CANDLE LIGHTING TIME IN THE MUSIC CITY

“The foolish will tread where the wise will not,” Holmes replied. “If we waited for the wisdom of this venture, Douglas and I would still be in London.” “To fools, then!” Little Huan exclaimed. “To fools!” the others declared.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mycroft Holmes

“Lyor Cohen, who I consider my mentor, once told me something that he was told by a rabbi about the eight degrees of giving in Judaism. The seventh degree is giving anonymously, so you don’t know who you’re giving to, and the person on the receiving end doesn’t know who gave. The value of that is that the person receiving doesn’t have to feel some kind of obligation to the giver and the person giving isn’t doing it with an ulterior motive. It’s a way of putting the giver and receiver on the same level. It’s a tough ideal to reach out for, but it does take away some of the patronizing and showboating that can go on with philanthropy in a capitalist system. The highest level of giving, the eight, is giving in a way that makes the receiver self-sufficient.”
Jay-Z, Decoded

That deep sigh of relief you hear throughout Nashville this morning is the sound of Metro Nashville Public School teacher’s catching their breath. Today is the first official day of Spring Break and for many, it couldn’t have come any sooner. It’s been another hard year, to the extent that quite a few teachers have moved on. So those of you still here, know that you are appreciated and those who left, we miss you..

Just because school is out that doesn’t mean that the rumor mill is quiet. In fact, just the opposite this weekend. The old rumor mill has been chugging away and churning out some intriguing speculations. Most of them centered around the upcoming vote on the Director of Schools contract scheduled for the school board meeting on March 26th.

Some of you may wonder why the contract is being addressed when Dr.Joseph still has over a year remaining on his current contract. Bringing renewal a year beforehand is pretty standard practice. Think about your pro sports coaches out there. They are always looking for that extension because in implementing changes it is essential that people believe you are going to be here for a while, else they’ll just ignore you and wait for your contract to run out. It’s a form of lame-duck status and nobody wants that.

Though some folks don’t mind that lame-duck status, for example, Joel Madden of the Cubs didn’t get a contract extension last year, nor did Jason Garrett of the Cowboys. What that translates into for both of those two individuals is that they better do a whole lot of winning during their upcoming seasons, and even then there is no guarantee that they’ll be employed after the season. That’s a lot of uncertainty to ask someone to face, especially when they have others dependent on them.

So how will the vote turn out? I have no idea. As stated before I believe that Buggs, Gentry, and Pinkston, will vote for the extension. Bush, Frogge, and Speering against. This leaves Elrod, Shepherd, and Walker as the deciding votes. A lot of people are talking as if they know how they will vote, I’m not one of them. I do believe that all board members – minus the obvious suspects who are busy out writing op-ed pieces – are talking and trying to carefully structure a path forward that leads to the best outcomes possible.

On Saturday, for some unknown reason, the Tennessean ran an article reiterating certain board member’s desire for the board to participate in mediation. The timing of the article is a bit of a head scratcher and seems designed to sow distrust, seeing as the board has a full slate of things to keep them occupied and are working on them. A concern that board member Rachel Elrod addresses,

“I disagree with the notion that we can only be singularly focused. And that is the expectation — we can do more than one thing.”

I’m not disputing that, but the reality is that the board is about to go under a bit of natural mediation. Think about the people you are closest with, those bonds were most like forged during times of intense, possibly contentious, challenges that you faced and overcame together. Such an opportunity is now facing the board. Regardless of what the director vote is, the board still has to address the budget, teacher recruitment and retention, Human Resources, and the discipline policy. Let’s look at those challenges individually.

The budget is a mess. It shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone. We’ve all heard it said that a budget is your public declaration of what your priorities are. What priorities does this budget establish? It dabbles in teacher pay. It dabbles in social-emotional learning. It dabbles in academics. It doesn’t give any reason to believe that next years outcomes will be any different from this years and when a director has an average evaluation score of 2.75, I don’t understand how anyone can be good with that.

Teacher attrition rates have been well documented. They are not improving and MNPS continues to lose talent to outside counties. What’s the plan to counter that loss? If a plan exists, I’ve yet to hear it. In talking to people in the know, whom I respect, my sense is that the plan doesn’t exist and that we are facing a pending crisis. It’s March, the window to secure high-quality teachers for next year is starting to close, so timing is critical here.

There was a change at Human Resources announced last Friday, but not the one everyone wanted. Long term MNPS administrator Tony Majors takes over for the retiring Deborah Story. Major’s is a fine addition under normal circumstances, but these ain’t normal circumstances. He’s stepping into a department that was recently the subject of a blistering audit. A department that many would argue has been dysfunctional for years. He’s doing so with no clear vision from above, and no clear vision of who will be providing that vision. To say that’s difficult is an understatement, I’d say it borders on a no-win situation.

There is a common misconception that runs through MNPS that you can change an organizations culture from the middle. That if you just focus on doing  “the work”, a healthy culture will miraculously spring forth and take hold.  It doesn’t work like that. Without quality leadership providing the arena to build a healthy culture, all the work will eventually bump up against the low ceiling created by leadership and wither. You may experience short-term success but nothing sustainable.

I don’t want to single anyone out, but if I needed to provide evidence I could run through any number of MNPS departments and point out the leadership that experienced just such an occurrence. Many as a result, and after realizing the limitations, are no longer employed with MNPS. We can’t keep repeating this cycle.

In recruiting teachers, I can’t help but suspect that Major’s will be placed in a position of defending a policy he was integral in creating in his former position. I’m talking about MNPS’s recent revisions in the discipline policy. The intentions behind the revision may have been noble, but the implementation has been disastrous. There is no way that HR issues can be addressed divorced from the implications of that policy disaster.

To further complicate things, an integral problem with HR is still not being addressed. When you get your own section in an HR audit and it includes words like “remove” and “retrain”, odds are, despite what the director may think, you are not doing an exceptional job. And those are the words, and many more negative ones, that are littered throughout the recent HR audit and attached to Sharon Pertiller. But under the guise of loyalty, Dr. Joseph refuses to take the steps that everyone else recognizes as necessary.

Loyalty is an admirable trait. But it’s also a trait that can blind us to reality. As long as Pertiller remains at Human Resources, true change will never take place. There is just no way around it, that’s the reality.

Returning to the discipline policy, it’s in critical need of refinement. In its present state, it’s costing the district both teachers and families. It is serving as a prime recruiting tool for charter schools. You can not design and implement a policy that addresses 5% of the population at the expense of 95%. It’s just not a tenable position and there is nothing in the budget that demonstrates sufficient supports that will even guarantee that the 5% receive the services they need. In other words, it’s a policy serving no one.

If the issues themselves weren’t enough, the board faces increased external pressure from outside private interest groups that appear intent in shaping policy to fit their agenda. Word on the street is that one of Nashville’s wealthier philanthropists feels that now is the time to push for the creation of another citywide effort to shape MNPS policy. Like Project Reset and its ilk worked out so well.

Ever notice that these large education philanthropy’s spend a lot of time telling an elected board what it should do instead of asking how it can help support the policies proposed by the board rooted in the desires of their constituencies? That old democracy thing always seems to get in the way.

Over the years I’ve noticed that when people label the school board “dysfunctional”, what it really means is that the board is not doing what they want at the speed they want. I find it extremely interesting that we have no problem accepting that, in the words of Horace Mann,  “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery”, yet we are troubled and surprised when passions around the great equalizer spill over into discussions.

In a matter of such importance, with no widespread acceptance of a definition, or measurement, of quality education, it doesn’t surprise me that related conversations become repeatedly heated. Ask ten people their definition of quality education and you are likely to get 8 different answers, answers typically reflective of your station in life. Ask the same 10 people how to meet those definitions, and you are liable to get 8 more different answers.

Back to the board, I have nothing concrete to base this observation on, but I get a sense that there is a fair amount of conversation going on behind the scenes between school board members right now as they explore a path forward. Conversations that are no doubt tenuous, but at least transpiring. I would request that you think about the amount of stress induced by these discussions. These are discussions that due to heightened historical and racial components, will have as much impact on the culture of our city as they will on the performance of our schools.

No offense to them, but Metro Council members have 39 other members to hide behind in making decisions these kinds of decisions. You can be a little more political, knowing that yours is only one of 40 votes. The school board is just 9 members, there is no hiding. There is no room to play politically. It makes the stakes al the higher and as a result, the pressure a lot more intense. With that kind of pressure, why is everybody so surprised that at times they appear less than perfect? At the end of the day, they are merely individuals doing the best they can in an environment that is under a constant microscope, they are not oracles from God.

You can’t ask a body to be functional and then not give it any room to work. Perhaps we should give the school board a little air to breathe. We trusted them enough to give them one of our most prized possessions, our vote, maybe we should trust them to plot the right course.

Obviously, communication lines need to remain open and they need to hear from constituents about what’s happening, but large initiatives and public criticisms of dysfunction need to be briefly curtailed while the board is allowed to do the job they were elected to. When contacting them, besides airing our grievances, we might also want to offer some support and recognition of the degree of difficulty as well.  And yes, I said elected, not self-appointed based upon access to elevated resources. There is a time to apply pressure and there is a time to let breathe, this is a time for the latter with plenty of time in the future for the former.

I’m strangely confident that they are going to get this one right. But it’s going to take all of us burying some self-interests and personal agendas. A difficult task at the best of times.

Whenever I am in NYC, I always stop at St. Patricks Cathedral. While there I light a candle over which I say a silent thank you for the gifts I’ve been given and I ask for the strength to face the challenges ahead. Now might be a good time for all of us to, literally and figuratively, light a candle for our public school system.

QUICK HITS

Next Tuesday there will be a budget committee meeting of the school board at Bransford Ave at 4pm. Following that meeting will be an opportunity for public commentary on the budget. If you can make it please do.

Teachers in Indiana are showing up at the statehouse to let lawmakers know their concerns.

“Senators, representatives, listen to teachers: Give us the resources we need, give us the professional salary we deserve, and respect our profession,” said Connor McNeeley, a member of the union in Perry Township who spoke to the crowd. “What’s best for teachers is what’s best for students.”

It’s a call that’s needed here in Tennessee and in that vein, the TNEd Report has a piece out today announcing the formation of a new organization created for just such a need.

This group is for any public school educator who is tired of their students’ needs being put last and is tired of their voices being ignored,” said Lauren Sorensen, a second grade teacher at Halls Elementary School in Knox County and a longtime leader in her local union. “If you are ready to organize and act, then join us.”

The name of the group is TN Teachers United and they stand for the following,

Organizing and Activism will support our core beliefs:

  1.  It is the state’s responsibility to ensure full funding of public education. We oppose unfunded mandates.
  2.  We support equity in funding of all public schools.
  3. We oppose school vouchers in any form, under any name.
  4. We oppose funneling public money into charter schools and support a moratorium on charter school expansion.
  5. We oppose standardized testing as a means to label and punish schools, students, and teachers and demand that test data be removed from student grades and teacher evaluations.
  6. We support the community schools model as a solution to raising the achievement level of all schools.
  7. We support measures that increase teacher pay, benefits, and the prestige of the profession.

MNPS is not an outlier in trying to reduce suspensions. Districts across the country under pressure from the federal government have enacted similar policies. A recent article in the online magazine The 74 reports that while the intentions are good, the results are not necessarily. In Seattle, in response to a one-year moratorium on out of school suspensions, they report the following,

To discipline-reform advocates, this is great news. But no one stopped to see what Seattle’s students thought about what was happening in their schools as suspensions were dramatically curtailed. Unfortunately, as fits a national pattern, Seattle students say that most of the 102 schools in the district have become less safe, less respectful, and less supportive places to learn.

I encourage you to read the whole piece. it points out that Seattle’s problems mirror other districts.

Although the data doesn’t lend itself to an academic analysis that could provide causal certainty, it seems unlikely to be a coincidence that almost everywhere these reforms occur, we have school climate survey data showing that fewer students feel safe, respected, and supported.

The article makes reference to a point that I have belabored of late,

Students — especially students of color — have been telling the community that they’re feeling less safe. But their voices have been effectively silenced by social justice activists and self-interested education bureaucrats who show no signs of reconsidering their policy position in light of mounting evidence of harm.

Gotta fix this.

POLL RESULTS

I received some good responses to last week’s poll questions. Let’s review.

The first question was in reference to the announcement of the upcoming State of Schools speech. As the State of the Union and the State of the State speeches, I thought the State of Schools speech should warrant a rebuttal. I asked you, who should give that rebuttal.

The top two answers were unsurprising, board member Amy Frogge and investigative reporter Phil Williams, two people at the forefront of pushing MNPS to pick up their game. Close behind them was “any teacher”. All would be great. Here are the write-ins, I do think Sherrie Martin would be highly effective,

Samuel L. Jackson 1
Sherrie Martin, her speech at the board was worth a slow, yet long applause. 1
Kids who have spent countless extra hours waiting for a bus driver bc of Joseph

The second question was frankly for my own amusement. I love books. I love reading books. I love talking about books. I love knowing what books others are reading. And since we are a district with a literacy initiative … there should be a lot of people reading books, right?

I must say that I was very excited to see the number of people reading Where the Crawdads Sing and On the Come Up. Here are the write-ins,

A stupid IFL unit for an observation I have right after break. ???? 1
The News: The Tennessean, The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc 1
The Right to a Liveable Wage 1
Before We Were Yours 1
Dad Gone Wild 1
Unselfie: Why empathetic kids succeed in our all-about-me world 1
Journey Back to Now by former MNPS student Robert Sherrill 1
The 57 Bus 1
principal memo-why staff should not talk together 1
The Principal’s Survival Guide 1
Martin Chuzzlewit – Charles Dickens 1
The Resilient Teacher. By Allen N Mendler 1
Americanah | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 1
Developing Number Sense: Grades 3-6 1
6 ways to survive a toxic boss- psychology today 1
Make Your Bed 1
Hope Heals 1
New York – Edward Rutherford 1
No Ordinary Time

The last question asked for your response to the proposed MNPS 2019/2020 budget. Let’s just say Y’all ain’t happy either and leave it at that. Here are the write-ins.

hey are doing the best with what they have 1
FINALLY Maritza’s fluff position is CUT!!! 1
Joseph is gone. What’s next? 1
When are we going to care about funding public ed? 1
How are teachers supposed to advance without EARNED Steps? Freezing Steps is the 1
It stinks! 1
will it pass? 1
Shell game as per usual 1
Director pay is increasing $10k. Unbelievable.

That’s a wrap. 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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.