THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY

“I might have made a tactical error not going to a physician for 20 years. It was one of those phobias that didn’t pay off.”
Warren Zevon

“I think there’s a great beauty to having problems. That’s one of the ways we learn”
Herbie Hancock

Can one of you run by Dr. Joseph’s house this weekend and tell him he might as well go ahead and come to work on Monday? The way I see it is if we are just going to keep on doing the same as we were doing under him, why make a change at the director position? It doesn’t make sense to pay two people to lead the district does it? Since we are following his blueprint, hell, he might as well oversee it.

It was my impression that 6 weeks ago the Metro Public Nashville School’s board made a change in leadership because of the belief that we were headed in the wrong direction. According to a Vanderbilt poll, Dr. Joseph’s popularity was just south of Donald Trumps. Teachers were leaving at an alarming rate. The discipline policy was not working and was not only destroying morale but also putting more kids at risk for exposure to trauma. Joseph’s license was most likely to be revoked for a year due to a failure to follow state policy. MAP scores were showing to be basically flat despite Dr. Changus’s best song and dance routine.

Quick side note on Changus, my favorite moment in his presentation of MAP scores to the board a couple weeks ago was when he admitted that results showed that when EL students and students with disabilities received their required accommodations they did better, substantially better. Who knew huh? Sure glad we have those MAP results to confirm that.

The bottom line is that despite the revisionist history that op-ed writers, and self-motivated school board members, are trying to sell, things with MNPS had gotten way off track. To the point that there was a real concern from some board members that Metro Council would not dedicate any increase in funds to MNPS without a change in leadership. Out of politeness and professional consideration, Joseph was allowed to resign with a fairly large payoff and the added intent of everybody moving on.

The role of the interim director was offered to a well respected long term Nashville educator, Dr. Adrienne Battle. The thinking being, nobody knows Nashville problems like a Nashville native. It was an added benefit that the most qualified candidate for the job was a black woman. On paper, there was a lot to get excited about. Battle has been successful at every level during her tenure at MNPS, no reason to believe she wouldn’t be successful at this level as well. A new day was dawning for Nashville schools.

Here we sit, nearly 6 weeks later, and nothing has changed. Worse yet, there is no indication that anything is going to change. Despite an HR report that was commissioned at a cost of 100K by the district that concluded that Director Sharon Pertiller be released or at the very least retrained she still remains not only employed but apparently deeply entrenched. She was the face of this years Teacher of the Year awards.

I understand that there are legal protocols that need to be followed, but why is she not on administrative leave? Why have those roadblocks not been addressed? Why is her visibility not diminished? The one question I get asked more than any other is why is Pertiller still employed.

She may be entitled to the same rights and procedures as any other MNPS employee, but you can’t ignore that her actions and the way she conducted business under Joseph have led to her being viewed as a symbol of the malaise that has infected MNPS over the last 3 years. To ignore that symbolism is not dissimilar to Joseph and supporters failure to acknowledge that his use of a driver was more about what it represented than it’s actuality. Failure to acknowledge that reality is not a viable strategy for success.

In reality, nothing has changed around the Central Office. Despite cleaning out her office, Dr. Felder is still actively involved in guiding instructional practice. Dr. Narcisse, between job interviews, is still marginally executing the responsibilities of his position. Just this week he got around to giving final approval on individual school budgets, something that as it impacts the hiring of teachers, should have been done last month. Barbara Lashley is still mangling literacy instruction. Dennis Queen is still walking around the central office with nothing in his hands. HR still hasn’t improved the hiring process. The discipline policy, has admittedly had some minor tweaks, but who would know? Because that hasn’t been fully, or even partially communicated.

In essence, nothing has changed. It’s business as usual except that we have a more palpable person in charge who actually seems to care about the people she is leading. But again, despite the allegations of the Joseph supporters, it was never about him. It was about failing policies that were detrimental to kids. It was about having the wrong people in leadership positions. Seeing as Battle has had a ringside seat as a community superintendent for the last 2 years, nobody should know that better than her. And if she didn’t, why take the job? Why not rally the troops behind Joseph and convince people what a great job he’s doing?

Right now some of you are probably saying, “Whoa TC, it’s only been 5 weeks. It takes a minute.”

I fully acknowledge that what I’m asking is far from easy. You can’t really understand the job until you are in the job. But surely, in her role as community superintendent Battle over the last year has recognized that what we were doing wasn’t working, and started to formulate plans. Surely she had thought about who would be on her team and what their role would be. I guarantee you that every one of the half dozen viable local candidates eyeing her job has a team partially assembled and a thumbnail sketch of what the first 100 days would look like. That’s bare minimum if you want to hold on to a position of this magnitude.

Pay even a tiny bit of attention to MNPS and you will quickly realize we don’t have enough teachers. There are way too many students being taught via computer platforms or managed by long term subs. Between the ineptitude of HR and Dr. Joseph’s policies, MNPS has seen even more teacher positions go unfilled. Teachers spend April and part of May deciding where they will practice their craft next year. With Dr. Battle’s appointment, there was optimism that change was coming. That optimism is fast evaporating and as a result, those charter schools and surrounding districts are again beginning to look attractive.

The same holds true for parents. The population numbers fro MNPS have been steadily dropping over the last three years. A change in leadership and policies presented an opportunity to perhaps change that trend. But here we are 9 days before the end of school and…nothing…has…changed.

The one knock on Battle before she was appointed director was that she wouldn’t have the stones to make the changes necessary to move the district forward. Many pointed to a friendship with Narcisse as an indication of how things would go. Unfortunately, in the early going, she’s bearing these fears out.

I hear rumblings that Battle intends to wait until June or July to start implementing changes; that’s too late. At that point, people will have made up their mind and formed their perceptions. In order to make meaningful change Battle and her team, whomever they are will have to overcome those perceptions in order to make a change. What she’s doing right now is selling people bricks to build a wall that she will have to tear down in the future. That’s not a winning strategy.

In my eyes what’s happening now is akin to visiting the doctor, who tells me that my blood pressure is high, I’m overweight, and my cholesterol is also high, all putting me at risk for a terminal heart attack. There are clear action steps I need to take – eat better, exercise, meditate. Would my response to the doctor be, “Hey, I’m going to do all that but I’m going to wait till July to do it because to do so now would be a disruption in my family’s life. Till then I’m just going to trust that things won’t get worse or I won’t have a heart attack. Cool?” Or, would I just go home, have an honest conversation with my family and start making changes immediately?

I really, really, want Dr. Battle to succeed as director of schools. It’s my deep held belief that her success will be extremely beneficial for Nashville and if she falls short, the job will get even more difficult. If she needed me to, and asked, I’d wash her car weekly in an effort to increase her odds for success, that’s how strong I believe in her.  But right now we don’t have Dr. Adrienne Battle as MNPS’s Director of Schools, what we have is Dr. Joseph sans the narcissism. That is not a recipe for success for anyone.

OP-ED BLUES

Over the last month, Nashville’s citizens have been subject to an endless barrage of op-ed pieces extolling the virtues of Dr. Joseph in an effort to paint his departure in a positive light. At first glance, it would appear as if these are organic in nature sprung from deep love of the work Dr. Joseph was engaging in. But then there is that 33% approval rating and closer inspection reveals a common theme and writing style. One that is indicative of one voice being behind a PR campaign to rehab Dr. Joseph’s image. That voice undeniably belongs to semi-retired board member Will Pinkston.

From his initial campaign through the first 4 years of his term and his subsequent re-election campaign, I worked very closely with Mr. Pinkston and as such bore witness to his tactics and strategies. It should be noted that Pinkston didn’t win re-election by standing on policy and accomplishments, but rather by painting his opponent as being unappealing. Now he’s applying those strategies in an effort to benefit one man, instead of what he was elected to do, serve the teachers and families of MNPS.

One thing that none of these farmed out op-ed pieces do is acknowledge that MNPS has a new director of schools who happens to be a black woman. Instead, they continually try to paint Nashville as a racially backward city. They make accusations that pin Dr. Joseph’s failure to racial undermining while never acknowledging that 3 out 5 Chiefs are black. That 3 out of 4 community superintendents are black. A third of the school board is black. The majority of these individuals rose to prominence before Dr. Joseph’s arrival and continue to thrive despite his failure to do so.

The latest op-ed piece by a collection of Vanderbilt professors is the most offensive of the lot. They know better, yet, for whatever reason, they allowed themselves to be manipulated into putting their names on a document that paints a false narrative. Not once do they mention the new director of schools, despite that in their role as academics the focus should always be on the work and never on an individual. Do they not believe that Dr. Battle, Dr, Majors, Dr. Meriwether, Dr. Cathey, Dr. Springer, Dr. Turner, or any other of MNPS’s prominent black educators are capable of leading a conversation on equity sans Dr. Joseph?

In their piece, the Vanderbilt professors made the following accusation,

We’ve observed a crisis created by board members resistant to the limits of their own role and self-appointed community watchdogs blind to the history and context of public education in this city and fed by a minority of local media who have made their own importance the message.

I hope they recognize that without such individuals, kids in MNPS – particularly those in high needs schools – would still be exposed to elevated levels of lead in drinking water. Misconduct, as it related to sexual harassment, would have been swept under the rug. The practice of subverting the procurement process would have continued. Do they propose that the pending year-long suspension by the state of Dr. Joseph’s teaching license due to a failure to follow state law be ignored? These are not, mere “splinter’s in the eye” as the Vanderbilt professors attempt to portray. They represent serious shortfalls that directly impact student outcomes.

If these professors held such strong views, why was this op-ed not presented in the months leading up to Dr. Joseph’s dismissal? One has to wonder how this letter reflects the unprecedented access given by  Dr. Joseph to educational researchers to MNPS schools. Dr. Joseph’s wife worked at Vanderbilt, how much of this letter is rooted in her relationship with colleagues? In an effort to add credibility to their views, the professors all listed their credentials behind their names. I think it would have given more credibility if they would have listed the schools their children attend behind their names or the schools they regularly worked in.

As part of his pr campaign, last week Pinkston seemingly endorsed the removal of three of his fellow board members. This is almost comical because every instance of dysfunction with this board can be traced directly back to Pinkston. It was he who often instructed MNPS employees on how to do their job, if they didn’t perform it correctly, he either threatened termination or badgered then director Jesse Register to have them removed. It was he who both on social media and via the news media led a campaign to not only remove Jesse Register from his position of leadership but to also publically embarrass him in the process. It was he who manipulated the selection process that led to Dr. Joseph being selected as MNPS’s Director of Schools.

This latest PR campaign is just one more attempt by Pinkston to impose his will over a democratic institution. Now the word on the street is that he has implied that if certain board members fail to adhere to his dictates, he will disseminate supposed quotes that paint said board member as being racially insensitive. Pinkston has repeatedly shown that he puts his personal agenda above the needs of students, yet he is consistently embraced by the Tennessean as a voice of reason. At some point, we have to stop enabling him and start holding him as accountable as we hold teachers and students. Every day that he is allowed to practice his gremlin-like behavior unchecked, MNPS suffers.

QUICK LOOK AT TWITTER

I feel like a brief explanation of Twitter is required here. The beauty of Twitter is that it grants unfettered access to people whose access was previously denied. If you have a message you want to deliver Twitter gives you a virtually unlimited audience. If you start blocking people who disagree with you, you limit that audience. Keep blocking people and eventually, you get to a point where you are screaming at the same 6 people with a megaphone.

It’s the same tactic employed by evangelists in the past. They thought that by denying access to a contrary opinion, they could prevent people from “sinning”. Doesn’t work that way. You deny me information, I just go elsewhere and get it.

The most valuable policy papers are those that are peer reviewed. Twitter allows for immediate peer review. If your assumptions can’t withstand scrutiny, Twitter will quickly expose their fallacies. Unless you’ve so limited input, that you are now living in a silo. But some people like living in those silos, it keeps them from doing a real self-evaluation.

QUICK HITS

Meant to show this off earlier in the week, but it is impressive anytime you look at it. Hat’s off to the Zoo School, Croft Middle School. You’ve obviously been busy this year.

Things did not go well in Federal Court this week for MNPS. A federal judge, in a scathing report, ruled that there was sufficient evidence to allow the lawsuit involving 4 MNPS students to proceed. One piece of the lawsuit involving Hunter’s Lane was dismissed.

As if Glen Casada doesn’t already have enough problems, the FBI is now in town investigating the shenanigans of the voucher vote. They reportedly are looking to ensure that no inappropriate promises were made in order to secure votes. This should prove interesting.

There is a subversive part of me that hopes Dr. Narcisse gets the superintendent job in Rochester. It seems that it’s a move that would be the proverbial jump from the frying pan into the fire. This week The Democrat and Chronical wrote an editorial calling on New York’s Governor to rein in the school board. A recent school district budget meeting erupted in an unseemly verbal brawl between a school board member and a candidate for the office. There have also been talks about changing the governance model for schools. It all sounds so appealing.

Looks like Maplewood HS will have a new principal next year. Dr. Keely Jones-Mason has been informed that she won’t be retained for next year. At this time I don’t know any of the circumstances or reasoning involved with the decision. I do know that Dr. Jones-Mason has repeatedly asked for and not received additional support from the central office. Last year she was a finalist for the Oliver Middle School job. I’m hoping there is a coaching plan in place so MNPS doesn’t lose the potential of Dr. Jones-Mason.

Over at the TNEd Report, Andy Spears closes out the week with an excellent piece on Teacher Appreciation that concludes with the following,

Today, teachers across our state are showing up, teaching kids, and NOT doing cocaine or soliciting sex. They’re not asking for a reward, they’re just doing what’s right. It’s time our lawmakers looked to our teachers for leadership.

Amen Andy, amen.

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.

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8 thoughts

  1. There is another theory I think you’ve failed to consider, which is that Dr. Battle doesn’t want the top job here for the long term. Maybe she’d prefer a year without controversy so she can move on from here herself.

    1. Perhaps but she’s picked a difficult path in which to pursue that. Furthermore, maintaining policies virtually assures another year of controversy

      1. It TAKES six wks to go round to all your depts and see who/what resources you have/don’t have and figure out what you need to do! Take a deep breath and see what the worker bees say after she’s been around for a while longer. Trying to read the tea leaves from here/now is just going to get you worked up.

  2. I am going to agree that at this point this reminds me of the Impeach Trump crowd, an impossibility given the composition of the Senate. I would no more come into the gig with an axe regardless and that all of the Joseph folks need an opportunity to show a willingness to learn or take the exit door with dignity. Why not allow people to find work and give them a nice passive aggressive recommendation letter on the way out. That seems to be the “Nashville Way”

    The next thing is to look at the schools and their current leadership. This is critical as we know schools are ground up and building that base is the foundation to this house. If there is anything I know about the system it is an entrenched institution and that culture, that mindset is near to next to impossible to change. So change what you can and build the schools. Getting quality leadership in these buildings determine the overall success and in turn listen to those people who are in the trenches day to day to determine budget, needs etc.

    In reality your problems are in those buildings. This includes things like building upkeep and maintenance such as water, vermin (you have schools that have cockroaches and are overall filthy and run down so why do magnet schools get better buildings? Do they get better food too). Now let’s talk about food and nutrition with schools having supposedly areas for planting why are they not using this to teach these skills and in turn use the food/herbs they grow into the meals. There is a magnet for you. Seriously there were several stories this year about the slop and filth being served kids.. no one cared about that. I saw this week how varying schools honored Teachers and in turn graduating Seniors.. let’s just say there is some lack of equity there as well.

    There are so many problems that this woman is not going to come in with her dragons and slay the enemy. If you watch GOT you saw how well that worked out.. and who left that Starbucks cup there.. off with their head! Oh the mad Queen is a story repeated in history and well the first woman, the first black woman needs not to live up to any stereotypes. I would be cautious, I would be listening and I would give everyone the dignity they need to pack their kit and move on in the same way I would hope they would to me if/when that time comes.

    As for the Pinkston nut he is nuts. Yet he is re-elected and at this rate it appears the seat filler will be despite the 78% dis-satisfaction rate the constituents have over the state of it.. and that too seems to be the “Nashville Way”. Truly change comes when you want change and are willing to do the heavy lifting. If Dr. Battle chooses to not in the next say 6 months by cleaning some of the real house problems then the answer is clear she is much like many of the Trump appointees, “acting” and they have no vesting should it come back to bite them in the ass. A still tongue is a wise head and sometimes do nothing is doing something as then it is about you and you are ultimately the one you need to worry about. But in reality start vetting candidates to run against this idiot and dismiss him and give him no further attention he is not worth the energy.

    Next up the reality that most of the violence in this community is from MNPS students. There is a real problem with guns being brought to schools, kids stealing cars and in turn guns. I know of at least 5 kids that have been killed here in the three years I have lived here. Never had I ever…. Then we have 5 kids up for a murder and a Teacher acknowledged that was one of hers on the Town Hall. At one point where is the attention there. The Cops out of Johnson and Bass then not. But on a daily basis how many times are Police there regardless and why? And that again goes back to the issues of school security as another shooting and another. So here you have schools the size of mini malls, filled with thousands of kids, substitute teachers with no keys or training, they have no way of communicating with us unless by school phone and they won’t even allow us PC access or email access.. funny how subs are told they can’t have a sign on and the Teachers take their laptops or lock them up why? Are they are worried that we will what do search for porn? And the joke is we do and if you are on a long term gig they “give” it to you. Thanks won’t be doing that. I have no idea why anyone would and those that do I think hmmm is this a person I want teaching anyone? Seriously I have never seen anything like. this critical workforce being treated with such disregard.

    And lastly the sexual issues. We have four lawsuits going forward and in turn there were over 1000 sexual allegations made – that we KNOW of. I met a girl who was raped at a “magnet” filed a complaint and was sent back into the lions den. She is seriously traumatized and has had no help and is now trying to move out of the area as she is afraid. Been there done that and it doesn’t work. Well I came here and this was a bad decision and in turn I too am leaving. I don’t feel safe here in the least and I feel less safe in the schools. I was asked by a kid why I was so angry. I was not angry I was done and I did not care and I was upset only that is how I feel walking into a building where I cannot connect, teach, engage with young minds so I shut down. Angry no, sad yes. But I can’t tell a child that here so I said, “Not from here this is my personality I am not fake like you Southerners.”

    So that is what the Battle is and has before her. I don’t blame her for not walking in full tilt it would accomplish nothing and only make this worse. As for Vanderbilt well late into the game on that but then again I agree with the CEO of Waste Management, the surrounding colleges and universities lack. That just happens to be the most expensive and I am not impressed. Writing a big check doesn’t mean your smarter but the one getting it means they are. Lesson that needs to be learned here clearly.

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