DOMINOS CONTINUING TO FALL

“Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form.”
Vladimir Nabokov

“To grow up is to wonder about things; to be grown up is to slowly forget the things you wondered about as a child.”
Henning Mankell, When the Snow Fell

 

The weather forecast for Nashville calls for unseasonably warm temperatures this week. Unfortunately, I believe the same holds true for MNPS as News Channel 5 reporter Phil Williams drops another story revealing questionable behavior out of central office. This time the story is focusing on contracts with outside vendors and how they were procured. In particular, the contract with Performance Matters.

Any story about contracts has to take place in front of the backdrop of the relationship between MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and former Baltimore Superintendent Dallas Dance. Dance was a rising star in the education world after having taken the over the reins for Baltimore Public Schools while still in his early 30’s. For football fans in search of a reference point, he was the Sean McVay of the urban school world. Dance was a member of Dr. Joseph’s hand-picked transition team when Joseph first arrived in MNPS.

In 2017, Dance suddenly resigned one year into a four-year contract extension with BPS. Later in the year, he was indicted for failing to disclose $150k worth of side payments for his part-time consulting work, including payments from SUPES Academy, an Illinois-based professional training company that he helped win a no-bid contract with the school system he led. SUPES later morphed into the Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI), a company that members of Joseph’s leadership team have relationships with. Last year, Dance was convicted and served four months in jail.

I bring up Dance again because of what’s in his sentencing documents. These are not a reporter’s interpretation but rather statements of fact by the court. In these documents, it is outlined how Dance and partners “piggy-backed” off contracts in order to subvert the RFP process and secure no-bid contracts. Some of those companies are the same companies that MNPS does business with currently. As such, I argue that extra scrutiny is warranted. Channel 5 is supplying that scrutiny.

This week’s stories by Phil Williams should prove interesting and raise further questions on whether Nashville has the right man in charge of its school system, or, if as some argue, he’s just being picked on unfairly. Some may continue to defend Joseph and try to say that he and Dance are merely acquaintances. Unfortunately, Joseph piggy-backs off Dance’s success on his resume. Citing as one of his accomplishments, Joseph writes:

Supported Dr. Dallas Dance, Superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, to conceptualize and develop a district-run principal training program. Specific duties included training 50 aspiring leaders to assume principal positions within Baltimore County Public Schools.

That’s a sword that cuts both ways. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I’ve had time to go through the hundreds of emails that Williams has included with this story. A story that is not new to me. At the very least, it seems pretty clear that Joseph and team failed to follow state law. I’ll leave it you to decide just how well the district’s response holds up, especially considering who was on the transition team they cite in their statement:

“In 2016, a transition team made up of local, state and national experts shared that Nashville needed to focus on student achievement — with a sense of urgency. MNPS did not have a user-friendly platform for student assessment and professional development. Performance Matters was the right product at the right time.

“On Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, Metro Legal advised that while acting in good faith, MNPS purchasing staff made an error in interpreting state law that governs the use of out-of-state jurisdictions’ contracts to secure competitive rates on products. Their use of in-state competitive contracts for this product was appropriate. Metro Legal will meet with procurement to ensure that their practices are in line with state law. MNPS is following-up with the individual who made the error.”

One last side note from last week’s stories and MNPS’s subsequent release of the entire video of Dr. Joseph’s interview with Williams. At the very end of the interview, as the camera pans back, it is revealed that during the entire interview Joseph had someone seated by his side.

I’m told that the man in question is the head of transportation, Michael Lee. His presence raises questions. Why did Joseph require a minder during an interview with an award-winning and long-established journalist? Was he afraid that Williams was going to leap across the room and potentially cause him physical harm during the interview? Did he need him there in case he needed someone to throw under the proverbial bus? Or was the gentleman there to help in the event a hasty retreat was required should questioning become too heated? Just one more weird wrinkle in a seemingly endless stream of weirdness.

WHAT WAS ONCE GOOD FOR THE GOOSE IS NO LONGER GOOD FOR THE GANDER

Word has begun to trickle out that MNPS board member Will Pinkston is getting increasingly frustrated over other board members’ failure to follow his directives. This past weekend he decided to address this frustration by holding a “retreat.” The reality of this “retreat” is that it was actually a budget committee meeting. Since the board recently voted to conduct all board meetings under the eye of a camera, Pinkston needed to hold a “retreat” so he’d be free of that restriction. Unfortunately for him, his plan failed and Channel 5 showed up with their own cameras.

Pinkston led the “retreat” in his role as vice-chair of the budget committee since the agenda was solely focused on budget advocacy. I’m not sure why budget chair committee Anna Shepherd abdicated her role to Pinkston, but she attended the meeting via phone, as did Jill Speering. Fran Bush and Amy Frogge were in attendance, along with all other board members besides Gini Pupo-Walker who was out of town with a previous commitment. There has been some criticism of Bush and Frogge not attending previous retreats.

The gist of the meeting was one of Pinkston explaining the importance of board members all speaking with one voice on the budget and delivering the same message: MNPS is an underfunded school district. A schedule of the 2019 budget sessions was handed out and plans were discussed around ways that the district could educate the public. Dr. Joseph stated that “compensation is first and foremost” for the budget plan. A strategy was proposed for each board member to hold public participation meetings in their district.

At this suggestion, both Frogge and Bush balked. Both expressed difficulty in going forth and asking for other items besides compensation before MNPS had cleaned up their own spending habits. Both have repeatedly tried to raise discussion on the difficult questions around spending that still remain unanswered but had been brushed off. Until they were satisfied that the district was truly being prudent with taxpayer money, they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking for more money from taxpayers.

At this point, Frogge addressed the elephant in the room – a lack of trust – and said to Dr. Joseph, “Shawn, you have lied to us over and over.”

Dr. Joseph took umbrage, saying, “I won’t be called a liar.”

Frogge refused to back down and promised to produce a list of lies delivered to the board over the last couple of years. The exchange was relatively mild, but again illustrated the undercurrent of distrust that exists in the district. Discussion moved on to how principals would receive their individual school budgets. At this point, Speering reminded board members of the problems with last year’s process and in particular with  individual budgets delivered to principals. She cautioned that steps be taken not to repeat past mistakes.

There was little detailed talk about teacher salaries, though CFO Chris Henson did share that increasing teacher salaries with the step increase would cost 8 million dollars and that a 1% raise would cost $5 million. Was I a sitting board member, my response would have been, then I guess you have about $32 million to find.

During the meeting, Pinkston was very careful with his words, but outside of meetings, he has been very open about the actions of board members Speering, Frogge, and Bush. Telling people that they want to over-mitigate every perceived infraction and that they are trafficking in conspiracy theories. He has even tried to solicit allies to try to persuade the tumultuous three that their speaking out is hurting the district funding.

I find all of that a little comical since everything transpiring now is straight out of the Will Pinkston handbook. Keep in mind that back in 2014, Register had about 18 months left on his contract and people were speculating on whether he would go or stay. Register had participated in some high-profile battles but there was no real hard push one way or the other. Pinkston decided to make the decision for the district and engaged in an open and public campaign to remove Register.

According to Register, the volume of emails from Pinkston was overwhelming, with 389 emails over an 18-month period. That 389 amounted to 59% of the total emails from the board. Pinkstons’ response was:

“If he’s spending his time analyzing where emails are coming from, then that’s not a great use of anybody’s time,” Pinkston responded. “For every email Jesse Register claims to have received from me, I’ve probably received three times that volume complaining about him and the Central Office.”

Ironically, he now berates fellow board members for over listening to disgruntled voices. Board Chair Cheryl Mayes attempted to reign in Pinkston, going as far as to accuse him of playing gotcha games with Register, but Pinkston didn’t alter his tactics. The committee chair who just handed control of the recent budget committee meeting… I mean retreat… offered the following words in a Nashville Scene article:

Board Member Anna Shepherd called Pinkston’s criticisms “distracting,” adding they’re “tearing down” Register and the rest of the school board. She added Pinkston should follow the policy and speak with his vote instead of publicly airing their dirty laundry.

Pinkston’s response was to issue the following statement and proceed full speed ahead:

Our commitment to the voters, parents, students and taxpayers of Davidson County supersedes the antiquated board policy you’re referencing. The voters of my district did not put me on the board to kowtow to an imperial superintendent, and I imagine your voters feel the same way. I’ve publicly recognized the Central Office when things are going well, and will continue to do so. Likewise, when I believe things aren’t going so well, I will continue to make my views known. Let’s continue this conversation, as a group, at Tuesday’s Governance Committee meeting when we review GP-9.

Eventually, Register caved to pressure and did not seek a contract renewal. Pinkston has ever since reveled in his victory.

I’m not quite sure why Pinkston now feels he has a finer tuned sense of responsibility and acumen than the tumultuous 3 – Bush, Frogge, Speering – but he clearly doesn’t feel the need to show them the same level of respect that he once demanded. Back then, Pinkston justified his actions by saying he had privately shared his concerns to no avail and refused to defend decisions he didn’t agree with.

Adding another wrinkle to current events is that Pinkston continues to try to exert influence after virtually abdicating his position for a year while working for the Bredesen campaign. An unofficial count shows that in 2018, he missed 10 meetings, left early for 8, and only fully attended 4. Not exactly a finger-on-the-pulse record, especially since when he leaves early, it’s usually prior to the Director’s report.

As I’ve said previously stated, Pinkston’s attendance record brings into question his qualifications to lead the Director’s Evaluation Committee. But since that evaluation is once again late, I think the bigger question would be why, after two years, does he continually fail to deliver a director’s evaluation on time? Yet here we are, three years into Dr. Joseph’s tenure, and the board has not delivered a single evaluation in a timely manner. The summative evaluation from this summer has yet to be formally completed.

There has been some speculation that the Chamber and other political entities are only too happy with the level of discord currently going on. While people are discussing board antics, they are distracted from things like charter growth, education savings accounts, and changes in BEP funding. That may be true when all the fighting is about drivers and text messages, but let’s see how comfortable things remain now that talk is turning to illegalities and performance issues. If the past serves as any kind of indicator, those running for office in August will be asked to explain why they sat on the sidelines while serious offenses occurred with the MNPS school system.

Or maybe not. It’s worth noting that Mayor Briley won his job by only gathering 44K votes last time out. Maybe no credible challenger will step forth and run for Mayor. Maybe the status quo will reign when it comes to at-large council seats and the same old cast of characters will advance. I keep thinking that with 100 people a day moving to Nashville, eventually, some new blood will step up to the plate. Time will tell.

QUICK HITS

People continue to ask, why would teachers be afraid of retribution from Dr. Joseph? Well, this week presents ample evidence of why one might have reason to be concerned. Not only is school board member and oft-critic of Joseph Jill Speering facing a resolution from Metro Council, but now a fellow board member and critic Fran Bush is facing the threat of a recall promoted by Joseph ally Jacobia Dowell. The number of required signatures on a petition to recall is considerably higher than some might think though. Getting that number will prove extremely difficult, but it will provide an opportunity to sling some ugliness in Bush’s direction. An opportunity some will only be too happy to take.

I can’t help but wonder how much of it is tied to the upcoming election for council representative of District 29. Dowell is supporting one candidate, while Bush has thrown her support to another. Look who is also supporting Dowell’s candidate. This feels like a move to try to address two desires at once.

Over here we are increasingly impressed by Bush and her willingness to not bow at the altar of sacred cows. Her style might not always be to your liking, but she comes prepared and is willing to ask questions that have been ignored for too long. If you’re looking for something to be offended by, I’d start with TDOE report card from this past year.

Congratulations to Dr. Ann-Marie Gleason, the principal of Harpeth Valley Elementary School, for her appointment as a Zone Director on the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Board!

Meigs Magnet Middle School faculty selected Lisa Shaffer as the 2019 Teacher of the Year. Ms. Shaffer teaches 6th grade Language Arts. She has taught for 15 years. She also challenges herself to stay current with best practices and incorporates new strategies and tools each year. Ms. Shaffer says she models her own love of learning and builds relationships with students in order to make lessons meaningful and fun. Big salute!
Ten students from the Academy of Entertainment Communication at Pearl Cohn HS participated in an intensive two-day job shadow with NECAT funded by Ascend Federal Credit Union. Students demonstrated industry knowledge and skills in audio and visual production. Five of the students were personally invited by NECAT’s CEO to participate in the Spring 2019 Our Nashville TV Series as members of the NECAT Super Crew Production Team.
Cole ES is proud to have been selected to represent the SE quadrant for Book ‘Em month. Read Me Month is a special annual celebration of reading to spark motivation and joy for reading, as well as raise awareness about the importance of providing literacy services to Nashville’s Youth. Cole will start the morning with a school-wide assembly which will also serve as a pep rally for literacy. The chorus will kick off the program with the school song “I’m A Cole Eagle.” Then, reading role models from the Nashville community will go into each classroom to read a book to the class, share information about their careers, and what reading means to them. After the read aloud, all students will select a book to take home as their very own. Cole is excited about this opportunity to promote literacy and represent the wonderful schools in the SE quadrant.
On Friday I gave you the names of the MNPS Middle School Principals named finalists for principal of the year honors. For Elementary Schools, here are the finalists:
  • Barbara Frazier – Gower
  • Justin Uppinghouse – Whitsett
  • Chad High – Granbery
  • Brenda Steele – Old Center
  • Ann-Marie Gleason – Harpeth Valley

Barbara Frazier has since taken her name out of the running in deference to the other candidates.

On the High School level, here are the finalists:

  • Henry Johnson – Bass Alternative Learning Center
  • Angela McShepard – MLK
  • James Witty – Virtual School
  • KC Winfrey – Cora Howe

A fine bunch of representatives. Hats off to all of you!

POLL ANSWERS
Time for the weekly review of poll questions.
The first question this weekend asked, how do you feel about CM Erica Gilmore’s resolution asking School Board Member Jill Speering to publically apologize to Dr. Joseph for her private text messages? Unlike Mayor Briley, most of you don’t agree with this resolution. Out of 135 of you who responded, 70 of you feel it’s another example of Dr. Joseph trying to shut up critics. Another 35 of you feel that it is political grandstanding. Only 2 of you gave any indication that Speering should be forced to apologize. Let’s see what the council’s vote looks like tomorrow night.
Here are the write-in votes:
Not helping children simply stirring the pot 1
She needs to apologize and your racist ass should apologize as well. 1
What? Idk what this is even about. I only worry about myself. 1
The baird should manage the director not invite protest by subordinates 1
It’s beyond ridiculous! 1
Erica just trying to be relevant when she isnt. 1
Elected official gaslighting…smacks of fascism. 1
Both grandstanding and trying to shut up a critic. 1
way out of line; instead, shd be pressuring Board to hold Director accountable 1
Inappropriate and improper meddling 1
Gilmore is an embarrassment. Entitled Brat. 1
Isn’t Gilmore a Scientologist?

Question 2 asked whether you thought Dr. Joseph releasing his video of his interview with Phil Williams helped or hindered his case. Out of 124 responses, 52 of you felt it made him look even guiltier. 23 of you answered that it demonstrates how poor his media advisors are. Only 1 of you indicated that it explains most things for you.

Here are the write-ins:

Was that the body guard sitting next to SJ? 1
It was great! It proves he can’t tell a story straight. He’s shady. 1
Phil Williams badgered him. 1
Who’s best interest does he have in mind? Certainly not kids or teachers. 1
underscores how he abuses his privilege; Board shd be holding him accountable 1
It’s not the full interview- watch Channel 5 1
Political self-interest piece should not be shared on MNPS platform 1
Ain’t nobody got time for that 1
His animosity towards Phil Williams is foolish. 1
Shouldn’t have to interview with Phil to begin with. 1
Who actually supports this guy within MNPS besides those he lavishly pays? 1
Performance matters: Driver paid when he didn’t work? That’s efficiency ?#hmmm 1
Again – beyond ridiculous. Did he really think that made him look good? 1
media as judeg and jury when theboard should just direct, manage or VOTE !!! 1
Backfired. 1
Transparency, finally, but it makes him look very self serving. 1
Fire him

The last question was about MNEA. I attempted to identify if most readers were members or not. The results were very interesting and I hope union reps were paying attention. Out of 113 respondents, 33 of you said you just couldn’t justify the expense. 17 of you said you were proud members. My advice to leaders would be to make a concentrated effort to flip those numbers. The good news is that 13 of you indicated that new leadership may entice you into the fold.

Here are the write-ins:

I am and I’m looking for new leadership 1
Proud supporter of teachers, but not one 1
This parent approves 1
No 1
No. My wife is though. I’m not even a teacher. Just a concerned citizen. 1
Why? They don’t advocate for teachers or have any power whatsoever. 1
Member but not proud 1
Vote for Theresa Wagner. Kail is a poor choice. 1
was when I was MNPS teacher, but not now that I am retired 1
Not eligible 1
Waste of money- present leadership supports Joseph 1
MNEA, TEA, AND NEA 1
I was until I retired. 1
Proud member of RCEA, RobCo has highest % membership of all teachers unions inTN 1
Why? So they can garnish $650 from my paycheck? 1
Can’t afford to throw money down the toilet on my salary. 1
Yes and excited about new leadership possibilities! 1
Yes but I’d like to cancel it just not sure how! 1
I was until I retired last year. 1
Way too ineffective for me to invest in look at the MOU…. boooooo 1
They do nothing for me. Why would I? 1
Yes 1
Too expensive. PET is cheaper and just as useful.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of inspiring pictures from last week. 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.

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8 thoughts

  1. Sad to me is the lack of ANY zoned HS principal on the finalist list. Owie.

    Anyway, the contracts thing is troubling only because this leadership fails to ever LEARN anything from its mistakes and just keeps digging its holes deeper. It’s not a sufficient reason to toss the super, but we’ve gotten a proven pattern of hardheadedness and inability to learn from unforced errors. Mostly this is rooted in communication issues. But you have to work extra special hard to marginalize people like Changas, Henson, and Williams. And this leadership has done that. Geez, these are folks who could have gotten you out of a lot of jams. If you’d just listen to them. Too hardheaded to do that, though. Pity.

  2. Who votes on principal of the year?? We didn’t get a ballot at our school. We only voted on teacher of the year.

  3. Sad to hear Barbara Frazier took herself out of the running. I knew her as a teacher and my sister knew her as a principal. She is an excellent educator and I am sure she is an equally excellent administrator.

  4. Sorry but I loathe awards it does nothing to prove anything other than some people are better at playing politics than others. It is up there with grading aka labeling schools.

    That said I found this essay from The Washington Post about why so many Teachers feel bad sometimes. I remember my first time in classrooms here and I could not understand why I felt so bad. It took a long time to forgive myself and remember that I am a good Teacher who doesn’t fit in here. But I don’t think I ever fit in because politics and I are strange bedfellows. So read this and try to realize it is okay to feel bad and sometimes feel good about what one does. That is normal and healthy but the Teaching profession has been feeling bad too long (and it is not just here) and frankly I am over it but hey do what you need to do to make it work.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/01/18/why-so-many-teachers-feel-so-bad-so-much-of-the-time/?utm_term=.67234ef4a516

  5. These folks talking about MNEA taking money out of their checks for nothing tick me off. Do they realize without a strong union, people like Joseph will make sure our working conditions are atrocious? Metro has been historically strong for teachers due to a strong union. The Republicans are doing their best to make sure public schools fail.

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