IT IS NOT LIKE YOU WEREN’T WARNED

“Birds scream at the top of their lungs in horrified hellish rage every morning at daybreak to warn us all of the truth, but sadly we don’t speak bird.”
Kurt Cobain

“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”
Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

 

This week is going to live in infamy for its impact on education policy both in the state of Tennessee and in the city of Nashville. For better or worse, depends upon your perspective. But after this week, things will never be the same. Hyperbolic? Let’s review.

STATE MALAISE

This just completed session of the Tennessee House of Representatives has been one of the most vindictive and mean-spirited sessions in my recent memory. Newly elected House Speaker Glen Casada sent an early message that any free thinking by Republicans would not be tolerated. Failure to toe the line would have very negative consequences, better to help carry water and reap the benefits. As a result, the Republicans were more lockstep than ever before.

If his personal bullying wasn’t bad enough, the legislation he pushed was even worse. A bill was passed threatening voter registration groups with criminal prosecution if they didn’t properly submit voter registrations forms. As was a voucher bill that only targeted two districts, both heavily populated by African-Americans, and has an expected cost of $165 million. Both bills should turn out to be a big windfall for attorneys, as people are already lining up to file suit.

So much has been written about the negative aspects of vouchers that I don’t feel a need to recap here. Make no mistake, they will have a negative financial impact on the two districts that need the funding the most. The job of educators in both Memphis and Nashville just got made a lot tougher by people busy protecting their own self-interests. Even pro-choice advocates like Vesia Hawkins could read the handwriting on the wall.

But as someone who supports a good ESA plan, what Tennessee’s legislators have produced is inherently bad.

I’ll never understand how an elected official can argue the value of a piece of legislation while actively working to ensure that their constituents are exempt from it. All that is left now is to see if the legislation stands up to the legal challenges pending.

News Channel Five’s Investigative reporter Phil Williams was kind enough to leave Casada a little end of session parting gift. His investigation revealed questions about whether or not Casada and his campaign manager, Cade Cothren, altered documents in an effort to frame a black activist arrested earlier in session for throwing a cup in an elevator Casada was riding in. Furthermore, Williams shared text messages from Casada’s campaign manager in which Cothren expressed a repulsive take on the intelligence of black people. I wish I could say this report shocked me, but alas, it’s about what I expect from Casada. He really needs to go, but I’m not sure the voters of Williamson County agree.

CITY MALAISE

On Tuesday, Mayor Briley conducted Nashville’s annual state of the city presentation. Calling this presentation one focused on accomplishments and not promises, he bragged on the fiscal health of the city and its unprecedented growth. He made sure critics knew that the city was going to keep on growing.

In his speech, Briley continually referenced equity. To the point that he began to sound like the white guy who continually wants to tell you about his one black friend. I teach my kids that equity is a term like honesty, I can identify it without you pointing it out to me. There is no need for you to wear a sandwich board telling me how honest, or equitable you are. Just conduct yourself in such a manner and I’ll figure it out.

Once Briley got into the numbers for next year’s budget, it became crystal clear where his priorities lay. With nary an acknowledgment of recently increased teacher activism, he informed teachers that this year budget included a 3% raise and he felt that should be significant. He did indicate an interest in formulating a long-term strategic plan around teacher compensation that would play out over the next several years. The problem with that plan is that banks prefer cash over a strategic plan, so paying the mortgage with a strategic plan doesn’t work out so well.

Not to continually beat her up, but part of the issue lies firmly at the feet of board vice-chair Christiane Buggs who failed to adequately articulate during budget hearings why a larger raise was essential. When the mayor asked her why 10%, she responded, “Because that’s what they asked for.”

The truth of the matter is that the cost of living in Nashville has dramatically increased while teacher pay has not kept pace. Teachers can not afford to live where they teach. If you add up the amount of the raises, including step increases, that they should have gotten over the last 15 years it adds up to 18%. In that light, 10% is a reasonable request.

The single most important thing that Nashville can do to impact student outcomes is to put a teacher in front of a student. Currently, that is not happening for all of our students. Too many are sitting in front of virtual instructors or being taught by substitute teachers. Without a substantial increase in pay, followed by an improvement in culture, next year will only be worse.

Briley repeatedly praised new interim director Dr. Adrienne Battle, saying he hoped she found a way to stay around for a while and called on everyone in the city to support her. His words are saying one thing while his actions were undercutting her and setting her up for failure. MNPS cannot succeed without being adequately staffed, which can’t be done without more funding. Sitting on the cusp here is the future of MNPS.

If Battle fails, there becomes a need to conduct another director search. Something Nashville can ill afford to undertake. There is so much residual acrimony left over from the Joseph regime that such a search would rip the city apart. One only needs to look at cities like Denver, Indianapolis, or Los Angeles and their recent searches, to see the potential land mines. It would be awful to have to go down that road when a qualified local candidate is available and we failed to support her.

Mayor Briley if you want to help MNPS, forget the silly MOU and fund our schools. A successful superintendent will do more to quiet the waters and shift the focus more than any mayoral oversight.

In all fairness to the Mayor, the school board didn’t do him any favors. The ask for the 10% raise should have been a stake driven in the ground back in October with a fully formed narrative shaped into an easily repeated elevator speech by November. At this juncture, there should be no need for the mayor, or council to ask, “Why 10%?” Why wasn’t this done?

Resigning/not-resigning board member Will Pinkston recently did an exiting/not-exiting podcast with Benjamin Eagles. In it, they discuss the budget (begins around the 12-minute mark). Listen to that discussion and it will become clear that the 3% pay raise had been discussed behind closed doors between Pinkston and the mayor well advance of the announced budget. Pinkston accuses teachers of seeking instant gratification which is akin to accusing REO Speedwagon of being an overnight success upon the release of Hi-Infidelity.

Pinkston also frames the ask in a disingenuous manner. Saying that people were asking for 10% on top of the 3% COLA raise, which is not what the board and teachers were asking for. Perhaps if he’d attended the work session in which the request was created he’d be aware of that. But hey, he was only the chair of the budget committee at that time.

Sounding like a spokesman for the mayor’s office, Pinkston makes an argument that it is irresponsible to present a budget based on “sand” and that it is much better to work within the restraints provided by the metro government. Which makes no sense to me. It’s like me saying I’ll wash your car for $20 but I’ll do it without soap because to use soap would mean it’d cost $25. But let’s talk about how we can get to future car washes where I will use soap. What?!?

The district needs what it needs. If it can be demonstrated that it is not a superfluous request it should be considered. Pinkston is the one who crafted the ridiculous mission statement of “fastest improving school district in America” and now he’s proposing it be changed to “Creating a billion dollar system on 900 million dollars”. You get what you pay for.

The strategy employed by Briley and Pinkston play to their base paternalistic instincts. They believe in a form of government were elected officials know so much more about what the peasants need than the peasants. we are supposed to take what they give and like it. Thank you, sir may I have another!

Unfortunately for them, as a recent Vanderbilt poll shows, more and more peasants aren’t liking their share of the pie. Which is why today there are over 1000 teachers absent. As MNEA president-elect Amanda Kail so eloquently states,

“Neither Red4Ed nor MNEA organized the sickout, but I’m not at all surprised that it’s happening. Teachers are beyond fed up. We’ve worn red for a year, packed out board rooms, written letters, emailed, met with elected officials, and led protests in front of nearly 50 schools. And yet it still feels like metro government is ignoring us. If there is not a plan to systematically increase funding to schools by increasing revenue, I would not be surprised if the sickouts grow and continue.

And Mayor Briley’s response to today’s action? Still, tone-deaf after all these years,

A spokesman for Briley said Friday that Briley understands the teachers’ concerns about raises and he ought to reassure them that he will find ways to continue increasing pay “through a multi-year approach.”

So how about my proposal for Briley and Pinkston, they agree to work two jobs until the “multi-year approach” is completed. During that time they also agree to drive an old car, not enjoy any of the increased social offerings of Nashville, curtail their kids after school activities and live with roommates. Sound good, right?

It’s also worth noting that Pinkston has been on the school board for 7 years. Since he recognizes that those pay inequities grew over several years, what has prevented him from helping to create a multiple year plan, multiple years ago? It may be time to dust off that resignation letter again.

Plenty of the comments over at the News 5 site slam teachers for today’s action. Fine, as Bobby Brown would say, that’s your prerogative. But keep in mind, it’s also teacher’s prerogative to walk away from the profession. That is what we are seeing play out today.

Teachers daily put the needs of kids over their own needs. It’s a calling as much as a profession. Striking in Tennessee is also illegal for teachers. So there is a realization that by taking part in organized labor activity, they are risking their licenses. What today should be viewed as is a last-ditch effort for them to remain in the classroom.

Much has been written about Nashville’s status as an “IT” city. We need to retain and attract the best teachers if we hope to hold that status. If they continue to leave at the rate they are leaving, Nashville will be the worse for it.

I hope that you will reach out to the Mayor’s office and your council members and let them know how important you consider this. I know I will be.

QUICK HITS

Lost in all the negative news was some promising news. Dr. Battle was able to sit down with Phil Williams and have a very amicable on-camera conversation. Per Battle,

“I get Nashville because I’ve had lots of experiences here and, of course, I’m a product or success of MNPS. So I get the inner workings of that, the desires of our employees to always do what’s in the best interests of our students and our community at large.”

I hope so. That aforementioned Vanderbilt poll showed Dr. Joseph with an approval rating of 33%. If I were Battle, I would cut that poll out and pin it to the cork board as a reminder that if nothing changes, she’ll be at 34% next year. We can tiptoe around Dr. Joseph’s feelings all we like, but the proof is in the pudding and at the end of the day, it was about policies and not personalities. The policies were not popular and if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Positive reviews emanated from this years Teacher of The Year banquet(TOY 5.1.19). Battle’s attendance was much appreciated as was her willingness to hand out certificates. Board members Amy Frogge, Fran Bush, Jill Speering, and Dr. Sharon Gentry were in attendance. Gentry delivered an apology from the stage for a very difficult year that left many puzzled and I wish I could have sat at the table assigned Frogge. She was seated with Dr.Narcisse and his wife, Dr. Felder, Dr. Gentry, and Sharon Pertiller. Ah…the conversations we could have had.

Several people remarked to me about seeing Dr. Battle walk out to her car, get in, and drive herself home. In a town full of songwriters, never underestimate the power of symbolism.

Speaking of Narcisse and Felder, there has been a lot of talk of late around their future.As best I can tell, great care is being taken to resolve their situation in a manner that is fair and transparent.  I pulled their contracts and I think it’s important to note this clause in their contract.

If the Director chooses to terminate this contract without cause, he shall give Dr. Narcisse at least forty-five (45) days notice. If he chooses to non-renew the contract, he shall give Dr. Narcisse at least thirty (30) days notice prior to the end of the contract period. In the event that the Director’s contract is terminated for any reason, this Employment Contract shall terminate at the same time.

Hmmm…does that mean both are now working without contracts? Considering Dr. Battle doesn’t have a contract as of yet either, someone might want to move on this.

Whenever Assistant Superintendent of Maury County School’s Dr. Ron Woodard talks, I listen. The man is a wealth of information and knowledge, Most of which I attribute to him sharing a home with Dr. Cicely Woodard. He’s got a new blog post out, The Confidence to Improve: Why Teacher Efficacy Matters, and I strongly recommend you read it.

I want to give a big thank you to AZ Kelley ES for inviting me and my son over to view the STEM clubs rocket launch. It was cool.

Rumor of the week is that board member Will Pinkston and Dr. Joseph are working on a partnership to supply equity consultation services to area non-profits. You can’t make this stuff up.

It was announced yesterday that Dr. Michelle Springer will be the interim community superintendent of the SE quad. Unannounced, but heavily rumored, is that Craig Hammond will take over the SW quad. Both have deep ties to MNPS and their rich institutional knowledge should be beneficial to the district.

Dr. Adrienne Battle, interim director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, wants to hear from you. She’s scheduled some “listening sessions” on the following dates.

  • Thursday, May 9: Maplewood High School

  • Monday, May 13: Virtual School at the Cohn Building

  • Thursday, May 30: Southeast Community Center, Large Clubroom 2

The staff meetings will be from 5-6:15 p.m. and the community meetings will be 6:30-7:45 p.m. Please join us and share your concerns, your suggestions and your ideas!

If you can’t make it in May, please know more Listen In sessions will be planned in the coming months.

While I’m not opposed to more listening, I would like to see more acting on what’s been heard. People have been actively talking for 3 years with no implications. I’m not sure what new things Dr. Battle expects to hear but if you can make it…do so.

For those interested in keeping up with the news about the grassroots protest in MNPS follow @sickteachers on Twitter.

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 weekend and we’ll see you Monday.

May 6th kicks off Teacher Appreciation week. In anticipation and as a salute to all those who participated in today’s sickouts, I give you Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. Poll questions are below the video.

 


 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts

  1. “The single most important thing that Nashville can do to impact student outcomes is to put a teacher in front of a student. ”

    ^^^^ YES, YES, and YES.

    This was loudly echoed in the analysis of the cross-town K-3 literacy initiative, where it was shown that kids who are chronically absent are _far_ more likely to be below grade level.

    https://www.mnps.org/blog/2017/10/4/mayor-city-leaders-announce-nashville-literacy-collaborative

    Another obvious corollary is that as we increase class sizes, teacher impact must be attenuated…

    The current direction of our Legislature and Mayor Briley, dramatic tax cuts and voucher $$ diversions – all on the backs of our teachers – cannot be right for the education of our kids.

  2. 3% raise meanwhile, my rent is going up 3.5%. Sounds about right. If this continues, I’ll need to either find a different career or a different city.

  3. Done the Bard but the current state of affairs is more Game of Thrones. So we have currently Dani, the Mother of Dragons, who had the greatest warriors the Dothraki at her disposal and they were thrown to the dead like fresh meat. The Queen of the North is in a crypt with the dead coming through the walls and the warriors and knights fighting for survival in a battle that seems endlessly dark. This is the state of the schools, with the King still alive only less Elvis but no less Bloated still trying to rule with his squad and has hooked up with Cerseai the Queen of Mean and no less insane as her own family now fights against her. And yet through this the children were the ones to the rescue and they fought the biggest warriors without fear as children do. Funny how that works out. And a Child shall lead us. How Biblical here in the buckle of the belt. Hmm that George Martin should come here and write a story a two.

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