READING INTO THINGS

“Don’t be so damned patronizing. Your performance so far has been a little less than dazzling.”
“I didn’t mean no harm,” I said and kissed her. “That a new dress?”
“Ah! Changing the subject, you coward.”
Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man

“What is past is past. never go back. Not for excuses. Not for justification, not for happiness. You are what you are, the world is what it is.”
Mario Puzo, The Last Don

This past Friday, I had committed to participate in Book’em’s Read Across America event over at Haywood Elementary School. Per usual, I woke up overwhelmed by the multitude of thing I had to do. My thoughts quickly turned to excuses of why I couldn’t make it over to Haywood at 8:30, even though I was only going to be 2 miles away when I dropped my kids off at Tusculum ES at 7:45.

Luckily my excuse meter wasn’t functioning at full capacity and therefore 8:30 found me standing in a gym full of excited children waiting to be read to. Looking around I could see local community members that were every bit as busy as I, yet had carved some time out this morning. Teachers were herding kids and in the hall, the Chicka Boom dancers were lined up and bursting with anticipation for the forthcoming performance.

I stood at the back of the gym and took it all in. Different administrators walked up and we exchanged greetings. After a brief assembly, everyone headed to our individual classrooms to read. Mine was a group of second graders.

After reading OX XO, we played a quick game of Simon Says. As I left the classroom, another reader began another book. I made my way to the library, in order to wait for the shuttle bus. Walking through the school, I was reminded that Haywood is a bit of a patchwork school. Over the years it has been renovated several times, unfortunately, all the renovations don’t line up so it’s evident where each one began and ended.

The portables outside have almost as a much a sense of permanence as the surrounding working-class neighborhood and lead to the school suffering from a decided lack of parking. This lack of parking limits the after-school events that can be held. Haywood is one school in desperate need of a new building to serve its 600 plus students.

Standing in the hallway talking with Principal Megan Galloway, one gets no sense of any limitations. We discuss their SIFE – Students with Interrupted Formal Education – program and the high number of kids that they are graduating. It is very easy to pick up on the passion that Gallaway brigs to her work, and it’s evident in observing interactions between staff and students, Haywood is a good school doing good work, despite its challenges.

As I waited in the library and interacted with other participants, I was reflected back on why I started this blog. It wasn’t to write about administrators manipulating contracts or weekly jetting of to yet another conference. It was to celebrate the good work in our schools and to advocate for the things that could make that work better.

Similar thoughts resurfaced Saturday night as I watched Channel 5 News and the Phil Williams hour-long Teacher Townhall special. As I listened to teachers outline the many challenges they face and how leadership is failing them, it struck me; this isn’t what they signed up for either.

I’ll lay it on the table and give you 10 to 1 that none of the teachers that participated in Saturday’s town hall looked forward to it with anticipation. None of them were spending their summer hoping that Phil Williams called them and asked them to be on TV. I’ll wager all of them were too busy preparing their classrooms and getting lesson plans together, to give a second thought to what they might say if interviewed on television. After all, these are people more inclined to shine the spotlight on their students, instead of themselves. But circumstances conspired against them.

The school year began, Dr. Joseph’s third, and anticipation was high that this year would be better than last year and last year was a hard one. But then the same issues began to pop up – poorly communicated and implemented grading policy, a literacy plan that didn’t align with best practices, policy design in the boardroom that didn’t translate to the classroom, tone-deafness by the Executive Leadership Team, a discipline policy that put both teachers and students at increased risk. As a result, the increased teacher exits began.

As the teacher exits increased the pressure on those remaining grew. Slowly, tentatively, teachers began to reach out to express their concern. At first, it was just to those that were trusted. One had to be careful, a wrong word to the wrong person could jeopardize a career. Those fears may seem dramatic, but the handling of sexual harassment cases and comments made by leaders at principal meetings  – get on the bus or get run over by the bus – gave those fears substance.

During the first 18 months of Dr.Joseph’s tenure, board members were universally publicly supportive of the director. Real, or imagined, that created an aura of power for Joseph and gave rise to the impression that since the board didn’t openly question Dr. Joseph, they were clearly not receptive to criticism either, so none was offered.

As some board members began to openly question, people began to feel that there may be an avenue to voice concerns.  Unfortunately, those concerns were only voiced to those who appeared sympathetic, the other board members didn’t hear the complaints and therefore dismissed those complaints when raised. Some board members went as far as to paint sympathetic board members as conspiracy theorists with a personal ax to grind.

Phil Williams, demonstrating why investigative journalism is so important, began asking the questions the school board collectively wouldn’t. The answers he received didn’t hold up to the test of veracity and sparked more questions. Those answers continued to contribute to a picture that clearly showed a district in a leadership crisis.

The teachers that chose to speak Saturday surely realized that f nothing changes, nothing changes. So they decided to step out of their comfort zone and speak out, They spoke out of a sense of if not me, then who? It is a sentiment that I am keenly familiar with. As Nashville has grown the number of those willing to hold leaders accountable has shrunk. It’s a situation that concerns me not just for our school’s sake, but also our city’s sake.

Democracy is protected by a free and independent press. Through the years it’s been the press that held corrupt politicians accountable when they poisoned our water, failed to execute their jobs, accepted bribes, or generally acted counter to the best interests of the public. Over the last several years in Nashville though that protection has been weakened. A city that once employed world-class journalists like John Seigenthaler, Demetria Kalodimos, Jerry Thompson, Frank Gibson, Anne Holt, Dwight Lewis, and Dan Miller, now finds the talent poll nearly barren.

Escalating costs and declining revenue, has led to newspapers being overly cautious about offending big money interests and has left little money to employ investigative reporters. Politicians, tired of getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar, began working overtime to discredit the press and outlets pressured by the immediacy of the modern day news cycle now required to effectively compete, have gotten stories wrong, which lead to news outlets being further discredited.

It’s not hard to see the impact on our community, and I’m not just talking education reporting either. Think about this, if Phil Williams hadn’t started doing the stories on MNPS, then who? Lindsey Bramson at News 4 and Fox’s Harriet Wallace have done some fine work, but I’d question whether they’ve been given the freedom to do really in-depth work.

Print-wise, Jason Gonzale’s Tennessean beat is so extensive and his hands so editorially tied, that he rarely has the time or the freedom to cover stories with the required depth. The Scene, under Frank Daniels, has all but disappeared from the investigative realm and nobody has stepped up to fill the void created.

The decline in investigative reporting comes at a time when it’s needed more than ever. All one has to do is listen to recently elected Tennessee Speaker of the House Glen Casada and it becomes clear that government is becoming less transparent every day.

Casada is a man who thanks the press and extolls the virtues of citizen involvement on one day,

“We appreciate what you do and reporting on what government does and relaying that fairly and openly because what’s so important is an open and free press so that the citizens can participate in their government,”

Only to turn around and change rules to limit debate, ban live streaming from personal devices in committee meetings, and expel peaceful protesters from committee meeting chaired by admitted sexual offenders. In Casada’s view, protesting is “good,” but it must be done “in an orderly manner. “Your First Amendment rights end at your nose,” he has said.

I’m pleased that the Tennessean’s David Plaza chose to echo my feelings on protest in today’s paper.

The desire for respect is understandable, but an orderly protest is an oxymoron because protests are meant to disrupt the order. Think marches in Memphis or sit-ins in Nashville. And protesters have faced consequences like arrest and physical violence before.

We need more input from the city’s media population in order to protect citizen’s tax dollars and rights. Hopefully Steven Hale is able to re-establish the Nashville Banner. More eyes watching the government would force the government to be better listeners. We’ve spent way to much time this past year be about consultants, contracts, travel, and lack of discipline. It’s time to allow people to get back to what they planned to do. It’s time to make a leadership change and transition the conversation away from the board room and back onto the classroom.

SHORTCUTS

Looks like Wednesday in both the Tennessee House and the Senate the education committees will be talking Dyslexia. Freshman Rep Bob Freeman and Senator Jeff Yarboro are bringing a bill that reads as follows,

Local Education Agencies – As introduced, requires LEAs to provide students with characteristics of dyslexia appropriate tiered dyslexia-specific intervention through services provided by a teacher trained in dyslexia intervention; requires the department of education to employ at least one dyslexia specialist beginning with the 2019-2020 fiscal year. – Amends TCA Title 49, Chapter 1, Part 2.

Last year saw the establishment of a state-sponsored Dyslexia council to whom LEA’s were required to report to. Some wonder why new legislation is required again this year. Considering that last Spring MNPS reported that they were providing no students with dyslexia any services, one doesn’t have to wonder long. Please reach out and let your state representative know that you support this legislation.

Cora Howe ES will host its annual Spring Art Festival on March 7th. This is Cora Howe’s biggest event of the year and engages many students and community members. Visitors can enjoy art activities as they view the students’ displays of artwork as well as participate in the silent auction.
This month’s drive to a new contract begins with an op-ed in the Tennessee Tribune by Dr. Joseph. Rumor has it that this week he will sit down with the editorial board of the Tennessean. It’ll be interesting to see what that produces. I’ve long been anticipating a piece headlined, “Battered and bloodied, but not broken. MNPS’s courageous leader forges forth.” Let’s see if I’m channeling Karnac the Magnificent.
Hillsboro teacher Susan Strasinger has interviewed for a later article by Education Week about the importance of high school journalism. Strasinger oversees the school’s newspaper, The Hillsboro Globe. The Globe is one of the few student newspapers in the country that hold AP accreditation. This is a big deal and she and her students deserve some serious props for treading where few can follow. Vicki Yates, a Channel 5 anchor person, will also interview Strasinger to highlight the values of the high school journalism program.
Bellshire Design Center Elementary School in cooperation with the PTO, held its first Ties and Tiara dance. Over 100 students, staff, and family members took selfies, danced to great music, and were dressed to impress. To close the evening out, attendees witnessed the Inaugural Crowning of the Bellshire “King & Queen” fourth graders, Mr. Alex Cheek and Ms. Sametria Williams.
Details have started to slip out about tonight’s State of the State Speech by Governor Lee. Education advocates have been anxiously waiting to see if he will give any indications of whether he plans to endorse voucher legislation or not this session. Today’s excerpt released by the governor’s office offers no illumination of his intent but instead makes a statement aligned with the previous speculation voiced here,

“I believe highly accountable public charter schools are a great model for expanding choice without sacrificing quality, and I’ve seen firsthand how they can dramatically impact the life and trajectory of a student. In my budget, we are doubling the amount of public charter school facility funding and I will support legislation this year that makes it easier to open good charter schools and easier to close bad ones.”

It’s nice of the Governor to make money available for facility construction, but as I mentioned previously, there are a number of schools that are in desperate need of improved facilities. In fact, if we were to survey the buildings of schools on the state’s priority list, I’d bet most are housed in sub-par facilities. It would be nice if they also had access to the cash he is making available to charter schools. But there is no political pay off with such a move, just a chance to do the right thing.

Congratulations go out to the DuPont-Hadley Bulldogs, 2018-2019 Middle School Boys Basketball City Champions! Way to go guys!! The words of educator Apje Floyd sum things up best,

My heart is still racing from the excitement of one of the most exciting basketball games I have been to in ages. The DuPont-Hadley boys basketball team won the city championship tonight on a shot at the buzzer. Four of our former Andrew Jackson students play on that team and Doyle was named tournament MVP, All-Tournament, and All-Academic Team. Congratulations Doyle, David, Jeremiah, and Gabriel. Our cheerleaders were AJS strong too with Abby, Kailyn, and Reagan. (I know one mamma will help me with those names)

Kudos to the leader of these kids Coach Frudenthal, who worked with this team all season to bring home the victory and was named Coach of the Year, and to all of these great players and cheerleaders who have roots in other elementary schools.

The Hadley family was strongly represented by parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators, and students. I’m not too sure who was more excited after the final shot. The team who jumped and down collapsing in a pile, the coach and the principal who leaped in the air, the teachers who cheered so hard they lost their voices, the fathers who ran onto the court bumping their chests, or the moms and grandparents who hugged each other and took a hundred pictures. Most especially there were the cheerleaders, who kept their classmates motivated the entire season and joined their team for the final pictures with the trophy. For just one night, it was perfect.

Sadly tonight the good kids who work hard, go the extra mile and make the good choices will probably not be on the news. Nor will their strong village who supports them. Not Hadley, or Brick Church, or the Head Middle or West End girls or their villages who played in their most exciting games ever. Most likely, tonight the news will only mention the kids who didn’t make the good choices. The kids, who for whatever reason, don’t have a village.

Our city needs to know about kids like I watched tonight. They are the ones, win or lose, who are newsworthy. I am so thankful to the people who are part of their village. Our city needs to know the importance of finding a village for ALL our kids. Because as my good friend Heather says, “They are ALL OUR KIDS.”

It was an honor to be a part of the DuPont-Hadley village again tonight, to watch you battle and win the championship, and to celebrate with the village of people who love and support you.

Amen.

I tell you what if you want a better understanding of what’s transpiring in MNPS just keep an eye om Prince George County Schools. The latest from up north a tale of a district that is late in paying teacher bonuses. I know, I know.

SURVEY RESULTS

Great response to this week’s questions. So let’s not waste any time and get to the review of the answers.

The first question asked for your reaction to Phil William’s Teacher Townhalls. Out of 154 votes, 54 of you expressed that you didn’t hear anything you didn’t already know. In essence, verifying what the teachers on the panel revealed. 48 of you answered that our teachers deserve better. None of you thought of it as another incidence of people picking on Dr. Joseph. Here are the write-in votes,

Not news to me BUT can’t tell you how grateful I am that he is getting info out 1
I was there. Stressful. I am still waking up with my heart beating fast. 1
just wondering who picked the panel of teachers 1
Adults are failing our kids. It’s disgusting. 1
Crazy how much money our city and MNPS wastes. Teachers deserve huge COLA 1
Metro is truly a house engulfed in flames. 1
I’m glad teachers got a chance to talk. 1
It echoes exactly what me and the other teachers at my school say every day. 1
???? truth. 1
They all have my respect and support 1
I was embarrassed for them. Clearly could tell they can’t relate to Ss they teac 1
Scathing! Joseph must GO!!! 1
I presume they are changing their names and leaving town soon 1
Proud of the teachers brave enough to speak out. Wish I had their courage. 1
Pay the damn Teachers. A large raise is due.

Question 2 asked if you felt that Dr. Joseph should get a contract extension and that idea was universally rejected. Out of 153 of you, 128 responded, “Not in this lifetime.” It seems that the brunt of the argument for the small minority of people who still support Dr. Joseph is focused on the past and a lack of funding, neither of which appear to be winning arguments. Teachers have been producing results while under-funded for decades, so it’s only fair that he’s held to the same standards as they are.

Only 1 person responded that we have to keep this talented educator. I appreciate Dr. Felder’s continued readership. Here are the write-in votes,

If we somehow allow him to stay, I’m applying elsewhere. Done. 1
Without exaggeration: new contract for Joseph = open revolt in Metro schools. 1
DR. J staying means more teachers leaving=HR=chaos 1
HELL, NO! 1
Dr. J needs to move on and we need a great hire from within. 1
Since he is fond of Gladiators lets take him to Nissan Stadium see 1
Not no but H@LL NO! 1
If he gets an extension, I’m getting out of this dumpster fire. 1
No! Sonia Stewart, Sonia Stewart, Sonia Stewart! 1
No. Sonia Stewart should be Interim Director.
The last question asked about a leadership change at HR. Like the previous question, y’all’s opinion was pretty clear. Out of 151 respondents, 128 of you said that the reports called for it, so what’s the hold-up? Not one person expressed a belief that current leadership was capable of getting it right. Apparently, Dr. Gentry didn’t participate this week. Here are the write-ins,
Yes, the evidence has been there all along – no report needed… 1
Yes. HR has been a disaster. 1
Yes. With or without the report they are crippling our district. 1
Bye Felicia. 1
HR has been a disaster for years. 1
Yes – Story and Pertiller 1
Yes.If lawsuits didn’t change anything neither will a new program. 1
Absolutely! ASAP! And I work with them! 1
Hell to the yes. 1
They are wonderful women simply in the wrong job perhaps Amazon is hiring 1
With their years of experience, how can u say “no intentional abhorrent behavior 1
Well duh. 1
Clean house. Fat salaries and no production. 1
Clean house! Put Majors over it! 1
Re-staff the entire department.

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, I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money, thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

 

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