MIND PLAYING TRICKS ON ME

“All of my words, if not well put nor well taken, are well meant.”
Woody Guthrie

“Everybody laughed for a long time, for it was the kind of joke that seemed to grow on you. You would laugh and eventually stop. But after a few minutes, you would think of the joke again, and you would burst out laughing all over again.”
Zakes Mda, Ways of Dying

 

This morning I was greeted by the news of Houston rapper Bushwack Bill’s passing. He died of pancreatic cancer. Bill’s group the Geto Boys were minor players on the rap scene, but he was a central player in one of my all-time favorite Nashville stories.

Back in the nineties, there was a Nashville street hustler that was Bill’s doppelganger. After playing a Nashville show, Bill wandered into the Circle K on Belmont, The clerk mistaking him for the aforementioned hustler quickly moved to throw him out over Bill’s loud protestations of his innocence. The story always cracked me up. 

Bill’s doppelganger passed away a number of years ago, and now Bill joins him. RIP Bushwack Bill.

WHEN IT GETS GANGSTA

A couple of stories at the state level are dominating this weeks education news cycle. It appears that the first casualty of Governor Lee’s recently passed ESA law has been identified. Back in 2016 under State Education Director Candice McQueen, the state started offering summer camps to predominately economically disadvantaged kids that focused on literacy development. Per the Tennessean and Dr. McQueen,

“Many students from disadvantaged backgrounds have not had those experiences and opportunities that develop reading skills and vocabulary as often as their middle-class peers may have, which can create language deficits that put them further behind,” McQueen said. “That is why these camps with their variety of experiences — from interactive read-alouds, to field trips, to activities and play, to exposure to a variety of texts, to providing books for students to take home that may be in multiple languages — are so important.”

The Read to be Ready camps were effective tools in the prevention of the summer slide that affects many economically disadvantaged children. The program was also proving beneficial for teachers. It provided an opportunity to further explore teaching strategies in regards to literacy. All in all, it was that rare state initiative that seemed to be working.

Unfortunately, funding for the camps was not included in Governor Lee’s 2020 budget. Without that funding designation, those camps will not be offered next year. That is a huge loss for students across the state. So where did the money go?

There is speculation that the money was diverted from the camps in order to fund the newly enacted ESA program.  It’s also important to note that the state budget increased for charter school funding from 6 to 12 million dollars. I suspect that the actual culprit is something a lot less intentionally nefarious, but equally devastating.

I believe that the ESA argument just sucked all the air out of the room and as a result budget crafters lost focus. There was so much energy devoted to getting the ESA program passed that smaller, but more effective programs slipped through the cracks. That doesn’t make the lack of funding for Read to be Ready Camps an acceptable loss, but it should serve as an example on what happens when we just focus on the bright shiny objects, it means some of the real gems get lost.

In a tweet offered as a defense of the Governor, new Tennessee State Education Superintendent Penny Schwinn offered the following take,

R2BR camps continuing this summer because Governor allocated over $5M when the feds said we couldn’t use federal dollars anymore (camps funded on federal dollars). Feds said no more $$ to literacy camps- tough on our kids. Advocating for state appropriation for next summer!

Time will tell.

Speaking of Schwinn, upon her appointment she promptly embarked on a statewide listening tour. The listening tour is a tried and true strategy for the bureaucrat who wants to give the appearance of activity while doing nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of listening to all voices, but over the last several years we’ve seen a preponderance of listening tours, at both the state and local level, without any correlating activity. At some point, officials have to start acting upon the things they hear.

On her listening tour, Schwinn heard something different than whats been voiced on previous tours. The number one subject she heard about was student mental health,

“Without question, it’s the No. 1 piece of feedback I heard from every single group,” Penny Schwinn told Chalkbeat this week. “There is a growing concern about how we can support our children, not only academically but also behaviorally.”

I suspect what she did is broaden the category to the point that just about any concern could fall under the umbrella of “student mental health” – including teacher recruitment and retention, testing, and discipline policies. Basically what she is identifying is something that education advocates in Tennessee have been calling for over the last decade; policies that are concerned with the whole child as opposed to just their academic performance. That’s welcome news.

It’s a sign we are starting to finally allow for children’s home life and economic status to enter the conversation, not as an excuse, but as an identified contributor, Schwinn herself acknowledged,

“We have an increasing number of children living in predominantly low-income communities and also coming from environments of addiction or abuse. We’re seeing upticks in suicide rates and bullying behaviors,”

As such, student mental health will play a large role in the TNDOE’s forthcoming strategic plan along with other factors, including strengthening the state’s pipeline of teachers, developing and retaining school leaders, defining pathways to give students opportunities after graduating from high school, supporting rural schools, engaging with families, and STEAM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math.

Take note that Schwinn is also discussing “restructuring school turnarounds so that there is more shared ownership between the state and local districts.” That would add weight to the words of ASD head Sharon Griffin’s who warned charter school operators last week that the future of their model depended on their performance. Public education advocates should also make themselves more familiar with “Partnership Zones,” a collaborative state-district approach that just finished its first year in Chattanooga. My Spidey sense tells me that more are coming to a town near you.

The devil is always in the details and we’ll be watching closely as those details emerge. Meanwhile, the TNDOE is inviting stakeholders to weigh in via an online survey that ends on June 21.

DAMN IT FEELS GOOD TO BE A GANGSTER

Nashville’s gremlin continues to wreak havoc this week. It is no secret that semi-retired MNPS School Board Will Pinkston often manipulates policy with behind the scenes tactics. Over the years Tennessean writer Nate Rau has been a useful agent in steering the public conversation in a direction to fit Pinkston’s agenda. This morning the two are at it again with Rau dropping a timely article about a local charter school operators underperformance and pending correction plan.

Earlier in the year, it was revealed that Knowledge Academies had some serious issues. Issues that demanded immediate attention. As a result, Knowledge fired their director and engaged Florida’s Noble Education Initiative to oversee operations of the school. This has raised some concerns. Per Rau, “Citing NEI’s tie to a for-profit charter chain, critics are already sounding the alarm and possibly setting the stage for a battle on the Nashville school board.”

Let’s be honest, Rau should have used the word “critic” instead of “critics”. Virtually all of the education advocates I know are focusing on smoothing the transition of Director of Schools Adrienne Battle from predecessor Dr. Shawn Joseph and the pending budget fight which includes provisions for an increase in teacher salaries. Two issues that Pinkston, and by extension Rau, have been decidedly quiet on.

It’s not that charter school politics are unimportant to advocates, but rather that at this time there are bigger concerns demanding focus. If NPI is barred from the city and Knowledge Academies is closed, there is no guarantee of increased teacher salaries or of Dr. Battle’s job getting easier. Sure you could argue that it would mean more money for traditional schools but if your long term plan is to increase teacher pay is through the attrition of charter schools, it’s going to be a long time before teachers see a much need raise.

Once again our old friend irony pokes his head into the conversation. One of the chief complaints against KA is that they are continually failing to enough highly qualified teacher in front of students, an issue that is currently plaguing MNPS. So if the school is closed and students are returned to a traditional school there is a good chance that they will face the same challenge in their new school. Hence the need to focus on budgetary issues.

Teacher attrition is an issue that a budget that included 10% raises for teachers would help address. Yet, all Pinkston has done is ridicule those calling for such a budget. It should also be noted that Pinkston started the year as a budget committee co-chair, so the current budget impasse rightfully should be laid at his feet. In his role, he hasn’t lifted a single finger to help budget chair, Anna Shepherd. Instead, he resigns his position while she boldly fights for teacher raises and MNPS’s proposed annual budget.

Pinkston regularly admonishes fellow board members about giving in to conspiracy theories yet Rau offers this nugget, “NEI executive director Sherry Hage is married to Charter Schools USA CEO Jon Hage. Sherry Hage also is a former employee at Charter Schools USA and the two companies are headquartered nearby on the same street in Fort Lauderdale.” Whoa! On the same street!?! Better call the Men in Black.

Rau quotes Pinkston extensively throughout the piece as if Pinkston was the only board member working. Apparently, he didn’t read last week’s FB posting by Amy Frogge, or since Frogge is no longer in favor with Pinkston, she no longer gets access to Pinkston’s assets. Either way, it’s sloppy reporting and something that should be beneath a reporter of Rau’s stature,

Another warning that Pinkston regularly issues to fellow board members is about “getting caught in the weeds” or “majoring in the minors” but he doesn’t feel compelled to follow his own advice when it comes to charter schools. Rau quotes him as saying,

“The Knowledge Academies situation is like an onion,” said Pinkston. “The more you peel it apart, the worse it smells,” Pinkston said. “The collapse of New Vision Academy and, now, the meltdown at Knowledge Academies underscores how important it is for the school board, the mayor and the Metro Council to have increased visibility into what’s really happening in charter schools.”

Perhaps he should leave that onion peeling to others and only react once it is peeled. Instead, he focuses on what’s going on in charter schools while showing very little interest in what transpires in MNPS’s central office or traditional schools. Maybe renaming all of our priority schools “charter schools” while leaving them traditional schools would inspire Nashville’s most outspoken board member to shift his focus in a more productive manner.

I’m not defending underperformance by charter schools, and KA has some very serious issues that need immediate addressing, but we have to shine an equal light on all schools. If the evidence supports the closing of KA, let’s do it. But let’s keep things in perspective and not paint with such a wide brush.

I was talking with CM Tanaka Vercher this past week and she made a very astute observation – I wish I could remember the quote she used to illustrate it – about how somewhere it became wrong for people to disagree over policy. But it’s gotten worse because not only has it become wrong to disagree but we’ve used those disagreements as justification to descend into tribalism. It’s tribalism that prevents us from engaging in honest discussions issues and evaluations about our own camp.

We can’t truly expect to find the best policies if we adhere to tribalistic parameters. Pinkston has a history of brokering in tribalism and uses articles like Nate Rau’s to grease the wheels into that tribalism descent. We can’t allow ourselves to be manipulated.

LIFE IN THE FAST LANE

Mayor Briley opened himself up to considerable political risk when he continually publicly voiced his support of embattled Director of Schools Shawn Joseph before Joseph was removed by the board. Apparently, no good deed goes unpunished as Joseph is now out tweeting links in support of mayoral challenger John Ray Clemmons. Briley shouldn’t be surprised and he now shares the fate of other Joseph “friends” – particularly Carassco and Dance – who were jettisoned once they became liabilities. For his part, perhaps Briley should choose better friends in the future.

Something tells me that this summer we are going to have a very odd election season. Already there appears to be a record number of candidates with legal liabilities and not just criminal activities from 20 years ago. The latest headscratcher comes via Metro Council Candidate Matthew DelRossi who was arrested this past weekend when he destroyed a neighbors camera with a pickaxe. Per Scoop Nashville and according to an arrest warrant, DelRossi was upset that his neighbor’s home (his sister) has a security system with a camera on the side of the house nearest him that can see into his backyard. I’m sure this won’t be the last incident this summer.

I came across an interesting read this morning. One I almost skipped over because of its title, How Teachers Are Changing Grading Practices With an Eye on Equity. For me, the word equity has become the new rigor, easily spouted but seldom practiced. I’m glad I read this one.

Author Katrina Schwartz looks deeper into how much of grading is reflective of compliance and how much is a reflection of mastery. She also illustrates how grading practices can hurt some students while giving an advantage to others,

Take the common practice of averaging grades, for example. One student might come into class with no experience writing a persuasive essay. The first time he tries, he turns in a terrible essay and gets a low score. The next time he improves, and by the end of the semester he’s nailed it. But that student will always have a lower grade than the student who came into class knowing how to write a solid persuasive essay, perhaps because of a summer camp opportunity, and never progressed much further during the year. The second student will get a better average grade, even though she didn’t show growth in her writing.

The issues of retakes and giving students less than a “50” are also covered. It’s a thoughtful piece and I’d be interested in hearing feedback from those that are in the classroom.

If you haven’t read the latest from local teacher/blogger Mary Holden, what’s the holdup? Her reflections on teaching middle school are priceless. No less an authority than Diane Ravitch expressed her appreciation. Per Ravitch,

Mary Holden is a teacher in Nashville, Tennessee. I have met Mary on several occasions, usually when I was in Nashville. She spent 15 years teaching  high school, then switched to middle school, teaching sixth grade. She wasn’t sure how she would react to the change. In short, she LOVED it!

An unintended consequence of having instability at the central office is that I’m hearing from an increased number of Nashville educators who instead of applying for positions that they would be highly qualified for, are instead opting to remain in their current positions and “keep their head down”. That is not good for the system and it is why a transparent hiring process and stability in processes have to be established as quickly as possible. Underemployment is just as big an issue as attrition and needs to be treated as such. All employees of MNPS, like our students, should be encouraged to grow their horizons, An unstable central office doesn’t facilitate that. Neither does an unhealthy culture. Both need to be corrected.

The 2019-2020 Dyslexia Success Series for Educators presented by the MTSU Center for Dyslexia is fast approaching. Be sure to make plans to attend. I’d also like to use this opportunity to thank Tennessee State Rep Bob Freeman for all of his hard work this year towards Dyslexia legislation. Hopefully, next year will bring even more success.

Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition’s (TIRRC) Mayoral Candidate Forum will be held tonight, June 10th at Plaza Mariachi! Doors open 5:30 program at 6! Let’s show candidates we want a mayor who supports immigrant & refugee rights!

READ THESE NIKES

Let’s take a look at the weekend’s poll results. The first question asked for your feelings about the new literacy appointments. Most of you, 25%, expressed concerns that openings for the positions were not posted. In CAO David Williams defense, these are interim positions and the permanent positions will be posted in the future before filling. An immediate leadership change was necessary and a quick change often calls for appointments to be made. I applaud Williams for taking decisive action.

The second leading answer, 16%, expressed guarded optimism. Followed very closely, 15%, by “we’ll see how it works out.” As evidenced by the write-ins, Aliyah Washington Smith was a popular choice. Here they are,

Aliyah Washington Smith is fantastic! Was very excited to see that. 1
Great hires! 1
I am EXCITED. Mrs. Washington Smith is AWESOME! It should have been her… 1
prob. #88, appointing va. Truly getting a pool of candidates to be interview 1
Lets get teachers paid. Fluff. 1
Maybe you can get access to the principal feedback forms. They were not what de 1
Excellent choices! 1
Extremely excited 1
Jill Petty?!? Are you kidding me? 1
It shows that leadership is working to improve org 1
Good for Aliyah, Petty is the wrong person to lead C&I 1
I’m excited! I really respect Aliya and think she’ll us well! 1
not impressed – pretty sure these people helped with the horrendous literacy we

The second question asked for your opinion on the new org chart. Most of you didn’t feel like it supplied enough information to make an honest evaluation and a desire to see it in practice before making a judgment. Here are the write-ins,

Ridiculous 1
VERY similar to the old chart 1
Same monkeys different titles

Since the new org chart had a supervisor for high schools included, I decided to ask who should hold that position. This is especially pertinent because none of the current community superintendents have high school experience. Your number one choice at 26% of the vote was current McGavock Principal Robbin Wall. Wall was a finalist for the open SW Community Superintendent position but was not advanced to the community panel interview step, falling short at the district panel level. Luckily it was recognized that the interview process for the position was flawed and it was halted. Let’s see what happens when it is restarted.

Former Maplewood Principal, and current Muarry County number 2 Ron Woodard garnered the second most votes followed by current community supes Pippa Merriweather and Damon Cathey who both received 9% of the vote. Here are the write-in votes,

Sonia Stewart 2
Steve Ball 1
Ummm Dr Battle? 1
Shawn joseph 1
Interview a visionary leader 1
If they weeent an effective EDSSI how will the be an effective HS Supvisor??? 1
Nobody. Remove highly paid nonsense positions. Pay teachers. 1
Scott Underwood for either MS or HS. 1
None of the above 1
Let the HS principals pick 1
None of these would be good. 1
Who is doing that now? 1
Ron Woodard 1
Kessler! 1

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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3 thoughts

  1. As a former KA teacher I can tell you that the issues there are WAY bigger than the media is discussing. In fact, it seems that the media is being kind to them. I hope, for the students sake, that there is a full investigation and the students get sent to other schools. While it may be a rough transition and they may encounter problems like not having a teacher they will be way better off than in that place. Hopefully soon the media looks into their multimillion dollar gym and the interesting friendship the school has with “investor” Ben Freeland.

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