“That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact.”
“It’s okay. We aren’t in the same class. Just don’t forget that some of us watch the sunset too.”
This week can be summed up in just one word: exhausting. It was exhausting for parents. It was exhausting for teachers. It certainly was exhausting for principals. I think it was even exhausting for elected officials. Let’s take a minute to try to push aside the curtain of fatigue and take a look at some of the things that contributed to this exhausting week.
WHY ARE TEACHERS AFRAID?
Back a few weeks ago, school board member Jill Speering’s private text message urging people to attend a board meeting to protest Director of Schools Dr. Joseph’s performance and suggesting that if teachers were afraid of retribution they wear masks was made public. People took exception to the claim that teachers might be afraid. After this week, that defense shouldn’t hold water and people should have a clear understanding of why teachers might be afraid.
On Wednesday, council member Erica Gilmore introduced a council resolution that called for school board member Jill Speering to issue a formal apology to Dr. Joseph for the aforementioned private text messages. Per the Tennessean, “Gilmore, who faces re-election in August for her council seat, but hasn’t ruled out runs for vice mayor or mayor, is a political ally of Joseph.”
In other words, a message is being sent that you don’t mess with the good doctor unless you are looking for trouble. The events in question transpired nearly a month ago and most of the outrage has died down. Speering has acknowledged how her words could be misinterpreted and she has expressed regret. Her opponents are not satisfied with that and wish to continue to try to publicly humiliate her.
Gilmore, through her resolution, is demanding that Speering retract a personal text that was never intended for the general public and formally apologize to Dr. Joseph. Nobody has asked how this text became public, whom it was intended for, and in what context. The very leaking of that private text was an exercise in political gamesmanship. The intent from the very beginning was to use shame to quiet a vocal critic of Dr. Joseph. The resolution says as much: “WHEREAS, Mrs. Speering has been an outspoken opponent of Dr. Shawn Joseph’s leadership as the Director of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.”
The resolution accuses Speering’s text of encouraging the wearing of “masks for the express purpose of concealing identities of those expressing opposition in such circumstances is, at the least, extremely insensitive and evokes comparisons to the historical persecution of African-Americans by the Ku Klux Klan, whose members also wore and continue to wear masks.” How many people realized that the KKK initially wore masks in their early incarnation before moving to hoods? I didn’t until I did more research.
But there are many contemporary accounts of klansmen dressed in “women’s clothing,” and reports of mask wearing and use of blackface too, but little indication of the use of pointed hoods. In general, the original Klan seems to have been too disorganized and decentralized to have a uniform, and its adherents marked themselves in different ways.
For many of us, the Klan is a reprehensible organization and a historical footnote. We are familiar with the hooded garb, the burning of crosses, and the heinous actions but because we wholeheartedly reject their dogma and the actions associated with that dogma, details have faded from memory. For others, the wounds inflicted by the actions of the klan are much more personal and raw, and much like for descendants of victims of the Holocaust, those details will never fade and rightfully are as painful today as if they had transpired yesterday. I admit it, I can never fully understand the depth of the scars inflicted by that time in American history. Nor can I fully grasp the many ways institutional racism continues to have a hold on day-to-day American life.
People who are offended by Speering’s choice of words do not need my permission to be offended, nor my endorsement of how they express their outrage. But we will never be able to undo the harm racism causes if we use every opportunity to use every perceived insult as a weapon of shame against our opponents. To assign intent based solely on a single paragraph text does nothing to promote healing of those deep divides and the scars that remain fresh. If Speering had invited supporters to come in “woman’s clothing,” a direct line to the Klan could have also been drawn if one chose to. But most of us wouldn’t have made that leap. We have to continue to look for ways to unite instead of continually dividing.
The drafting of this resolution also sends out another subtle message – a message that black people must support black people. Nowhere in Speering’s text did she ever indicate that she only wanted white educators to show up. For all we know, the message could have been sent to three black educators, three Hispanic educators, and three white educators. But that’s the narrative that Joseph and his surrogate Gilmore want you to believe. By quickly drawing a link to the Klan though, a message is subtly sent that any criticism of a black leader can’t be about performance and has to be about race. It sends a message that a much bigger issue is at play, and that educators of color must stand behind the director, a man of color, in order to defend that higher issue.
Credit goes to State Representative Harold Love for spelling it out very honestly. As legislators started to gather for this year’s legislative session, some openly questioned the actions of MNPS’s school board, which led Love to respond to the Nashville Scene. Love warned that a citywide debate over Joseph’s performance could lead to a divided city, “because African-Americans will feel as if you’re attacking [Joseph] just because of his race, and it could be a whole list of things that he could have done wrong, but the perception is going to be [that], and I know that we don’t want that.”
If you didn’t get that shot across the bow, Gilmore’s resolution certainly brings the point home. Love’s words also again reinforce the trope that all African-Americans in Nashville hold the same position. I can’t remember the last time I read something that assumed that all whites in the city would respond in a similar fashion if a certain event occurred. Why can we accept that all white citizens don’t hold the same positions on issues, but easily accept that all black citizens hold the same position on issues?
On Thursday, Mayor Briley met with the Hillsboro PAC and the subject of the pending resolution came up. Since I wasn’t in attendance, I can’t speak to the level of endorsement Briley gave the proposed resolution, but numerous sources have confirmed that he did say he believed “the resolution would probably pass.”
Why would he make that assumption? Does he not realize that as the city’s leader, his words have weight? By offering his opinion publicly that the resolution will pass, he gives it an air of legitimacy. How many council members will hear those words and take them as a tacit endorsement? Why not just demure from comment entirely and simply say he’s watching like everybody else. By suggesting that this resolution has legs, he’s reinforcing the belief that Joseph has high-level supporters that make him untouchable and that those who criticize are open targets for retaliation. Right or wrong, leaders’ words are analyzed to determine intent; it’s why the best leaders are so deliberate in their communications.
In the Tennessean article, Jason Gonzales begins by writing, “The Metro Council could intervene in ongoing Nashville school board tensions with a resolution calling for a board member to apologize to the district’s superintendent.” The passage gives the impression that the Metro Council has power over the school board, which is incorrect. Both entities are elected bodies charged with overseeing two different public entities. The sole power the Mayor and the Council have over the School Board is the designation of funding.
The Mayor sets the amount of funding and the council approves it and after that influence ends. Neither the mayor nor council can even ensure that funds go where indicated by the budget. Sure, the Mayor and Council could seek to express their disapproval by cutting funding. Though I question how prudent a move that would be and would likely run the risk of some blowback.
Furthermore, if you believe that an apology brings closure to any of this, you are fooling yourself. Dr. Joseph is committed to humiliating Jill Speering and eventually driving her from the board. Not once in the last year has Dr. Joseph made any kind of effort to heal the relationship, or even to seek out common ground in order to better the district. Instead, as one African-American remarked to me, he’s decided to channel his inner Suge Knight. He attempted to teach Speering a lesson by canceling a favored program when she first began raising questions, but since that did not work, he’s just ratcheted up the game and now obviously seeks to have her removed from the board. Any apology would, in turn, be used as a tool to reach that end.
It’s my hope that the resolution fails and that council members realize the potential precedent of supporting a resolution that calls for apologizing and the retraction of words written in private text. Which as a side note, I have to ask, how do you even retract a private communication? Do you have to call your friends and say, “Hey, please ignore that I sent that?”
There is nothing in this proposed resolutions that benefit kids. Now if Gilmore wants to propose some resolutions that will benefit kids, I’ve got some suggestions:
- Council resolves to ensure that MNPS has adequate funding to provide teacher a wage that allows them to reside in Davidson County.
- Council resolves to provide adequate funding in order that MNPS can fund trauma specialist for all schools.
- Council resolves to support MNPS in putting achievement and excellence above politics.
- Council resolves for each council member to spend 2 days a month reading to MNPS classroom.
I doubt I’ll see any of those but one can dream. Until then, like Suge says, if you wanna cross somebody, then do that. Don’t act like it wasn’t you.
Yesterday marked the beginning of another series of news stories from Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams. In an attempt to mitigate any potential damage, MNPS communications gurus made the decision to release the entire 19-minute interview with Williams along with an email filled with talking points. The talking points read like Billy Madison describing the industrial revolution, and the video… well, it’s not a good look.
In the video Joseph reveals the following key points:
- After two years the district has made a decision to no longer use his driver when he could be driving a bus and logging driver time.
- Joseph has a team that evaluates whether he needs transportation to events or not. Sometimes he vetoes the team.
- He works 16-17 hours a day.
- He has a complex job and transportation hasn’t been keeping accurate records for the last two years.
At the end of the interview, Phil Williams asks about whether he has anything he would like us to know about the Performance Matters contract. Joseph tersely answers, “No,” and as Williams begins to formulate a follow-up question, Joseph abruptly ends the interview with a sharp, “I thank you for your time.” He then stands and begins stripping the microphone off.
I don’t know who’s telling him that any of this plays well, but they are not serving him well. I encourage you to watch the whole 19 minutes and form your own opinion.
It’s been repeatedly stated for several years that previous directors all had drivers. Dr. Joseph himself has alluded to such practice, but others have gone even further in making the claim. Former board member, and current CM, Ed Kindall has stood up at countless public meetings and made that assertion. Board Chair Sharon Gentry called out a fellow board member for not being factual when she shared on the board floor that to her recollection, Register never had a driver. As a result of the confusion, Phil Williams decided to ask Register himself. Register issued the following statement in response:
“As you know, my preference when being asked about past practice and comparisons is to not comment. However, I will give you short specific responses to your questions for clarification of some misconceptions about my practice.
“First about use of the leased vehicle. My contract as well as previous contracts with my predecessors was unlimited use of the vehicle, and I assume the same for Dr. Joseph. It was specified in the contract that I originally signed and the practice was discussed and agreed upon with then Chair David Fox.
“I did not use a driver. I always drove myself. I did have a GPS with all schools in it so that I could get from school to school efficiently. My vehicle was picked up each Monday morning at Bransford for routine service by transportation and then returned to the office. I generally held a staff meeting at Bransford on Monday mornings. On occasion when I had to drive on Monday mornings, the service would be re-scheduled. I have tried to recall a time when I needed to use a driver and honestly can not remember a time. On occasion, when I was attending a meeting with others from the central office, I would ride with someone else. More often than not, I would drive and others would ride with me.
“When I traveled, I routinely drove to the airport and had transportation pick up the car, do routine maintenance and keep it at the garage to avoid parking fees and for security of the vehicle. The routine was to park in short-term and they would pick it up shortly after with no parking fees. They would drop the car in the short term parking just before my return flights. It worked very well. It was efficient for my time and actually saved money for parking fees. Scheduling for this type of travel was scheduled in advance for efficiency.”
Monday will bring more reports from Williams. It feels like this is just getting started.
As promised, I’ve got more on the recent DonorsChoose fiasco. You’ll remember in telling teachers that they couldn’t use DonorsChoose anymore, MNPS cited a state comptroller report from the past summer. Since they are citing the state comptroller, it would be a safe assumption that all urban districts in the state are severing ties. And they may be, but here are some stats I’d like to share with you that come directly from the DonorsChoose website and show things in an interesting light:
- For the 18/19 school year, DonorsChoose helped fund 137 MNPS projects to the tune of $63,647 and impacting 10,111 students.
- That’s off pace from 17/18 when the donation total was $182,573 and in 16/17 when donations totaled $233,932. In 17/18 projects reached 35,496 students.
- 51 of this year’s projects were in Literacy. Another 10 were in applied sciences. Hmmm… I thought MNPS had a Literacy and STEAM imitative.
- Which MNPS schools utilized the DonorsChoose site the most? Rosepark Magnet, STEM, East End Prep, Tom Joy, and Haywood.
- Memphis stats for 18/19: $305,520 with 555 projects funded and 60,356 students reached.
- Chattanooga is $60,862 with 23 projects and 12,004 students reached.
- Knoxville utilizes DonorsChoose to the tune of $136,366 for 224 projects and 27,238 students reached.
Just further food for thought.
Finalists for the MNPS Principal of the Year award are in for middle schools. They are Kisha Cox at Margaret Allen Middle Prep, Tonja Williams from Head Magnet Middle Prep, and Gary Hughes from J.T. Moore Middle Prep. Can’t go wrong with any of them. Thank y’all for your service. In related news, Vanderbilt has released a new study illustrating the important role a principal plays in student outcomes. Per Erin O’Hara, executive director of the research alliance:
“This research further underscores that to close achievement gaps, Tennessee must implement policies at the state and district levels that encourage a more equitable distribution of great principals across Tennessee schools.”
Congratulations to Overton HS alumni, and University of Oregon safety, Ugochukwu “Ugo” Amadi, for earning the Vince Lombardi Award! The Lombardi Award is given to the best college football player who displays performance, leadership, character, and resiliency. Between Amadi and Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, it’s been an exceptional year for Overton athletes.
Feeling a little proud about this one. Walk Bike Nashville just won a $25K grant that will benefit Amqui ES. Walk Bike Nashville will use the grant to fund a project that combines community engagement, temporary physical traffic calming features, and public art to address issues such as speeding, hard braking, and cell phone use around Amqui Elementary school. The community will explore tactical urbanism solutions that include student-designed yard signs around the school, intersection treatments like traffic circles and rumble strips, and an “art crosswalk” installation to mitigate neighborhood traffic problems by encouraging drivers to slow down and concentrate in the school zone. To win, Walk Bike had to create a video and then get it shared the most on social media. Dad Gone Wild along with 248 other partners shared and therefore propelled them to victory. Well done!
The Tenessee Legislation session is now open and TNEd’s Andy Spear’s is still looking for a defined education plan.
Amanda Kail- President
Michele Sheriff- Recording Vice President
Paula Pendergrass- Treasurer
LeRoy Castle- High School Director
Taylor Biondi- Itinerant District-level Director
Kellee Hill- Nominations and Elections Commission
Christina Brumleve- Nominations and Elections Commission
Our core values are:
1. Being member-driven. We are committed to engaging our members and letting their priorities and voices drive our work as leaders, as well as continuously growing and celebrating new leadership.
2. Transparency in governance. We will be intentional in soliciting member feedback and keeping our members informed of our decisions and our work through open, clear, and effective communication.
3. Community Engagement. We will build strong coalitions with key community organizations and ensure that teachers’ voices are heard within our common work to create positive change in our communities.
4. Defending public education and the teaching profession. We will be strategic and proactive in our work to defend our public schools, our students, and our profession.
5.Our overall campaign message is we>me. We believe strongly that in order to grow our association, we need to focus on growing our collective power. This is about more than one individual candidate, rather this is about how working together makes us stronger.
In my opinion, teachers won’t find better advocates.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions.
If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. 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!