PLAYING WHACK A MOLE WITH SCANDALS

“Because of the movies I make, people get nervous, because they think of me as difficult and angry. I am difficult and angry, but they don’t expect a sense of humor. And the only thing that gets me through is a sense of humor.”
Martin Scorsese

“No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s . . .”
“And?”
“No damn cat, and no damn cradle.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

 

I’ve been writing a blog on education for over 5 years now and I don’t believe I have ever seen a week like the last week. The media stories came from every direction, between News Channel 5 reporting on questionable financial practices, a Tennessean report on an audit that was rejected by the Metro Audit committee because of lingering questions, Channel 2 reporting on the pulling of SRO’s from two of the districts more difficult schools, Channel 5 back again with a story about the HR audit that was embargoed and then leaked, Channel 17 reporting on low bus driver salaries, and finally rumors of yet another pending lawsuit by an administrator against the district, the week was packed from front to back. District leaders had to feel like pinjatas.

To make matters worse the state dusted off an old trope and released a study showing just how little high schools across the state were doing in preparing kids for college. The database released by the TNDOE painted MNPS once again in an unfavorable light. To be fair, the whole remedial classes hustle by colleges has been addressed in the past, but in education circles, we continue to run in circles. Blogger and educator Peter Greene has outlined some possible reason for the rise in remedial classes in case you are interested,

1) Colleges are desperate to fill seats and as a result, accept underqualified students.

2) The college eligibility test, the one that determines who needs remediation, is not a good test.

3) Students need more remediation these days because more of the year is spent on test prep and testing instead of actual education.

4) Colleges are pushing maybe-not-necessary remediation because it makes them a whopping $1.5 billion each year.

If you look closely at the data behind the focus on college remediation courses, you’ll find our old friend TNTP. Now there is an organization that’s off to a fantastic start this year. From the brink of extinction to the center of the conversation.

But I digress, The point is that there was a lot of negative noise around MNPS this past week. Even Nashville Public Radio and the Tennessee Tribune got into the mix. The Trib article was their normal defense of Joseph but it ended with a couple head-scratching paragraphs.

In a political climate where Americans have lifted their voices in response to the racist and xenophobic rhetoric of Donald Trump by electing the most diverse cohort on Congressmen and women in the nation’s history, how will the people of Tennessee be viewed after running the first Black school superintendent out of office following months of comments about rap songs, black fraternities and threats of mask-wearing?

Shawn Joseph’s election to the office he holds is representative of a rapid change taking place both state, and nationwide. The Metro Nashville Public School District, the state of Tennessee, and America itself are becoming increasingly brown. If Tennesseans are unable to resist racist microaggressions the Volunteer state may be left frozen in it’s sinful, bigoted past.

I have to make a few corrections here. Dr. Joseph does not hold elected office. He’s not the first black superintendent in Tennessee. Bryan Johnson in Hamilton County, Eric Jones in Jackson County, Millard House III in Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools, and Joris Ray in Memphis are African-American males currently leading Tennessee school districts. House and Ray epitomize the term “servant leader” and are doing especially exemplary work. So I don’t think Shawn Joseph’s career fate will have any impact on the number of AA males becoming superintendents in Tennessee. And there is nothing to say the next director of schools for MNPS won’t be a person of color.

The biggest news story of the week seems to be centered around the recently released Bone-McCalister HR audit. The report was budgeted at 100k at upon receipt board chair Gentry promptly declared it privileged. Since this is Nashville, and everybody has two friends, within 24 hours pieces of the report were leaked and the whole report was publicly available within 48 hours. I still don’t understand why people think they can keep stuff secret. It always ends up out there and MNPS aways ends up back peddling. TIt did not help that the report was an unflattering one, such that perennial cheerleader the Tennessean was forced to write a critical article. Ouch, that’s got to hurt.

Interestingly enough, when the Tennessean asked Dr. Joseph about the audit he claimed he couldn’t offer comment because he hadn’t seen the report, he then proceeded to comment that the report showed MNPS was an underfunded district. Words that oddly echoed those of vice-chair Christiane Buggs who at Tuesday’s board meeting offered, “the more I read through what we’ve been given by Bone-McAlllester, it’s just that we are under-resourced…” A statement that I’d argue breaks privilege other than that nowhere in the Bone-McAllester report is it indicated that problems stem from a lack of resources.

Who leaked the report is a serious concern for both Buggs and Gentry. Gentry went as far as to imply that fellow board members had leaked the report to the media in an effort to “weaponize it to malign the reputation of the leader of this district during budget season.” This obsession with who leaked the report is indicative of an MNPS culture that always seems more focused on how people know about an issue as opposed to fixing the issue. A completely backward philosophy.

Gentry is fond of pointing out that each board member is but one of nine. As always though her words apply only to others and not herself. If reports are to be believed, two of those nine, Buggs and Gentry, took it upon themselves to visit the HR department with Dr. Joseph yesterday and delivered a pep talk, how is that appropriate and did the rest of the board endorse that pep talk? Is that common practice when it comes to a department that was just butchered in an audit after the board chair endorsed them publically? Imagine if Speering and Frogge visited HR to tell them that their names were numbered? A meeting with the department in question should have only taken place after a sign off from all board members.

That wasn’t enough though, as Gentry proceeded to email a missive out to the district whose central theme seemed to be that HR was terrible in 2016 and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that it sucks in 2019 and with that reasoning, it’ll probably suck in 2021. I don’t understand who tells district leadership that these emails to the district are a good strategy. Half the people that get the emails never realized there were problems and the other half do nothing but laugh at the blatant cover-up strategy.

So right about now you probably think that Dr. Joseph is sitting in the back of his Tahoe burning up the midnight oil analyzing the HR audit. Not so much, he’s in LA – Los Angeles, not Lower Antioch – at the AASA National Conference presenting on engaging with student activism after Parkland. You can’t make this stuff up.

Here’s the thing, the noise around Dr. Joseph has reached a deafening level. To the point where it is sucking the air out of the room and starting to prevent other conversations from happening. People on both sides are driving tent stakes in the ground and setting up unbendable positions on his performance. People that would normally work together are lining up on opposite sides over racial divisions and sniping back and forth. I find myself at odds with people I’ve worked cooperatively with for years. One prominent African-American leader told me, “Dr. Joseph has turned this into an OJ moment.” That’s not a good place to be. Especially not at the beginning of budget season.

I don’t see a way forward that allows for Dr. Joseph to effectively lead this district. Over the last year, there were several opportunities for him to make adjustments and for whatever reasons those opportunities were not seized upon. Thus we find ourselves at this untenable position.

If you’ve ever managed people before you realize that this situation is not uncommon. Sometimes, it is through your own fault, and sometimes it is due to unforeseen circumstances. Whatever the reason, you just lose the crowd. People just decide that they are not going to follow you, effectively ending your reign as leader. Now you may limp on for a couple of months, or a year, but that is never healthy for either the individual nor the organization.

Regrettably, that’s where we are now and it’s time to do some forward thinking and look for a way to forge a way forward. I think the most important conversation we can have right now, is who will lead as interim director while we look for a long-term solution. It can’t be Chris Henson part tres.

I would argue for a woman this go around. The last three directors have supplied enough testosterone to last a couple of decades and since the teaching profession is made up predominately of women, it only makes sense. Nashville has never had a female director of schools before.

I would argue for an internal candidate. One who has a long history in MNPS and has forged strong relationships throughout the district. Over the last decade, we’ve ignored the fact that education is an endeavor based upon relationships. We’ve been willing to wait while a new director builds those relationships, only to have those directors fail to make relationship building a priority. Ideally, in my eyes, the best candidate would have lifelong relationships built up.

I would argue that the optimal candidate would have a deep understanding of the history of Nashville. Studying the last 25 years of MNPS history is like jumping on a hamster wheel. The optimal candidate would know where to break from history and will have learned from past lessons.

I think it’s essential to find a candidate that is at heart an educator. Sorry, but I just don’t believe that anyone on the current leadership team is an educator at heart. They are business people engaging in the business of education. I would argue that is the root cause for many of their missteps.

Some try to lay the directors failings at the feet of the school board and while I feel that they do bear some responsibility for Dr. Joseph’s failures, I don’t subscribe to the conscious efforts to paint the MNPS School Board as dysfunctional. It’s a narrative that I will continue t push back on. Calling the board dysfunctional is just another way of saying that they don’t do what you want them to do. They are a democratically elected body pulled from a very diverse city. They represent constituents with very different views and attitudes about education. Their first responsibility is to properly represent their constituents.

Some folks have raised the idea of an appointed board. Well first off, that’s a model that has not been successful anywhere in the country and secondly, who would do the appointing? The Mayor? Does he represent your views? Think about how much potential damage could be done with an appointed board where all members are reflective of the mayor’s sensibilities. In business most things can be corrected, in education, some things can not be undone without losing a generation.

The idea of everybody aligning behind a common vision is ludicrous. We can’t even come to a consensus on whether education is a public good or a private commodity. That’s the beauty of democracy, its just ineffective enough to keep us from whipping routinely from cliff to cliff.

That said, I do believe that we can be a bit more deliberate on who we elect to the board. A certain amount of understanding about how schools function should be required. Teachers should be allowed to sit on the board. Career politicians shouldn’t be welcomed. But that’s a conversation for a later day.

Today Nashville needs to figure out who is going to lead us out of this quagmire and how much damage we are going to allow before we let them lead us out. A protracted battle over individual incidents is going to do nothing but leave all of us bloodied and bruised. As I said earlier, education work demands trust and strong bonds. We should be working to strengthen those existing bonds instead of tearing at those already tenuous relations. This fight on its surface is about the direction of our schools, but make no mistake, ultimately it will influence how we interact as citzens, and what kind of city we will become.

SHORT TAKES

Congratulations to former Tennessee Teacher of the year and MNPS teacher, Cicely Woodard. The eighth-grade math educator in Franklin accepted the Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence from the NEA Foundation. The honor, which includes a $25,000 prize, was presented Friday at a gala in Washington, D.C. This award is kind of like the Heisman Award of Teaching.

While congratulations are certainly in order for Mrs. Woodard, wife of former Maplewood principal Ron Woodard, you have to ask how MNPS let her get away. Teachers of color are supposedly a priority for MNPS, additionally, Mr. and Mrs. Woodard are also products of Nashville Public Schools, still, despite a history of excellence for both, they are employed by neighboring districts. Retaining high quality homegrown talent should be a no-brainer. Tell you what, I’ll give Franklin School System two Sito Narcisses and a player to be named later if MNPS can have Cicely Woodard back.

After 3 days the Denver teacher strike is over. By all accounts, Denver teachers won. Former Denver School Board Member Jeanie Kaplan writes a piece about the substance of the strike that in my opinion is a must read for everyone. Especially if someone tries to sell you on the power of merit pay.

One of Dr. Joseph’s most ardent defenders, Rep Harold Love, now finds himself of being accused of illegally using campaign money to pay for dry cleaning, purchases at a jewelry store, trips to meetings and more than $13,000 in food and beverages. Two weeks ago, at the beginning of this year’s legislative session, Love was so incensed at certain MNPS board members questioning of Dr. Joseph on expenditures, that he was openly questioning them on the hill.

“We are seemingly having a problem with our school board,” Rep. Harold Love said at the meeting. Love’s niece, Christiane Buggs, is on the school board. “I have deep concerns about what’s going on down there. We don’t need our school board drawing any attention to themselves up here.”

Hmmm…maybe he should refocus?

McGavock Elementary School is hosting families for Bingo for Books on February 28th at 5:30 where everyone will receive books to take home! Do you like food, fun, and books? Of course, you do! The faculty and staff will see everyone on February 28th at 5:30 in the cafeteria!

Ruby Major Elementary School is very excited about the upcoming music and art show, to be held on Thursday, March 7. Ruby Major is also excited to have the Hermitage MNPD Precinct and the Donelson Hermitage Neighborhood Association partnering with the school.

Old Center Elementary School’s, “I Can’t Bear to Be Without a Book,” initiative allows students to record books read on their monthly reading logs. They are asked to read each night for fifteen minutes or more. Parents sign verifying their child’s participation. A beanstalk is displayed in the front hall indicating the number of participants each month. Old Center Elementary had over 230 students participating in the Reading Incentive Program during the month of January.

Granbery students are looking forward to some exciting events over the upcoming weeks. Auditions for “Granbery’s Idol” competition started the first week of February for an upcoming talent showcases and a competitive night with prizes. A hard-working team of teachers is volunteering their time to provide this show for students and parents. Two parents are well-known top 10 finalist in the “America Idol” competition and they are providing support. The third “Daughters of Granbery Dance” was well attended by girls and father figures on February 8th. The cafeteria was packed as the girls enjoyed sweet treats and showed off their dance moves.

Huge shout out to the Project Lit founders over at Maplewood HS. They found out yesterday that 13 of them had earned a full ride to Belmont University. Nicely done.

On Wednesday I published the directors self-evaluation. (2018-19 SJoseph Formative Self-Eval Evidence Companion FINAL 012919)If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to. I’d particularily like to draw your attention to his list of biggest accomplishments.

  • Kicked off the Motown partnership “Bonus Tracks” with Pearl-Cohn High School studen
  • Attendance improvements and launch of the attendance campaign in January 2019
  • Decreasing the number of discipline incidents
  • Narrowing our focus to the three key areas of literacy, attendance and reducing out of school suspensions
  • Changing the suspension procedure for prek-4th grade students
  • Hiring a qualified communications professional to lead Communications and Community Engagement strategy
  • Securing outside support to fund the expansion of CKLA implementation to more schools

I’ll let you rate those.

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, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!

 

 

Advertisements

4 thoughts

  1. You are way ahead of yourself with talk of interim directorship. The vote will go 6-3 and he will ride out his contract for the next 16 months. Also, Chris Henson was secretly replaced with a robot two years ago, so that’s not even a consideration.

    You are remiss not to mention the Tip Sheet’s recent statistical analysis. Holy Crap Batman! The number of mid year quits averages 1.5 per building. Math, 6th grade, and most of all special ed were hit badly. I don’t think this problem is going to be rectified soon. Some areas of town and some priority schools are being hit so hard with mid year quits that it’s impossible to take MNPS seriously when they use the words “talent” and “strategy” together.

    Folks, how in blazes are we going to fix this?

    Special ed is in crisis, and yet this is the area of the biggest dollar growth over the last five years.

    1. You don’t think the Tip Sheet beat me to a story do you? I’ve been pounding the drum of 150 exits since mid-December. All kidding aside, it’s a critical situation right now but I think more board members know it then we give credit. That’s the optimist in me.

  2. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised Sharon Gentry is listed as a consultant at the Arbinger institute. I mean, though she doesn’t know a thing about leadership, she sure knows a lot about self-deception.

  3. Here’s my evaluation. And it’s even free!! I did assemble a task force to write it. Ok, I just assembled myself. But that counts, right? I mean, it’ll be about as useful as any of the other task forces that get assembled. (I digress.)

    “Our People”: D-
    Came in, recycled the pretty words from the transition team (whose point was political ingratiation), and promptly hung the rest of us out to dry. I can give credit to the FEW upgraded central office people, but HR gives a bad name to dumpster fires.

    “Literacy Strategy”: C+
    LTDS is still not a coherently implemented program. Best practices for reading intervention are still a black box to the central office. Apart from a few bright spots literacy strategy is still a piecemeal mess. This administration seems bent on avoiding studying what’s working in the bright spots, too.

    “Discipline and Safety”: C-
    We are hiding referral information worse than we ever have. Something’s got to give, and it’s not going to be pretty.

    “ELL”: C+
    The data aren’t as pretty as they once were, the paperwork is off the hook, and the hiring needs continue to be brutal with respect to the applicant pool. Show me a plan to support people to meet the stated goals? What was that?? Didn’t hear you.

    “Special Education”: D
    Churning through lawsuit money like there’s no tomorrow. Far too few principals truly trained well enough to work with the populations they are charged to serve. Parapro salary needing to be raised like it was last year for the next several years in a row to be competitive. And the elephant in the room: paperwork burdens that have teachers taking sub days just to get through their stacks. Are we supporting them? Really??

    “Chronic Absenteeism”: C
    Numbers are not particularly changed from before. But amid one of the worst flu seasons in a few years, I suspect we are going to find out this wasn’t a great year for attendance. Can’t fix that with a task force so easily. Fair to say we haven’t moved the needle overall.

    Advanced academics: B
    Ok, here’s the bone I can throw you. But is there a plan going forward?

    “Morale”: F
    Never seen it this bad. Literally everybody has an exit strategy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.