JUST A FEW CURIOUS INCIDENTS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

“Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed, and love of power. ”
P. J. O’Rourke

A man can travel far and wide—all the way to shame or glory, and back again—but he ain’t never gonna find nothin’ in this old world that’s dead solid perfect. – Dan Jenkins

I’m tired today, as is most everyone I talk to who has a connection to the Nashville education system. It’s not a one day kind of tired either. MNPS seems to be suffering from a deep-seated state of exhaustion these days. It’s all become such a slog and as board member Gini Pupo-Walker stated recently, is just not sustainable. Luckily Spring Break is upon us and with it, a chance to catch our collective breath.

In the spirit of that exhaustion, today I have no overarching theme. Just a series of curious events I want to share. Things to think about over the course of the next week. We’ll start on the state level and work our way down.

On the state level, it has been a most curious legislative season. When it comes to education policy it’s been mostly a lot of sound and fury, but so far signifying nothing.

At Monday’s State of the State speech, Governor Lee unveiled his education initiatives. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of focus on increasing vocational education, or as we call it now Career and Technical Education(CTE). I love how when policy gets a bad reputation, we don’t do away with or re-vamp the policy, we just re-name it. Vouchers are now Educational Savings Accounts, but more on that in a minute. CTE is a needed initiative as long as we don’t forget the past, in other words, if students on their own volition choose to pursue a trade versus an academic track it’s a good thing. In the past, there were groups of students that were herded into vocational education because it was deemed that they were incapable of pursuing an academic track. As a result of not so distant history, I’m always a little cautious in this area because as a society we’ve never demonstrated that we are adept at learning from the past.

The Governor also sprung his voucher, I mean ESA, plan on everybody. Shockingly – not really – it is a program only focused on the urban areas of the state. Areas that already have ample choice opportunities for families. Nashville alone has charter schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, private schools, choice district schools, and zoned schools. This is like Coca-Cola announcing that it’s introducing a new soda to give consumers more choice. A walk down the soda aisle shows that there is more than enough choice, it is quality we are looking for and a voucher program does nothing to address that desire, something border states have already recognized.

I would argue that urban parents are currently overwhelmed with choice options. How much peace of mind do urban parents already currently lose worrying over whether they’ve made the right choice or not? You know who doesn’t have as much choice? Parents in rural districts. That’s where seldom a charter school is found. They don’t have choice schools and private school options are limited. Why doesn’t Governor Lee flip his beneficiaries? He should make his wonderful program available to only districts that have less than 3 private schools, no charter schools, and don’t allow students to attend a school outside of their zoned school. Let’s see how far that one gets.

Governor Lee makes the argument that under his plan schools won’t be hurt by students taking advantage of vouchers. Per Chalkbeat,

“For every dollar that goes with a child that leaves a school or a district, that district will receive a fill-in-the-gap amount of equal amount,” Lee said at a media briefing after his address.   

“That will go back to that district and that way the public school systems are not depleted of funding. In fact, it strengthens funding for public schools at the same time it provides choices for those that are in the lowest-performing school districts.”

The hole in this argument is that it reduces the impact of a child leaving a public school to a monetary cost. It fails to take into account that families that leave are those that are the most involved in their children’s education. Last I checked, there wasn’t a school in the state that could afford to lose an involved parent as parental involvement is often cited as one of the most important elements of educational outcomes. Instead of giving families more tools to improve their schools, Lee is offering them a bus ticket out of town.

Legislators are already raising concerns about the financial cost of the legislation. Despite Lee putting a figure of $25 million on the proposed legislation, some basic math shows it could rise to $100 million. Under pressure from State Senator Jeff Yarboro at Thursday’s state finance meeting the Governor’s policy director Tony Niknejad admitted as much.

Under the proposal, 2,500 additional students could be added per year if the initial 5,000 enrollment cap is met. Yarbro said that could mean in a five-year period, 15,000 students would be enrolled.

Using the governor’s initially announced figures, that would cost taxpayers more than $109 million.

That’s a little troubling.

The other interesting offering from Lee’s speech is the increased money to the charter school building fund and the hint of a future state authorizer for charter schools,

“We’re looking to create a state authorization that would make it easier to open good charter schools and easier to close those that are not performing. We need a high level of accountability in our education system.”

A state authorizer should be a non-sequitur for everyone. One of the keys to a “successful” – a term whose definition would take several sessions to determine – charter school system is a strong local authorizer. It is virtually impossible for the state to truly understand the individual needs and challenges of a community. History has also shown that making it easier to open charter schools is very doable, it’s the other part of the equation that always provides the challenges.

As far as the building fund goes, I’ve got no problems helping established charter schools get money to improve facilities. Those schools are populated by Tennessee citizen’s who’ve made a decision to take advantage of an opportunity supplied by our elected government. To punish them by relegating them to sub-par facilities due to that decision doesn’t seem right to me. Now I would propose doubling the size of the money pool and making it available to those on the state’s priority school list as well. It is unfair to compare student outcomes between those who you are helping build new facilities for and those you are leaving in unacceptable housing. By opening up access to the money you would be giving all boats the chance to rise and not just the favored ones.

If you want to dive deeper into state politics, be sure that you are following TNEd Report. Nobody does a better job breaking down state education policy like Andy Spears.

While we are plugging information sources, let’s mention that former Nashville Scene reporter Cari Wade Gervin has a new outlet. She’s started a newsletter called The Dog and Pony show. Eventually, you’ll have to pay for her musings, but right now she’s offering a free taste. So get yours. She’s a great writer and you might actually learn a thing or two.

One thing that I find bothersome this week is the stalling of Rep. Bob Freeman’s Dyslexia Bill in committee. Freeman’s bill would require at least one person at every school be trained in dyslexia educational practices. Seems reasonable right? Well, apparently some feel that it’s an expensive policy. I take issue with the use of the word “expensive” when it comes to policy. I always ask, does it deliver desired results? Is there another policy/course of action that delivers results at a lower cost? If the first answer is yes and the second no, then it is not expensive, it just costs a lot. There is a difference. Sometimes the most important things come at a high cost, but not paying that cost can actually be…expensive.

We’ll wrap up state issues with this little tidbit. Word on the street is that those who have interacted with Tennessee’s new Superintendent of Schools, Penny Schwinn, have found her to be quite charming. So for whatever it is worth, she does seem to be winning hearts and minds.

LOCAL YODELS

The charter wars are starting to heat up again. Recently the Tennessean has run articles on problems at two local charter schools. By all accounts, New Vision Academy deserves to be closed down. My only question is the timing and how much consideration was actually given to the families of students, who now find themselves looking for new schools mere months before the end of the year. By all accounts there have been long-term problems with the school and MNPS has supposedly been closely monitoring the situation. Back on December 2nd, it was reported in the Tennessean that New Vision was under investigation by the Feds and the state. MNPS’s response was,

“We are standing by to assist in any way that we can,” MNPS spokesman Rob Johnson said. “We look forward to learning more about their findings. Until then, we are waiting for the outcomes of those inquiries.”

In typical fashion – one board member supplying the sweat and the other board member the mouth – despite New Vision being in Will Pinkston’s district he wasn’t the one to draw attention to the issues. offenses that were reported last March when somebody was busy with a senatorial campaign. Per the Tennessean,

Scrutiny of New Vision began after five teachers who worked at the school sent a whistleblowers report to school board member Amy Frogge, who forwarded it to the district.

In my eyes, this is just one more incident of the district being plagued by the inability to strategically plan. Some will point to charter school autonomy as a reason why the district wasn’t able to act in a more expedient manner. Then I would ask, why is the district even paying Dennis Queen 155K a year to be Executive Director of Charter Schools? In that light, I’d be happy to take a salary of $135k a year to be the executive director of sunrises and sunsets. I promise to monitor them faithfully.

I also find it ironic that Will Pinkston can’t keep up with events in his own district, but we are supposed to take his word as gospel on what happens in the entire district. Perhaps if he unblocked the emails and tweets of constituents, he’d be better able to keep pace. Either that or constituents promised a quote in the newspaper if he listened to their concerns.

Which brings us to the next TMZ moment. Rumor has it that a certain board member’s support of a certain director of schools is directly tied to their being given access to Dennis Queen and being allowed to utilize Queen’s office as a weapon against existing charters. My feelings on this are that it is one thing to fight against the proliferation of charter schools, it is a whole another argument when you start trying to devalue something that others value. Like their choice or not, there are families that are very happy with their charter schools. Attacking that happiness based on your own personal beliefs strikes me as extremely selfish. I don’t want more charter schools but what’s here is here. If Valor’s Todd Dickson and I can have a friendly relationship after I once told him, “There is a special place in hell for you”, then MNPS and the current charter community can surely find a way to coexist in a mutually beneficial manner.

As more people put eyes on MNPS’s proposed budget the more concern grows over discipline issues. While the districts goal to not suspend kids is an admirable one, it is one that needs additional supports. Nowhere in the proposed budget is there anything that addresses that need. Meanwhile, kid’s and teachers are continually put at risk and valuable instruction time is lost. I wish it was required that teachers must log instructional time lost to disruptive students. At the end of the week, that log would be sent home to parents. Also, we identify and share the demographics of those students who disrupt class, let’s do the same with students that lose class time. How much would those two items change the conversation?

Causing further budgetary concern is the inclusion of only a 3% raise with no step increase for teachers. Several board members have indicated that they were surprised by this and feel that it should have been at least 5% with step increases included. This is a good time to mention that MNEA leadership elections are ongoing and if you are looking for some change, AMP candidates are a good place to start.  Per their Facebook page, their core values and candidates are,

1. Being member-driven. We are committed to engaging our members and letting their priorities and voices drive our work as leaders, as well as continuously growing and celebrating new leadership.
2. Transparency in governance. We will be intentional in soliciting member feedback and keeping our members informed of our decisions and our work through open, clear, and effective communication.
3. Community Engagement. We will build strong coalitions with key community organizations and ensure that teachers’ voices are heard within our common work to create positive change in our communities.
4. Defending public education and the teaching profession. We will be strategic and proactive in our work to defend our public schools, our students, and our profession.
5. We>me. We believe strongly that in order to grow our association, we need to focus on growing our collective power. This is about more than one individual candidate, rather this is about how working together makes us stronger.
Our slate includes:
President- Amanda Kail

Recording Vice President- Michele Sheriff

Treasurer- Paula Pendergrass

High School Director- Leroy Castle

Professional Practices Chair- Deirtra Bledsoe

Metropolitan Professional Employee Insurance Trust- Amanda Kail

Nominations and Elections Commission (two positions)- Kellee Hill, Christina Brumlevee

PACE District 2 (2 positions)- Wamon Buggs, Mary Holden

PACE District 3 (2 positions)- Mary Jo Tewes Cramb, Christina Brumleve

PACE District 4 (2 positions) – Carol Burden, Kellee Hill

MNPS teachers, if the best your current leadership can do is 3% and if they are truly telling school board members that there are no systematic problems, are they really representing you? Also give Laura Leonard a look at District 2, after you vote Mary Holden.

To regular readers of Dad Gone Wild, this will come as no surprise since we alluded to it weeks ago; Tony Major’s is replacing Deborah Story as Chief executive Officer of Human Resources. Story is going to retire. This is all effective March 15. There is a part of me that considers this just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, though I think Major’s could do good work for the next director. A benefit of this promotion for Majors is that it gets him out from under administrating the districts awful new discipline plan. That job falls to Dr. Anntoinette Williams who will be the Interim Executive Officer of Student Services. Some see this as a move to try and say board members before the scheduled March 26th vote on Joseph’s contract extension. I don’t know, but I urge you to email your board member and let them know your thoughts.

The elephant in the room that is not being addressed today is the fate of HR executive Director Sharon Pertiller. As of today, she is still employed and Dr. Joseph is clinging to her like former Titan’s coach Mike Munchak clung to his assistant coaches. Notice I said, “former Titan’s Head Coach”.

If you haven’t marked your calendar yet for March 20, I’d advise you to put down a note to attend the State of Schools address. This should prove quite interesting. Following in the tradition of the State of the Union and the State of the State speeches, I wonder if we can get Phil Williams to do the public rebuttal?

A sad note for me today, author Dan Jenkins passed away. Jenkins was a sports writer most notably noted for his novel-turned-movie Semi-Tough but he wrote a slew of other things as well. Many of his books made me laugh aloud as a kid and made me fall in love with sports. As Sports Illustrated writer Michael Rosenberg notes, like the best writers, Jenkins could have written about anything. But sports were perfect for him. He revealed in them without revering them. He reminded readers, many of his colleagues, and even the participants themselves, that sports were supposed to be fun. I also loved Jenkin’s description of Joe Nameth,

Stoop-shouldered and sinisterly handsome, he slouches against the wall of the saloon, a filter cigarette in his teeth, collar open, perfectly happy and self-assured, gazing through the uneven darkness to sort out the winners from the losers.

I’ll miss Jenkins. Truly one of the greats.

My wife and I, a teacher at H.G. Hill, have a very strict policy of separation of church and state. I don’t interfere with her work and she doesn’t acknowledge mine. (That’s a joke. She is very supportive, just keeps her distance out of warranted professional concerns.)But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out just how out-of-the-way Hill leadership went to show the staff their appreciation this past week. Luncheons, snacks, breakfast, gifts, and kind words all added up to one teacher feeling the most appreciated she’s ever felt in 11 years of teaching. That’d be my wife. There was something organized every day to demonstrate how much staff was valued. Thank you very much for doing that Principal Carrie Jones and team. And if that doesn’t warrant a break with policy, I don’t know what does.

I hope everybody has a great break. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page where we try to accentuate the positive. If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight, send it on and I’ll do the best I can. Send things to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Thanks for your support if you feel so inclined, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Make sure you answer the poll questions and we’ll see you Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts

  1. Majors is responsible for the destruction of discipline of MNPS a job he got because he was a failure as a high school principal. So clearly let’s give him a pay raise and put him in charge of something that he has zero experience with? More brilliant mnps leadership-not. At least now we know who to email our resignation letters to.

  2. First, thanks for the shout out. We truly love our teachers and want them to know they are valued by us. Wish we could do even more.
    Secondly, I may have missed it somewhere but with the close of the charter school, not only is it impactful for the kids and families who have to find new schools, it’s impactful for the new schools themselves. A lot of new students at this time of the year can impact culture, climate and academic success. Of course, schools will welcome them, but this issue has very big ripple effects.

  3. You mentioned Laura Leonard who is running for HS Director in MNEA.
    Laura has taught in MNPS for 14 years. She has taught at Hillwood , NSA, Overton, Hume Fogg, Cane Ridge, and Glencliff. She has taught Summer School at Stratford, McGavock, Glencliff, and Hillsboro.
    She has taught a multitude of classes: French 1-AP, English I, II, and IV, Personal Finance, Reading Intervention, ELD Reading, Senior Capstone, A Plus, and Edgenuity (Summer School).
    Laura knows what’s going on in High Schools. She has spoken out on News Channel 5’s Town Hall and regularly addresses the School Board.
    She has been a member of NEA since 1986. I am voting for Laura because I know she has the experience of teaching numerous classes in numerous MNPS high schools.

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