GAME OF THRONES PLAYS OUT LOCALLY

 

“The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends,” Ser Jorah told her. “It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.” He gave a shrug. “They never are.”

“While you’re saving your face, you’re losing your ass.”
Lyndon B. Johnson

This week was one filled with contradictions. I found myself constantly flipping between unguarded optimism and deepening frustration.

In her new role as MNPS Director of Schools, Dr. Adrienne Battle provides a much-needed breath of fresh air. It was quite the kick-off week for her, not only did she have to assume the reins of MNPS, but she also found herself in face to face meetings with both the Governor of Tennessee and the Mayor of Nashville. In both cases, she came off as poised, knowledgeable and gracious. She showed both a willingness to defer to others and the ability to acknowledge shortcomings, two qualities sorely missed during the last few years.

In my eyes, Battle gives much cause for optimism as she assumes the mantle of leadership. I thought it particularly poignant when she pointed out to Mayor Briley, during the budget presentation, that they both shared the dubious honor of assuming leadership duties amidst an ongoing budget process. A move that couldn’t help but provide a sense connection between herself and the mayor.

During her address to the mayor, she also proved herself capable of, and willing, to be a staunch defender of teachers,

“I believe the mayor has a commitment to support us in our ask and doing what’s best of our teachers,” Battle said after the meeting. “He communicated his priority around support our Metro public schools. Given that commitment, I believe he will put his best effort forward.”

Unfortunately, MNPS School Board Vice-Chair Christiane Buggs did not prove as capable. Towards the end of the budget presentation, Mayor Briley raised the question of why a 10% raise for teachers was included in the proposed budget. Buggs jumped to answer the question and responded by saying,

“That’s easy,” she said. “They asked for it.”

And with that answer, a collective groan went out. Here are the rules of softball, when the mayor serves you one up, you are supposed to hit it out of the park. In light of all the conversation as of late about teacher compensation and the citywide Red4Ed efforts that have taken place across the city over the last month, that ball should still be sailing. What the mayor needed was a tug-at-heartstrings-but-intellectually-grounded reason to include the 10% and what he got instead was a…huh?

Some have defended Buggs by offering up that she was unaware until that morning that she would be presenting to the Mayor. That does give her some latitude, but at this point, everybody needs to have their elevator speech down pat. If you meet a council member coming out of the shower you should still be able to give them 60 seconds of why the 10% is not an extravagance, but essential.

It is not a hard speech to give. MNPS is hemorrhaging teachers and the single most important thing we can do is get qualified teachers in front of students, something we are not doing adequately at the current time. Teachers have sacrificed annually for years and are now at a point where they are facing the dilemma of not being able to live in the city where they teach. At the same time, we are facing increased pressure from outside counties.

Much has been made of the fact that the teacher shortage is a national problem. That is true, but that makes what happens locally even more critical. Faced with a scarcity of teachers, you have to make sure that you are doing everything you can to hold on to the ones you have and to be as attractive as possible for those looking. The 10% raise is a small but essential step in that initiative and for a sitting board member to not be able to compellingly speak on it at the drop of a hat should be unacceptable.

It is a proposal that Mayor Briley seems open to considering, though he is still kicking around his inane memorandum of understanding(MOU) idea. During his address, Briley attempted to offer clarification of previous remarks by saying that he wasn’t looking to “usurp anyone’s power”, only to minutes later reference some high-level understandings between him and Dr. Battle. Not quite sure what he meant by that, but making agreements with the board’s one employee sans the board…probably counts as usurping power.

I can’t reiterate enough how much the signing of this MOU cannot transpire. If signed, it sets precedent for future mayoral involvement in school governance. It may be fairly innocuous this time out of the box, but in the hands of future mayors, it could be extremely constraining. What if a future mayor wrote an MOU that he would fund the budget an extra 10 million as long as it went to Charter Schools? Or an extra 15 million if it was utilized for a Teach For America Contract? Or he would increase the budget by 10% as long as the board approved 5 additional charter schools over a 2 year period? These and more, are possibilities if precedent is set.

I can hear the poobahs coming from the mayor’s office right now, but keep in mind he’s being advised by a man who never saw the potential problems that would arise from the Race To The Top legislation he helped craft. The MOU strategy smacks of board member Will Pinkston’s worst instincts, an attempt at short-term control with little consideration for long-term implications.

There have been those that have long-held the belief that Pinkston is a type of Manchurian candidate in regard to charter schools. I personally believe that his hidden agenda all along has been to bring the school district more under the supervision of the mayor’s office. Remember it was he who pushed for more involvement my Mayor Barry in the last director search, he also is responsible for MNPS having two metro financial auditors overseeing finances, and now he’s driving the mayor to get deeper involved in school board issues. It all smacks of an agenda, one that is not good for schools.

Hopefully, the mayor will soon begin to ignore his advice and instead opt to follow the longtime tradition of private conversations with board members to communicate mayoral desires. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there is no evidence that the current mayor, or any of his advisors, have a deeper understanding of educational issues than that of the school board. His “education kitchen cabinet” is heavily populated with representatives from private schools, charter schools, and the business community, and underrepresented by public school representatives. 

Worth noting, in his response to the answer to his question over why a 10% raise for teachers, Briley raised the specter of “merit pay”. Especially in regard to priority schools. Merit pay is another part of the reformer lexicon that has proven ineffective and needs to be guarded against. Based on the makeup of his aforementioned cabinet, I can’t say I’m surprised that this would be a consideration for Briley.

All in all, I thought the budget presentation was a solid start to Dr. Battle’s tenure. A meeting later in the day on final negotiations on the dissolution of Dr. Joseph’s contract was a step in the wrong direction. Too much attention was paid to how a minority of people might perceive his dismissal, while the potential perception of the majority – including students – was ignored.

In my opinion, we’ve made a critical mistake in offering a substantial amount of money to Dr. Joseph in order to terminate his employment. Notice I did not say, “buy out his contract.” What was “negotiated”, and I use that term loosely, was a separate financial agreement. His current contract had no provision that enabled a buyout if the board chose to terminate his employment without cause. This new financial agreement, like his initial contract, is heavily weighted in favor of Dr. Joseph.

In education circles, there are endless conversations around the need for high expectations for teachers and students, as well as the importance of honest feedback. However, all that talk goes out the window when it comes to administrators and politicians. We allow them to create their own narratives and spin circumstances in ways to benefit their careers at the expense of children and teachers.

By paying Dr. Joseph we have allowed him to spin the narrative that he’s leaving with a modicum of success, run out by racial injustice.  That is just not an accurate picture. If he was being run out purely on racial grounds, wouldn’t he have a moral obligation to fight his removal tooth and nail? Instead, he shrugs, throws out passive-aggressive insinuations, takes his check, and moves on as @unchainedJoseph.

The truth is, he’s leaving MNPS understaffed, potentially under-budgeted, with rising discipline problems and flat academic gains. No matter how much certain members of the school board and community leaders try to play word games, the district is in worse shape today than it was three years ago and if Dr. Joseph were allowed to execute the last year of his contract things would have only worsened.

We keep hearing stories about academic gains, yet MAP scores from February never entered the conversation over the last month. A letter dated March 13th from Paul Changus to Shawn Joseph sheds some illumination on why that is, (NWEA Results Memo 3-13-2019)

Overall Findings

Some of the key findings from the February 2019 MAP data are as follows

  • MNPS students scored below the national average for Reading and Mathematics at each grade level. The highest achievement scores occurred in Reading for grades 3 and 8, with our typical (median) student in these grades scoring at the 46 th national percentile.
  • MNPS students have consistently performed better in Reading than in Math relative to students nationally, with a consistent gap of 7-8 points for the median national percentile.
  • Longitudinal data continue to show that district MAP scores in both subjects tend to decline between February and August of the same calendar year, decline again slightly in November, and then improve by February of the next calendar year. The November decline is likely due to MNPS students having less instructional time before the winter test window than students nationally.
  • Longitudinal achievement over the past two years was slightly higher in both Reading and Math for students who remained in the district and attempted all six MAP test administrations during that time.
  • Recent February overall achievement, as measured by the median national percentile across grade levels, was slightly below to that of February 2018. Scores were one point lower in Reading and two points lower in Math than this time last year.
  • While Reading achievement is down one-point in terms of median national percentile when compared to last year, the percent of students reaching the top two quintiles (Q4 and Q5) is identical and growth measures are up slightly.
  • MAP growth scores from August to February were significantly above the national average for both Reading and Math.
  • As was the case in November, academic growth since August was up in Reading and down in Math compared to the same time last school year. Reading growth scores were almost identical to February 2018 growth when students who received text-to-speech and human reader test accommodations were excluded from the results.
  • There continue to be tremendous differences between student subgroups in terms of Reading and Math achievement, but relatively small differences with respect to academic growth. Thus the achievement gaps remain persistent.

While there are some bright spots, the reality is, we are just not making the progress we need. Which is why a superintendent under-fire never introduced this data into the conversation. Yet, we are going to pay Dr. Joseph approximately 28.5K to advise Dr. Battle until July and we are paying him bi-weekly a total of $85,499 until July to close out this year.

I’ve consistently argued that modeling is the strongest form of instruction, what is the lesson we are modeling to students here? That if you prove incapable of performing your tasks you can make excuses and seek a buy out that provides coverage for your inadequacies? Cry racism and people will always be willing to pay you?

Dr. Joseph has consistently played the victim card and never owned his role in his troubles. Ironically, Pinkston in private has often attributed Dr. Joseph’s problems to Dr. Joseph, while publicly singing a different more self serving tune.

I understand the need to offer some sort of severance package. Things don’t work out and people fail for various reasons, there is no reason for failure to be punitive. Simultaneously there shouldn’t be a reward for failure either. A one-time financial package and then done should have been sufficient. Instead, we are still involved with Dr. Joseph until July. That’s not a beneficial situation for anyone. It also doesn’t put Dr. Battle in the best position to succeed.

If you’ve been watching Game of Thrones, you are familiar with the political machinations that come with leadership. Dr. Battle has entered her own version of Game of Thrones that is every bit as cutthroat as that on display weekly on HBO. Her success at MNPS will hinge on her ability to navigate those waters. Navigation that will require her to make bold moves and some very difficult decisions, some which will involve former associates and perhaps friends. Maintaining the same trajectory will only lead to the same results.

There is no shortage of candidates with connections to MNPS that would love to take her crown. Some of whom are already speaking openly on being approached about the interim job and saying they declined due to an interest in the permanent job. Nothing is harder than assuming a leadership role over former peers. Everybody is happy for you until they realize that you are now their boss. Publicly they will offer support – privately they will undercut you.

There are those that are already trying to use Dr. Battle’s husband’s problems in Williamson County as a vehicle to discredit her. There is rampant speculation about the future role of Dr. Joseph’s chiefs sowing doubts. Several edicts have gone out in the last week that serve to increase the problems with the recently enacted change in discipline policy, a policy that is causing more problems than it is solving. The communications department continues to do Dr. Battle a disservice by repeatedly failing to adequately sell her story. I would argue that they further did her a disservice by allowing her first public communication to closely mirror Dr. Joseph’s template. I had to look close to make sure the picture had changed.

Across the country, 75% of all superintendents are male and 90% are white. MNPS has a woman of color leading us. That might be a little cause for celebration, not to mention that she’s a product of MNPS as well. Yet the local rag continues to be dismissive and instead focus on writing articles about whether or not Dr. Joseph is interested in other vacancies in Tennessee.

If Dr. Battle is to succeed it is going to make bold and decisive moves. The longer the status of Sharon Pertiller, Dr. Felder, and Dr. Narcisse goes unaddressed the more challenging her job will get. The same holds true in regard to the discipline policy and who will be on her leadership team. I’ve always maintained that if you don’t provide a narrative to people they will create their own and rarely will it be flattering to you or your agenda. A week has gone by and nothing has been clarified about future direction, that’s not a path to success.

Dr. Joseph made a practice of sending out a weekly memo to board members and elected officials, over the last month he ceased that practice. Battle needs to get that practice restarted immediately. It’s a simple directive to a staff member, as Joseph didn’t write past communications, just approved them. Telling your story is vital and transparency is essential. In that light, I’d even consider going as far as opening the weekly newsletter communication subscription to staff. After all, what can you tell a politician that you can’t tell a teacher?

I can’t say it enough, I really want Dr. Battle to succeed and I believe she has an opportunity to do great things. But if she continues the same failed policies that led to Dr. Joseph’s premature departure, she won’t do either. Much like Daenerys Targaryen, if she is going to survive her own Game of Thrones she has to be bold and decisive and maybe procure a few dragons of her own. To once again quote Game of Thrones,

“I swear to you, sitting on a throne is a thousand times harder than winning one.”

QUICK HITS

On Monday, join teachers and supporters of public education across the state to tell Governor Lee and our State Legislature to bury school voucher/ESA legislation! We will gather at the TEA building starting at 4pm. TEA is providing food and free parking on site.

4:00-4:30: March begins
4:45-5:00: Flood the halls of the state legislature
5:30: Rally outside the capital
6:30 Candlelight vigil and march back to TEA

Please bring signs opposing Vouchers/ESA’s. TEA is doing a mock New Orleans-style funeral led by a jazz band asking the legislature to “bury vouchers” so that will be one theme of the event. They are also asking people to wear black.

This week the MNPS Sports Hall of Fame Induction Committee honored eight men and women who have achieved athletic success while at Metro Schools. Congratulations to this inspiring group of individuals!

Congratulations to MLK Magnet School principal, Dr. Angela McShepard-Ray, on receiving the School Administrator of the Year Award at the Tennessee Music Education Association conference! The award is based on outstanding work in supporting music programs!

Little of the conversation around Governor Lee’s proposed education policies take children with disabilities into consideration. In a Tennessean Op-ed piece, Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director and co-founder of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools raises some very salient points.

MNPS Principal Mike Steele has written a book about school safety titled No Excuses: Train Survivors – Lead Warriors. It’s a worthy read and certainly worth your consideration.

Condolences go out to the family and friends – including the Freemans who qualify as both – of James A Webb who passed away yesterday. He was one half of the real estate partnership of Freeman-Webb and in the words of partner and civic leader Bill Freeman,

“He’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever known,  just a wonderful man,” Freeman said Thursday night. “He was a very shrewd and good manager and business partner. Everybody respected what he said. His word was his bond.”

That is a wrap. Thank you for your support. 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 to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Thanks for your support if you feel so inclined, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Thanks to this week’s newest donors. Make sure you answer the poll questions, have a great Easter holiday and we’ll see you Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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13 thoughts

  1. SJ knee he wasn’t going to look good based on state data and tried to pin his success to MAP because he’d seen it used successfully in DE/MD. That was YEARS ago though. I do appreciate that SJ had his rhetorical focus on the achievement gap. I just don’t think he was able to do much for it. And several big initiatives failed to help like the $$$ pumped into STEAM and MAP.

    Now is when it is hard to know if we should be optimistic or not, as you point out. History says maybe not. I’d love Battle to build on district successes and start slowly building some things up. Looking beyond just the first year, that will be impossible without fixing the HR office.

  2. While everyone applauds that we have a woman interim please notice she hasn’t made any decisions, by design. She’s a placeholder. The boards plan is to slow walk the search until after Pinkston is gone and Frogge and speering answer Buggs seats are up so they can replace those 4 with pro charger people, Pupo walker will become chair because she thinks it will fast track her to mayor and the next superintendent will make MNPS a charter district like New Orleans. Discipline will continue to deteriorate, by design. Teachers will continue to leave, by design and achievement will be low, by design. The only people to blame are those who watched and allowed it.

    1. I can’t say this is likely in totality. But we should all expect the amount of external money in the speeeing and frogge races to be massive. Be ready for a fight.

  3. Free advice for Dr. Battle
    Entry #1

    Please dear Lord not another year of writing a useless strategic plan. You’ve got enough institutional knowledge to be more strategic by picking 2-3 areas for solid upgrades. And then actually do the work.

  4. Free advice for Dr. Battle
    Entry #2

    Aspirational, transformational, and motivational are all just words that rhyme with sensational. If you show results then no one is going to doubt you.

  5. Free advice for Dr. Battle
    Entry #3

    Teachers want support, not one more thing to try or to do that might or might not matter. If you are rolling something out, you’d best be darn certain it’s taking more off teachers’ plates than it’s putting on.

  6. Free advice for Dr. Battle
    Entry #4

    Put some serious muscle into retention and recruitment because if you say those words you had better mean them. We’ve heard them before but we’ve just been served up about a decade of bull on that front.

  7. Free advice for Dr. Battle
    Entry #5

    You know how people always say stuff like we should go study what’s working in some schools and figure out how to use it elsewhere? Maybe we can try actually doing that. It might be cheaper and better than trying to dictate curriculum changes for the sixth time in five years.

  8. Free advice for Dr. Battle
    Entry #6

    We aren’t going to get anywhere if discipline isn’t locked down.

  9. Free advice for Dr. Battle
    Entry #7

    Do yourself a big favor and don’t hire a driver or give your lieutenants a vehicle. That alone will put you ahead of the pack.

  10. Jumping on bandwagon:
    Free advice for Dr Battle. Go back to one director over each tier and repurpose EDSSis. Dictating what schools should do with their money and resources isn’t support, it’s micromanaging.

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