“That’s the thing about later. You don’t know what’s coming up. You don’t know how all the loose ends are going to gather together. Something for sure is going to happen but you don’t know what it is.”
“Cancel my subscription to the resurrection.”
Whoa, Nelly! But a lot can happen in just a couple of days. The beginning of this week produced a flurry of activity, but what does it all mean? Let’s see if we can’t put it all in some kind of order and decipher some things.
Phil Williams continued his in-depth coverage of MNPS on Monday with a story about the evaluation of director of schools Shawn Joseph by the MNPS School Board. The results were not very good. Per News Channel 5’s report,
Six of nine board members said Joseph was failing to meet expectations on showing “overall positive gains in school climate and culture,” failing to meet expectations on “ensuring that employee morale and satisfaction are increasing,” failing to meet expectations on “ensuring compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements,” and failing to meet expectations on “effective public relations.”
The Tennessean was a little more generous with their coverage. While pointing out his low scores, “Joseph got the lowest mark, a 1.7 average rating, for ensuring that students are achieving academic growth in reading and math and closing the achievement gap among minority students”, they also chose to focus on board relationships. Per the Tennessean here is Joseph’s individual scores,
- Ensuring that a higher percentage of third-graders are reading at grade level: 2.3
- Ensuring that classroom attendance is improving and truancy is decreasing: 2.4
- Ensuring that the district is demonstrating overall positive gains in school climate and culture: 2.0
- Ensuring that student suspensions and expulsions are decreasing: 2.7
- Ensuring that employee morale and satisfaction are increasing: 2.0
- Ensuring that the district is recruiting and retaining effective teachers: 2.3
- Ensuring compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements: 2.0
“Yea, so there are complex situations. The human resources report that was just submitted found that our human resources department did not have any egregious errors in how they investigated and ultimately came to a determination,”
NPR does follow up and note that the report also recommended that the executive director of the human resources department be fired or receive additional training. Last I checked, a lack of egregious errors and recommendations for leadership termination don’t go hand in hand.
Channel 4 also weighed in with their take on Dr. Joseph and his performance. In their report, Dr. Joseph is quoted in response to questions about his evaluation as saying,
“I think the areas where we’ve been able to resource and focus on, we’re getting results. The areas where we have not been able to resource towards or focus on, we’re stagnant. And as a collective board and administration, we’ll come together, and we’ll do what’s right for our kids.”
In perusing the media coverage and in reading board member’s individual reviews – 030119 Individual Ratings – MNPS Formative Evaluation – some common threads emerge. Dr. Joseph’s defense is rooted in the problem’s left from previous administrations, lack of funding, and racism, not on his own lack of action. As he says in the NPR article,
“All leadership is based upon context, so the fact that I am a young African-American in a leadership role situates a context for how I do my work,”
Board Member Pinkston in his evaluation puts it even more succinctly,
Without question, the most significant accomplishment during the first half of the school year was Dr. Joseph’s continued push toward equity vis a vis the student-based budget. Through this process, he has been subjected to untold and unfair slings and arrows from self-centered West Nashville parents and principals who have no appreciation or understanding of the problems facing our inner-city schoolsin East and North Nashville or our high-concentration EL schools in South and Southeast Nashville. Everyone wants the best for their own students and schools, but very few people — except Dr. Joseph and his team — are willing to acknowledge the deep and long-standing inequities that exist in this school system.
We continue to see small differences in achievement. Both our Bl ack and Hispanic students are scoringthe lowest, below the 25% percentile in both Reading and Mathematics achievement. According to the State Report Card, our Black students got a 16.9% and Hispanic students got a 24.5% achievement rate in Mathematics in comparison to our district average of 33%. Black students got an 18% and Hispanic students got a 22.1% achievement rate in English Language Arts in comparison to our district average of 32.8%.
I appreciate the input by employee groups including MNEA and SEIU, which have repeatedly confirmed that there is no systemic dissatisfaction but rather there are isolated problems that need to be dealt with. I fully believe that much of the current discontent is entangled with understandable employee unhappiness and concern about economic pressures stemming from historically low compensation and the rapidly rising cost of living in Nashville.
I’ve worked in or around federal, state and local government for 25 years. One thing I’ve learned, with certainty: In big bureaucracies, the mark of leadership is not if problems happen. They always do. Rather, the mark of leadership is whether problems are confronted when they arise.
In my experience as a Nashville School Board member, Dr. Shawn Joseph does not shy away from problems. Unlike the previous director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, Joseph is accepting of scrutiny and he invites it.
I challenge Mr. Pinkston to show me where in next years proposed budget Dr. Joseph is facing problems head-on? Where is he inviting scrutiny? All year long we hear how MNPS is crippled by being under-resourced, yet when it comes time to have that conversation in earnest, the best that can be offered is a shortcoming of 3%.
If a director is failing to score a minimum of a 3 on their evaluation and offering a lack of resources as an excuse, I would expect that a budget showing an increase of at minimum 15% could be expected. Why would you proceed into another year with the same resources when you already know that it’s not enough? Do you think that if the Patriots don’t give Tom Brady the receivers he needs, he never says anything? That he just heads into the next season hoping for a miracle.
And perhaps the city can’t afford such a required budget, but you better at least be able to justify why you are continually crying chronic underfunding. Now is the time to force the city into at least having the conversation, but they won’t if you can’t lay out a clear picture of what’s needed. Pinkston likes to label opponents as intellectually dishonest, based on this budget, and the fact that he is budget chair, I would label him an intellectual coward.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two other points from Pinkston’s sloppily written and factually challenged op-ed piece. Small wonder he is an ex-journalist. In it he says,
Joseph’s critics are intent on castigating him over issues like moving too slowly in costly efforts to remediate drinking-fountain water in a school system plagued by decades of crumbling infrastructure.
Is that really a counterpoint that Pinkston wants to make? That we should give Joseph a break because ceasing the poisoning of our kids is an old problem and costly. What’re a few more years of drinking lead infused water? So what if some of those same kids already have environment-related learning disabilities?
The other point is that Pinkston continually attempts to draw a line for Dr. Joseph from Montgomery County Public Schools to Nashville without going through Seaford, Delaware and Prince George County Schools. That’s a disingenuous narrative and intellectually dishonest.
PGCS and MCPS are completely different situations. MCPS is traditionally a much higher performing district. Joseph was in senior leadership at PGCS. In MCPS he oversaw just 32 of 206 schools. Big difference.
Principals also received their site budgets yesterday. Per pupil funding has dropped 39 dollars per student, from $5866 to $5827. Couple that with rising position costs and that translates to… if you like this years staff, you may not be able to keep this years staff.
For example on the position costs,
- $900 more per teacher
- $5800 more per AP
- $1300 more per secretary.
Keep in mind higher position costs work to the advantage of the district and not the individual schools.
That vaunted reallocation of Title 1 monies that Dr. J has spent the year bragging about? Not this year. If over 40% – a lower percentage then it was in previous years when the cutoff point was 50% before Dr. Joseph tried unsuccessfully to raise it to 70% – of your kids are certified as being economically disadvantaged you’re getting title 1 money under the same funding formula as last year. Keep in mind that by lowering the cut off number you put more people in a pool that hasn’t necessarily grown in dollars, which potentially could mean less money for certain schools.
The more I look at this proposed budget the more it looks like a place holder budget. A budget designed by people who know they are out the door and so they won’t have to deal with next years implications. It deals with none of the issues raised in the HR audit and it addresses none of the issues raised in the individual board evaluations. In fact, it completely undercuts the argument that MNPS is an underfunded district because it fails to offer specifics were increased funding would lead to better outcomes.
Now Dr. Joseph may argue that internally they are moving money around and shifting priorities to address those aforementioned issues, but if that is the case, then once again you are undercutting the underfunded school district argument. We weren’t underfunded this year, money was just allocated…incorrectly.
This budget is going to require more analyzation, hopefully, I’m missing something. As much as I am ready to see Dr. Joseph’s tenure come to an end, the students and teachers of MNPS deserve better. If we are truly a grossly underfunded district then we need a budget that addresses those inadequacies head-on. We don’t need a budget that just provides for more of the same outcomes. This is not the budget that Nashville needs right now unless next year is indeed going to be the year of leadership transition. If that’s the case, let’s get to it.