“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
This week Tennessean’s received a lesson in why elections matter, and why the means in which you pursue something matters as much as obtaining the object of your pursuit. If nothing else, this legislative session has shown that Tennessee has elected one of the most ruthless and ideological driven bodies that have ever governed the state. Governor Lee ran for office as a businessman with a moderates temperance. If you still believe that, I’d like to talk to you about a bridge I have for sale in Arizona.
The first shot was fired when the house passed a bill that, quite simply, is a voter suppression bill. Last year the Equity Alliance conducted a voter registration campaign that resulted in a large number of previously disenfranchised voters being able to exercise their right to vote. Many of these voters were Black, Hispanic, or impoverished.
The new legislation was supposedly a response to an increased number of incorrectly completed voter registration forms. Something no one has complained about in the past. If you have a large number of first-time applicants doesn’t it go to assume that there will be a larger number of incorrectly completed applications? So if democracy was truly your goal, wouldn’t increasing instruction on the filling of forms and a simplification of the registration process be the proper response, versus a punitive action?
Instead, this legislative body proposed that voter registration groups be susceptible to fines and penalties over incomplete or incorrect applications. This will certainly impact the number of first-time voters or make it more difficult to bring back to the rolls those who have fallen off. It’s a move completely at odds with the intentions of the US Constitution carried out by those that worship at the altar of the Constitution.
Now let’s talk about the voucher bill that was passed this week. Virtually nobody but private entities were asking the state for a voucher plan. Did the governor listen to the voters? No, he listened to his advisers that are influenced by the money from private organizations. Governor Lee pursued this legislation despite the objections of school superintendents, school boards, teachers, ministers, civil rights groups and parents.
Better yet, under the guise of caring about kids and wanting to give families more choice, in order to pass this voucher legislation they narrowed its scope to only two districts. Here’s our friend irony again, the two districts, MNPS, and Shelby County are the ones that already offer the most parental choice.
In MNPS, a parent can choose to send their child to a zoned school, an out of zone school, a magnet, a charter, a private school, or even home school. What are the choices in Grundy County? What are the choices in Claiborne County? What about Hardeman County?
I’m not picking on those counties but if we are not going to let zip code determine educational outcomes, why should city kids have more options than country kids? Frankly, I’d be pissed if I was a constituent of a representative who was singing the praises of vouchers yet not making them available to my kids. If vouchers and parent choice are so valuable, why are they not being brought to those that need them the most?
In the interest of fairness, I will add this caveat. While MNPS does have lots of options for students overall if you live in South Nashville, not so much. South Nashville schools are already overpopulated so they are not open to the choice process. Therefore if you can’t get into a magnet school and can’t afford private school you are kind of stuck. If a smaller private school offers a discount and a family could utilize part of a voucher for transportation cost, that would be a benefit to for that family. It’s not justification for the current legislation, but worth considering.
Prior to the start of this year’s legislative session, the House Speaker must have scheduled repeated showings of Good Fellas, The Godfather, and the Sopranos so fellow legislators could bone up on strategy. In passing the ESA legislation, Casada would have made John Gotti proud as he alternately offered the carrot and the stick in order to get the bill passed. The highlight being, with a vote tied 49-49 Casada froze the vote and began summoning freshman representatives upstairs to talk to Tony…I mean Glen…on the balcony.
While on the balcony these young legislators were given the opportunity to fully consider their vote. When pesky reporters attempted to observe proceedings, Casada just lowered the blinds and had the Sgt of Arms chase them away. After 40 minutes he found his lackey – I mean associate – who hadn’t fully considered the ramifications of his vote. Having secured a promise that Knoxville would be exempt from the legislation, Rep Jason Zachary flipped his vote.
Apparently, this is how we do the people’s business these days. Governor Lee indicated he was fine with it, as he told reporters,
“It actually has been encouraging to me the way that the administration, the Senate, the House have worked together to move this process forward.”
Casada’s actions are not without precedent. In 2002, when he was Speaker of the House, Democrat Jimmy Naifeh kept the vote open for 2 hours while he unsuccessfully tried to pass an income tax bill. Like Ibsen used to say, “the sins of the father are visited on the children.” I’m sure in the not too distant future a Democrat will once again employ the same strategy while citing Casada as justification. Too often short-term wins obscure long-term costs.
Next week the House and the Senate will work on reconciling the two bills which have substantial differences. The process can still fall apart in reconciliation, so please don’t give up. Keep emailing, phoning, and texting representatives. This is a bill that is about private interests and not the interests of children. A description which with the substitution of citizens for children, could also apply to this group of legislators.
NEW BOSS SAME AS THE OLD BOSS?
It’s been two weeks now since Dr. Battle has taken over as Director of Schools for MNPS. Her ascension to the role brings a breath of fresh air and a sense of hope. Many teachers have told me how much they appreciated her email to the staff last week, but since then it’s been sent there has been silence. Questions have been left to linger. If allowed to continue, the air becomes stale and hope fades.
There has been no communications, or meetings with principals. There has been no communication on the modifications to a discipline plan that is chasing teachers out of the classroom. There has been no update on the status of Chiefs left over from the previous administration, and now that Dr. Narcisse has been named a finalist in the Rochester County Superintendent search, that gets a little more complicated.
There has been no communication on what curriculum next year will look like. Who’s on Dr. Battle’s leadership team? Hell, they didn’t even shut down the twitter account linking Dr. Joseph and @MNPSdirector until yesterday. Which is inexcusable by the MNPS communications department. A department that continues to fail to communicate a narrative around Dr. Battle that builds on the natural excitement surrounding her appointment. Again, inexcusable.
I was asked last week, why with only 22 days left in the classroom is it important for Dr. Battle to make any changes? As most of you know, school administration does not operate on a school calendar. Right now teachers are making decisions on next year. Based on the MNPS’s turnover rate, I’d surmise that most are looking for a sign that something is going to change. Currently, there are 568 certificated positions posted on the MNPS web site. Now I know that not all off those are actual open positions and some are due to budgets, but still, that’s a lot of teachers.
As a teacher, why would I bet, sans evidence, that anything is going to change when I can go to a surrounding county and I know things will be different? Quality teachers are not going to wait another month to see how it shakes out once Dr. Battle gets her legs under her to make a decision about next year. And without quality teachers in front of students, Dr. Battle’s success becomes infinitely more difficult. Not communicating intentions, plans, and such is going to hurt her odds for success.
June and May are the months when PD and planning for next school year take center stage. Whose responsible for that? Whose mapping it out? What will it look like? What’s the scope and sequence going to like? There is a lot of work done in May and June that directly affects how successful the pending school year will be, neglecting this time will hurt the odds for success.
But I’m not telling Dr. Battle anything she doesn’t know, so why the failure to act? Which further begs the question, is her ability to act being curtailed? It’s no secret that board chair Dr. Gentry was a defender of Dr. Joseph. It’s also no secret that when Chris Henson was interim director Dr. Gentry hampered his ability to act in a meaningful manner. If that is the case here than the people being hurt are the families, teachers, and students of Nashville. The board chair should not be exerting any undue influence. She has a role to play and part of that role is to let Dr. Battle play hers.
I say a silent prayer at least 5 times a day for Dr. Battle to succeed. In order for that to happen, she needs to fully embrace transparency and make bold decisive moves. Anything, or anybody, hampering that needs to be cleared out. I believe that Nashville is on the cusp of making a significant move forward, let’s not grab defeat from the jaws of victory.
Most of this post was written this afternoon. Since I first wrote it Dr. Battle has sent out an email with a letter that is reflective of everything I’ve been talking about. In it she comes across as genuine, caring, and sincere. This is exactly what she needs to do more of. Props for this communication piece.
There is a long-standing tradition among US presidents whereby the exiting president doesn’t comment on his successor and his policies for at least a year after leaving the office. Unfortunately, it appears that Dr. Joseph will not be extending the same courtesy to his successor.
He’s announced that on Sunday he’ll be appearing on the Ernie Allen Show with guests in a de facto town hall. Raise your hand if you think that his guests will level the shots at board members, therefore, allowing Joseph to maintain the disparaging remarks clause in his contract. There are also rumors swirling that he will be assuming an advisory role with Mayor Briley’s office. Which is not an advisable move, but what do know?
All of this is why the board should have hired an independent counsel to negotiate the dissolution of Dr. Joseph’s contract. In their over-exuberance to spare him any embarrassment, they’ve made his successor’s job even more difficult. Which ultimately does a disservice to the students, teachers, and families of Nashville.
How about that amazing Hillsboro Globe staff. If you aren’t reading the AP sanctioned Hillsboro High School student newspaper, what’s your excuse?
Tara Scarlett, of the Scarlett Foundation, has a new op-ed out today decrying MNPS’s shortcoming in making Nashville’s kids being career and college ready. Of course, the op-ed is devoid of notation of the amount of support the Scarlett Foundation provided Dr. Joseph over the last three years. Support of such a level that Joseph went as far as to publicly refer to Scarlett’s father as a mentor. There is our friend irony again.
In all fairness, Scarlett does offer solid action steps, though our interpretation of them is probably a little different than she intended,
- Share the data and the stories. Nashville needs more people to get involved in helping to turn around our schools. This is an undertaking that serves all of our kids – no matter where you live. Every single child in Nashville deserves access to a high-quality school.
- Raise your voice in front of your elected officials. Demand a triage plan to help students who are in school today. We are witnessing a public education system in crisis, beginning with early childhood education and continuing through to adulthood. Be vocal.
- Volunteer your time to address root issues. To be most successful in their academic futures, children need to be reading at grade level by third grade. Become a mentor to a high school student or read 20 minutes a day to a child who needs it.
- Support great principal and teacher talent development. Advocate for increased professional development and practice sharing in the teaching community.
We should get an inclination of what kind of funding MNPS will receive over the next couple of days. On Tuesday Mayor Briley will be delivering his state of the city speech and funding levels are expected to be revealed at that time. #FingersCrossed
Last Tuesday the MNPS School Board received a presentation from representatives of DonorsChoose. At this meeting, some board members voiced a need for DonorsChoose to follow the RFP process. This is in spite of DonorsChoose not being a vendor, but rather a 501C. Next week I’ll dig into the RFPs that have been completed by other 501C that work in the district. It should be noted that while MNPS dithers with the RFP process, the charter community keeps right on utilizing DonorsChoose.
Some of you may have seen the job posting for director of EL and took it to mean that Joseph supporter and current interim-director Joie Austria is on the way out, But not so fast, as an interim, she must apply and interview with other candidates and be selected as the best candidate in order to remain. So she could stay, or she could go.
Executive Officer for Diversity & Equity Maritza Gonzales informed her translators this week that she has accepted another position and she would no longer be meeting with them. What or where that position is, is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’s in Rochester.
Spend any time looking at education policy and you will hear the meme, “A child’s zip code shouldn’t determine the quality of their education. It’s a meme often pushed by proponents of parental choice. But is more parental choice really the answer? San Fransisco offers a cautionary tale, one where parental choice has led to more segregation without any real improvement in educational outcomes. As always it’s the unintended consequences that get you,
Stevon Cook, the board president, said one of the biggest problems with the lottery was “the implicit message that we send” to low-income parents: that schools in their own communities are “inadequate,” and that they should seek to escape them. “We should pour more into those schools to make them attractive,” he said.
Check out the Little Kids Rock Nashville JamFest this Saturday, April 27 at Glencliff High School. This event features student ensembles from 12 schools and is free and open to the public. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. One not to be missed!
Tusculum ES held a Glow Ball tonight that was a good time for all. It really is a special place. I could never adequately express my gratitude to the teachers and staff of this fine school. Y’all rock!
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