“I’ve never had a humble opinion. If you’ve got an opinion, why be humble about it?”
“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
My father was a career military man. He wasn’t an officer, but rather what is called a non-commissioned officer(NCO), a grunt. He used to always tell me that when you got up in the ranks of colonel and general, it was almost all based on politics and less on soldiering.
Recently a teacher chastised me a bit by arguing that the tone Dr. Battle was setting felt less political than previous administrations. In their estimation, after all, look where the political maneuvering had gotten MNPS. Maybe it was time for fewer politics and a renewed focus on policy.
I weigh these two seemingly disparate thoughts this morning and then reflect on the words of Thomas Mann, the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate who said: “everything is politics”. Which on the surface may appear to be a given, but is often forgotten,
I agree with Mann and I think that the defining factor is that there are those who practice politics well, and those that practice politics…not so well. In my eyes, the trick is to recognize the necessity of politics in order to give wings to ideas and policies. Once you reach the upper echelons of leadership it’s never enough to just focus on ideas or “the work”, without weighing the politics. Failure to understand and grasp the politics will crush the implementation of ideas, no matter how strong those ideas may be.
But enough early morning ruminations, let’s get to the meat of the matter.
SEA OF RED
Yesterday was something special. A little over 1000 of MNPS teachers staged a sickout. Instead of showing up to their schools that day, they took the schools to the city. Teachers gathered at Cumberland Park to march across the bridge to city hall to educate Nashvillians on the inadequate funding of Nashville Schools. They then proceed to pack the chamber while district leaders presented the MNPS budget proposed by the metro council.
The budget presented is not the budget the mayor wanted, but rather the one our schools need. School Board Budget Chair Anna Shepherd called it a “cruel paradox” that while Nashville’s economy is soaring, MNPS employees can’t afford to live in the city. The school board’s budget request, she said, is not enough to fully fund the district but enough to provide “modest modifications” and sustain current efforts while showing “measured respect” for teachers and staff.
“We would not be so bold to bring that before you,” Shepherd said, “The city is not ready for that.”
She’s right, The majority of the focus around the budget has been on an increase in teacher pay, but the problems with Mayor Briley’s proposed $28 million dollar increase run much deeper. A 3% raise will cost around $12 million dollars, with the remaining $16 million being eaten up by rising fixed costs that the district has little control over. Things like Inflationary increases and other required expenditures like retirement and insurance, the Metro Government Oracle R12 Conversion which is necessary to improve HR services, continuing to funding pre-k programming due to the expiring of a grant, and yes…an additional 9 million to charter schools due to increased charter school enrollment.
That translates to the district not only not being able to offer a needed raise for staff, but also negates many of the critical efforts towards discipline and SEL. In order for MNPS to have a real fighting chance at success, the district needs what they are requesting. The process of creating the budget may admittedly appear tumultuous and messy, but the request is not frivolous. Despite the questions raised by council members.
Many of said Council Members raised questions around how well MNPS manages its current resources. Some of those questions drew upon incorrect information for support. MNPS does need to fully vet their current expenditures, and they also need to do a better job communicating how they utilize those funds. The lack of transparency has crippled MNPS’s very legitimate request for increased resources to fund critical supports.
Without the resources to put these supports in place, our schools will continue to struggle. At the last board meeting, several parents of students, and students themselves spoke upon how they have been failed by a virtual learning platform called Edgenuity. Edgenuity is a platform the district utilizes to cover up for a lack of qualified teachers. MNPS over-relies on this platform in spite of red flags raised two years ago. Also worth noting is that Edgenuity was one of the contracts that News 5 raised questions about. The result is that now there are students who may not graduate because of the platforms inadequacies.
Some would try to lay this failure at the feet of local school administrators. That would be disingenuous. Through a combination of inadequate funding and a failure to properly implement policy, we have left it up to principals, and teachers, to continually MacGyver schools in order to obtain a modicum of success. Think about the untenable position we are placing educators in when we have the highest expectations while delivering minimal funding. It doesn’t take long to figure out it’s a rigged game. We have to stop setting up teachers for failure because doing so ultimately sets students up for failure.
This forced MacGyvering translates into educators spending as much time looking for additional funds as they do on educating kids. It means tapping into parents, local businesses, DonorsChoose, and yes, going into their own pockets. Pockets that often require two jobs in order to have anything in them to survive, let alone give. Are we really shocked that people are leaving the profession, not just to be wealthy, but in order to just have some kind of financial stability?
Departing teacher David Oldham states it quite succinctly in a recent Tennessean Op-Ed piece,
I believe wholeheartedly that I was made to teach, but I can no longer hope to do so and raise a family here. I’ve seen, firsthand, our veteran educators driving cars that won’t last the school year, holding on to the hope that their own children will get enough scholarship money to afford college — and they’re the lucky ones because they bought houses back when homes were affordable.
Yet for someone just beginning to teach, it no longer makes fiscal sense to remain in the profession if you want to live in Nashville — not unless you marry rich. Not when it takes teachers nearly three decades to hit a $76,000 ceiling. No matter how idealistically you begin, you can’t work two or three jobs your whole life and retain your sanity.
I equate Mayor Briley’s position on allocating funds to MNPS as being similar to me taking my car to the garage for servicing and when the mechanic tells me it’s going to cost a grand to fix, I tell them that I only have $250. My expectation is that they’ll make the car serviceable for the $250.
First, they would rightfully treat me as if I was nuts. Secondly, if they somehow managed to comply with my request, odds are it wouldn’t be long before you saw me standing on the side of the road with a broke down car. But we aren’t talking about cars, we are talking about students lives. Don’t we owe them at least a fighting chance?
When we choose to fund a soccer stadium over a school-based trauma center we are negatively impacting a child’s life. When we choose to give a tax break to Amazon over adequately funding pre-k, we are negatively impacting a child’s life. When we pursue the NFL draft or the hosting of a Super Bowl with more rigor than we pursue funding for adequate salaries for teachers, we are showing our priorities and negatively impacting a child’s life.
I found yesterdays march absolutely beautiful and inspiring. However, if anybody thinks that those teachers preferred to be out marching as opposed to being in the classroom with students, you are fooling yourselves. As beautiful as yesterday was, I hope to never see it again. Because if I do…it means that are continuing to fail our teachers and ultimately our students.
One of the proudest political moments of my life was when Bob Freeman won his seat in the Tennessee House. Not only is Bob a dear friend, but I consider him a man of great integrity. Not just the kind of politician we need more of, but the kind of person we need more of. This week he addresses Speaker of the House Glen Casada “locker room talk” defense in an Op-Ed for the Tennessean,
Locker rooms are places where values and lessons should be instilled, not cesspools for the perpetuation of misogyny, sexism and the objectification of women. The idea that it is acceptable to speak and act this way should be challenged at every occurrence, from middle school locker rooms to boardrooms to the halls of state government. Turning a blind eye to this type of “talk” only perpetuates a rape culture and sexual violence toward women.
His thoughts echo my own and further reinforce my belief that it is time for the current Speaker to leave his office. The citizens of Nashville
Dr. Kim Fowler at Hickman and Dr. Darwin Mason of Cole ES will be retiring as principals at the end of this year. Both are longtime MNPs educators who have had an immeasurable positive influence on students over the years. Major props to both of them.
Director of Schools Adrienne Battle continues to work without a contract. At the last school board Director’s evaluation committee meeting, some possible ideas were tossed out, but no action taken. In fact, board members were instructed to read three templates and bring back their ideas of what to include in the contract in 2 weeks.
This is inexcusable. She’s been on the job for 6 weeks and is still paid her community superintendent salary. Sure, she can be compensated retroactively for the difference once the contract is signed, but still, this is an imposition. How does anyone expect her to act with any urgency if the board can’t even get her a contract drawn in a timely manner? This needs to be rectified immediately and a public apology given to Dr. Battle.
TMZ moment…could be true…could be complete fabrication…you decide. Last month Mayor Briley raised the specter of a Memo of Understanding(MOU) with MNPS over the budget. Since that time, he’s been a little cagey about what that looks like and it’s mid-May with no specifics presented.
Down in Chattanooga, they had some schools that were chronic under-performers. A partnership was struck between the TNDOE and Hamilton County to create a “partner zone”. The partnership was created through an MOU between the two entities.
The MOU includes the formation of a 7-person advisory council, a state-funded partnership liaison to traverse the relationship and strategic funding. Is something like this on Mayor Briley’s mind? I’ve heard rumblings that he’s been chatting with the state, and the White’s Creek or Maplewood Cluster would make ideal candidates for such a concept. Maybe the MOU would just be local, giving the same powers to the mayor’s office that the state has in Chattanooga. The mayor could pack the advisory committee with his cronies, maybe even make semi-retired Will Pinkston chair. Like I said, fodder for thought.
Speaking of everybody’s favorite gremlin, it seems he is up to his regular tricks. In an article printed in the Nashville Voice, Pinkston once again uses a surrogate to attack both Mary Holden’s husband Dave, and myself. When it comes to Dave, he fails to mention that Dave’s work had a significant impact on Tusculum ES, Whitsett ES, and Inglewood ES’s improved student outcomes. Sometimes the work is your best counter-argument.
As for myself, Pinkston once again tries to draw attention to my gloriously misspent youth. Is there anyone out there not familiar with my life’s stumbles? I would offer this advice, people in glass houses probably shouldn’t be throwing stones. Pinkston continually puts personalities before policies, I hope he knows there is a place that will help him come to grips with that tendency. If the only tool you have is a hammer, that’s the only tool you’ll use, even if its use continually proves futile.
Thank you to the Tusculum ES and Granberry ES Encore program for including me in their field trip to the Memphis Zoo this week. It reminded me that these are two schools where equity and excellence live side by side, despite what some at the central office might think. I had a fantastic time and loved meeting my children’s friends. I even managed to learn a few things.
For those interested in keeping up with the news about the grassroots protest by MNPS teachers follow @sickteachers on Twitter.
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