THE RACE IS ON, HERE COMES PRIDE IN THE BACK STRETCH

“Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish.”
Hermann Hesse

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
William Faulkner

 

 

It is now officially election season in Nashville. To some, it may be clear who should run the city as mayor. For me, it continues to be difficult to choose a candidate. Nothing epitomizes that more than the man who I wish would run for mayor, Bill Freema, writing an essay of support for the man I wish was not running for mayor, David Briley. In his essay, Freeman writes,

The mayor has also been accused of clumsily wandering from one self-made crisis to the next, with no real plan of action. That’s just semantics. It would be equally accurate to say that Briley has responded promptly and directly to each issue as it came, showing an honest willingness to listen to constituents’ concerns.

We always try to deny the importance of semantics, but unfortunately, they matter. Truly great leaders understand and develop the ability to predict those semantics before others can effectively weaponize them against them. Briley shows no such skill. As a result, he finds himself in a dog fight for re-election. Trying to dismiss his missteps as merely semantics is not entirely accurate.

In his defense of Briley, Freeman counters criticism of the mayor’s handling of transportation, the community oversight board, cherry trees, and budget problems. He never once mentions Briley’s inserting himself into education politics or his actual education policies. I suspect that’s because Freeman recognizes how weak Briley is when it comes to education policy.

Briley has never acknowledged the Red4Ed movement despite popular teacher actions over the last several months throughout the city. He supported a superintendent who’s policies were crippling the school district. He publicly attacked elected school board members before ever fully vetting circumstances. He met with the current interim-superintendent in that capacity before she was introduced to the school board as a candidate for the position. He facilitated a school board member being painted in a racist light without ever showing her professional courtesy or seeking insight into her intent. Instead of trying to quell the waters and set the stage for greater understanding, he chose to fan racial tensions that were negatively impacting our school board and as a result our students.

In evaluating Briley’s performance on education issues it’s impossible to do so without looking at his advisors, His official education advisor, Indira Dammu, devotes the majority of her focus to issues better covered by the equity and diversity department. Important issues to be sure but there are plenty of issues that require attention -literacy, teacher recruitment and retention, capital needs, etc. Dammu rarely mentions any of those on her social media accounts, choosing instead to see everything through the social justice lens.

Unofficially, the word is that Briley continues to take counsel with part-time school board member Will Pinkston and former NPEA head Shannon Hunt. During Hunt’s tenure, NPEA played an integral role in the disastrous director search that produced Shawn Joseph as the selected candidate. Under her leadership, the organization remained out of touch with what was actually transpiring in schools throughout Joseph’s tenure. It’s not a stretch that the only reason Briley continued to support Joseph’s throughout a tenure that in hindsight is recognized as a train wreck, is because of the counsel of Hunt and Pinkston.

Few politicians have as deep an understanding of education issues as Bill Freeman. So I can’t help but think his ommissions were intentional. He is correct though when he raises the unspoken question of, “If not Briley, who?”

I’ll probably get in trouble for this – blame it on my age – but the more the race progresses, the more Clemmons feels like the beautiful but shallow partner you chase because they make you feel good,  meanwhile, Cooper feels more and more like the marrying type. Both are beautiful in their own way, but the one you marry needs to be more than just an infatuation. They need to be someone who you know won’t stray from your shared path. It requires a deeper commitment than a fleeting feling of infatuation. A commitment that means sometimes telling you things you don’t want to hear and offering a path forward that may be difficult, but will lead to mutual long term success.

Clemmons was all in on the recently proposed budgets that included increases in property taxes, and as a result, a lot of people swooned. But I never heard him voice the next step. Passing those budgets would have felt like a win, but then what? The monies generated would have only allowed for a 4% raise and fallen well short of meeting the needs laid out in the MNPS budget. What was going to happen next year? If you think MNPS isn’t going to need more money next year, you’re fooling yourself. The only difference between this year and next would be that the property tax tool would be off the table.

My two biggest concerns with John Ray Clemmons, center around his service as a Tennessee State Representative, an office he’s held since 2014. His constituents, for the most part, sing his praise, yet none of his peers have endorsed his campaign for mayor. I’d feel a whole lot better if a couple of those folks who serve in the legislature with him stepped out and testified about how he’s a man who gets things done, a man capable of building consensus that allows the hard work to get done.

It would further put my mind at rest if I saw some evidence that he’d been exploring, proposing, or working on legislation that would keep more of the tax dollars generated in Nashville, in Nashville. Tourist and developer dollars need to benefit Nashville residents and right now, they are not. Somebody needs to clearly explain why and propose some solutions.

John Cooper isn’t nearly as exciting as Clemmons, though he certainly has the pedigree. His father, Prentice Cooper, served as the governor of Tennessee for three terms, and his brother, Jim Cooper is a member of the United States House of Representatives representing Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District. Cooper has served on the Metro Council for the last 4 years. If nothing else he understands the pressing urgency of securing more of Nashville’s generated taxes to benefit Nashvillians.

No offense to those supporting Carol Swain, but in my eyes this race is going to come down to Briley, and the power of the incumbent, against either Cooper or Clemmons in a runoff. What happens there is anybody’s guess. I will say that Clemmons has wracked up an impressive list of labor organization endorsements. That is not typical in an election with an incumbent, so it’s worth noting.

On Wednesday NPEF- along with the Oasis Center, Conexion, the Tennessean, and WSMV – will be hosting the Mayor’s Forum on Education at the First Amendment Center. MNPS students will be asking the questions. I suggest you mark it on your calendar and make plans to attend.

SCHOOL BOARD RETREAT

Last Friday, DGW went on a field trip. The destination of our trip was the MNPS school board retreat being held at the Martin Center. Everybody from the school board was in attendance, Christiane Buggs and Anna Shepherd via phone.

I like going to these meetings, not just for the information shared, but also to watch how people interact. Upon entering the room I was happy to see a dozen or so teachers in attendance representing Red4Ed. Red4Ed and I may not presently favor the same strategies, but their commitment and diligence are to be commended and they show signs of letting up.

Having attended board retreats during the Joseph tenure, I would be remiss if I did not note the difference in climate in the room. Under Joseph, these meetings were often tense and defensive. Board members often had to claw information out of district administrators. Under Battle, the meeting seemed more communal and administrators more willing to collaborate.

District leaders genuinely seem to be acting in a transparent manner. Questions are taken as a means to deeper explore a topic and not viewed as an attack. Every effort is taken to provide an adequate explanation for policies, and when one can’t be given, policies are changed.

The first order of business I witnessed was a report on an audit of district contracts that had been initiated by Dr. Battle. As a result of this audit, savings of over 600K were secured. Several controversial contracts were allowed to expire without renewal and new policies were put in place due to lessons learned. That’s good news

Longtime DGW readers will recognize most of the contracts as being ones that questions were raised about 2 years ago. A big thank you needs to go out to  New’s 5 reporter Phil Williams and board members Jill Speering, Fran Bush and Amy Frogge, for remaining diligent on these contracts. Without their relentless push for accountability, all would likely have been renewed at a detriment to the district.

After the contract review, talked turned to this year’s budget. Now that the amount of money that MNPS will receive has been set, the board must approve its allocation. Chief financial officer Chris Henson presented the administration’s suggestions based on input from the board.

Under these recommendations, MNPS employees would receive a 3% raise. Ms. Speering reiterated that she was of the opinion that 3% was not a sufficient raise and she urged the board and administration to find an additional 8 million in the budget to cut in order to restore step increases. Everybody at the table seemed amiable to the idea and several ideas arose from the ensuing conversation.

Will Pinkston served notice that at the next board meeting he would be bringing a motion to repurpose the 8.9 million designated for charter schools due to their growth in enrollment over last year. The idea elicited no support from other board members.

To be fair, the questions around charter school impact on the financial standing of MNPS are fair ones. The city simply can not continue to fund 2 school systems simultaneously, it’s an untenable situation. But the answer is not to deny rightful funding to schools that serve MNPS families. Families that chose charter schools are only taking advantage of the options provided by MNPS. That shouldn’t warrant a punitive response.

A suggestion to give raises only to teachers and not principals or other administrators was also briefly discussed. Anytime you start to discuss the value of peoples work, or how hard they work, you are heading down a slippery slope. People need to recognize that education is like sports in that it is a team effort. In order to be successful everybody’s role is vital.

A football team cannot be made up of just lineman, It needs receivers, a quarterback, tight ends, defensive backs and kickers. Each job brings unique responsibilities that are only fully recognized by those that do the jobs. Nothing will kill your culture faster than recognizing the efforts of some while downplaying the contributions of others.

Ms. Speering raised the possibility of the board evoking it’s right to put forth a resolution calling for a property tax increase. If the school board feels that the funding for schools is inadequate it is within their right to propose a property tax increase and have it added to the upcoming ballot. In this case, the board would ask for a 16 cent increase which would raise enough money to offset the difference between the mayor’s allotment, 28 million,  and the 76.7 million requested by MNPS.

I’d be very wary heading down this road and would thoroughly consider potential future ramifications of such a move before embarking on it. By evoking this power, the school board bypasses both the mayor and metro council, a move neither entry is likely to let pass without a reaction. It could be the first step in the bard becoming a taxing body, completely responsible for their own funding. There is no telling the impact a property tax now would have on the mayor and council’s plans for next years budget. There are a lot of “what ifs” that need to be considered before proceeding, including whether it’s legal under a state statute,  and not enough time to fully vet the idea.

The necessary timeline would require the board to bring the resolution by July 1st and the question of whether or not there is time to get the proposal on the ballot still remains. Early voting begins July 12th, so that could prove difficult. The provision in the city charter was written before early voting was creating and therefore the timeline laid out does not take early voting into account.

The board will further take up the question, after gathering more information, at Tuesday’s board meeting and possibly again later this week.

I still believe the best course of action at present is Ms. Speering’s initial suggestion. Go back into the budget and find $8 million dollars to restore step increases. Somewhere in a 900 million dollar budget, 8 million can be found, but only if a direct order is given to find it. There are a lot of things that are important in this year’s budget, increased teacher compensation is not something important, its something essential and needs to be recognized as such.

SHORTCUTS

This Fall, Warner Arts Magnet Elementary School will host a new pilot program dedicated to bringing mindfulness to the classroom. Through a partnership with the non-profit company BeWell in Schools, students will be taught mindfulness and movement-based stress reduction in order to transform non-learning behaviors into emotional self-regulation. The goal is that this will serve as a proactive behavior management system, providing students with the tools they need to self-regulate. Studies have shown this strategy to be beneficial to students.

There has been some concern voiced over the termination of the Edgenuity contract. Administrators are worried about losing the credit recovery services provided by Edgenuity. Currently, there is an RFP out and a provider for credit recovery programming should be named soon.

Parents of Stratford HS and Inglewood are both waiting for information on who will lead their prospective schools next year. We are about a month out and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for this information to be communicated to families.

Recent endorsement announcements. John Ray Clemmons has announced that he has secured the endorsement for mayor from MNEA, the teachers union.  John Cooper, in turn, announces that he has the endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police. Mayor Briley announces that he has the endorsement of…Howard Gentry. Strange days in the big city.

In education, we constantly talk about student achievement, but like many terms in our lexicon, we fail to offer a clear definition of what that looks like. In a recent piece, Connecticut educator Anne Cronin gives us her definition which includes the story of a special needs student and the singing of the National Anthem. She writes,

“Jacob’s singing the National Anthem, unrehearsed and on the spot out of love for the person who asked him, is what is missing in the conversation about increasing student achievement, which has been the elusive national goal since the passing of “No Child Left Behind” in 2001. We have tested and prepared kids for tests. And achievement doesn’t budge. We have declared that urban schools are “failing schools” and opened charter schools.  And achievement doesn’t budge. We have put in place Common Core standards.  And achievement doesn’t budge. We suspend and expel students at high rates, particularly in charter schools. And achievement doesn’t budge. That’s because we have been looking in the wrong places for achievement. We have been looking at standardized tests.”

I urge you to read the whole piece.

POLL RESULTS

Time to look at results from the weekends poll questions. The first question asked for your opinion on Dr. Battles new leadership cabinet. I consider it positive news that most of you, 46%, are willing to take a wait and see approach. Only 13% of you answered in a manner that indicated a negative impression. Here are the write-in votes,

Not sure about C&I side with Williams and Petty. 1
Clay did 0 when hired before. Disappointed he was brought back over many others 1
Pippa Merriwether still has a job? 1
Not very racially diverse 1
Still plenty of unnecessary positions at the top 1
Dense smoke and cracked mirrors!!! 1
Chose some That were incompetent In last positions 1
Not much different 1
Hank clay’a bob should have gone to someone who knows how mnps works. 1
She has no clue how to lead in this position 1
Waiting for final piece to be revealed 1
Were the jobs posted?? 1
Depends on what salaries she offered those people. Hope not 185,000!!!

Question two asked how you felt about those tasked with heading up the instructional tiers of MNPS – high, middle, and elementary. Again most of you, 36%, were willing to employ a wait and see approach. Close behind though, was the number of people expressing some concern, 27%. I believe that the former community superintendents have their work cut out this year in order to convince others of their value.

Meriwether really? 1
Time to eliminate this level of middle management 1
What’s a tier head? 1
Some are incompetent idiots – I expected better 1
Were jobs posted? 1
Waste of money. Led Principals lead. Let Teachers teach.

The last question asked if the recent budget process had any impact on who you were supporting for mayor. In reviewing results it appears that Clemmons is the beneficiary of the recently completed budget process.  Here are those write-in votes,

Supporting Cooper because of his finance expertise 1
Clemmons-from my hometown, Swain-aligns with my political views. Idk yet. 1
Briley needs to go! BYE, BYE! 1
MUST GET RID OF BRILEY! 1
Kept me at Swain! 1
Now I don’t have a candidate…. 1
Cooper buried himself. TEAM JRC

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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