SOME SUMMER MAGIC

“We watched our friends grow up together
And we saw them as they fell
Some of them fell into Heaven
Some of them fell into Hell”
Shane MacGowan, Poguetry

“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn’t have any inherent wisdom. I quickly realized that you either became a power or you were crushed” ― Joe Strummer

Summer is now FULLY upon us. For many of us, that means traveling, lazing around the pool, and catching up on neglected work around the house. The first order of business for THE MNPS School Board was to convene a director’s evaluation committee meeting in order to hammer out a contract for newly named interim director-Dr. Adrienne Battle. (The only reason I am using the term interim here is that it’s germane to the current conversation.)

If you watch the proceedings, one thing will become immediately clear. The majority of the board is intending to create a contract for Battle not as the interim director, but as the permanent director of schools. The meeting starts with a presentation by Battle’s attorney Chuck Cagle. Cagle – who also serves as Dr. Joseph’s attorney – clearly states that what he is presenting is a regular contract, not an interim contract and that if the board wants to create an interim contract he can go back and do that, but this is superintendent contract.

Board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge are thrown a little off balance. They were under the impression they were meeting to discuss an interim contract, something completely different from what’s now on the table. Cagle’s presence made things tense because, as Dr. Joseph’s attorney, he helped craft a previous contract that was more protective of Joseph than it was the district. Obviously, Frogge and Speering want to avoid repeating that mistake.

The idea of Battle as a permanent director of schools is not something I think is a bad idea, but if that is the school board’s intent than that needs to be communicated to the public and there needs to be a conversation around that intention.

In a rare lucid moment, board member Will Pinkston makes some salient points citing recent events in Memphis and Williamson County, where directors are being contracted by school boards sans a search, as a reason for offering a two-year contract to Dr. Battle. Per usual he omits some pertinent details to his narrative.

In Memphis, Joris Ray was given the permanent job after serving 4 months as interim and in the words of school board Chair Shante Avante,

“it did become very obvious … the people he will need to lead in order to do that work to get the academic gains we need — he had their support.”

In his brief tenure as interim director of schools, Ray moved very decisively and shored up support from those he would be leading. During that time he fired two cabinet members, developed next year’s budget, laid out ambitious short-term goals, and traveled to Nashville to stand up to the governor against vouchers. No offense to Dr. Battle, she’s a different leader with a different style, but she hasn’t produced that kind of evidence as of yet.

In Williamson County, they are offering a contract to Jason Golden who has served as the district’s deputy counsel since 2006. Golden is a well-known entity and led the district last year when then-superintendent MIke Looney was out for medical reasons. WCS forgoing the interview process and hiring Golden is completely different than MNPS offering Battle a permanent contract without an interview process.

The conversation around an interview process or a timeline for the board to begin a search was left purposely vague during Tuesday’s committee meeting. Board Chair Dr. Sharon Gentry and Vice-Chair Christianne Buggs both expressed opinions that the board could start a conversation about the search process at any time, but there was little conversation around the impact a search would have on Dr. Battle’s proposed contract.

The reality is, if a search was started and conducted nine months from now and the board found someone that they really liked, they would have to pay out the remainder of Dr. Battle’s 2-year contract before they could hire the desired candidate. That is far from optimal.

Both Speering and Frogge were of the mindset that the board could offer a two-year contract but that the district could exit the contract at any time during those two years with a 30-day notice. To me this makes more sense, let’s give it a shot and if she does a great job, as many expect she will, in 6 months offer her the permanent position or if necessary begin laying out the timeline for a search.

Questions were raised about previous interim-director Chris Henson’s contract when he served in the role. It was revealed that he never had a contract. This is where things got bizarre, as board chair Gentry mocked the process back in 2015 by disdainfully declaring that things just “magically got done.” But what she neglected to mention is that she was the chair at that time and if Henson served without a contract and his salary “magically” got adjusted, that’s on her as overseer of process.

Her whole performance at Tuesday’s committee meeting is akin to me running my car into the wall and then telling the police I had no idea how the car ended up wrecked. That it magically smashed into the wall.  No…it smashed into the wall because I drove it into the wall. It’s not magical at all and in the case of Gentry, it’s actually quite predictable.

One more consideration in these negotiations, that nobody has discussed, is that Tennessee law requires 15-days notice before a superintendent contract is signed. Now I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I would think that law needs to be factored in here somewhere.

Meanwhile, Battle is still serving without a contract. The board did agree that once the contract was signed, her salary would be retroactive to the date she assumed the position. They also settled on the 2-year term and agreed that the Chair and Vice-Chair would handle negotiations from here on out in order to, in Pinkston’s words, keep the board from majoring in the minor. Let’s see what gets brought forth in two weeks.

The biggest issue for me is the board, and by extension district leadership, continual failure to follow proper protocol in enacting policy. Even when they are trying to possibly do the right thing they conduct business in a manner that gives the appearance of inappropriateness. Everything is done through the lens of personal relationships. Four of the current board members seem intent on punishing 3 of the others over Dr. Joseph’s failures. How is this professional?

At the beginning of Tuesday’s committee meeting, the board members were given a draft of the proposed contract for Dr. Battle. The draft was referred to as a “template” or “boilerplate” for a contract but board members were charged by Gentry “with buttoning down so they could bring recommendations to the 5 o’clock meeting.” Not exactly clear instructions. It was also clear that some board members were more aware than others of what was included in the draft and those board members used that prior knowledge to attempt to make others look foolish.

Ms. Speering brought forth very legitimate concerns about the superintendent’s ability to buy back sick days. Being as she had just seen this contract, it’s unreasonable to expect that she would know the exact verbiage or wherein the contract her concerns should be placed, yet instead of considering her concerns at assisting with verbiage and where to place the amendment, she was subtly ridiculed.

When Amy Frogge attempted to bring up the need to get further counsel in order to avoid mistakes made with the previous superintendent contract, she was quickly shut down. How do you craft a current contract without taking into account the shortcomings of the previous contracts? That must be some of that majoring in the minors.

I get that Gentry, Buggs, Pupo-Walker, Pinkston, and Elrod don’t personally like Bush, Frogge, and Speering. That’s fine and I’m willing to bet the feelings are reciprocal, but the contempt shouldn’t be openly visible during every interaction. We are still a year away from the next school board election and if the four – assuming Pinkston actually follows through with his resignation – think they can just conduct business sans input from the other 3, they are making a serious miscalculation. (I’m not ignoring Shepherd, but she, for the most part, has remained neutral)

I would not underestimate the support that the minority board members have. Frogge, in particular, enjoys widespread respect on both the state and national level, as well as locally.  Thinking that they can be marginalized until the next election when they can be replaced with more palpable candidates, will only serve to galvanize their support.

Next year’s school board election is already looking to be particularly contentious. The seats of Buggs, Gentry, Frogge, Pinkston, and Speering will all be up for grabs. If the board continues to fail in hiding their distaste for each other, it will only serve to make the races more personal, something nobody should relish. I’m not calling for widespread singing of kumbaya, just a consideration of how business is conducted and the impressions given. Actually following board policy and applying it to everyone would go a long way towards solving issues.

SHORTCUTS

Earlier in the week, I listed 11 schools that were interviewing for new leadership. To date, none of those positions have been filled. This is problematic because several district schools have AP’s that are finalists for these openings. That means that if hired, those schools will have openings that need filling and new AP’s will need training by the start of school. That may seem far away, but it’s only two months away and will be here before you know it.

Speaking of Assistant Principals, the Isaac Litton Middle School community was thrown into turmoil earlier this week when it was announced that popular AP Jeff Davis was not being renewed by principal Chara Rand. Davis is extremely popular with parents and his wife has been a driving force behind the reinvigorated PTSO. Davis’s kids attend the school. The family is deeply invested in Litton.

The reason given for the dismissal was that Rand had given Davis a series of tasks to complete, and he had not completed them. Others speculate that Rand felt threatened by Davis’s popularity. The late notice, in my eyes, shows a lack of professional courtesy. Hopefully, Davis will get snapped up quickly. Despite what some may think, talent doesn’t grow on trees.

I came across this story in the LA Times about the Antelope Valley Union High School District. Apparently, things have been getting “buck wild’ with their board. Give the article a read if you want to see what true dysfunction looks like, or if you are just looking for a chuckle.

This week’s Tennessean has an article by Pinkston stenographer Nate Rau on the failings of another charter school. By all accounts, Knowledge Academies Charter School is failing its students and their families. That’s indisputable, but before we get too high and mighty I urge you to consider this quote,

But morale among teachers plummeted over the last year. Lack of certified teachers meant that classrooms would balloon to accommodate nearly double their intended number of students.

In seventh grade, for instance, the school went much of the year without a full-time math teacher.

The reality is that quote could describe conditions at virtually any one of MNPS’s schools. It’s one of the reasons why it’s well past time that the district got serious about teacher recruitment and retention.

In that vein, teachers are continuing to fight alongside MNPS leadership for Metro Council to fully fund MNPS. The second reading of the budget found the galley packed with red-clad teachers. At this meeting, CM’s Bob Mendes and Anthony Davis unveiled their proposed alternative budget, one that would include a 52.5-cent property tax increase. We’ll discuss that more next week, I’ve almost come around to the need for a tax increase but that doesn’t mean it makes me happy.

Congratulations to the TNEd Report which published their 1000 article this past week. That’s quite an accomplishment and we all owe a debt of gratitude to Andy Spears and his dedication to improving public education.

The Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, a 3-year-old statewide organization that champions policies to address education disparities on behalf of more than 50 civil rights and education advocacy groups, issued a new report this week that indicated rural districts in Tennessee had been neglected by the state’s focus on its urban districts.

“Many of the issues that persist in our urban areas are challenges in our rural ones too, and we’ve got to find ways to look at different dimensions of the same problems,” said Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education and programs for Conexión Américas, a founding coalition member that serves Nashville’s Latino families.

The report highlights several disparities and offers some recommendations as well.

As we head into the next presidential election cycle, the Charter school debate is heating up. Here are two differing views for you to consider. The first is by local writer Vesia Hawkins. The second is written by Rachel Cohen. Both will give you plenty to think about.

This morning I’ll be sitting down with Dr. Battle discussing her very unique history with MNPS. Look for that interview in the very near future.

That’s it for today. 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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5 thoughts

  1. You reference the Tennessean charter school article as being about “knowledge is power charter school”. The article is about Knowledge Academies, which is different than Knowledge is Power (KIPP). Just an observation…

      1. I spoke with Dr. Owensby, principal at Hermitage and he said that his position is not open. Shouldn’t you retract the statement that it is?

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