FLABBERGASTED

“I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.”
Langston Hughes

“And that’s where the whole trouble is. We’re too much alike to understand each other because we don’t even understand our own selves.”
Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

 

 

Yesterday we celebrated Father’s Day by watching my youngest play in a U-9 All-Star Tournament. They didn’t win, but the game included a lot of victories. Peter played in a manner that demonstrated he belonged on the team. He didn’t play perfectly. He made some great plays and he flubbed a few, but it was always clear that he understood the game and was constantly picking up cues that would lead to even greater understanding.

I am of the belief that baseball serves as a metaphor for life. The game unfolds at its own pace, so to be successful one must possess perseverance. It is a team sport whose final outcome is shaped by individual performances. Individual performances that require a player to often overcome failure. After all, the best players only succeed about a third of the time. Watch enough baseball and you’ll see just about anything transpire. Watching Peter perform on the ball field filled me with hope for his future, the greatest gift a father can receive.

I hope all fathers had as wonderful and life-affirming celebration as I did. For many, it is a complicated celebration and like life itself, just keeps getting more complicated. I am buoyed by the fact that somehow through that complexity, the majority of us continue to find clarity, clarity in the value of having involved fathers. That alone is worthy of celebration.

TO SEARCH OR NOT TO SEARCH. THAT IS THE QUESTION.

Over the weekend, I finally got around to watching last week’s board meeting. It really is some kabuki theater.

The key piece of business was the approving of a contract for interim Director of Schools Dr. Battle. After watching the video I think some key points require clarification. In their coverage of the contract, the Tennessean reported, “The agreement lasts until April 15, 2021, and will allow for the board to leave Metro Nashville Public Schools Interim Superintendent Adrienne Battle in place until after next year’s school board election.” That’s a little misleading.

Battle’s contract does last until 2021, but there is no guarantee that she’ll still be the director until then. The board has an option to start a search at any time. And if a new director is selected then, all the board is required to do is give Dr. Battle 30 days notice, and they don’t owe her anything else. In essence, the contract is a month-to-month contract for a duration of 2 years.

The Tennessean goes on to report that “with a two-year contract in place, it allows the board to wait until a board election next year before it embarks on another superintendent search. Five of the nine board seats are up for election next year.” Agenda-setting theory is a concept taught in Communications 101 courses. It’s a means for certain parties, or the mass media itself, to influence public opinion through the manner in which stories are reported. The Tennessean’s coverage of MNPS often smacks of agenda-setting. This is a case in point.

Dr. Battle’s two-year contract has no impact on when the board can start a new director search. With a month-to-month contract, the board could have waited as long as they desired before embarking on a search just as easily as with the agreed-upon contract. Prior to hiring Dr. Joseph, Chris Henson served without a contract at all and it didn’t prevent the board from waiting 6 months to trepidly start the second director search. The difference being that everyone knew Henson didn’t want the job permanently.

I suspect, especially since 2 weeks ago Battle’s attorney introduced a contract that he pointed out was not an interim contract, that the agenda is to move Battle to permanent status as quickly as possible sans a proper vetting opportunity. There could be other factors at play here as well, but for now, we’ll leave those for the rumor mill.

The Tennessean published a follow-up article today that doubles down on the agenda of waiting until after next year’s school board election to start a permanent search: “With the agreement in place until April 2021, the board can leave the search for a permanent superintendent up to the members elected after the August 2020 election. Five seats are up for election next year, a majority of the board.”

Board member Christiane Buggs, who was not involved in the last search, is quoted as saying, “There could easily be five new members sitting around this table, which would be a majority,” and furthermore, it “feels inappropriate” to saddle them with a new director before the election. You know what nobody is saying? This is exactly the same circumstances the board faced when they began the director search that resulted in the hiring of Dr. Joseph.

The same five seats were open then. Buggs was elected after Elissa Kim chose not to run, akin to Pinkston’s choice not to run for re-election next year. As an incumbent, Buggs should be considered a favorite to win re-election next year. Gentry, Frogge, and Speering all won their races quite handily and there is no reason to believe they won’t do so again.

Maybe the strategy is to make Frogge’s and Speering’s last year of their current terms so miserable that they choose not to run next year. Good luck with that. Furthermore, there is no indication that whoever wins the elections next year will align with the current majority of Buggs, Gentry, Elrod, Walker, and Pinkston. Pinkston’s endorsement will certainly not help a candidate in his district.

School board elections are every two years. It is often cited that the average director search takes about 15 months to complete. You do the math. Basically, you always run the risk of saddling a new board with a director they had no hand in choosing. If you allow this “courtesy” to take place, then you are allowing people to manipulate the process in order to get a director that mirrors their agenda. It is not unlike the selection of a Supreme Court Justice. School board representatives are elected based on who they might choose as a director, not on the courtesy they may show to future candidates.

Of course, none of this is covered in the Tennessean article.

Now back to the videotape. Board member Frogge does a solid job of detailing the manipulation of the search process that has transpired since 2015 – explanation starts around the 22-minute mark. After listening to Frogge’s detailed explanation and having closely watched events unfold over the last five years, it’s hard to argue that bad actors haven’t repeatedly manipulated the search process in order to serve their individual agenda.

I find it inexcusable that Mayor Briley met with Dr. Battle under the guise of her being the interim director of schools before she was ever introduced to the board. No other candidates for the job were ever openly discussed. There was no open vetting of Dr. Battle’s qualifications. If you go back and watch the video from the director’s evaluation committee meeting three weeks ago, where Dr. Battle’s contract was first discussed, it’s clear that the contract introduced by Battle’s attorney had been seen by some board members and not by others. It was also clearly not an interim contract, which served to betray another agenda.

In response to Frogge’s revelations, Vice Chair Buggs proclaims that she is “flabbergasted” that anyone could possibly think that the process had been manipulated. Fortunately, Frogge had a list of times and dates handy to share where she had solicited input from fellow board members – counter to the board’s attorney’s legal advice – about the pending contract. It was all a little pat and reminded me of mystery novels where the detectives doubt the prime suspect’s alibi because few of us have airtight alibis unless we know we’ll need them and have prepared.

Never in her impassioned defense is the pre-selection meeting with the mayor ever discussed. If I am a believer in public education, that’s a huge red flag and an indicator that the idea of mayoral control is being considered by some as a viable option. I’ve heard unconfirmed reports that in smaller campaign events, Mayor Briley has openly entertained the idea of an appointed board, and his insistence on crafting an MOU with the board lends credence to that narrative. Citizens across the country are clawing back their rights to elect their representation to oversee schools, while here in Nashville there are those working to take away that right.

In her addressing of the board, Frogge also gets it right by pointing out none of these machinations are necessary. Battle’s bonafides can stand up to scrutiny and she enjoys widespread support. Most everybody wants her to succeed, and she deserves the opportunity, but it’s imperative that she go through the process. It’s like my son and his all-star team experience.

He doesn’t just get to show up and be the starting second baseman and bat at the top of the order by virtue of being a good kid and having been the best on his regular season team. Since he’s never been on the all-star team prior to this, he’s got to play a little right field and bat low in the batting order until he proves himself. If he does well, he’ll be afforded the opportunity to secure the other positions on the team.

Same holds true for Battle. She’s never been in this seat before. Let’s see if she can handle a high fastball, or hit the curve before rushing out and locking herself into a contract with financial implications.

In governing, the school board continually behaves in the manner of addicts, slaves to the feelings of winning and unable to curtail their usage of subterfuge in order to feel like they are winning some imaginary competition. If the board and district leadership show no faith in the processes implemented, how is it possible for anyone else to feel faith in the system? The result becomes a descent into the land of constant one-upmanship, where the only need being serviced is the personal one of feeling like you’re the winner. Winner of what I don’t know, but it’s the students, teachers, and families that should feel like the winners, not board members and the executive officers.

As adults, we constantly preach to kids the need to not shortcut the system, yet we turn around and do just that. We need to exercise patience. If Dr. Battle is the right candidate, we’ll know. If she’s not, no amount of PR or contracts will hide it. If we learned nothing else from Dr. Joseph’s tenure, we should have learned that.

WHERE THE MONEY AT?

We are entering the final laps of the Metro budget, and by extension, the MNPS budget, this week, but things haven’t gotten any clearer. On Tuesday, Metro Council Members will be considering, in addition to the Mayor’s budget with no property tax increase, at least 3 separate budgets which include a property tax increase.

One of those budgets will be from the Council’s budget committee chairwoman Tanaka Vercher. Briley continues to demonstrate his paternal streak by openly criticizing Vercher’s plan while never having reached out to her privately. You might think the mayor would want a little input from the Council’s budget chair, but apparently not.

I’m beginning to wonder how much the mayor values the opinion of women in general because his actions in this instance are not dissimilar from other actions he’s taken towards female elected officials in the past. Case in point: his willingness to publicly paint school board member Jill Speering as racially insensitive before ever reaching out to her privately over leaked private text messages. His insistence on the school board entering into an MOU with his office further sends a message that he doesn’t respect the abilities of the women on the school board to govern. Perhaps he wishes the womenfolk would just be quiet and let the men take care of business.

The pending budget focus has led to a greater scrutiny of where Nashville’s income is going. Nate Rau of the Tennessean wrote an overview this weekend but failed to adequately cover the question of why so much of the tourist dollars don’t serve to benefit Nashville citizens. For some reason, the discussion of that revenue stream seems to be a sacred cow, with few officials willing to address the subject.

Nashville residents are getting frustrated at seeing constant growth in the city while failing to see a significant increase in services for those who call the city home. It’s not hard to notice all the cranes while stuck in traffic and realize that someone is making money off Nashville’s growth, but it ain’t everybody. In response to the growing questions over where the money is going, some council members, Jeremy Elrod and Fabian Bedne, have started to really dig in.

Elrod shared a recent letter from Jonathan Stark, CEO of the Music City Center, to Metro Council via social media. (Music City Center Tourism Development Zone Background 06-03-19) I don’t pretend to fully understand it all, but I think it’s pretty clear that a deeper conversation needs to be held. We can’t keep asking Nashvillians to shoulder the inconvenience brought on by mass growth without them getting to share in the benefits.

QUICK HITS

Starting to hear alarming numbers in regard to teacher attrition at individual schools. Last week, a PTO Facebook post showed that Eakin ES had lost 15 teachers, something not indicative of Eakin’s previous culture. Reports out of Antioch HS are that they’ve lost upwards of 30 teachers. These should not be taken as outliers, but rather should serve, along with the Edgenuity issues, as an indicator of the critical need for the district to develop an aggressive teacher retention plan.

Remember when Inglewood ES was a priority school? Remember when the Inglewood community came together and did the work to help Inglewood ES exit the priority school list? Remember when Inglewood’s principal was elevated to the central office right after that exit from the priority school list last summer? Did you know that Inglewood is now waiting for an announcement on who will be the principal for this upcoming school year, their third in three years? What page in the Turnaround School Handbook is it recommended to change leaders on an annual basis? Just asking for a friend.

I won’t lie, I love the game of dodgeball. Some of my fondest memories of childhood come from the thrill of evading those who were more atheletically inclined and being the last one standing in a heated game of dodgeball. I understand the bullying implications, but through strategizing I could defeat those with evil intentions. Recently, dodgeball has come under fire again. A team of Canadian researchers presented a study claiming that the game of dodgeball is a “tool of oppression” and “tantamount to legalized bullying.” Today, Dale Chu mounts a defense.

Last week, I mentioned the news of a pending cooperative action between Amazon and MNPS. It in this light that blogger Peter Greene’s recent piece reviewing a new book called The Winners Take All takes on increased relevance. The book’s author, Anand Giridharadas, talks about corporations and their charitable endeavors:

This is the compromise, the truce, distilled: Leave us alone in the marketplace, and we will tend to you after the winnings are won. The money will be spent more wisely on you than it would be byyou. You will have your chance to enjoy our wealth, in the way we think you should enjoy it.

I strongly recommend that you read Greene’s review and then the book itself. As Greene points out, the fingerprints of those with the mindset revealed by Giridharadas are all over education reform.

Will somebody please call up the MNPS communications department and let them know they ain’t helping? Last week, we conducted an interview with Dr. Battle that gave insight into what the future might hold for MNPS. Despite being widely shared by MNPS teachers and administrators, it received nary a retweet from the MNPS communications department. Today, for the second week in a row, I see a Stratford parent bemoaning the lack of communication on the status of leadership at Stratford. In order to be effective, the communications department has to communicate. It’s the simple things that make a difference. If you are not part of solution, you are part of the problem.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s look at the outcomes for this week’s poll questions.

With the announcement by Dr. Marcy Singer-Gabella that she’ll be returning to Peabody College at Vanderbilt University after June 30, Dr. Battle finds herself in need of a Chief of Staff. So I asked for your recommendation. 26% of you felt that Dr. Shunn Turner would be a good fit for the position, followed closely by Hillsboro HS Principal Dr. Shuler Pelham.

The importance of the position should not be underestimated, and while I have no idea of their interest levels, both Turner and Pelham would be excellent candidates. The chief of staff helps the director of schools govern through their established relationships and deep institutional knowledge. I will continue to argue that while both of Dr. Joseph’s Chiefs of Staff were highly competent, the lack of the aforementioned qualifications hindered Dr. Joseph in implementing his vision. I hope Dr. Battle doesn’t make the same mistake. Here are the write-in votes:

It’s not your decision it’s hers! 1
Howard Jones 1
Sonja Stewart 1
None of the above 1
Pelham ain’t interested, retire Wall, Majors yes, Turner yes, Barry you jest 1
Michelle Springer 1
None 1
Craig Hammond 1
Karen Gallman—please get her away from schools

Question 2 asked for your opinion about the pending Amazon/MNPS deal. Half of you were of the opinion that you needed more information before forming an opinion. The number two answer indicated a need to fully vet the deal. Here are the write-in votes:

Resource starved schools fall for anything 1
MNPS students will never see it 1
Nothing good shall come of this. 1
We need teachers 1
Akin to share cropping!!!

The last question asked for your opinion on the Valedictorian from San Diego calling out her teachers in her graduation speech. The number one answer here, with 27%, was that there is a time and place for everything and this might be neither. The number two response indicated that appropriateness was dependent on if she tried to voice her issues privately. Here are write-in votes:

A captive audience was not the right setting 1
Were attempts made prior to get others to listen?If so, MNPS teachers understand 1
Well, she certainly made her point! 1
Somebody needs to call YOU out 1
Reminds me of a speaker that eulogized his late wife at my grad…narcissist!!! 1
Get Jill Petty out of the new position

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, and if you feel so inclined, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out.

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts

  1. Underpinning your writing is the unspoken assumption that the Director of Schools, and/or our elected Board, might actually, at some point, _do_ something…. I think the last decade has shown that the limits of their interest in that might be in renaming schools, rolling their eyes at various meeting time points, and lamenting the fire dept.’s closing of a charter school now and then.

    Maybe in the current configuration they will be more comfortable smiling at and endlessly congratulating each other at meetings. At least that is pleasant, and no less productive than other configurations we have seen in recent years.

    Or, am I wrong, and we really are this time going to close a charter school for mishandling of funds, install better college prep at integrated high schools, and sue the state for their ludicrous Nashville-targeting voucher bill?

    … OK, No, I didn’t think so either.

  2. Every indecision is another decision deliberately made with as much thought as any actual decision. In other words inaction is an actual action from what I have seen and experienced here these last three years I have resided here. I see quite a bit of aspirational talk and the prefix of ass is not lost on me. There are delusions and illusions as to what will happen, when it will happen and why it will happen. It all seems to center on one thing – money. No one wants to spend it, no one is earning it and yet there is an endless supply of it. Where it goes is like magic. Watch the trail, the hands, the smoke and mirrors and follow the money right out of town. The taxes and earnings are made to varying out of state corporations, business, LLC’s and other investors who have their hands in the kitty, in the pie and the hat they pull the rabbit, the shiny keys or whatever other instrument they use to distract the audience from seeing the trick.

    At this point the Seat Filler is now laying blame, pointing fingers and muddling through this tax mess like an old man whose meds just kicked in. The outliers, the naysayers and the tellers of truth are of course ostracized and demonized as they are not of the Nashville Way. A way that seems to be comprised of liars and the lies they tell. I feel for those who are genuinely vested and invested in making this city of ‘it’ a place of meaning and of relevance. But they are being run over by the hoards, the crowds and the hawkers of the dream that defines the true business of the city of it – and that is hospitality sans the myth of the Southern kind.

    As I leave town on a rail, literally as CSX runs this town right into the ground, may the bridges I burn light the way.

    Expect nothing and then you will not be disappointed when nothing happens. Same old same old. Its the “Nashville Way”

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