THE SUN SETS ON ANOTHER SCHOOL YEAR

“My own heroes are the dreamers, those men, and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results… but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”
George R.R. Martin

“Has everyone gone mad?”

“Everyone was mad already, my lady,” Cadrach said with a strange, sorrowful smile. “It is merely that the times have brought it out in them.”
― Tad Williams, The Dragonbone Chair

 

Today starts the last week of school for MNPS students. Come Wednesday my daughter will wrap up 5 years at Tusculum ES. My son has one more year. These haven’t always been easy years, but they’ve been good years.

One thing these years have taught me is trust. We spend so much time talking about how parents always know best, but I’m here to testify, no we don’t. That doesn’t mean that I never thought I knew best, that I’ve done a lot. Starting with the teachers my children have been assigned to.

That very first year I was convinced minutes into the first day that my daughter’s teacher wasn’t warm and fuzzy enough to be her first teacher. My wife told me to shut up, and so I did. A decision I’ve never regretted, Her teacher may not have been warm and fuzzy enough for me, but there is nobody who loved my daughter and her friends more, save for the teachers she has had since.

I often reflect on what my children’s educational experiences would have looked like had I been able to impose my will more freely. I’m fairly certain things wouldn’t have turned out as well as they have. Or my children’s experiences as rich.

Early on, I looked at Alison McMahan, Tusculum’s principal, and said, “This is why it’s called Public School and not TC school.” And I put my trust in her and her staff and we formed a team. A trust that has come back to me tenfold.

Don’t think for a minute that it’s been all sunshine and roses. Together we’ve navigated some pretty horrific situations, at times from cross positions on what was the best strategy. The key word in that sentence though remains,  together. I made it a point to never see the teachers at Tusculum as anything other than teammates. In my eyes, they were never adversaries trying to deny my children their rightful education, but rather co-conspirators in the effort to open the world and help my children realize all that was possible through education.

Maybe that’s my privilege talking, but I never looked to prove that I knew my children better than their teachers. I viewed us all as holding a piece of a giant jigsaw puzzle, that when combined painted a more complete picture of my children as individuals. Some times when you perceive yourself in competition, or at odds with others, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m sure that’ll rub a few folks wrong, but I can only speak to my experiences and the inferences I draw from them.

Every morning I take my kids to school. Most days we park just off campus and walk to the door, where we stand together outside until the bell rings. 85% of this time has been taken up by the two of them squabbling. Their squabbling invariably leads to irritation for me and a silent prayer for it all to end. Now it is ending and I find it bittersweet and a little disappointing.

Next year Avery will be bound for Oliver. She’ll hop on the bus every morning and be transported to the world of middle school cares and fears. As a result, I’ll have a little less time with her each day.

Peter and I will still walk for one more year. But the dynamics and the conversations will change and then after a year, he’ll join her on the bus and much of his will depart as well.

Financially this has been a tough year, but I don’t know that if given the chance I would have exchanged the opportunity to hear their fights for financial stability. It seems crazy but the past year holds some of my most cherished memories. Now we are down to just two more days and ironically I find myself wishing the squabbling would not end.

Thank you, Dr. McMahan and all of the teachers at Tusculum ES for the love, joy, and discovery you’ve given to my daughter. I wish that I had to time to list the many ways y’ all have gone above and beyond for my family, but there are just too many instances to list. You’ll never know the impact you’ve made on this family, just be secure in the knowledge that you truly do change lives. Thank you.

THE NEXT LEVEL

The greatest unsigned rock and roll band I ever saw was called the Hammerheads. The Hammerheads were out of Louisville in the mid-nineties and seemingly had it all – a charismatic frontman, a smoking guitar player, and a tight rhythm section. I first laid eyes on them at Farm Aid, the one held in Indianapolis.

The band was managed by Ray Chenoweth, RIP. Chenoweth was a veteran regional music manager and by all accounts a good one. But he was a regional manager and within that title lies a cautionary tale.

The Hammerheads were very successful on the regional level, drawing large crowds throughout Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. It wasn’t long before they caught the ear of John Mellencamp. Mellencamp recognized their talent and wanted to help.

He gave them the song Get A Leg Up, which they cut in their own style. He then offered to take them into the studio. Upon receiving the offer, Chenoweth’s response was to politely decline. He didn’t feel the band was ready but would contact Mellencamp when he thought they were.  Mellencamp was insulted.

As a result, he took the song back and cut it in the same style as the Hammerheads. Shortly thereafter he was quoted in the paper as saying the Hammerheads were a great bar band, but that’s all the would ever be. Unfortunately, his words became truth.

Progress for the band stalled and without the ability to make the leap to the next level the band eventually collapsed. 6 months after the newspaper article they were defunct. A once-promising career now permanently derailed.

That story taught me an important lesson. Failure doesn’t always come wrapped in incompetency. Everybody has ceilings, some leaders are only capable of getting things to a certain level, inexplicably incapable of leading the leap to the next level. Doesn’t mean they are bad leaders, just limited.

That’s where I see Nashville right now, poised on the edge of greatness ready to make the leap. Over the past 20 years, we’ve had some great regional managers that have brought us to this cusp. But can the current crop of leaders move us to that elite level? I have my doubts.

Mayor Briley is a smart, mostly affable man, but does he have the vision coupled with the creativity and paired with the stones to take us to a brighter future? I have my doubts.

That’s the question we have to ask. Like a band striving to reach the big time, Nashville has amassed an impressive body of work and we are no longer that little bar band playing for tips on Broadway. We’ve developed our act to the point we are ready to become one of those truly great cities were everybody enjoys in the fruits of the labor.

Mr. Briley was right when he said during his state of the city that Nashville is going to continue growing. The only question is, how is that growth going to look. Will all benefit, or just the chosen few? Is Briley the man to lead us in making the jump to a true metropolitan city, or will he focus on the wrong things and as result future generations will be endlessly yoked with unmanageable debt and inadequate infrastructure? That’s the question that Nashvillians need to ask themselves this summer as we march towards an election in August.

Nashville needs to make sure they make the right choice based on the right criteria. Choosing based solely on familiarity, the size of a war chest,  or a desire for stability, won’t guarantee the desired outcomes. The halls of the music business are filled with the corpses of acts who failed to recognize the limitations of their management team and believed talent alone would ensure success. Let hope Nashville, the city, doesn’t make the same miscalculations.

WHISPER CAMPAIGN

Stratford HS principal Mike Steele was placed on administrative leave last week with pay for alleged grade discrepancies among students. What exactly that means is anybody’s guess because media reports, while populous in number, are short on detail. A little digging though, reveals that the grade discrepancies are related to MNPS’s growing use of Edgenuity, an online platform,  as a replacement for a credited teacher.

At the beginning of the fall semester, Stratford lost a math teacher with no notice. The impacted students were enrolled in Edgenuity because a replacement couldn’t be quickly secured. By the time students got up and running, the majority of the quarter had been lost. A grade had to be assigned and through no fault of their own, students had not been provided the opportunity to produce work that would result in a legitimate score.

Steele did not feel that it was fair to punish kids for circumstances beyond their control, he used the latitude provided by district policy, with the knowledge of his supervisors, to assign the kids a grade of 93. The year progressed, as did the problems with Edgenuity, and it became apparent that some students were not going to achieve successful outcomes via the online platform. Parents were mad, students were frustrated, and district leaders felt they were being unfairly held unaccountable. Exactly the scenario that calls out for a scapegoat.

Instead of acknowledging the problems inherent with an online learning platform and looking for solutions, a decision seems to have been made to cast the school principal as the bad guy. Steele makes a convenient scapegoat. He is an intense man that can be quite abrupt and a bit off-putting.

But he’s also an ex-marine and an ex-cop, two positions that don’t lend themselves to producing people who engage in acts like grade changing. Throughout his lengthy career, he’s demonstrated the trait of doing what best for kids. I don’t know if he is completely innocent, but I do believe that he’s been set up to fail by a bad policy that never should have been implemented.

Two years ago Edgenuity had a small contract for credit recovery services. As teacher shortages grew, a contract to use them for content was employed. Over the last two years, MNPS has become too comfortable placing students in an online learning community as opposed to addressing the cultural and compensation concerns that have led to increased issues with teacher recruitment and retention.

Steele may be the first principal caught up by the shortcomings of Edgenuity, but rest assured he won’t be the last if we continue to fail to address teacher recruitment and retention as a priority. The continued use of an online learning platform as a substitute to a certified teacher will not only potentially harm principals, but will also set students up for failure. I believe that district time would be better spent diving into why an online platform is necessary, as opposed to using a principal as a smokescreen to protect district leaders from being held accountable.

QUICK HITS

Graduation ceremonies were held this past weekend. Director of Schools Adrienne Battle, as evidenced by online photos,  made it to several of them. What struck me about the photos shared in which she was present, was how she was never the center of attention in any of them. She appears left or right of center, showing a lack of need to be the center of attention and a willingness to share the spotlight. I like that and I think it demonstrates the beginning of a culture rooted in service leadership. Hopefully, her lieutenants took notice as well.

Over at Glencliff HS, Mayor Briley showed up for the ceremonies but a certain semi-retired school board member couldn’t be bothered. He misses meetings, retreats, and now graduation ceremonies, how will we ever know when he actually honors his resignation letter? As it stands, it will just seem like another day in his tenure.

Last week Director Battle held two listen and learns. As I’ve stated previously, I’m not sold on the value of these sessions because it’s all been said at this point. I see even less value in these sessions when the only Chief or Executive Director in attendance is Chris Henson. What if a question about discipline is raised? Curriculum? It sure would be nice if someone overseeing those departments was in attendance to answer, but that’s probably just me and my unreasonable expectations. The next session is scheduled for Thursday, May 30: Southeast Community Center, Large Clubroom 2. See you there.

Over the weekend a strange article appeared in the Tennessean. It was an article offering coverage of an op-ed written by Vanderbilt professors that appeared last week in the paper. In other words, the paper was covering its own work. The article was attributed to staff writers. This is just the latest in a constant string of articles with the seeming intent of keeping Dr. Joseph’s name at the forefront of Nashville’s education conversation. At this point, it feels quite deliberate.

During her brief tenure current director, Dr. Battle has not enjoyed one iota of the amount of coverage afforded Dr. Joseph since his dismissal. I’m not sure what the intent of this continual attempt to keep him propped up but make no mistake, it only serves to undercut the credibility of Dr. Battle as the district’s leader. And whether it was the Vanderbilt professors intent or not, they are now complicit in this agenda. One that puts adults above kid’s needs.

It would be one thing if Dr. Joseph’s reign had been a successful one or he was now engaged in groundbreaking work. It wasn’t and he’s not. It is time to move on.

The Educators’ Cooperative is a professional learning community designed to support all educators in all sectors, disciplines, and stages in their career. Leading education research shows that the most effective professional development for teachers occurs when we 1) create the space for regular, supported, safe dialogue among peers, 2) use protocols for collaboration and cooperation across disciplines, 3) provide non-evaluative, authentic observation and feedback, and 4) share collective responsibility for the growth, development, and support of one another. The Educators’ Cooperative has been providing all of this and more for teachers from all sectors in Nashville for more than three years.

They are excited to present the inaugural  EdCo Summer Collective – two half-days of professional learning, designed and facilitated by the teachers of The Educators’ Cooperative. It’s good for 6 PDPs, and has a sliding-scale, pay-what-you-can registration. Scheduled are two brilliant keynote speakers – Dr. Mona Ivey-Soto and Chakita Patterson, and more than a dozen amazing teachers from all over the city leading workshops for all teachers. Register here:  www.bit.ly/EdCoCollective
There are still a few spots left in this summer’s Cohort 4, and they’d love to have teachers who love to collaborate join them. There are full fee waivers for MNPS teachers available and an incredible crew has already signed up. Catch the excitement.
In case you didn’t know it, MNPS ELL program continues to be pretty damn impressive. This year, MNPS will graduate 11 former English learner students as valedictorians and salutatorians of their graduating class – students from Egypt, Iraq, Mexico, Vietnam – who came to this country with their families in search of opportunities, but who did not speak any English when they walked through the doors of their first Metro School. In their time at MNPS, these students have not only mastered English, but they have overcome challenges too long to list to become the highest performing students in their class.
In the words of Julie Martinez, a Metro Nashville Public Schools salutatorian from Nashville School of the Arts,
“My parents came to the United States to find a hopeful opportunity. They told me about the societies they grew up in and I always think about how fortunate [I am to live in] the country I live in. Ever since I was in seventh grade, I had an incentive to work hard to fulfill myself. I never thought I would be Salutatorian because I am [a] first-generation American graduating from high school and going into college.
Kudos to the ELL team and all of the teachers across the district who continue to make it happen.

POLL QUESTIONS

We had a good response to last week’s poll questions. Let’s dive in and take a look at your responses.

The first question asked for your opinion on a new district policy that mandated any student caught engaging in consensual sex on campus receive an automatic 60-day suspension.  Out of 137 responses, 80 of you – 40 percent – indicated that you would like to see violent acts receive the same level of punishment as sexual ones.  Thirty-six of you – 26% – felt the policy fails to address the real issues. Only 11 of you offered full support. Here are the write-in answers,

Why is this even a discussion 1
We need suspensions for students who are out of behavioral control as well 1
just seems odd when we overlook so many other behaviors 1
There are much bigger behavior issues to address. 1
All discipline policies need to be revisited and allow for discretion 1
What about students who hurt others? Will the discipline policy change for that? 1
If you’re a minor, is there any such thing as “consensual sex”?

Question two asked if you would support a partner zone, like the one in Chattanooga, for MNPS. I think it’s safe to say, based on your responses, that this is not a popular idea. Out of 125 responses, 74 of you – 59% – indicated we ought to fully fund schools first. Only 3 of you indicated an openness to the idea. Here are the write-ins,

I’m not well enough informed about this 1
Sickout won’t work, tax payers don’t care enough 1
NO 1
No 1
I support getting rid of you 1
Depends on the details and how accountability is defined

The last question asked if the district should continue using Edgenuity to deliver content. Out of 135 responses, 62 – 46% – indicated opposition but recognized there weren’t a lot of options. The number two answer with 38 response – 28% – indicated only in extreme circumstances should we use the online platforms. Only 3 of you indicated full support. Here are the write-ins,

No! 3
No 3
NO 1
HELL NO! It should be illegal in all instances. I absolutely hate it. 1
Would Briley accept this for his own children? Are schools without teachers ok? 1
No | all variations of *credit recovery* are a shamscam 1
NO. 1
Absolutely not. 1
What about MNPS virtual?? 1
No, it’s credit recovery. Online sch has teachers 1
No! Absolutely not! 1
How about just “No!”? 1
No. Fund MNPS so they can attract and retain certified teachers. 1
Absolutely not 1
If so then let kiddos stay home and do remote school altogether reduce traffic 1
Is it cheaper than a certified teacher in the classroom? Probably. 1
No Way

That’s a wrap. 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 and I’ll do the best I can. Send things to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Thanks for your support if you feel so inclined, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out.

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