“How do people, like, not curse? How is it possible? There are these gaps in speech where you just have to put a “fuck.” I’ll tell you who the most admirable people in the world are: newscasters. If that was me, I’d be like, “And the motherfuckers flew the fucking plane right into the Twin Towers.” How could you not, if you’re a human being? Maybe they’re not so admirable. Maybe they’re robot zombies.”
We made it. The end of another week. I know that should be a given, but the way things transpire around here it should never be taken for granted. There is a lot of ground to cover this week so, let’s get to it. This should prove interesting as I’m writing to Slim Shady and editing to Tom Petty.
The legislative session is now under full swing and things are moving fast and furious on Capitol Hill. Word on the street is that the Governor’s office is trying to knock out all the non-controversial items early in the session because they’ve got some things that may cause a ruckus coming later. Nobody is sure exactly what those bills will look like – state charter authorizer, some form of vouchers, arming teachers – but something is clearly on the way.
Cleaning up the language on special education legislation was supposed to be one of those under the radar kind of things – quick, clean, in, out, move on. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how things went this week. The TNDOE didn’t adequately inform advocates exactly what was coming down the pike so many of them were caught off guard and didn’t have time to vet proposed changes.
Special education is one of those areas where language is especially important, just changing the language in one portion can have a ripple effect throughout the whole legislation. At a time when there are legitimate questions about how districts are identifying and serving special education populations, it’s no surprise that advocates were quickly on the defense.
An uproar over special education legislation is particularly concerning for new state education commissioner Penny Schwinn. Schwinn if you’ll remember was caught up in a special education controversy during her tenure in Texas. The last thing she needs is to start her time in Tennessee under the same flag.
Speaking of Schwinn, she spent much of her time the past week touring schools around the state and listening to educators. The majority of the conversations centered around state standardized testing and how she looked to improve it. Currently, the selection process for a new vendor for a new vendor is still ongoing and Schwinn doesn’t expect the state to execute a new contract until September of 2019. That doesn’t exactly fill us with optimism.
I would offer this bit of advice to Schwinn, don’t get caught in the same trap as McQueen did at the beginning of her tenure. Upon starting, McQueen headed out on a lengthy tour of the states schools. The problem was that while she was out, the mice back in the office were busy working on initiatives that didn’t necessarily represent McQueen’s priorities.
Back to the present, talk about vouchers or Education savings Accounts continues to dominate the background noise. Proponents still want to get there but the opposition chorus continues to grow. This week’s conversation centered around Tennessee’s Individualized Education Account program for students with disabilities. A program that is by all measures is underutilized. Only 137 out of 42,000 eligible students are recipients of so-called IEAs, which last year awarded an average of $6,700 per participant.
The way the law is currently written, only students who have been previously enrolled in a public school for one year are eligible to participate. Proponents were hoping to change that this year. But with a projected annual cost of $1.6 million over five years, the proposal hasn’t come before a committee and has drawn heavy pushback from groups representing the state’s superintendents and school boards. Odds are things ain’t changing this year.
One of the reasons these vouchers haven’t been more popular is because participation means families waive their right to attend a public school and receive a “free and appropriate” education. The 6700 dollars per year students are eligible for barely begins to cover the cost of private education. Not surprisingly, this puts a damper on enthusiasm.
All that said, don’t expect voucher talk to dissipate any time soon. Supporters seem determined to get legislation through and damn the consequences.
AS MNPS TURNS
Per usual, there was plenty to talk about this week when it comes to Nashville’s schools. On the heels of Tuesday’s tumultuous school board work session, News 5’s Phil Williams caught up with Board Chair Dr. Sharon Gentry for an unscheduled interview.
Here’s an unsolicited tip for elected officials, if you chair a meeting that is routinely televised and a news reporter asks you if you said something, odds are you said it and therefore, “”OK, I don’t recall that”, really isn’t a good defense. That’s the answer Gentry offered up when pressed about her statements from the chair’s seat praising HR leader Sharon Pertiller. Pertiller, if you’ll remember, was identified in the HR report as someone that should be either fired or retrained.
Gentry continued her defense of embattled Director of Schools Shawn Joseph on the grounds that none of the reports demonstrate any intentional abhorrent behavior. Apparently, you can have abhorrent behavior as long as it can’t be proven it was intentional. Maybe the district could change it’s slogan to “MNPS: Our behavior may be abhorrent, but it’s not intentional.” or “MNPS: Not doing anything intentional daily.”
When pressed about her defense of Joseph and noting that he’d been in place for three years, Gentry responded, “”Yeah, we’ve had other directors here for a lot longer, Mr. Williams – a lot longer.” Exceeding expectations every day.
A vote on a contract extension is scheduled for the board meeting at the end of the month. This vote should prove very interesting as the board has splintered into three separate camps. Buggs, Gentry, and Pinkston are ardent supporters. Speering, Bush, and Frogge, not so much. The moderate branch is represented by Walker, Elrod, and Shepherd.
Where it will all shake out is anybody’s guess. Anybody who tells you they can predict the outcome of the pending vote is just blowing smoke. The moderate faction is clearly dissatisfied with the director’s performance but is that dissatisfaction at such a level that they would vote not to extend his contract, thereby signifying an end to his tenure? That’s the million dollar question.
One way that dissatisfaction could have been gauged is if the board had completed its annual summative directors evaluation in a timely manner. Unfortunately, results from said evaluation remain incomplete and unavailable to the public a full month after they were supposed to be completed. As of date, the individual board evaluations are still in the hands of outside contractor FourPoint Educational Partners.
You’ll remember back in the Fall the school board approved a contract for 50K to enlist the services of FourPoint to help with the director’s evaluation. At the time several board members – notably Bush and Frogge – questioned the prudence of that expenditure. To others the attraction of using an outside firm for the process is apparently to the shield against open record requests. 50K is a small amount to pay to ply your trade without the watchful eyes of the public.
Two weeks ago board members turned in their individual director evaluations. I requested copies of the completed individual reports and got this response back from the district,
“We do not have a document responsive to your request; the director’s evaluation is still in process and I don’t have a date for completion at this time.”
See the trick this go around was that board member’s uploaded their evaluations directly to the FourPoint web site. As a result, technically, the district never had possession of those documents. When pressed about the open records request, MNPS’s attorney replied,
It is my understanding that MNPS’ vendor is currently in the process of having each board member certify the accuracy of the individual ratings uploaded to the on-line platform. Once the certifications are complete and MNPS obtains the records, MNPS’s public records specialist will provide the individual ratings pursuant to your request.
Convenient, no? Keep in mind that the chair of the Directors Evaluation Committee is Will Pinkston and this is a strategy he has utilized in the past. Back in 2016 when the board conducted the directors search, Pinkston utilized the Nashville Public Education Foundation to provide a shield against public inquiry, I mean as a “partner in the process.” As a former journalist, Pinkston clearly understands the value of controlling the narrative and having others readily available to shift the heat onto.
It will be interesting to see if the evaluations becomes public before the March 26th vote. I wouldn’t hold my breath. Several board members have indicated that it is their belief that a sumative evaluation will be released simultaneously with the individual evals. I’ve heard more than one say, “I’ve worked very hard and put a lot of time into mine, I want the public to see it.”
Yesterday the board announced that due to the March 12th meeting falling during Spring Break, that they would move March’s meeting up to the 5th. The meeting’s agenda would consist of nothing but the consent agenda and despite it being the first meeting of the month, there would be no time allotted for public commentary.
So let me get this straight three weeks before a scheduled vote on extending the director’s contract there is no board evaluation available and no designated time for the public to weigh in with their opinion. Ah, but it gets better.
Last month several citizens emailed questions to board members about the director’s performance. Pinkston dismissed their emails and then demanded that they do not email him again or he would inform the authorities. I myself emailed a question about the budget and received a similar response. A later email was met with a response that this communication would be going into my communication file with MNPS security.
Feeling this was some kind of bizarre joke – last I checked, asking questions of an elected official was not illegal – I asked for a copy of the referenced file. A file that surprisingly exists and does indeed contain 2 incident reports from MNPS security. (Pinkston Reports) Pinkston apparently believes that utilizing the district’s security people to write-up frivolous incident reports is a prudent use of district resources.
This should prove more than a little troubling to people. In the month prior to a vote that has a huge impact on the citizens of Nashville, elected officials appear to be limiting the information, and means of communicating, for stakeholders in the public education system. A system that is at the root of our democracy.
Fortunately, both board member’s Buggs and Speering raised concerns over the lack of public participation and the public will be allowed to speak at March 5th meeting. If you wish to sign up and let your voice be heard you have until Monday and noon to do so. Thank you, Ms. Buggs and Ms. Speering.
What makes all this surreptitious activity even more concerning, is that this week Pinkston assumed the role as chair of the budget committee. The role was previously held by board member Anna Shepherd. However, due to health concerns and the recent passing of her mother Shepherd elected to switch positions with Pinkston. He becomes chair while she’ll serve as vice-chair. Far from an ideal situation but our prayers do go out to Shepherd. Getting older ain’t for sissies. Please note I said older, not old.
While we are sympathetic to Shepherd’s circumstances, the public should be vigilant lest Pinkston revert to proven habits when it comes to this years budget process. There is nothing in his history, or recent behavior, that would lead anyone to believe that this is a role he is qualified to perform. Pinkston has served as primarily an “attack dog” all through his political career, budget negotiations take a more deft hand. Charter operators should remember that last year he floated the idea of the district not paying the per-pupil funding owed to them as a viable solution to the budget shortfall. This is going to require all of us to be hyper-vigilant. We are heading out on a path fraught with danger.
This morning I went to Haywood ES to participate in Book’em’s readathon. I’m so thankful for the invite, and while there, I was reminded why I started this blog. It was not to chronicle the crimes and missteps of Dr. Joseph and his leadership team. Nor was it to serve as scribe to the school boards soap opera. It was out of a desire to highlight the superlative work of our teachers and schools, and to advocate for the things they need. In case you haven’t heard, Haywood is a fantastic school with a fantastic leadership team leading an incredible staff. That said, a new building sure would make their job a lot easier. Just saying.
There is a disturbing story I am following out of Maryland. Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D) last month was having drinks and cigars when she allegedly told a white colleague, during the after-hours gathering at an Annapolis cigar bar, that when he campaigned in Prince George’s on behalf of a candidate last fall he was door-knocking in a “n—– district.”
Needless to say, this caused a great deal of stress and anger with members of the Black Caucus and others. Listanti has since apologized but claims, ‘“I don’t recall that. . . . I don’t recall much of that evening.” When asked whether she has ever used the slur, she said: “I’m sure I have. . . . I’m sure everyone has used it. I’ve used the f-word. I used the Lord’s name in vain.” Wow, some need to remind her that 2 out 3 doesn’t make the third true. I may have used both the latter 2 frequently, but never the former.
Maryland’s House of Delegates unanimously voted 136-0 to censure Lisanti for using a racial slur. Censure typically means that a lawmaker may not serve on a committee, but that they may vote on the floor.
A new study is out measuring Teach For America’s effectiveness. TFA is out touting it as a positive, blogger and educator Gary Rubinstein has a different take. He concludes,
I guess the issue is the irony about how TFA will surely use some highlights from this study to claim that TFA teachers are superior to non-TFA teachers, the report really has a lot more to say than that, and seeing all those black rectangles in the summary diagram, it really is negative about first and second year corps members. TFA should think about this next time they use this report for PR.
Hopefully, the board will read this study before it votes on the renewal of the districts contract with TFA.
Dr. Joseph is out-of-town this weekend attending the National Educator’s Workshop 2019 in Charleston, South Carolina. Three week’s ago the conference had him pictured as a keynote speaker, but since, his picture has strangely disappeared from the site. Keep in mind that 2 weeks ago he was in California for the AASA Conference. In January he was in DC for the CASEL Superintendent Roundtable, the HBCU Convening, and an Executive briefing with the leadership of Tennessee State University (TSU) at Apple computer company’s headquarters in San Jose, CA. I guess now we know why the Phil Williams stories don’t bother him too much, he’s not around to watch them.
This week MNPS principals completed and got approved their school improvement individual district school improvement plans. Next week they’ll get their individual school budgets. Can’t wait to see what those look like.
Looks like MNPD will leave officers assigned to two of Nashville schools’ alternative schools at the beginning and end of the school day until the end of the year. They’d recetly pulled the SRO because of constant abuse by students. People mistake the role of Student Resource Officers as one of purely security. SRO’s provide security in the form of prevention through the relationships they form with students. The abuse by students made this an impossible task. Next year,Nashville police will only send its school resource officers into W.A. Bass and Johnson Alternative learning centers to teach specialized community and life skills programs. Just one more sign that the MNPS discipline plan needs revision.
At some point there also needs to be a review of policy guidelines in regard to informing parents and teachers when a gun is found on a student in school or a student has been arrested and is attending school while free on bail pending trial for a violent crime.
That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station that highlights the positives in MNPS. 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.
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