A NEW DAY DAWNING

“Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.”
Winston S. Churchill

“After all, mirrors are only as truthful as the eyes that are looking into them.”
Cherie Currie, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway

It’s a brand new day for Metro Nashville Public Schools. Today, sitting in the office of the director of schools is a new body. When MNPS employee’s show up to work today they have a new boss, hopefully setting a new course.

Dr. Adrienne Battle is now officially the MNPS Director of Schools.

Notice I said director, and not “interim”? That was intentional. Throughout her tenure, I plan to refer to Dr. Battle as such. It all harkens back to a conversation I had with my sister-in-law.

After marrying my wife, I would introduce my wife’s sister to people as my sister-in-law. Finally one day she looked at me and said, “Why do you do that?”

“What do you mean?” I responded.

“You introduce me with a qualifier. You are my brother. I don’t introduce your wife as my birth sister. She’s my sister. Why do you need an identifier when you introduce me?”

When you’ve got a point, you’ve got a point. I’ve since corrected myself and I now introduce her as my sister.

The same holds true for Dr. Battle. She is the Director of Schools for today and the foreseeable future. There is no reason to attach a qualifier to her title unless you have the intention – deliberate or subconscious – to diminish her standing. She’s the one in the seat and therefore she’s the one with the title.

I remember some other advice I received early in my management career. People are too focused on titles. Don’t get caught up in the title, get caught up in the work. If you have the title but not the respect and loyalty of those you are trying to lead, you won’t have the title for long. If you focus on doing the job and leading, the title will sort itself out.

That said, I don’t believe we should be looking at Dr. Battle as a savior. She’s not perfect. She doesn’t instill the warm and fuzzy’s. There have been times in the past when she might have acted in a manner that could be interpreted as being a little more rooted in…shall we say self-interest than preferred? She still shares a fair amount of the blame for allowing Antioch HS to denigrate like it did over Dr. Joseph’s first two years until a leadership change was finally made this past year. She is not universally beloved but she is universally respected, even by the enemies she’s made over the years.

Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” And I believe that, despite her imperfections, the arc of Battle’s career has given her a unique skill set that will allow her to successfully navigate the tumultuous waters of MNPS and lead us forth. Her unique set of circumstances that give her the ability through experience to view MNPS through the eyes of a student, teacher, principal, and district administrator, should allow her to make decisions with a deeper depth than someone just learning the roster.

Think about what her ascension to the director’s job says to students. Through MNPS you can receive an education that gives you the opportunity and sets you on the path to earning the qualifications to lead the district. That’s huge. Furthermore, there are a number of principals in the district that attended Overton High School with Dr. Battle. The High brothers, Drinkwine, McMahan, Hammond, even Pinkston are all names that belong to principals now leading the district where they attended. Pretty effing cool.

As she assumes her leadership role, many eyes will be on Dr. Battle. I’d advise her with the words that I used to advise my camp counselors at Camp Whippoorwill, “Never forget that your actions when you think nobody is looking are every bit as important as your actions when you think eyes are upon you.” Administrators always had two messages. One when they thought they were among friends, and one when they thought they were in public, A move that continually undercut their ability to lead.

Eyes will definitely be watching to see what happens with embattled HR director Sharon Pertiller. The recent HR audit called for her to be either dismissed or at the least re-trained. People are going to rightfully want to see swift action taken. The same holds true with people like Felder, Narcisse, Lashley, and Queen. I’d offer this word of caution, the means is every bit as important as the end.

One of the major criticisms with the previous administration was around different rules for different people, lack of transparency, and a failure to act in a strategic manner. Dr. Joseph let Fred Carr go before ever making sure that he had secured all the institutional knowledge that Carr held. It was the rash move of an inexperienced leader and one that hurt him going forth.

If indeed it is proven that Pertiller cannot be retrained and as a result need to be removed, it is important that set transparent process is adhered to in reaching the end result. People need to know that they will be treated in a fair, equal, and transparent manner. That needs to start from day one.

Education is supposed to be about learning. Learning. by its very nature, means mistakes and missteps. I’m hoping that Dr. Battle learned from Dr. Joseph how not to handle mistakes and missteps.

I preach regularly to my Little League baseball team that it’s not about playing error-free baseball, it’s about what you do after the error. When you fail to make a play, do you react by covering your position in a way that limits the advance of the runner? Do you tun and get set as the cut off man? Or do you stand and pout? Do you blame the other players on your team for the error?

I don’t think anybody is looking for error-free leadership from Dr. Battle. What we’ll be watching is what she does after an error is made. Does she own it or try to deflect blame. That is going to be the deciding factor in how long the duration of her tenure will run.

Hopefully, she will not be scared of mistakes and stake to a cautious approach to leadership in hopes of maintaining her leadership role through a lack of missteps, but rather she will be bold and take calculated risks, knowing that there will be things that go wrong but through self-evaluation, transparency, and teamwork they can be corrected. I would think, it would be better to lose the job over things done, rather than things not done.

In talking to people over the last week a common theme emerged from the last time the district employed an “interim” director. It’s a picture of a school board chair that asserted way more control than was appropriate, or even permissible, over daily operations. Seeing as we have the same school board chair now, as we did then, I would say there is a reason for concern. That can’t happen again.

Board policy outlines the duties of the director of schools. There is no description for an “interim” director so one should assume they are the same. As such, the current director should be given the degree of respect and latitude that was demanded be given the last director. That doesn’t mean that I’m calling for the board to return to a completely hands-off approach, but I do think that Battle has to be afforded the ability to function to the fullest extent of her capabilities if MNPS students are going to fully thrive.

Speaking of people interjecting themselves into a leadership role, Mayor Briley needs to abandon this ridiculous idea of tying MNPS funding to a Memorandum of Understanding between him and the school board. The precedent such an action would set could severely hamper the ability of future school boards to lead and is unnecessary. School board members are selected by constituents based on their vision of school-related issues, the Mayor is elected under a much wider scope. There is nothing to indicate that he and a majority of Nashville’s citizens share a like-minded view of how MNPS should function.

Does the board function in a perfect manner? No, but that’s a democracy. Imagine if the board was highly effective, the potentially wide swings in policy the system could be subject to would be devastating. The very dysfunction we criticize is what also serves to bring some stability to the system. That’s why Pinkston gets so frustrated, it is because he can’t force his will on the system and others actually get to express a counter view capable of blocking his plans. Pun intended.

One thing the Mayor could do, if he was actually looking to lead,  would be to look at the structure of the school board. Over the last two decades, Nashville has gone through a population explosion, yet the school system is still governed by 9 individuals representing the same 9 districts we’ve had for decades. Maybe it is time to look at that model and change it a bit.

Perhaps its time to split districts in half and have an 18 member school board. Maybe its time to add 4 at-large seats and expand the board to 13 members. I don’t know, but that conversation would be much more productive than a mayor trying to bend an elected board to his will.

I would also argue that the mayor trying to force his will on this elected body will actually result in deeper divisions within a board that needs time to heal. Dr. Joseph’s tenure, no matter where you stand on it, produced large rifts among board members. Rifts that are not going to instantly heal upon his departure. The mayor’s demand for an MOU is only going to serve to deepen those rifts and further fracture the board.

A fracturing that will come over an MOU that isn’t even enforceable, so in essence, it’s political grandstanding at the expense of the school system. We all like to self-righteously proclaim our allegiance to the kids, so let’s ask ourselves, is this a strategy rooted in what is in the best interests for children or is it rooted in an adult need to exert control over those we disagree with? If we are honest with ourselves, I think we know the answer.

We’ve spent way too much time focusing on adults and politicians. It time now to focus on kids and teachers. That is best done by supporting new leadership and trying to find a means to supply the school district with much-needed resources.  The proposed budget contains a 10% raise for teachers, a number that has been ridiculed by should be ex-board members, and questioned by others as to how much it supports kids.

It’s not a ridiculous number and is the singular most important thing we can currently do for kids. As of today, there are 436 certified positions open in MNPS. That’s not for next year, that’s current. What that translates to is kids being taught by substitute teachers and computer programs. Over a third of those positions are in our priority schools.

Yes, there are increased behavioral supports that need to be put in place, textbooks bought, and technology needs to meet, but none of those matter until we ensure that certified teachers are in front of all kids. A pay raise is not the final solution – there still needs to be a robust compensation package developed and workplace cultural improvements made – but a 10% raise sends a message that the district is serious about employing quality teachers. It’s a vital first step.

Over the last three years, teachers were continually told they were supported while leadership’s actions indicated otherwise. It is time to align words and deeds.

MNPS will present the proposed budget on Wednesday morning at 7:30 at City Hall. If you can make it, please wear red and come on down.

In sports, there is much talk around creating separation. When your opponent is right on top of you, you can’t effectively maneuver and thus you are continually in a defensive mode. By creating separation, you create room to maneuver and to potentially go on offense.

With the appointment of Dr. Adrienne Battle, MNPS has created some separation from the distractions of the last several years. Most of that time has been spent playing defense. We now have a brief window to operate in and change-up strategy, a chance to go on the offense. It would be a shame if we failed to take advantage of this opportunity. Creating separation only get harder as time progresses.

QUICK HITS

The lunacy that is the fight over the Governors plans to create education savings accounts continues this week unabated. The Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, which champions policies that address disparities in education, released a statement saying that Governor Lee’s plan to create education savings accounts would instead end up helping middle-class families. They went on to further add that the bill would also exclude and discriminate against some of the very students the governor is proposing to help.

I am glad to see them stepping up to the plate and joining the fight against a terrible policy. However,  the quote given in Chalkbeat by founding member Gini Pupo-Walker is a little…how should we put it…tepid,

“Taking a position against the governor’s signature bill was one of the most difficult decisions we’ve made as a coalition,” said Pupo-Walker. “But this was one where the litmus test was so clear for us on our values and priorities as a coalition and the communities we represent. We felt like if we didn’t take a position, people might think we’re OK with this or that we think it might be a good plan for the kids we focus on.”

Governor Lee proposed ESA bill is so bad that it deserves a much stronger rejection. It’s a bill that runs a risk of inviting litigation because of its exclusion of students based on their immigration status. It subjects students who take advantage of the ESA’s to less stringent testing protocols than other Tennessee students. And it threatens to deflate funding for already underfunded schools. There should be nothing difficult involved in opposing this bill if you are concerned with the welfare of Tennessee students and their families.

Though I guess I should be grateful for Walker’s statement because it’s certainly better than the one made by the Tennessee Charter School Center and the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also known as SCORE.

“The coalition has collaboratively elevated and improved education equity in Tennessee and, because that vital work needs to continue, we advised TEEC against taking a stand on this issue,” said SCORE spokeswoman Teresa Wasson.

And people wonder.

TNReady testing starts tomorrow and Tusculum ES 4th grader Avery Weber offers this insight,

“I don’t care that much. You just take the test, score what you score and roll on. Of course we are going to do our best. Why do adults think they have to tell us that. They’ll probably print it on the front of the test. Like if they didn’t tell us we wouldn’t.”

I might add she said all of this quite grumpily.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a look at the results from the weekend’s poll questions.

Question 1 asked if the district should continue with the quadrants led by community superintendents model of governance. Let’s just say most of you are not enamored with the quad model, out of 149 respondents 69 of you said you’d prefer fewer administrators and a return to the tiered model. The number 2 answer was “there has to be a better way” with 20 responses. 13 of you indicated that you though the quad model had been great. Here are the write-ins:

Want to hear pros and cons from current CS 1
Far too many admins., not enough faculty & staff!! 1
We need to return to the tier levels so we can focus on expertise 1
What do the teacher on the frontlines have to say? 1
Cut tbe fat!. Comm. Supt. salaries have skyrocketed. 115k to 155k. Wtf. 1
No no no… to many layers with no leadership or accountability 1
No! Too many admins between director and teachers. 1
Did that really exist? 1
I’d like books for my classroom. Not a man in a suit with an opinion

Question 2 asked what issue you thought Dr. Battle should address first. This question had 157 votes and teacher morale topped the list with 45 votes. The budget and discipline followed closely behind. Here are the write-in votes:

all of the above 1
Teacher morale and student discipline go hand-in-hand. 1
HR 1
Cleaning out the cronies and corruption 1
Your cancerous ass 1
God help her 1
Get teachers decent salaries. Make sure leaders are invested in MNPS kids. Not $ 1
Re-evaluate structure and function of positions paying 100K+ 1
Curriculum 1
Assemble strong support group and multitask like hell. 1
All of these 1
Get rid of Joseph’s cronies. 1
All of the above 1
Culture of retaliation has to change. 1
Firing Pertiller, Narcisse, and Felder 1
Fire everyone

The third question asked for your opinion on when the school board should start the next director search. It doesn’t seem as if you are in much of a hurry to start. Out of 145 responses, the number one answer, with 55 votes, was “after Pinkston is gone”. The number 2 answer with 32 was one year. 18 of you said immediately.

Personally, I think we need a period of grace. One where we take time to get the house back in order. Relationships need to be restored. We need to spend some time focusing on teachers and students. We’ll know when it’s time to start the next search.

Here are the write-in votes, as you can see Pinkston is still chiming in.

Let’s give Dr. Battle a chance first 1
I’m hoping their search is over, although must adhere to protocol.. 1
Hire from within. Battle is excellent. Keep her! 1
Give Dr. Battle a chance. Maybe she could become permanent director. 1
Depends… are they searching for the bright shiny toy or proven leadership? 1
No need to search. We have who we need now. 1
After Pinkston and Gentry are gone 1
Not until Dr. Battle resigns 1
No search needed! Go with Battle! 1
The board should develop guidelines for supervising a director before hiring 1
Once all this dust settles. 1
Battle deserves a shot. She’s incredible. 1
Not until they get their shit together and sGentry steps aside / no race cards 1
After you get a life 1
The search is over. Dr. Battle is the best choice.

That’s a wrap. Wednesday MNPS presents the proposed budget to the mayor, so stay tuned and 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.

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12 thoughts

  1. looks like UnchainedDjangoJoseph was answering poll questions with write-ins last week – 😀

    Pelliter can’t be retrained, what is wrong is her core personality. she needs to be shown the door.

  2. I am going to go outlier here and say now is the time to step back and allow and enable this woman to find her step and voice with those whom she chooses – note CHOOSES – to join her in which to right wrongs, stable the ship and basically just get through these next six weeks with testing, graduation and transitions. All of us need a big dose of STFU in which to enable her to do this. She has both history and experience in this dysfunctional system so let us all allow her to make some mistakes before the dog pile begins.

    Now would be a great time to start holding other feet to the fires – we have a Mayoral election coming up and there is another Candidate throwing up, whoops I mean a hat, in the ring of fire. A city with so much violence that rings it like the White Walkers do at Winterfell. They are largely children and they are clearly not getting that SEL that was the big push for a hot minute in the schools these last few years. A program seemed less on the long term and more on the short term to eliminate disproportionate push outs of faces of color. Well instead of that let’s look at the bigger picture as to why this is happening in this city of “it” with all this supposed money being invested here. Really? As clearly it is largely outside money and where does that go when the RTI happens? Outside.

    So how about pushing candidates to examine why we have a problem here that intersects with the issues of money and race? The school LeBron James formed in Akron has had amazing results (it is early days yet) but it is a PUBLIC school and the funding is the same per student. HOWEVER, the extra funding for therapy, for parental engagement and other needed services is funded by money via his foundation. For all the church going, proselytizing, and the push for vouchers, savings accounts, or whatever its called and the absurd charters, all of that money could be established as a foundation to fund schools of priority needs in the same fashion. They apply for needed grants and funds and in turn those are provided by the Government on a case by case basis. Then in turn all these supposed caring wealthy individuals vested in the community and schools actually help the schools and more importantly the community by having better relationships with those who are not as fortunate who reside within the very same community. Coat drives and seasonal fund raising is one thing but this is a 365 day year effort. The story about this school is here.. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/12/education/lebron-james-school-ohio.html?searchResultPosition=3

    Let us let Ms Battle (an appropriate name if ever was one) fight her own for a moment and let’s take the power to the people by making changes that would enable her to do her job to serve her and more importantly OUR schools

  3. interesting how the proposed budget talks about the ‘investment in R12’ like it is something they decided to do. it was forced on the district by General Gov. they didn’t get a choice.

    1. They did same last year with EL. Claimed they were investing an extra 2 million in EL when in reality it was just to get in compliance with new state teacher ratios

    2. Those extra intervention positions the state funded were a drop in the bucket.

      Hey Governor Lee, tell me again how all that extra money you are dumping on vouchers is going to get the state to 55% college completion? Or tell me how many interventionists it could have paid for?

  4. also, congrats to Sharon Gentry and the other board members who voted with her on giving Dr. Django a sack full of cash so he could split town before his TN license got pulled and he would no longer be eligible to be director (costing Nashville nothing then). Good work, SG!

      1. but who better to mentor Dr. B than someone who for all measurable intents and purposes completely failed as a director for the past few years? and also has failed to complete either of his superintendent contracts?

  5. I’m questioning if there really are 436 openings. My school has 6 posted jobs but we aren’t hiring anyone, people are just shifting grade levels. Ex: instead of 5 fourth grade teachers next year we need 4 but the extra teacher is moving to 3rd grade. But on applitrak we are listed as hiring for a 3rd grade teacher.

      1. Under Register there were a few years where I think there were signing bonuses and retention bonuses for HS math teachers to stay in Title schools. You might have needed to have a 3,4,5 growth score to get the retention money. I feel like with the budget ask right now this kind of thing ought to be possible.

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