, and much more. The board for years has had a very loose adherence to Sunshine laws and so I would welcome an in-depth discussion about policy alignment with those laws.

It’s important to note that the three board members in question wrote their October 5 Op-Ed piece in response to one written by Mayor David Briley, Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, Nashville School Board Chair Sharon Gentry and MNPS Director Shawn Joseph. In their piece, the four city leaders attempted to offer their own public evaluation of Dr. Joseph performance. It’s an essay that reads like a Will Pinkston script. Seeing that Pinkston is also an MNPS board member, who has been known to portray himself as running the district, I would say there is evidence that a much deeper conversation is begging to be held. Let’s see if Doctor Joseph will indeed apologize if it’s shown that he has broken board policy.

QUICK HITS

Sometimes politicians need to remember the old adage, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” This past weekend, when asked if he supports Dr. Joseph  Mayor Briley offered the following response,

“When we have a school board that isn’t functioning properly, no leader can succeed,” Briley said in a statement. “We must have a body that governs with purpose and vision and puts the needs of our children above politics and individual agendas.”

Obviously, the board is operating in a manner that less than optimal, but I see no evidence that they are operating in a manner that fails to put kids above politics and personal agendas. While I disagree with Christiane Bugg’s actions and many of the policies she is driving, I don’t doubt for one second that she comes from a place that puts kids first. The same holds true for Jill Speering. I would not argue that either abandon personal convictions in order to avoid a negative impression. Something that based upon the above passage, is an all too often occurrence in MNPS.

Both the school board and the mayor’s office are elected entities charged with overseeing two separate bodies. There is a reason that leadership is elected separately for the two divisions of city government. I don’t believe that the mayor would appreciate the school board casting aspirations towards his motivations in governing, so I don’t know why he feels that his observations, in this case, would be a welcome addition to the ongoing conversation. I could be wrong. There is an election in August and we’ll find out just how much people agree with the mayor’s vision.

In all fairness to Mayor Briley, there is nothing in the Tennessean article that matches the tag line on the home page of the electronic issue, “Briley has Joseph’s Back in Dispute with School Board.” But by now, I’m kind of used to that sleight of hand being played by the Tennessean. They are fully aware that many people read nothing but the tag line, or headline, so it’s very disappointing that at a time when journalists are under more scrutiny than ever, they continue to traffic in these kinds of parlor tricks.

Briley does go on to say in the article,

“If we are going to make the kind of progress we need for our children, we all have to be careful to use language that brings us together, not language that divides us.”

I believe that is a warning for all of us.

I’m running out of space here, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that both Andy Spears and Vesia Hawkins have written two very excellent blog posts. Posts that should raise levels of concern for everyone.

Someone also needs to ask why career educator Gloria Johnson is left off the Tennessee State House Education Committee while accused sexual offender David Byrd is not only placed on the committee but given leadership of a sub-committee. Luckily someone is.

POLL RESULTS

I’m going to try to do this quickly, but we got higher than the ordinary response to this week’s poll questions, so I feel the need to share and comment on results.

The first question asked. “If Dr. Joseph’s contract was up for renewal today, would you support an extension?” Out of 181 responses, 155 said, “Hell to the no”. Only 5 answered, “Absolutely.” I don’t know what else you need. Here are the write-ins:

No. A new contract for Dr. J is the proverbial straw. 1
Do the sychophants remain too? 1
Whatevs 1
No. To the Board’s shame, turning their accountability job => Racism Accusations

Question two asked how you felt about your principal. My reason in asking this question is that defenders of the district’s role in teacher attrition often point to principals as being more complicit in teacher turnover than the district. Your responses, as they were all over the board, do not really lead credence to that argument. Out of 155 responses, 44 of you indicated that you had a rockstar. 29 of you answered, “Nice person, not a good principal.” 24 of you said they were always improving and 24 described them as train wrecks. Again, not exactly numbers that would indicate that principals are wholesale driving teachers out. Here are the write-ins:

Amazing 1
Have many different schools, the admins hired by Joseph are a joke. 1
I teach in Robertson County and LOVE my principal 1
New admin- Jury is still out but not impressed so far 1
bully 1
Thank goodness Austria is gone from PM 1
I have a very good principal. We are a priority school and his hands are tied 1
Intimidating. Tows the party line, whether in students’ best interests or not. 1
Know several: one rock star, one train wreck, one improving

The last question was about the state of discipline in MNPS. Out of 165 responses, 61 of you described it as a crisis and another 46 said it was the number 1 reason why teachers were leaving. I’m not sure I need to add anything to that. Here are the write-ins:

The people asking for change have never worked in a school. 1
Needs a working policy -but not the number one reason teachers are leaving 1
Crisis. Too many building admins. buying into horrible policy. Teachers are done 1
crisis that is #1 prob & big reason teachers leave 1
The only solution is parental involvement and accountability 1
A giant smokescreen to the public and a crisis to the teachers 1
Probably worse than we want to admit 1
After 32 years of teaching, I’ve never seen such behavior problems. 1
Wreck of the unfunded mandate. Kids need intervention. 1
Worse than in past years. 1
Believe in ideal of RJ but this implementation all wrong, like all things MNPS 1
It addresses only part of the problem 1
Number 2 reason teachers are leaving. #1 being horrible mid career pay.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of a teacher of year announcements. 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.

If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!

PARALLEL LINES

7

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Let’s get strapped in. We’ve got a lot to unpack today and a limited amount of time. Before we get to anything else though, I want to stop. Pause and reflect. Recognize and mourn. Nashville has lost another 3 children to violence this week. Two to the cemetery and one to the penitentiary.  Beside the two youths in West Nashville, another one died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot in Madison. All other issues should be secondary. We need to really ask ourselves two questions – how many and how long?

Somewhere right now a high school teacher is recognizing that their homeroom is two students short. Somewhere an elementary teacher is reading the names in the paper and reflecting on a child that was once in their classroom, full of potential. Or they are shaking their head because long ago they realized how stacked against the deck the odds were for that child. And somewhere today many of us are just brushing over the news because it’s a story that has become all too familiar to us, and so we consider it almost mundane.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I know what we are doing now doesn’t seem to be working. Recently, Metro Nashville Government released figures showing that homicides in Nashville were down. What seemed to be missing from the story was the rates of violent crimes committed by or to juveniles. It may just be anecdotal, but it feels like the number of incidents is growing. Or maybe it’s just that I find one, too many. Whatever the case, I don’t think anybody would disagree, we aren’t doing enough. We have to do more.

SCHOOL BOARD TIME

On Wednesday, my intention was to unpack all that transpired and share my analysis. But as I re-watched the meeting, and talked to people, I came to the realization that – pardon my French – the level of shit that went on at that meeting made it impossible to analyze it in a rational manner. So here’s the best I got for what it’s worth.

Christiane Buggs was on Channel 5 New’s follow-up report talking about her speech on the board floor drawing parallels between fellow board member Jill Speering and the Klan,

“Nashville isn’t used to talking about race, they’re uncomfortable. If I need to be dubbed the race baiter to talk about my truth and the displeasure it caused me, so I’ll be that,” Buggs told NewsChannel 5. “I don’t regret it, I have reflected on it more and I don’t intend to hurt my colleague’s feelings but we need to keep each other accountable.”

Does she really suffer from the delusion that her words will fuel a deeper conversation on race? Her speech may contain “her truths”, but it doesn’t represent true leadership. A leader picks and chooses their battles and their words.  They are ever vigilant on how their fights and words impact the overarching goals. A leader continually looks for their fights and words to push those they represent closer to those shared goals.

I used to work with a woman who to this day I recognize as one of the smartest people I ever worked with. Her one flaw was that when she fought, she only knew one way to fight, scorched earth. In engaging in a dispute with her it was essential to evaluate what I was fighting for and what would be the consequences of winning. Sometimes the consequence of winning would mean a disruption to the pursuit of the stated goals and that wasn’t worth fighting at that minute.

Every time we disagreed I would have to evaluate if this was a fight worth pursuing and if the cost of winning was acceptable. Can I tie this disagreement into another that can be addressed further down the road? Am I fighting this fight in a manner that will not only allow me to win this fight but also win the peace? Because eventually, peace has to be restored. It is never productive to engage in continuous contention.

I am not suggesting that Buggs was choosing the wrong fight or even the wrong time, but perhaps the wrong strategy. Her fight is borne from a history of neglect and disservice by the school system to many of her constituents. It is my contention that you can not evaluate anything that transpired over the last week without considering the history of Nashville’s school district and the city’s black citizens.

Personally I don’t believe that anybody should be allowed to make policy for MNPS until they’ve read Ansley T. Erickson’s book Making The Unequal Metropolis. It’s not all ancient history either. In 2008 MNPS engaged in a rezoning plan that opened a lot of old wounds and smacked of re-segregation. The re-zoning plan resulted in the NAACP filing a lawsuit against MNPS. A lawsuit that eventually cleared MNPS of deliberate re-segregation, but left a lot of people with deeper scars and resentments.

It is further indisputable that under former Director of Schools, Jesse Register, there was a lack of diversity at the central office. As CM Ed Kindall pointed out to me in a recent conversation, there was only one African-American in a position of leadership outside of athletics. However, Jay Steele would point out that as the district number 2 guy, hired more AA women in principal and district roles than any other gender or ethnicity. He also hired the two Hispanic women to leadership positions, where previously there were none. Still few would argue that minorities had sufficient representation.

These are truths. They are not Christiane’s truths and they are not my truths. They are just truths. Truth’s that rightfully play a role in every conversation we have about education in this city.

I had lunch at Prince’s Fried Chicken yesterday with a black man who has been involved in government and school work for several decades. He explained things to me thus.

I’m paraphrasing here, but basically, black people have been told for years how to think and what they should do by people in leadership that didn’t look like them. This was done in the name of a system that they would argue is designed to ensure that they don’t reach full potential. Now there is a guy in charge that looks like them and who doesn’t act how everybody else tells him how to act. He’s doing  what he thinks is right and critics be damned. Finally, black people have someone who appears to be fighting for them. He may not be perfect, but they will defend him until the end.

Further complicating things is the power of symbolism. For the first time in Nashville, black and brown children can see evidence that someone who looks like them, can hold a position of power. That is something that cannot be overvalued.

I get that, but as I thought about it, I couldn’t shake the familiar ring. Where had I heard this before? Then it dawned on me, this argument is no different than the one I hear put forth by President Trump supporters. He’s not perfect. He says what’s on his mind and people just want you to be politically correct. He’s fighting for us. The media are trying to tear him down. So much of the argument in support of the behavior of Joseph is reminiscent of the defense of the behavior of Trump.

Also upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the policies of either are not protecting the interests of those that defend them.

We’ve seen how this plays out on a national stage, what makes us think it’s going to be any prettier locally. When I brought this up to my friend, he responded that he was good with the rise of Trump because at least now people felt comfortable with the thoughts that they had previously held inside. It was clear now what the intentions people held for him and his family, and at least things were out in the open, instead of him having to wonder. I countered that Trump supporters would probably put forth the same argument. They would say, you always thought we were deplorable at least now you’re not pretending that you didn’t find us as such.

When confronted on the behaviors of either Trump or Joseph, their supporters quickly point to past office holder’s behavior as a defense. A defense that fails to hold water. If behavior was bad in the past, just because it wasn’t caught at the time, doesn’t mean it’s okay to repeat in the future. “Hilary did it”, is no more a viable defense than, “But Register…” Leaders should be judged on their own merits, not a sliding scale based on the failings of their predecessors.

At the root of the problem for both contingencies is the belief that the system has failed them. A belief that is not without merit. However, the answer is not to retreat into our own individual sub-cultures but rather to work together to create a culture that is representative of all of us. In order to do that we need to find a modicum of trust. An ingredient that is in scarce supply these days.

There is a recent quote by Patrick Moynihan, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” Apparently, that not longer stands true, as we now speak to our own truths. We need to get back to speaking just plain truth. For example, one of the success stories from the handout presented at the board meeting was that Dr. Joseph had “Ensured all elementary and middle schools have access to gifted and talented services by creating the Advanced Academic Resource Teacher position and ensuring all schools have at least a part-time person serving students.”

I’m not going to call anybody out by name, but I challenge you to go back to your school and ask who your schools AART is. I pretty sure some of you won’t like the answer you get. That’s the truth. The policy exists, but the practice doesn’t. You can’t claim success for merely creating the policy. Doing so erodes trust.

Some think that Jill Speering needs to apologize for her texts. I don’t. No more than I think that Christiane Buggs needs to apologize for her comments. The old adage of don’t apologize because your friends don’t need it and your critics won’t accept it rings true to me. Besides an apology doesn’t automatically make it right or even all better.

Yesterday in the car my children and I had a conversation about the power of words.

“When your mother and I fight, do you ever hear us call each other names?” I asked them

“No.” They replied.

“It’s because we both accept the power of words and their ability to do permanent damage. Somethings you can never take back. Just because someone forgives, doesn’t mean they forget. That is why you always need to exercise prudence in your use of words. In AA we have a saying about playing the movie forward. it means looking ahead to try to predict possible outcomes from your actions.”

Buggs proposes the board undergo mediation. That’s a ludicrous idea. When she chose to “speak her truth” she made a willful decision to not only voice her hurt, but also to hurt someone else in the process. What she chose to do is no different then if she’s chosen to walk across the floor and punch Speering in the nose. Both have the same desired effect. Decisions have consequences and now we all live with hers, as well as Speerings. We can all argue whether Speering knew the consequences of her actions or not. That argument doesn’t come into play with Buggs.

For now, her relationship is fractured with some of her other board members. How that plays out going forth depends on how she and those board members chose to proceed. Unfortunately, she didn’t act as just a citizen, she acted as a community leader. As a result, all of us bear the consequences of her decision. Leaders must always remember that they do not bear alone the consequences of their decisions. They must always take into account the impact on their constituents.

Speering and Buggs aren’t the only leaders who dropped the ball in this manner.

Dr. Joseph sent out a memo today acknowledging the dysfunction of the last board meeting. In his memo he speaks once again to the masks, yet never speaks out about one board member linking another board member to the Klan. Sometimes communication is as much what you don’t say, as is it is what you say. Apparently, it took several tries to get the email right but it’s content still misses the mark. (I know it’s a cheap shot and probably hypocritical, but sometimes I can’t help myself.)

During the course of the week, it came to my attention that Mayor Briley had possession of the text messages before leaders of the African American community possessed them. If that’s true, why he chose to engage with these leaders over the text message before calling Jill Speering, in order to get clarification and context, I’ll never understand. He can’t say he didn’t have her number, it was right there on the text. Much of this circus could have been avoided with a simple phone call. Though I suspect based on recent comments, he’s making a strategic move based on politics. Per today’s Tennessean,

“When we have a school board that isn’t functioning properly, no leader can succeed,” Briley said in a statement. “We must have a body that governs with purpose and vision and puts the needs of our children above politics and individual agendas.”

David Plaza, who spends a great deal of time using his platform at the Tennessean to preach to us about civility, chose not to practice any when he wrote a scathing editorial about Speering’s text message. With a headline that accused Speering of desiring a circus, Plaza turned in a classic “When did you stop beating your wife” piece. In it he makes unsupported suppositions that are unmoored from reality.

She also asked that her text not be shared on social media, which is exactly what happened when it was posted to Twitter.

Why? Is the request spurred by an elected official’s cowardly avoidance of taking public responsibility. Was it a clever tactic to actually get it shared by hundreds of people?

Really!?! Jill Speering as a coward or a social media manipulator? How about another possibility. Someone took Speering’s Text and posted it to social media in an effort to humiliate and embarrass her. You want civility, you have to practice civility.

What about MNEA leadership? As a professional educator with MNPS for over 3 decades, Speering maintained membership in MNEA. As a retired teacher, she is a member of TEA. Has MNEA uttered one word in her defense? Her record as it pertains to teacher issues is unmatched, yet not a word of support from MNEA president Eric Huth. Who by the way stood close enough to me outside the meeting hall that I could have kissed him on the cheek, wish I had, yet couldn’t even offer a greeting. I guess he forgot I was MNEA’s endorsed candidate in the last election. If board member Will Pinkston is to be believed, Huth is probably too busy telling board members that there are no problems within the district to exchange pleasantries. 

Pinkston said a single complaint over sexual harassment is one too many, but he doesn’t believe from his conversations with several stakeholders, including the teachers’ union, the service employees’ union and the legal department, that there is a pervasive problem in the district.

Council Member Bob Mendez jumped into the fray by posting a series of tweets that just added fuel to the fire that all criticisms of Joseph are racially biased. He made these observations while admitting that he really didn’t know too much about what was going on. I talked to Mendez right after his Tweet and I truly believe he’s trying to get a handle on the issues. I was impressed by his commitment to get to the bottom of things and I believe he’ll do his due diligence. That is good news because the truth is the truth and the more people looking at the situation the more people will understand where we are failing.

How do we move forward? That’s a good question. I don’t think anybody has that answer. All I can say with certainty is that Tuesday’s board meeting was a loss for everybody and somebody better pick up the leadership mantle and find the way out of this, or the future is going to look very bleak.

When former president Obama was on Letterman’s Netflix show he told how Michelle had gotten it before him. She was quicker to realize that the role of president was about more than just making policy. It was about setting a tone. I reflect on those words often. Are we currently setting the right tone at Metro Nashville Public Schools?

QUICK HITS 

Word is that another valuable player has left MNPS. Words fail to convey the value that Shannon Black brought to the district. She started the New Teacher orientation a number of years ago and she fought for teachers at every opportunity presented. She’s now decided to seek other employees opportunities and while we are happy for her, she will be greatly missed. this is one not easily replaced.

The rumor mill is working over time this week. Word on the street is that a new officer is taking over the human resources department and it’s not Colonel Mustard, nor Lt Dan. Let’s see how this one plays out. Remember at the last board meeting Dr. Gentry took the opportunity to break client/attorney privilege in order to praise the quality of HR’s current leadership.

In the endless smoke department, it now appears that Dr. Joseph’s educator license is on hold with the state pending review by the state board of education. At least this one is without precedent, as the law was revised this summer.

The Nashville Scene is reporting that State legislators are starting to take notice of MNPS. I guess everybody wants to get under the big top.

The good news is that no matter how many sins you commit, you can still lead the TN State House Education Committee. You can’t make this stuff up.

At Tuesdays board meeting Gentry ruminated why we where so “stuck” certain issues. Luckily Channel 5’s Phil Williams heard her plea and leaped to her assistance with a series of tweets. Hopefully, Gentry now has a better understanding.

There’s still time to help win a grant to support safe streets and crosswalks around their school. Retweet this video and encourage your communities to do the same before Jan. 13. The finalist with the most retweets wins!

Congratulations to art teacher, Rachel Motta Towne, for being named Tennessee Art Educator of the Year by ! Towne was recognized Tuesday night at the MNPS Board Meeting.

Let’s cheer on the school’s bowling team as they travel to Smyrna, TN to compete in regionals! The tournament will be held at the Smyrna Bowling Center Jan 9-10. Let’s go Raiders!

As is won’t his style, national blogger Peter Greene puts a perfect point on the recently reignited reading wars, Why The Reading Wars Will Never End. Greene points out that the primary problem with measuring reading skill is that we don’t know what we are looking for,

We get stuck because we don’t know what Being A Good Reader really means. Chris can read a book about dinosaurs and tell you every important fact, idea, and theme after just one reading, but ten times through a book about sewing and Chris can’t tell you the difference between a needle and a bobbin. Pat reads the sewing book and can’t pass a test about it, but can operate a sewing machine far better than before reading the book. Sam can read short passages and answer comprehension questions, and so aces tests like the PARCC– but Sam can’t read an entire book and come away with anything except the broadest idea of what it included. Gnip and Gnop (I’m running out of gender neutral names) can both read the same article, but when they’re done, Gnip understands exactly in detail what the article says, but doesn’t realize it’s bunk, while Gnop only about half gets what the author says, but can explain why it’s all baloney. Blorgenthal reads car magazines daily, voraciously, with great understanding, but can’t get through a single paragraph of their history textbook. I know a woman who keeps devouring books about Jewish theology and building a deeper and deeper understanding, but who could not finish a work of fiction if you paid her. And lots of folks can’t make any sense out of poetry (including the vast number of people who misread “The Road Not Taken”)

I urge you to read the whole thing.

Give Zak Barnes latest Tip Sheet a spin as well. He makes some salient points.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lot’s of a teacher of year announcements. 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. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A MISTAKE?

35

“Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seeds of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“Power doesn’t have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Last night’s Metro Nashville Public School’s board meeting was an abhorrent display that should embarrass all of us. I try and instill in my children that making a mistake is not the defining moment, but rather what you do with the mistake. Last night, the MNPS board decided that when others go low, it will go even lower.

Yes, Ms. Speering made a mistake when she sent out an email encouraging folks to protest Dr. Joseph and offering them the option to wear masks if they were scared for their jobs. It should be made clear that she did not instruct people to come in masks, but rather offered masks as a solution if supporters felt fear of retaliation. That’s an important designation and one that has been lost in the escalating rhetoric.

Dr. Joseph and board leadership had an opportunity to use the misstep as a teachable moment. After all, these are educators we are talking about. Instead, they chose to use the moment to bludgeon Ms, Speering and fellow board members who oppose Dr. Joseph. They tried to use her words to destroy a 40 plus year record of service to MNPS and link her to a hate-filled organization like the Ku Klux Klan

“I’m not sure if Ms. Speering internally made the connection between the masked protest she encouraged today and those of yesteryear’s held by the KKK but I did,” said Metro School Board Vice Chair Christiane Buggs. 

Buggs had the opportunity to convey her disappointment to Speering privately in the days leading up to the meeting but instead chose the public stage to deliver her remarks. It’s not the first time Buggs has shown a propensity to use such inflammatory language toward political opponents. Upon the election of President Trump, she tweeted out names that she had heard for him and planned to adopt. Names like: Cheeto Satan, Habanero Hitler, Dreamsicle Demon, Tangerine Voldemort, Sunkist StalinNacho Nazi, Fanta Fascist, Squirrelwig McRacistpants, El Hombre de Tang, Don the Con,Trumplethinskin, Candy Corn Kremlin. The backlash against Buggs was harsh and one would have thought it might have taught her a little more compassion, alas apparently not.

Some took to social media to further attempt to discredit Speering because she was not in attendance at last night’s board meeting. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that all aren’t aware that Speering recently had open heart surgery. She attended all committee meetings during the day. My supposition is that she chose to protect her health and decide to go home instead of facing a hostile crowd. That’s not cowardice, that is just good sense.

Leadership is a lot like MAP testing, it’s an intuitive assessment. What that means is that you start off with a challenge that is perceived to be at your level. How you answer that challenge determines whether you move on to harder challenges or not. Get the question right and the assessment continues. Get too many challenges wrong and the assessment ends. Last night was a leadership challenge for Dr. Joseph. One that will not lead to the next level.

How different would today look if instead of calling out fraternity brothers – many who don’t live in the district – and the clergy to support him, Dr. Joseph had just stepped to the microphone and said, “I got this. I welcome you, but I urge you to come in support of our students and families. Jill Speering and I disagree on virtually everything and we are very passionate people. Some times passion leads to miscalculation, but I don’t believe that Ms. Speering’s message had any racial connotations and I certainly don’t believe she was trying to hold a Klan rally outside. We all need to be more sensitive with our words and continue to try and have more cultural awareness in considering the potential impact of those words.”

Instead, he chose to respond in an emailed statement,

“A call to wear masks in public reminds many citizens of a particularly dark time in our country’s history,” Joseph said ahead of the meeting. “Nashville is better than this. We need to set a better example for the students, families and staff members who are watching.”

On the way to school today my 8-year-old son asked me if he could read me his favorite quote from the book he’s reading, The One and Only Ivan. I said, “Sure.”

Here is what he read me,

“Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.”

Out of the mouths of babes. The irony that this school board meeting was transpiring at exactly the same time as President Trump was addressing the nation is not lost on me. Joseph likes to quote the words of Obama, while continually employing the strategies of Trump. Both Trump and Joseph, run on the fuel created out of divisiveness and neither has proven particularly competent at their job.

I plan to write more about this week’s board meeting on Friday after I’ve taken time to reflect a little more on the proceedings and I want to watch the meeting again to make sure I actually heard everything I thought I heard. I do want to leave this portion of the program with the words from a long time MNPS educator. These words were texted to me after last night’s board meeting and were among many I received from Nashville educators. I sure hope everybody that claims they are all about the children listens to them and takes heed.

I’m so embarrassed and mortified by the meeting tonight that I would leave MNPS tonight if I had another job. What a fucked up meeting. The board is irreparably destroyed.

Remember, it’s not the mistake that’s important, it’s what you do with it afterward that counts. There is still time to make it right.

AND NOW A WORD FOR THE STATE

I’ve often stated that the best part of writing this blog is the opportunity it gives me to meet incredible educators. One of those educators is Paul Doyle. Dr. Paul Doyle served in the Metro-Nashville Public School System for 27 years from classroom teacher to principal,  to the district’s ombudsman, and HR director. He then moved to Paris, Tennessee and became Superintendent of Schools for the Paris Special School District. He retired several years ago to start his own business, Purposeful Leadership LLC. He has served as adjunct faculty for numerous colleges and universities over a 30 year period. He currently works with Middle Tennessee State University in that capacity, and for many years was a regular trainer for Tennessee Academy of School Leaders. One thing I didn’t know, is that Doyle was on the short list to be acting MNPS Superintendent back in 2008.

Paul wrote something recently that I think is extremely relevant as the 2019 state legislative session is set to open. He’s graciously allowed me to share it here. So with no further ado, I present it to you.

The ideas expressed here are clearly opinions of mine, not to be confused with the Gospel, and are shared with peace and love.

I recently read with a mixed sense of interest and sad humor the article by former education commissioner, Candice McQueen,

” These are four ways the state of education is changing in Tennessee”

I thought it odd for her to be discussing how Tennessee education will be changing while she was on her way out. It’s implied that we will continue building on the stellar work she initiated as commissioner. Not one time during my reading did I find a single word regarding “teacher support”. But I must admit, I wasn’t surprised. My hope is that the next administration will find ways to relieve teachers of the burdensome busy work that compromises their actual interaction with students.

As a career educator who served public education as a substitute teacher , school district superintendent, and practically everything in between, I find it disheartening that teachers are strapped with responsibilities beyond ordinary comprehension. This is not another piece about teachers having to serve as parents, psychologists, counselors, etc. I’m referring to the mountains of needless paperwork. The teachers I talk with continue to complain about not having the time to adequately address the needs of their students. Most of us, well, many of us agree that relationships matter when it comes to our students. It takes a long time to develop that relationship and trust with each student. It takes time researching, thinking, observing, listening, reflecting, and planning. I also spend a good deal of my time today working with graduate students. I am amazed and somewhat overwhelmed when I hear them discuss what their districts’ and states demand of them in terms of lesson planning, and multiple forms of assessments and other documentation.

To be clear when it comes to assessment, except for extreme cases of obvious patterns of poor performance, results should be used to improve instruction, not to rank teachers. I thought we had learned this lesson long ago with the Career Ladder program under Lamar Alexander. Principals are responsible for their teachers in terms of professional growth and support as well as evaluations. Today, we equip them with multiple tools for assessment, rubrics, student test scores, and layers of bureaucratic paperwork. Most of these things are put in place to help the gutless administrator. They do very little to help the teacher. If you don’t have confidence that principals can decide how best to evaluate their teachers then fire them and put someone more competent in place.

When I was a teacher, the State purchased textbooks and materials from vendors after strict review from teachers and other district stakeholders. We chose materials that matched our needs in terms of lesson planning and tools that helped us meet State requirements. Our books had our lesson planning provided, and our district had curriculum experts that helped us develop strategies. We did expect our teachers to modify their plans to meet the needs of their students. Today our expectations are so much higher. We expect teachers to individualize lessons for each student, and develop elaborate lesson plans, tools and strategies to meet those needs and jump through multiple hoops.

We have handcuffed the minds and brain power of our professionals. They no longer have the autonomy to make their own decisions. They use their own ideas and expertise complying to rules that make little sense to them. They jump through hoops. They are data saturated instead of data driven. They are teachers, thank God, and not politicians. They will continue to find ways to subvert the system instead of complying. And I don’t blame them. We did the same thing.

So I ask of the new administration, use some common sense please. Stop allowing ignorant politicians to drive the education bus. Teachers need and deserve your support. Involve them in all decisions that will affect them. Listen intently to what they have to say, and the act based upon their best ideas. Build the next state team with mature, experienced servant leaders. Expect them to have a servant’s heart and if they prove not to, then replace them. Know that your job as leaders is to serve and support. Be that person(s) you were many years ago when you were a teacher. Find that place in your mind and heart and operate from that feeling, motivation, love, and inspiration. Disempower politicians and bean counters, and EMPOWER teachers. They know what to do. Let’s allow them to do it with the absence of threat, and the presence of support and appreciation.

That’s a wrap. Thank you again to Paul Doyle. See you on Friday where we will take an even deeper look into what transpired last night.

In the meantime, 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. 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 first day back!

TIME TO DIVE BACK IN

5
“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.”
Rudyard Kipling, Complete Verse
“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.”
John Paul Jones
Nineteen years ago I took a fateful trip up River Road and began the journey to sobriety. It wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now. This last year has been one of the hardest. I’ve faced challenges that I thought were firmly in my rear view mirror. There was more than one time where it felt as if I was on a fool’s errand. If I’m going to face the same harsh realities in sobriety as I did drinking, what’s the point?
 
I don’t have the answer to that one yet, but I am secure in the belief that today is better than yesterday because I didn’t pick up. So by the grace of God, here I am.
 
Today is a celebratory day, but I do want to climb up on my soapbox if you’ll indulge me. It may not be the time, nor the place, but hell, I earned it right?
 
Yesterday on Twitter I saw State Rep.Jason Powell self congratulate on helping Tennesseans be able to buy wine in the grocery store on a Sunday. As if alcohol wasn’t already readily available and the masses were being denied access.
 
To me, it is just one more subtle way we send a message to addicts that they are abnormal and that self-control is what addiction is rooted in. I know that it seems a harmless and petty point, yet for many of us, it just presents one more hurdle to overcome.
 
I wish that all could see, just one time, what the view of the shelves of wine and beer at the grocery store look like through the eyes of an addict. The view is not unlike a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
 
We continue to become a society that makes it easier and easier for its population to self medicate and disengage. That doesn’t come without a price. A price that for many, isn’t hypothetical and is often paid by the youngest, and most innocent, of our members.
 
As a father of two children I wish we were more cognizant of the unintended messages, we send out. We glamorize and grant easy access to behavior that for many results in devastating consequences. Sure the vast majority are able to indulge with limited consequences, but perhaps a little more compassion wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
 
I wish that we gave more support to those that are hurting and acknowledged that for a large swath of our population the use of alcohol and drugs is not an indulgence that comes without cost. But as the author Don Winslow writes, “There are the gods of place and the gods of commerce, and if you have to bet who’s going to win out, put your money on money every time.”
 
Enough of that though. Time to step off the soapbox. As I do every year I recognize that I haven’t arrived at this point in life without some serious help. It was Jack Nance that took me up that road 19 years ago and provided the support and guidance in order to help me make it this far. He did this in spite of the pain I’d caused his daughter over the previous years.
 
He’s been gone a number of years, but I still hear his voice daily. I’m sure he’s chuckling at the thought that his advice is still being heeded years after being offered. He was a good man and while I’ll never understand his choice to help me, I am eternally grateful.
 
Without my precious wife Priscilla, I probably would have stepped off this road long ago. She gives me the reason to try to be a better person every day. I know I don’t say it or show it to her enough, but I am perpetually grateful that she has chosen to be a part of my life. Being married to me ain’t an easy thing, but she does it with such grace. I can’t imagine the journey without her.
 
My children didn’t get to choose but seem to be adapting well. They are always my inspiration and my strength. My son likes to refer to me as “number 2” and claims to be better than me at everything. May that remain forever true.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ashley Angeline Robinson, Jack’s granddaughter. She was 16 when I got sober and looking towards me for guidance. Something I took very seriously. She forced me to daily ask the question of if she walked through the door at any given moment would I be able to explain my actions. Something I continue to do today, but in regards to Peter and Avery.
 
The countless friends, both old and new, that I have been blessed to share this journey with. You have all enriched my life in ways that can never be measured. Life saw a way to not give me the friends I would have chosen, nor the ones I deserved, but rather the ones I needed. I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.
 
Rebecca Panneton deserves special recognition. When I was a drunk she’d pick me up and take me out. No matter how abhorrent my behavior got, she never judged. In the early days of sobriety, she helped me navigate the waters in the same subtle ways. To this day she remains a better friend to me and I my family than I will ever be to her. Thank you.
 
19 years marks a milestone. I have now officially been sober longer then I was a drinker, but in my heart, I will always be a drinker. That means for 19 years I’ve engaged in an unnatural act. Thus the internal struggle.
 
Life is challenging and it’s hard. There are no guarantees. Getting sober doesn’t mean money problems end, or that you are always comfortable in your own skin. It doesn’t mean that you’ll always make the right decisions, or that you’ll suddenly have all the right answers. It does mean that you are facing life on life’s terms, that you are not hiding, and for me, today, that’s the only way to live.
 
So today I raise a glass, and put it back down, as I move on down the road. See you back here in 365 days for number 20. By the grace of God, life is better today than it was yesterday.
TO THE BUSINESS AT HAND
All good things must come to an end, and today winter break is officially over for Metro Nashville Public Schools. Teachers report this morning and students arrive tomorrow. Thanks to a recently signed MOU, only 3 hours of today can be spent in professional development. The rest of the day is for planing.
Tomorrow is the first school board meeting of the year. As I wrote on Friday, it is going to be a full day for school board members. Meetings start at 1:30 with an executive session where reportedly board members will be briefed on the sexual harassment lawsuits the district is facing. There is also a budget committee meeting and a governance committee scheduled before the full board meeting.
There is no indication of what will be discussed at these committee meetings, as no agenda is available to the public. Over the last several years the board, in an effort to streamline the main meetings, has moved the bulk of business to committee meetings. A move that does not convey a commitment to transparency. What stakeholder will be able to show up in the middle of the afternoon to attend a meeting that they have no idea what will be discussed? Sometimes hiding in plain sight is the best strategy.
One item that I initially failed to notice was this one,

VENDOR: Learning Forward

SERVICE/GOODS (SOW): Contract for the continuation of the Redesign Professional Development (PD) Community membership. Learning Forward’s Redesign PD Community is a network that convenes and supports school systems dedicated to addressing specific problems of practice in professional learning. The network uses continuous improvement principles and processes to focus systems on discovering new practical solutions to strategically complex professional learning challenges.

SOURCING METHOD: Exempt (Membership)

TERM: July 1, 2018 through December 31, 2019

FOR WHOM: MNPS Executive Leadership Team and Staff

COMPENSATION: Annual membership fee: $35,000.

Total compensation under this contract is not to exceed $35,000.

OVERSIGHT: Chief of Schools

Notice who’s in charge of oversight? That would be Learning Forward Board of Trustees member Shawn Joseph. Do I need to bring up Dallas Dance again? Dallas Dance who Joseph brought in as a member of the transition team? As a side note, I’d keep that transition team list handy and every time somebody publicly defends Dr. Joseph I’d refer to it. Odds are you’ll find them on that list.

It seems anymore that everybody has some kind of financial connection to an entity that does business with MNPS. Sharon Gentry does work for the Arbinger Institute. Gini Pupo-Walker works for Connexion Americas. Christiane Buggs works for NPEF via the Blueprint for Literacy as a project manager despite being a math and science specialist. Will Pinkston guards his client list like its the Dead Sea Scrolls, but its long been believed that SEIU and MNEA are among his clients. Does this not bother anyone?

We are heading into budget season. It has been contended that last year MNPS did not get the funding it requested due to a lack of trust. There was a concentrated effort to lay the blame for that lack of trust at the feet of those board members who have been critical of the district’s spending. But I’d ask how do Dr.Joseph’s, and other board members, financial relationships instill confidence? It seems like everyone is benefiting but the schools.

I would argue that at the very least Dr. Joseph should have publicly disclosed his relationship with Learning Forward and recused himself from the role of oversight. But apparently, that’s not how we roll anymore. At one time the very appearance of unethical behavior was grounds for it being declared unethical, now it’s free rein and appearances be damned.  [Correction: Chief of Schools is actually Sito Narcisse. So technically Joseph probably did recuse himself. Still raises questions in my opinion.]

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Over the weekend OneNashville held its bi-weekly meeting. OneNashville is a community organization dedicated to improving life in Nashville. Per it’s Facebook page,

Every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month One Nashville hosts the Community Awareness Networking Breakfast where good people connect and learn about positive opportunities and services in our city. One Nashville is a fun way to do civic engagement and create that better world. Make and meet awesome friends and partnerships. Positive People Producing Powerful Awareness And Practical Answers. All persons are welcomed to become part of the One Nashville Dialogue and Information Network. Hear or know anything that help others you can post here and come to the awesome breakfasts and make sure good people are made Aware!

It is an incredible organization that contributes greatly to the quality of life for Nashville residents. Saturday’s meeting was focused on education. Mayor Briley spoke, as did state representative Brenda Gilmore. Former school board member, and current CM, Ed Kindall spoke as well.

In addressing the crowd, Kindall painted his time on the board as a picture of harmonious interaction. Which it was not. During his tenure, the board was especially light on oversight. Kindall had a front seat on how not to handle a sexual harassment lawsuit. In reality, things weren’t much different than they are today. If anybody knows, the challenges involved with being a school board member, it is Kindall.

Despite that knowledge, he decided to share personal texts from current school board member Jill Speering. A move that baffles me.

The verbiage, taken in a racial context, is not good, but I don’t believe for one minute that was Speering’s intent. To take the wearing of masks as a racial conniption also means that you don’t believe that any African-American educators are dissatisfied with Dr. Joseph. Something we all know is not true. Just like not all white educators are unhappy with him.

It also means that you ignore the question of why would teachers be afraid? Why is the wearing of masks even a consideration?

I have long argued that Nashville is in need of a deeper conversation on race. One that unites, instead of further divides us. This situation presented a teachable moment if Kindell had chosen to take it.

Instead of going public, how different would the conversation be if he extended the professional courtesy to Speering of picking up the phone and calling her? Does he even know who she sent those texts to? Does he know the context? Has he taken a moment to talk to teachers in order to find out just how bad they are hurting? He just assumed a nefarious intent and then made it racial in order to further his own agenda, one that includes protecting Dr. Joseph at all costs.

Now we’ve got people on both sides trying to draw people to tomorrow’s meeting. A meeting that is coinciding with the first day back from school for kids. How many actual stakeholders will navigate tomorrow and then navigate rush hour traffic in order to get to Bransford Ave to participate in an action that is widely considered futile? My guess is that few will make the trek.

The lack of attendance doesn’t mean that we won’t be left with the residue from another incident that will only make it harder to have that needed conversation about race. We can’t continue to try and shame people into changing their behavior. It just creates further resentments. Kindall has been at this game long enough to know how it all plays out in public. He should remember what happened when he and his fellow school board members tried to ignore teachers and parents a decade ago. It didn’t end well for the director or the school board. Why would he believe the outcomes will be different this time?

Perhaps Speering shouldn’t have sent out the text message. Perhaps she shouldn’t have tried to solicit stakeholders to come let their voices be heard. I personally don’t know what other alternatives are open to her. Joseph controls the data and constantly spins it, much like Garcia, in a manner that benefits him and creates the illusion of progress. Board members refuse to listen and teachers refuse to talk to those who’ve publically turned a deaf ear. So again I ask, what else should she do other than emulate what so many of our teachers have already done, close the door, teach to the best of their ability and look for a job elsewhere?

Personally, I’m proud of her and impressed by her willingness to fight for a system that has treated her so badly for the last year. Treatment that has negatively impacted her personal health. Her treatment has been indicative of how we treat all our teachers. We act as if they haven’t been in the classroom but a single day, and we readily dismiss their insight in order to further our own agenda. We take every chance we can to undercut them and paint them in a negative light, all the while professing our love and respect. Despite it all, Speering continues to rely on her hard-won experience and refuses to be deterred by any of her perceived missteps. You may not agree with all her methods, but I absolutely love her commitment and admire her strength. She is obviously cut from the same cloth as many of our teachers.

It was no easy recovery for MNPS from Pedro Garcia and it took many, many, years to undo the damage done. This time won’t be any easier. We have lost so many talented professionals to surrounding districts and greener pastures. It’s going to take all of us pulling together to fix this thing and if we tear each other apart before Dr. Joseph leaves, it’s going to be virtually impossible to restore our school system. We are going to need leaders we can trust in order to pull it off. Leaders that have the ability to communicate and support each other.

POLL REVIEW

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

First up is the question about workforce housing. Out of 120 respondents, 67 of you or 56% of you replied, “How about a living wage and some respect?” The number 2 answer with 14% of the vote was, “I can’t even.” 1 person said sign me up. Since her initial post, Pupo-Walker has tried to walk back her pitch by claiming she was talking mortgage help and low-interest rates as well as developing teacher houses. Most aren’t buying it and continue to be appalled by the proposal. At some point we need to actually listen to the people we are trying to help.

Here are the write-ins:

Hahahaha! 1
Asbestos, mold, bugs…Teachers deserve better! 1
Respect outweighs anything else! 1
I can’t even. Add to Worst.Ideas.Ever. #livingwage #affordablehousing #respect 1
Walker needs to talk with teachers before she publ 1
Isn’t that what we’re already doing. Extra hours every day, morning and night. 1
My family of 5 would get a lot of benefit out of it. ????????‍♂️ 1
It makes sense for Silicon Valley, so maybe Nashville is getting there too 1
It’s impossible for mid career teachers to afford to have children here. 1
Why not just convert an old jail into housing?

Question number 2 asked you were feeling about the pending return of kids to classes. Out of 103 respondents, 42, or 41%, answered, “ready for the kids but not the…”. The number two answer with 22% was, “I guess it’s time.” Only 4 people indicated that they could wait to get back and 7 said they weren’t going back. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Here are the write-ins:

Eh. Whatever. 1
Glad I retired and thankful I did not retire with a disability. 1
Found out we are doing CKLA so I’ve been branded as an inept educator 1
Half way there 1
Like a little more time, but our kids need to get 1
wish for more break 1
I dread the back-to-school PD more. 1
I’ve wasted my last two days dreading going back.

the last question sought to solicit your feelings on the extra 40K for the director evaluation tool. Out of 109 responses, 62 votes, or 57%, labeled it just more waste. Needless to say the idea is not a popular one.

Here are the write-in votes:

This is why I work the clock. 1
The BoE should be capable of carrying out an evaluation. 1
Fuck that 1
Just listen to teachers and it costs NOTHING 1
If this if 40K for propaganda, #wtf. Past time to show him the door. 1
what are we paying SB members for? their 1 job is to hire and fire the Director 1
Just another way to avoid doing the evaluation. 1
Pisses me off. 1
Could fund a couple of much needed parapros at my 1
Board, stop playing politics. U know he has to go 1
And I can’t get a cost of living adjustment? SMH. 1
I could do it for 24,999.99. 1
Hopefully it’s impartial

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. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!

THE CASE FOR WORK FORCE HOUSING

8

“It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterward that makes it right or wrong.”
Miles Davis

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.”
Roger Miller

The closing of 2018 marked the conclusion on the fifth year of Dad Gone Wild. That first year just shy of 14 thousand people visited the website. Last year it was 60, 331. That’s some nice growth over 5 years and I’m pretty proud of it.

I don’t attribute the growth to any brilliance on my part. My success is firmly rooted in the conversations and stories that professional educators tell me. Dad Gone Wild was founded on the premise that not enough people listen to those that do the work and I try to remain true to that vision.

Sure I’ve got opinions, and I’ll fight for those, but if they run counter to the prevailing wisdom of those in the classroom than I need to adjust. That’s not to say all teachers subscribe to the same strategies, they certainly come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but if you talk with a wide variety of teachers, some common themes will emerge.

It’s not just enough to talk either. It bears repeating, that if you want honesty from people you have to earn it. You have to demonstrate that you truly care what their opinions are and that you are not just trying to use those opinions to prop up your own. Teachers are to busy to just volunteer detailed and honest opinions without some sort of evidence of actual interest. I’m extremely appreciative of all of you that have taken me into your confidence and hope you will continue to do so in the future.

Here’s hoping 2019 is a good one. The goal this year is to have 100k visit the site. In order to reach that goal, I plan to keep on shining light in corners that others would prefer to remain dark. Also, I plan to celebrate the wins where we can find them.

At some point in the next month, I want to find some time to tell you about Nashville’s educator’s co-op. There are also some parents who are members of Nashville Rise that have stories that need telling and I’d like to share those as well. January marks the advent of a new education advocacy group, Pastors for Tennessee Children and I look forward to highlighting their work throughout the year.

In short, there is plenty to write about in the foreseeable future and I thank you for your support. I plan to continue to earn it every week in 2019.

WORKFORCE HOUSING

School board member Gini Pupo-Walker wasted no time in communicating her vision for 2019. On Wednesday she released a newsletter outlining her objectives and goals for the coming year. Among those goals,

I hope to participate in efforts to create workforce housing for teachers in Nashville, and to build on the success of other cities that have been able to do so.

Ok…she then followed up with a tweet calling attention to an article from FastCompany talking about cities in the Silicone Valley considering turning old schools into teacher housing. The reaction was fast and furious, teachers were not impressed with the idea. But let’s think this through for a minute, there is a lot of opportunity in this idea.

Of course, success is all tied in to the implementation. You’d have to give the communities catchy names – Teacher Hills, Education Heights,  Pedagogical Park, Dewey Gardens. Names perceived as attractive to teachers, you don’t want it to look like this is just a way to not pay people what they are worth.

First of all, Nashville has a traffic problem. If a large number of teacher lived together then you could just run buses to schools in the morning and evening. That would reduce pressure on our roads and maybe reduce some rush hour congestion.

Teachers have shown in the past that they are all too willing to work for free on the weekends and after school, but that means granting access to buildings and requires extra trips to school. But if teachers all shared a common residential area, and that space contained some quality meeting rooms, we could be getting a lot more free work time. They could also take time watching each other’s kids, freeing up even more time.

These days mixed-use buildings are all the rage, so there is no reason that proposed teacher housing couldn’t have a few restaurants or retail stores. This would give easy access to teachers to supply that second job most find themselves needing. No more running all over town trying to secure secondary employment, it’d be at their fingertips.

Teachers already spend a considerable amount of money on supplies for their classrooms, so if the district went into partnership with these retailers and restaurants, some additional revenue could be brought in for the district through teacher purchases. Put a Michaels, Wal-mart, or Target on-site and watch the cash roll in. Can you imagine what a Starbucks in Teacher Heights would bring in?

A green movement is afoot across the country, so including garden spaces would be a perfect fit. This would help teachers save on food costs. Of course there would be a little expenditure for extra freezers and canning courses, but still I can envision a lot of savings here.

Since we are always trying to increase the number of quality teachers, housing could be a nice incentive in order to pick up their game and secure that coveted 5-star rating. It could put a little meat behind those TVAAS scores. Teachers who are five would have the lowest rent and two’s would risk eviction.

This plan could help with teacher retention, quit your job, lose your home. After all, if you are not a teacher you obviously can’t live in teacher housing. Sorry, better stick around for a few years.

Now obviously, I am being sarcastic with all of this, but don’t think these thoughts haven’t crossed anyone else’s mind. Walker, as someone who has worked closely with teachers, should have known how teachers would react to her suggested article. It’s demeaning on so many levels and runs counter to constant calls to have the “best and brightest” become teachers. Why would the best and brightest become teachers and live in district housing when their peers are taking jobs making substantially more, and buying homes in desired locations?

Walker defends her ideas, by sharing that,

As a beginning teacher in Seattle I would have loved living in a community of other teachers in housing that allowed me to address my college debt. It’s one idea for a city that too expensive for many Nashvillians.

Psst…how about the district begins with a loan forgiveness plan?

Her quote further demonstrates a crucial flaw in our teacher retention plans, we continually direct our efforts towards the newest teachers, while nothing is done to hold on to those professional educators with 5 years or more years of experience. Whether it’s workforce housing or scripted curriculum, all are proposed with those young teachers in mind. But here’s a news flash, nobody really wants to dedicate 4 to 5 years preparing for a job they are only going to do for 3.

Ah…but now you are catching on TC. This isn’t supposed to be about making teaching a long-term profession. Older teachers are pesky. They know stuff. They have expectations. They demand stuff. Far better to have a workforce made of primarily young teachers.

You want to keep a few old ones around so that the local paper can now and then do a feel-good human interest story and the district can throw an occasional heartwarming retirement potluck retirement party, but it’s those young ones that should be our bread and butter. If we can just hold them for 3 – 5 years…

You know who else this plan would be perfectly tailored to? Teach for America corps members. As quoted in a 2015 article in American Prospect about teacher housing,

WHILE McDOWELL COUNTY’S “teacher village” won’t be the nation’s first, others are generally found in urban areas, and have been constructed largely without the involvement of the local teachers unions. In fact, partners more closely aligned to the educational reform movement have led them—those with ties to charter school networks and organizations like Teach for America.

Back at the end of the last decade, the economy was in shambles and college graduates were having trouble finding jobs that paid a decent salary. Teaching seemed like an interesting enough thing to do for a couple of years while you waited for the economy to rebound and TFA made it possible to enter the classroom with only 5 weeks of training. But the economy has rebounded, recruits are harder to secure, and a new hook is needed. Teacher dorms or villages seem to fit the prescription.

Nashville has a history of trying to cater to TFA. Former Mayor Karl Dean held fund-raisers at his house in order to entice them into setting up shop in town. Many believed that they were going to supply those high-quality teachers so desperately desired. A belief I never shared and truthfully, my activism is rooted in the arrival of Teach for America.

Back in those glory days of the early part of the decade, TFA was getting $6500 a teacher from the city and $5k from the state. That’s pretty good money and the coffers quickly filled. The rise of TFA allowed for district administrators to begin ignoring their veteran teachers because there was this endless supply of fresh, young, bright faces ready to take the place of those crabby old vets. And who cares if these new ones left after 3 years, there was always going to be another batch right behind them. Another batch that wouldn’t bother administrators with their opinions garnered through experience.

With the rise in reliance on TFA, teaching became more and more perceived as something you did for a couple of years before you got on with your life. The perception took root that it was a job any smart person could do, after all, look at the results these corp members were getting with only 5 weeks of training.

Unfortunately, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. First, the economy got better, which led to TFA having trouble filling their quota. Why spend any time teaching when you can get right to putting money in the bank? Soon people started to realize that not everybody could become a teacher. Didn’t you ever wonder why successful atheletes so rarely transfer into a successful career in coaching? They realization that TFA was in actually hurting the profession grew. People began to refer to corp members as “educational tourists” and many districts began to cut their contracts. (Nashville’s contract comes up for renewal in February)

It seems like bad ideas don’t just go away though. Somebody always comes along and trying to prop them up. The New Teacher Project, a contemporary of TFA, just received around 100K in professional development contracts from MNPS despite the lack of any individual  schools previously using them for professional development. Walker, who falls into the “don’t call me a reformer” camp undoubtedly recognizes the value of her ideas to Teach for America. So here we go again.

There has been so much conversation around the teacher shortage that by now, even the most casual observer, let alone one who has been in the trenches for decades,  should be able to get a read on what is needed to address teacher recruitment and retention. It’s a salary that is compatible with peers of similar educational levels. It’s respect and the recognition of the amount of training teachers do in order to become teachers. Allow them to apply that expertise and experience. It’s simple but not easy.

It’s not my intention to personally attack Ms. Walker and I’m glad that she is thinking about teacher compensation. A later tweet list some better alternatives and recognizes the need to increase salaries.

It can take the form of tax credits, low interest loans, assistance with buying homes or apartments, and yes some cities renovate old schools into lofts for staff. It is one idea among many to help with affordability – but does not replace the urgent need to increase pay.

Still, the initial idea is a window into people’s perception about teachers and the profession and cannot be allowed to go unchecked. There is a reason for the growing teacher shortage and it begins with us and our perceptions.

QUICK HITS

Last week an article on NPR brought to light that LEAD Academy, whom brags about their 100% graduates college acceptance rate, has a policy that makes college acceptance a graduation requirement. MNPS’s charter school executive Denis “nothing in my hands” Queen offers his opinion on the policy, “In order to receive a diploma from the state of Tennessee, I don’t believe you can make that a requirement.” Note that he doesn’t really know, just believes. The article says that MNPS’s Charter office which oversees charters is still consulting legal experts on whether mandating college acceptance is illegal. At 160K a year, shouldn’t we know by now?

Next Tuesday is a scheduled board meeting. A glimpse at the agenda shows that rumors are not true, Bone Mcallister will not be sharing the results of their HR audit with the board. Word on the street is that the report is not finished. The cynic in me says that the report is being delayed because certain board members were unable to hold a closed-door executive session last week like they desired.

Such a meeting would have allowed the board an opportunity to get a glimpse at the report and begin formulating a positive narrative before it was presented for general consumption. Hard to get a dog and pony show together when you don’t have time to give the dogs and ponies their script. That’s not directed at Bone Mcallister, who has a stellar reputation, but rather certain actors on the board who like to exercise control.

Speaking of those actors, there is a proposal on the agenda to give FourPoint Education Partners an additional 40K in order to accomplish the following three tasks: (1) develop and deploy a formative evaluation of the Director, (2) redeploy the Board self-assessment and facilitate a Board retreat, and (3) refine and deploy the summative evaluation of the Director. Actually, it’s 40k plus. At what point does the board become able to conduct an evaluation on its own?

Furthermore, it’s my understanding that half the board members haven’t been attending retreats. Shouldn’t participation be secured before money is spent on an outside organization facilitating a retreat? Just saying.

A look at the board calendar shows some interesting scheduling as well.

  • 1:30 – 3:00 Executive Meeting
  • 3:00 – 4:00 Budget Committee
  • 4:00 – 5:00 Governance Meeting
  • 5:00 – ?        Board Meeting

Kinda appears like a retreat to me right there. Raise your hand if you think this is a productive schedule. Does anyone really believe that Pinkston, who hasn’t been able to sit through a whole meeting yet in the last year, will even make it through half of this schedule? The governance committee meeting could be the most interesting of the lot. Last year the board moved away from policy governance and I’m not quite sure all the board members realize it yet.

In response to my post earlier this week, several MNPS veterans reached out to remind that way back in the day, when MNPS Executive Officer Tony Majors was principal at Glencliff, he didn’t play. Majors was known as a tough administrator who was willing to wade in and break up a fight if needed. I knew Tony back in those days and can attest, that he practiced a discipline policy a whole lot different from how he preaches it today. Students loved Majors, but also had a healthy dose of fear of him. I suspect a little more of the old Majors model would be welcome.

Remember when criticism of TNReady was countered by the argument that we should have stayed with PARCC and it all would have been avoidable? Yea...how’s that working out? Some states are actually putting students first.

Belated congratulations are in order for former MNPS communications specialist Jenny Pickard. Pickard started a new position with the Hamilton County Department of Education back in October. Now I know why the number of social media stories has dropped off since the Fall.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Lately, I’ve been trying to promote local school’s teacher of the year winners. Send me a picture of your winner and I’ll be happy to promote them.

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. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions.

 

 

 

TOP POSTS OF 2018: THE OTHER NUMBER 1

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The other number 1 post of last year was also not penned by me, but rather a recently departed MNPS high school teacher. It was originally published back in February and the sad reality is that very little has changed since its publication.

There are many suggestions in this piece for ways to stem the rising tide of teachers leaving the district. Instead school board members announce their desire to focus on workforce housing – more on that tomorrow – and holding more public conversations. What’s the point of holding talks if nobody ever listens.

We seem to suffer under the illusion that people give you their honest opinion just because you asked for it. That’s not the way it works. In order to get valuable feedback their must be trust. Earning that trust requires providing that you are actually listening and taking action on feedback. Two areas in which the district has been sorely lacking. 2019 would be a great year in which to rectify that.

Here’s 2018’s other most popular piece:

I didn’t write a post today because I was off attending STEM Summit III at MTSU in Murfreesboro. It was a fantastic experience, and I’m extremely grateful to Connie Smith for inviting me. Expect more details on the Summit tomorrow. One big take away was that letting Ryan Jackson get away was a foolish move by MNPS. What a story. What a talent. Somebody go get him and drag him back to MNPS. Between Jackson, Amato, and Woodard… might want to study the water out there at Maplewood HS.

I didn’t want to leave Monday content-free, though. Scott Bennett is another wonderful teacher that recently departed MNPS. He and his wife moved to South Africa for her job. Bennett left without paying a lunch debt that he owed me. In lieu of that lunch, he offered me his insights on his time at MNPS and I readily accepted.

His post is a long one and you can also find it on his blog, Bennett There Done That. I’m hoping that by sharing it here, people will get a greater understanding of what goes on in our schools. There are some real changes that need to be made. Some real conversations that need to be had. Much of what is in this blog post was supported by what I heard at the STEM Summit today. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope that someday Mr. Bennett will one day walk the halls of an MNPS school again. See you tomorrow with our regular scheduled programming. Here is Bennett’s post:

(I deeply value my time and experiences with the people with whom I spent the last decade working with and learning from. However, there are some issues that I feel need to be aired on behalf of the teachers who are back in Nashville, and I feel they can’t speak up for fear of retribution. I know because I was one of them only a few weeks ago. I would still love to have a proper exit interview, even if it is done from 9,000 miles away. Part II will address and promote many of the outstanding things that I saw happening in classrooms. It is my hope that through these posts I can affect change and promote the people and initiatives which are changing lives.)

When I left my teaching position there was no exit interview. No survey. No request for feedback from the district.* At the very least I was anticipating an email from H.R. I gave my notice and letter of resignation roughly 115 days ago, and I left my classroom on February 9th. So my departure wasn’t a surprise for anyone. Either they assume to know my professional opinions or they don’t want to hear them. Both are deeply troubling to me as teacher, a tax payer, a voter, and a parent. I’m not sure what kind of leadership doesn’t want feedback, but I’ve never met any great leaders who have insisted that they knew everything. Additionally, this district has difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, support staff, and bus drivers. Some of that stems from the low pay, and some of it stems from the culture. If I’m a district leader and I can’t do much about the one, I’m sure as heck going to try and improve the other. As a teacher I’ve found that when students don’t care about the feedback I give, it is because they didn’t care about the assignment whether that is an essay or a presentation or a project. I end each semester asking about my teaching practices and how they can better align to student needs. I’m not sure what it says about an institution that doesn’t want feedback from it’s employees, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t good.

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“Who do you think you are? What gives you the right?” One of the best exit interviews of all time. 

#ThanksMetro is a phrase I started using a few years ago to express the frustration of working in an organization that often and in many ways works against itself. (Example: The IB scores that were the best in recent memory and by far the highest in the district, were announced by the district’s media team at the same time as they announced finding high levels of lead in the water of some schools.) One announcement obviously overshadowed the other. And this is a tough post to write because for much of my time as teacher, I absolutely loved teaching and coaching and collaborating with students and my peers. Many of the teachers that I was fortunate enough to work with were outstanding professionals and even better human beings. They are people I continue to look up to and be inspired by. Overwhelmingly the experiences I had as a teacher were positive. I had great mentors and leadership who coached and supported me. So why do I harbor so much resentment toward the institution and the profession as a whole? I really hope my four years here in South Africa help to provide distance and assuage the negative feelings because I love teaching. I really do.

Death by a thousand paper cuts. It’s another phrase I’ve used to describe the petty form of treatment (sometimes unintended) that teachers endure. Like the analogy, a single paper cut by itself hurts, but can be overlooked. It can be dismissed. It can be forgiven. But as cuts accumulate, the emotional and psychological toll can be, at best, demoralizing and, at worst, dehumanizing. There are differing severities of cuts too. On one hand you have the daily grind. No matter how great my lessons or interactions with students, I would have an overwhelming number of emails, phone calls, texts, requesting my time and energy addressing “just” one more thing. I’ve come to hate the word to such a degree, I tell my students not to use it in their writing. “Just” shoot me an email. “Just” call a parent. “Just” log it in Support and Intervention. “Just”stop by the meeting. Any phrase that starts with “can you just…” is a paper cut. One task by itself is never a big deal (and that is how we always perceive it, in isolation) but the requester seldom considers their ask in the greater context of all that teachers are expected to do. Amplify that ask times the hundreds of interactions we have daily and suddenly the time I wanted to use to develop relationships with students or co-plan with other teachers or provide effective and timely feedback has been replaced with a hundred “can you just…”

The leaders in the district who protect their teachers’ planning and grading time are loved and respected by their teachers. The other ones (and fortunately for me my time with them was limited) would contribute to the paper cuts by being petty or nickel-and-diming teacher time and energy. I can only imagine that they believe that by demanding more from their teachers they were somehow improving their school. Instead of having a positive effect, I saw them breed resentment and animosity.

Then there are also the major paper cuts. These are the one that are infuriating to me as professional and a human being. Want to know one from a parent’s perspective? Last fall we enrolled my five year old in kindergarten. A little less than a year ago we had his immunizations completed. I remember because it was a traumatic day for everyone involved. Immediately after we had the records faxed to his future school. At the open house last summer we were informed they never received them. The next day we asked the doctors office to fax them again. On the first day of school we received a letter saying the school didn’t have them. We checked the fax number. It was correct. We had the doctor stay on the phone while they faxed them again. Three weeks later we recieved a letter photocopied on bright orange paper. Our son would not be allowed back to school if they did not receive the record of those immunizations by Friday. We had the doctor fax them again. This time we also asked them scan and email a pdf to us. We emailed a copy to the main office and copied the principal and my son’s classroom teacher. But on the first day after Labor Day weekend, I was called to the elementary school in middle of my teaching day to pick up my son because the school had no record of his immunizations. I lost count after six attempts at trying to get them what they were asking for. I printed a copy of the PDF and handed it to the office staff. It was the same form that had been sent many times over. We were doing everything that was asked and nothing was working. The communications home came as more and more urgent and demanding. This is by no means an isolated incident. I have experienced this kind of bureaucratic nightmare from within the system as well. Want to go on a field trip? Good luck. Fundraiser? Ha ha ha. I laugh in the face of your optimism. I’m not saying these things are impossible, lord knows there are great people who will help you navigate the forms in triplicate and clear the hurdles. I’m merely pointing out that as a teacher there were many educational experiences and fundraising opportunities that I let go right on by because getting approval on short notice would have been too tedious of an undertaking. Many teachers subscribe to the feign ignorance and apologize later method.

(Note: I did not get fired for taking an unapproved field trip once. I probably should have been. I’m not sure if I wasn’t fired because I was well liked or because firing me would have been (ironically) too much paperwork. Either way, I’m grateful for the pass.)

The countless meetings that could have been an email. The emails that should have been a meeting… I know teachers can be stubborn and not follow directions, but the district should model the behavior it wants teachers to use in the classroom. That kind of leadership was rare my experience. I’m not talking about my school leaders, mind you. I would walk through hell (and many teachers are) with the principals and school based leaders. I’m talking only about the communications or lack there of from central office.

I can also recount literally hundreds of episodes where parents needed help, either with attendance issues or grade change, or in one particularly embarrassing instance for the district, getting a straight A student into an art class so they can graduate. As further personal evidence of this functional breakdown, we are now in South Africa and want our son un-enrolled from his kindergarten class. We called the district office and they told us to call the school. We called the school, and they told us to call the district. He’s been enrolled and attending school here in Pretoria since last Tuesday. But everyday in Africa, as the sun is setting in a blaze of beautiful reds and yellows above the savanna, I get a call from our old district telling me that my son is absent. Paper cut.

From a teacher’s perspective the larger transgressions are far more serious. Lack of communication or respect from central office breads animosity and a culture of mistrust. Schools are not factories. Teachers do not produce students or even graduates. I hate referring to students as future employees. College and career ready. That was not my mission. Life ready? Maybe. Absurdism ready? Yes, there we go. Teachers grow people, and anyone who has ever grown something knows that it takes time and energy and patience. No mandate or initiative (no matter how important or beneficial) can replace the value of the positive interactions between students, teachers, and content. But yet so many top-down priorities took me away from or out of that equation. The worst one, the one that took me the furthest away from my students almost took me out of the profession for good.

In 2012 I was part of a professional development session which provided training in conjunction with the police department. Active shooter training. In my school hallway an officer fired blanks “to help us recognize the sound of gun fire.” In addition we also had to develop a response to our hearing of the shots. Some people were asked to play students. I was asked to be a teacher helping students seek shelter in my classroom. The drill started with shots coming from around the corner of the hall. I ushered as many people into my classroom as possible. I saw the officer come around the corner firing shots at the ground, and I suddenly felt like I was in danger and being chased even though he was clearly walking and meant no physical harm. Because this was a drill we were told not to lock any doors. I closed my door and moved people to the far corner where the lone window was. There was a bottleneck at the window and people panicked when the officer open the door, came into the room, and fired a dozen more rounds. Everyone scattered. Some people screamed. I can still hear the shots. I KNOW they weren’t real, but in the moment my mind didn’t. Thirty minutes after the drill ended everyone in the room was still visibly shaken.

I had a very difficult time sleeping for the next few weeks. I lost my appetite. I was either anxious or angry. My students could sense it. My wife saw it. I was short with people. That was the beginning of my worst year of teaching. I started seeing a therapist about a month after an active shooter drill took place. A shell from one of the blanks landed and stayed on the top of my bookshelf all year long. I couldn’t touch it. The kids couldn’t see it, it was too high, but I could. That professional development was also one of the reasons I left that school and almost left the profession later that year. The district’s health insurance plan did not cover the costs of seeing a psychologist. My then-administrators were evasive when I inquired about a workers’ compensation claim to help with the cost of the therapy (and actually the principal laughed when I spoke to him about it, which made me feel even more embarrassed and ashamed about how I was dealing with my response to that day). I feel I endured a traumatic experience as part of my job, and when I needed help dealing with this, the leadership and district balked. We can debate the merits of active shooter training for teachers. In this day and age, I can’t say that they shouldn’t happen. They certainly shouldn’t happen the way mine did. But what isn’t up for debate is the very apparent lack of emotional and psychological support offered to teachers after events like Sandy Hook or Stoneman Douglas. Ironically, the district health plan is willing to help if you want to quit smoking or lose weight, but if you ask them to help with the stress and anxiety caused by the job, you’ll be out of luck. Over the ten years I spent teaching, I lost half a dozen students to gun violence. I know of others who lost a battle with drug abuse. I’ve seen first hand the effects of generational poverty. I’ve been to the ER with students in the middle of night. I’ve been to funerals and visiting hours. I cried in my classroom after learning about Sandy Hook, Boston, Paris, Orlando, and Las Vegas. Every day teachers need to find the courage to talk about the realities of this world. And everyday there is a cost to teachers’ emotional well-being that is never acknowledged or addressed. The worst kind of paper cut is the one that is never allowed to heal.

In my opinion, I was most successful when my primary role was to provide students with inspiring and relevant challenges and to support their progress towards successfully answering those challenges. In my first five years teaching I feel like I did this a couple time a semester, at most. I wasn’t very good at it because I was always trying to stay on top of all the other parts of the profession. I felt like I was always putting out fires, instead of teaching. I really began to excel when I started teaching 9th grade English. My lessons and units consistently started to produce lively discussions, exemplar assessments, and most importantly, student growth. Instead of a great lesson a month, I was creating them multiple times a week. So what happened? Why the big difference between the fifth and sixth year of teaching?

Leadership. I was given permission from my administration to focus on what was most important, and what I was best at, instruction. In the words of the outstanding Artisan Teacher professional development series (why the district discontinued the use of his workshops is beyond me) founder Mike Rutherford, I was given the time and resources to “focus on and develop my strengths and manage my weaknesses.” I no longer had to do everything that was on my plate at the level that was being demanded. I could be great at stagecraft and planning, and could be acceptable with other asks without being regarded as a failure. I stopped responding immediately to emails. I gave them 24 hours before responding and most resolved themselves without me doing anything. This freed up time to plan more and better. I saw that my great lessons and units happened more frequently. I saw an increase my student achievement results, not only quality but quantity of students succeeding. In short, I was a TVASS level 1 teacher when I carried the burden of doing all the “just one more” things to make people happy. But I became a consistent level 4 and 5 teacher when I became laser focused on good content, good instructional practices, and coaching my students. I learned to abandon what wasn’t helping me to reach students. I need to thank those leaders who gave me the confidence and ability to say no to the curse of “just one more” thing. I also appreciate my peers who kept me focused on the job and not on the slights, both major and minor. My peers, who also became my best friends, often kept me from quitting and probably from being fired.

The major paper cuts were less frequent, but they hurt more. A school board member who endorses and promotes a tweet which disrespects me and the teachers in my school. Learning from the local news about a promised salary increase evaporating. A lack of communication from central office which leaves school leaders and teachers to guess intention and to explain district policy changes to students and parents themselves. These all contributed to the mistrust and dissonance between the district and teachers. These are all evident in #thanksmetro.

Need more evidence of paper cuts? Here is a list that comes immediately to mind.

  • No paid maternity-leave policy beyond using sick-leave. I wrote this opinion on Facebook last fall… “Here are my problems with a lack of paid maternity leave policy. 1) Having a baby isn’t the same as being sick. Period. Teachers get sick leave because teachers get sick. Often. Starting a family isn’t contagious, it can’t be treated at the minute clinic, and it sure as heck shouldn’t be relegated to the ever evaporating seven week summer break. 2) Almost 80% of the district’s employees are women. Not having this benefit is simply negligent and a flagrant disregard for the health and well-being of the majority of their employees. It reeks of blatantly sexist decision making. 3) The government should be the model employer, but in this (and many other instances) it puts the bottom line above the individual and social benefit. 4) As stated, the district is bleeding teachers. Nationwide, teacher turnover is problem. Currently in Nashville the problem is even worse, especially for teachers with 3-10 years experience, or those in the prime family starting years. A smart person once told me that happy parents raise happy kids. I believe that the same is true with teachers. Happy teachers (and by extension those who feel like their employer is taking care of them) are infinitely better for students than the teachers who feel nickel and dimed and exploited by policy and a system which only looks out for itself. If you want the investment the district makes in teachers to pay dividends, you have to keep teachers in the district more than three years. Start here. Nashville taxpayers and elected officials and school administrators… If you are fair to your teachers, they will be fair to the students and the district and society. That’s transitive leadership. We all know it. But if you are brave enough to be generous with your teachers, they will reward your generosity with loyalty and dedication and the relentless pursuit of helping students succeed, which will in turn pay for itself tenfold. That’s transformative leadership. Don’t get me wrong, providing maternity leave is the expectation. It is not generosity, especially if teachers are having to plead for it. But in providing any benefit, please be generous. Teachers who are proud to work for a responsive community will always outwork those who see the profession as a job. While I still consider twenty days paid leave to be insulting, it’s twenty paid days more than we have now. Read more on my Facebook here. Big paper cut.
  • The recent (2015) pay raises to teachers with 1-5 years of experience who DO NOT have a Masters degree, but still nothing in the last ten years for those teachers who have chosen to invest in our profession either by earning another degree or who have stayed in the profession longer than five years. The costs of living in the “It” city has skyrocketed. But with that our property taxes have increased which I think means more money for services. We certainly have enough money for a new baseball stadium, convention center, outdoor concert venue, and transportation plan, and downtown development. We have a booming local and state economy. We have shown we have the money for massive pay raises for central office leadership.  It appears we even have money for rookie teachers (TFA) with one to five years experience. And they are the ones most likely to leave the profession! What we don’t seem to have money for is teacher pay increases for these mid career professionals who are staying in the system. Paper cut.
  • The 3% cost of living pay raise last spring that was, then during Teacher Appreciation Week wasn’t, then somehow was again. It is difficult to have gratitude for something promised when you must fight for it as part of the budget. Paper cut.
  • Teacher Appreciation Week that includes a bridge lighting and a website for “affordable housing” which is actually only a mortgage calculator. (I know this is the Mayor’s thing, but it still counts for me as talking about appreciating teachers without doing anything.) Meanwhile the district hosts a holiday office parties with gift cards and giveaways. It is out of touch with the reality that we face. During a central office appreciation week a few years ago, while teachers were re-entering grades (see next point), central office was having yoga and massages during the week. These rewards are not undeserved. Good people, hard working individuals make up central office. But they are all examples of a district that is being insensitive to the sacrifices teachers are making. Paper cut.
  • In 2015 an IT computer glitch wiped out student grades and S&I information at the end of the grading period. No apology was ever issued from the district. Our school leaders empathized and apologized. But the tone of the email from central office lacked understanding and dodged responsibility. It simply demanded the data be re-entered by the specified time. Paper cut.
  • A new health and wellness center located in the most difficult part of town to reach, but is conveniently located next to the central office. I would like to know how many employees who live in Joelton or Antioch or Bellevue use the facility. Why not YMCA passes for all employees? If the health and well-being of teachers and support staff was truly important, it should be made far more accessible and to more people. Again, this looks like insensitive decision making. Paper cut.
  • Changing from Gradespeed to InfiniteCampus without adequately training or supporting teachers BEFORE the school year started (more on tech use in this district later). Paper cut.
  • Newly minted and mandated I.F.L. assessments (high school literacy units) which do not provide copies of the texts which are to be taught. Essentially what the mandate says is “You will teach this. You will assess this. But you need to supply copies of the texts for your students.” Paper cut.
  • The communication regarding the lead in the water which in addition to students dangers, all teachers use for drinking, for making coffee or lunches. Some of these readings are high enough that I’m concerned for all the pregnant women working in schools affected. No apology or empathy. Paper cut.
  • Much has been made of the great eclipse fiasco of 2017, so I don’t need to rehash it here. But this combined with the numerous weather related openings and closings (the “Seriously people” tweet) reflects poorly on all of the professionals working to improve the perception and communication of the district. Paper cut.
  • A school board which has members who have actively attacked and who promote attacking teachers on social media. Paper cut.

This list doesn’t even begin to address the state’s culture of over-testing, politics, and anti-teacher policy. After all this is only an exit interview for the district. Those complaints will have to wait for another time. I want to also find the time to talk about what I saw that was going right. There are SO MANY examples of outstanding outcomes that go under the radar. It is important that even if no one reads this, even if nothing changes, that I speak my mind on these challenges facing teachers. While paper cuts can heal, some can also leave a scar. And the most poignant scar is a memory of a time that we weren’t treated with respect as professionals or as human beings. I urge the people who have some say to evaluate and implement every decision after considering the cost to and the effect on teachers exactly the same way we ask teachers to make every decision with their students best interests in mind.

I have much more to say, but the phone is ringing. My eldest son was absent from school again today.

To be continued…

*My executive principal always had an open door policy and I always felt comfortable talking to him about our school. And one of my A.P.’s did ask for feedback on their leadership. I was deeply impressed by this humility and desire to reflect and improve. I will happily answer any questions they have for me. This post is more of a reflection of the district’s operations rather than the leadership of our immediate supervisors.

 

TOP POSTS OF 2018: A TIE AT NUMBER 1

2018 showed incredible growth for Dad Gone Wild. Over 60k people viewed the blog on a regular basis. That’s pretty humbling. Especially considering that in 2017 that number was 37k. I expect similar growth in 2019.

A big part of that growth comes from educators being willing to share their voice. The top 2 posts this year were written by me, but rather by professional MNPS educators. I take that as a huge compliment that they allowed me to give a microphone to their words. Hopefully, more will choose to do so in 2019.

Reprinted here is one of those 2 pieces. I’ll print the other tomorrow. Both still, resonate today.

 

Five years ago when I started this blog, I thought, “Hey, this could be a fun little hobby.” Unfortunately, and fortunately, it has turned into so much more. There are times that I absolutely do not want to write another word about how we underfund, under support, and underestimate our public schools. It’s heartbreaking to continually hear the stories of sacrifice that teachers make only to be undercut by self-serving administrators and politicians who just don’t take the time to learn the truth.

The fortunate part is that in creating this blog, a platform in which to share some of the truly beautiful thoughts and experiences of teachers has also been created. If I didn’t believe in magic before, after hearing their words and witnessing their works, its existence has become undeniable.

I share here, with permission, the words of middle school teacher Cori Anderson-Lais. Cori is a long-time family friend and a tremendous teacher. She is also a wife and the mother of two wonderful small children. Those roles often combine to create insomnia. Meaning that one finds themselves awake and unable to sleep at 2AM.

Fortunately for us, Cori used her insomnia in a much more productive manner than this writer. Whereas I would just watch Tin Cup for the 3,456th time, she used her time to produce a beautiful essay that I consider a must-read for all parents. Well, hell, not just parents, but everybody.

Thank you, Cori, for sharing your experiences and reminding us why what we all do is so important. I urge you to have some tissues handy before reading this one.

 

Parents of preschool-aged children love to ask me some variation of the same question as soon as they find out I’m a teacher. “So… tell me about the schools. Are the schools around here any *good*? I looked up the ratings online/ watched some terrible news story, and I’m wondering if we should move before he/she enters school.”

Enter the internal monologue after this question is received. Apologies for the cursing, but #realtalk🤷🏼‍♀️: Shit. Shit. Shit. Why did you open your loud-ass mouth and tell this well-meaning person enjoying a lovely day at the park/library/zoo/other-kid-friendly-establishment you were an eff-ing teacher? You could have just said you work at Target. Gawd, I really wish I just worked at Target. It’s so clean and organized. You get a discount. Surely the managers make more than I do. Focus. Or nothing. You could have just said nothing. Why can’t you EVER just say nothing, Cori? Great, I’m about to make this person wish they never talked to me. Oh well, I have enough friends, and I’m too tired for any more. Sorry Anxious Mom, I’m about to wear you out.

*************************************

This post is going to come from a place of admitted emotion, heart and passion about the kids and families to whom I have devoted my entire adult life. It’s lengthy and should probably live on a blog, but you know, time.

Disclaimers: Other than visiting them during training, I know almost nothing about Williamson County Schools. The following post’s purpose is not to speak about Williamson County Schools. Metro Nashville Public School System is massive, and I have spent all 11 years of my teaching in the Southwest and Southeast quadrant. I cannot speak on behalf of anything else. I grew up in suburban Minnesota inside of a working-class family that was intertwined with layers of dysfunction. However, the schools I attended looked, operated, and felt much more Williamson County than MNPS. It would be a lie to say that I don’t have any feelings left over about being the kid who felt misplaced in the environment where I grew up.

You want me to tell you about the schools, Anxious Mom? Here we go:

Here’s the reality Anxious Mom,
If you participate in White Flight, you hurt families of color and under-resourced families. “But But But I, volunteer/donate/go on mission trips/do x,y,z noble thing for poor people.” No. Own it. Sit in it. Feel the feelings even if one of them is a shame, and say it out loud: If I participate in White Flight inside of the public school system, my actions hurt families of color and under-resourced families. The whole family. Not just the kids. Period. Stop talking about how good of a person you are aside from the whole White Flight thing. We all get to make choices. I can’t make them for you. I didn’t say it was easy, or perfect, or without risk-whether, that risk is perceived or factual-I’ll tell you more about that later.

You need to ask yourself some tough questions:

What do I really mean when I say I want “the best” for my kid?

What can “the best” look like?

What do I mean when I say *a good school*? Is there underlying racial or socioeconomic bias in my thoughts about *good schools*?
*************************************
Inside these dreaded conversations, comes more questioning from the Anxious Mom that boils down to, “But won’t MY – smart, high-achieving, already knows her numbers, letters, colors, long division, astrophysics, half of the Japanese logographs, yoga poses, etc. be adversely affected by THOSE – under-resourced poor, low-achieving, misbehaving, Immigrant, EL, EE, Black, Brown, etc.- kids?”

Insert another internal monologue: Cori, remember that parents typically come from a place of love and good intentions. They have not been inside the schools. Your classroom babies are not their babies. They don’t know their stories. They read shit ratings online that paint an ugly, misinformed picture of our schools. I’ll readily admit that the Higher Ups need to get it together, but isn’t that the case in just about every government system in America? Be an educator. Educate this person, don’t judge this person. Quell rage, fix your face, use a kind voice.

I know, it’s a complicated picture, Anxious Mom, but here’s the thing. Your kid will be fine. More than fine. Like ultra, super-duper fine. There is scads of research that supports that fact. Yes, fact. You want scholarly articles about it? I’ll send them your way. Your kid will. be. fine. Probably better off and kinder. I work with incredible teachers. The families are great. We offer advanced academics-in fact, I teach those courses. We differentiate for all types of learners – that’s our job.

Anxious Mom emits more anxiety: But my calculus solving 4-year-old won’t do well in a disruptive environment. She won’t be able to reach her full potential unless she is around other kids like her. What if my kid doesn’t get enough attention if lower performing students are getting all of it? I’ve also heard there are a lot of immigrant kids around here, and if they can’t speak English, won’t my kid fall behind?

More internal monologue: There’s this thing about working with all types of people. They’re called coping skills, Lady, and it sounds like your kid is going to need to learn some stat if this is the kind of pressure you’re putting her under. Deep breath. Turn your judgment down, Self. Educate.

Again, it is our job to accommodate all learners. That’s why we chose to teach public school. Even if your kid misses out on some part of academics that may more easily be received in a more homogeneous environment, the social, emotional, and life learning that will occur inside our schools will far outweigh any gaps in instruction. In fact, those academic skills can be acquired indefinitely throughout adulthood. Remember how smart you said your kid was? She’ll make it. I promise. And probably be better for being ignored occasionally. And fun fact: Once Immigrant children reach English proficiency-something your *genius* kid could help them do, they actually outperform their English-speaking peers in academics and post-secondary schooling. Your little precious actually might do well to become bffs with the ELL kid because she might learn something about work ethic. And maybe, bonus, another language. 🤷🏼‍♀️

Things I have learned from my students: patience, tolerance, the ability to recognize and actively fight against my own biases, compassion, more about the world and other cultures than I even knew was possible, greetings in other languages, how to take care of others, hospitality, how to think on my feet, the fact that there is more than one “right” way to live, the ability to respect varying cultural and religious viewpoints, and most significantly: way more than I’ve ever taught them.

Anxious Mom, hear me: Your kid can learn from *those* kids, teach/help/BEFRIEND those kids, build a better world WITH those kids. Because as much as you, “Barely have time to process everything about YOUR kids, how in the world am I supposed to have concern about other people’s kids,” you have to know that YOUR kid’s world WILL be affected by those kids, and you might be able to help those effects be positive by being a part of our schools.

I won’t lie to you. In my eleven years, I’ve had classes where I did way more behavior management than I did teaching. But you know what I also did in those classes? I learned. I learned how to help kids manage their emotions. I learned that you can’t teach a kid academic content until they trust you. I learned how to de-escalate potent, anger filled situations. I learned that we all come to the table with layers, and even with those layers, we still deserve a chance. And a kid not performing well on a standardized test doesn’t show you shit about his/her intellect or capabilities. There are lots of kinds of smart. Isn’t that what life is all about?

I’ll leave you with a final anecdote, Anxious Mom. Let me tell you about my friend Max.

The last two years, I’ve taught only advanced academics courses (try not to monitor grammatical errors in this composition-I wrote it on my phone in the midst of insomnia) at the MNPS school closest to the Williamson County line. It’s probably a little more colorful than a WC school, but it’s the most homogeneous group I’ve ever taught.

Last year, another teacher was struggling with Max being in his class. Max’s behavior is pretty intense, and he already had quite a few vibrant personalities in the room. Max, despite his quirks, scores in the 94th percentile and above on standardized assessments. He’s fricken brilliant and bored out of his ever-loving skull. We moved him into the advanced classes.

The first couple weeks were a mess. He jumped on chairs, interjected every thought that crossed his mind into the room in a screeching voice, bothered his peers, and created a cacophony of chortles throughout the room on a daily basis.

I tried talking to him, positive praise, negative attention, yelling at him, sending him into the hall, calling his mom. All the things. One day, the exchange went something like this, “Out Max! I’ll meet you out there in a second. The rest of you better get busy and not say a word. I’m listening with my Mom Ears. I hear everything.”

– in the hall –

“Max, what. is. happening? This doesn’t work for any of us.”

“I don’t know. *tears start to come* The other kids think I’m funny but they don’t actually want to be my friends. They’re mean, but they’re sneaky, and I get in trouble because I’m loud.”

Inner thoughts abound again – Shit, this kid is perceptive AF. And right. He’s right. I need to do better. I need to teach the other kids to do better.

“Max, I’m sorry. You’re right. They do things they shouldn’t too. Just because they’re quieter doesn’t make it okay. I’m going to pay more attention to that. I do need you to chill out though. Not everyone catches onto concepts as quickly as you do, and they need quiet to think. Want to go in and try again?”

I looped with those kids this year meaning I have them all again, including Max. If you came into our class, you’d probably see Max standing on the table at the back of the room. Go ahead, clutch your pearls, yes, standing on the table. Max now has a box of puzzles and sensory toys for when he finishes his work early. He uses a whiteboard to write things down that he wants to blurt out. Sometimes, he still blurts out. Sometimes, I still lose my patience with him. We got him into the Day of Discovery program with Vanderbilt, and on Tuesdays he gets to go do super cool things like examine bugs outside.

Anxious Mom – But is that fair? Won’t all the kids start standing on their desks? Why does he get toys and they don’t?

Friend, fair is not always equal. Another great lesson for kids to learn. No, the other kids don’t stand on their desks because they don’t *need* to stand on their desks. They also need more time to do their work. They also recognize that it’s socially inappropriate to stand on a desk, and they don’t want to stand out by having extra toys. In reality, we could all learn something from Max about giving no 🤐. And most significantly, they have figured out how to work with Max and how bright he is. They are kinder to him. Stand up for him sometimes.

Even More Anxious Mom – So, you’re going to send your girls to school here? Even the big, scary high school? I heard such and such happened there.

Well, it probably did, and I’m sure if you knew the full story it wouldn’t shock you nearly as much as it did when someone hyperbolized it. Yes, my kids will go to these schools. I’m excited for them to attend these schools. Remember the high school I mentioned that I attended? Kids there had the time and money to do all the things you’re afraid your kid is going to be influenced to do. *Those* kid’s-at the *scary* schools – they’re mostly working and helping to take care of their families.

Those kids are MY kids. Just as much my kids as Jovie and Eira. They were my first babies. They invited me to their family parties and their family sporting events, brought me incredible food, threw me a baby shower, visited me in the hospital after I had my babies, babysat my children and refused to take payment, they hug me when they see me in public, and are currently achieving fantastic things. One more fun fact: their parents never emailed me things that made my eyes roll. They respected my profession. SO, if you’re going to try to talk to me about how your kid deserves more or better than my kids, you’re going to hear about my feelings. I’m sorry the smiley-faced Nordic-looking girl in the MN Twins hat didn’t affirm your internalized bias, but I hope you’ll consider staying in our neighborhood. You won’t regret it. ✌🏼