UP IN THE MORNING AND READY FOR SCHOOL

“The moment we pulled up in front of her apartment she had the door open. She turned to me with the long, elegant, mournful face of her Puritan ancestors and held out her hand.

‘It’s been fun,’ she said.

‘Yes,’ I said, taking her hand.

She was wearing gloves.”
T. C. Boyle

“Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won’t have as much censorship because we won’t have as much fear.”
Judy Blume

Today marks the beginning of another school year for Nashville’s children. This year is a particularly poignant one for us. Peter enters his last year of elementary school and Avery the first year of middle school.

It’ll be a year filled with challenges. For the first time since pre-school the two of them will be in different schools, something I think they’ll enjoy less than they expect. Avery will be leaving all of her friends behind to attend Oliver MS – most of her old classmates will be heading to McMurray or Valor. She’ll also be taking the bus for the first time, an endeavor that fills her simultaneously with anticipation and dread.

Those same feelings – anticipation and dread – hold true for teachers as well. They anticipate the arrival of students, yet dread their arrival due to the feeling that they have not done enough to prepare.

If you drove by a school this weekend, odds are that the parking lot was filled with the cars of teachers working, gratis,  to get their classrooms ready. It’ll forever escape me why nobody has yet figured out how to give teachers a paid day before school to prepare their classrooms. Instead, we continually heap meetings on them the week leading up to school and then put the onus on them to find time during the weekend to prepare their rooms for the arrival of students.

The person who finnally figures out how to give teachers that paid day would probably become so popular that their picture would be on the 100 dollar bill. Instead administrators continue to cite state regulations – as if there is no pathway to change them – and district needs to keep the pressure on teachers. Pressure that ain’t helping district efforts at teacher retentention and recruitment.

Over the weekend, Jason Gonzales wrote a piece for the Tennessean on what to watch for this upcoming school year. I agree with much of it but would add some to it.

He notes that last year closed out with cordinated protest efforts by teachers in an effort to lobby for increased pay. That effort will continue this year.

Amanda Kail, Metro Nashville Education Association’s newly elected president, said the union plans on a yearlong campaign to advocate for better pay. She said it could include protests.

In discussing protests it should be made clear that it was not the union that started the walk outs, but rather an independent teacher initiative. MNEA chose to focus on the Red4Ed walk-ins before school hours. So it’ll be interesting to what, if any, protests will look like.

The walk-ins were great for building unity among teachers and educating the public, but arguably did little to spur policy change. It was only after intense pressure by school board member Jill Speering coupled with shrinking poll numbers for Mayor Briley, did the mayor suddenly hatch a plot to deliver an additional 1.5% to teachers. Though also worth noting, based on the mayor’s advocacy that money went for a general raise instead of funding step-raises. A move that it is already apparent was a mistake.

Securing raises next year is going to be tough because teachers won’t have the threat of a pending election to hold over politicians heads. On the bright side, mayoral front runner John Cooper has already voiced a need to dramatically increase funding to MNPS. Mayor Briley meanwhile has promised a long term study of the topic.

The time for study is long gone. Like it or not – want to admit it or not – MNPS is in crisis when it comes to securing teacher services. The closest estimation puts the number of current openings at 187, but I wouldn’t trust that number because it does not align with ancedotal evidence. Over the past month, I’ve heard from countless schools that are facing starting the year with over 20 new hires.

Let me take a quick side step here and comment on that. In a couple of weeks, the state is going to release school ratings and test scores. Some schools will have made tremendous growth, and some may show the beginnings of an upward trajectory. But if a school is annually turning over a third of its staff, how can that growth be sustained? When kids have instability at home, it becomes even more imperative that they have stability at school. High teacher attrition does not create stability.

It’s important that MNPS treat the current situation as a crisis because, as Nashville continues to grow, snagging and holding on to the best teachers is not going to get any easier. In the past, if a teacher chose to work for a surrounding county they faced a substantial difference in pay. That is no longer the case. I’d also be interested in statistics on how many teachers lived in the district 10 years ago as compared to today.

As the cost of living in Nashville has continued to rise, more and more teachers have been forced to move to surrounding counties. As salaries in those counties rise, and MNPS salaries stagnate, what’s the impetus to committ to Nashville schools? Why sit in traffic 2 hours a day when you can drive 10 minutes from your house and make the same amount of money?

As part of the recruitment effort, MNPS needs to redouble it’s efforts to strengthen their relationship with the city’s schools of education. Contrary to what some may say publically, those relationships were allowed to fray during the Joseph years and at this point, too many graduates from those programs are finding themselves employed outside Nashville.

In Lipscomb University, you have a school that produces teachers of quality at a rate comparable with any school in the country. This is especially true when it comes to math teachers. MNPS needs to do whatever possible to ensure that as few of those teachers get away as possible.

In the aforementioned article, Gonzales talks about interim superintendent Dr. Adrienne Battle and her pursuit of the full time position. In my eyes, her success in that pursuit hinges on two factors – literacy and communications. If the district doesn’t get a handle on those areas, and quickly,  the school board will be conducting a search by the Spring.

Early reaction to the district’s literacy plan is tepid at best. There doesn’t seem to be concrete action steps on how MNPS plans to raise those scores.  After last week’s district-wide professional development seesions, there was a lot of criticism raised.

Those criticisms ranged from a lack of boldness to a dependency of tactics that had proven unsuccessful in the past. Some of the research cited at the district sessions was presented in a questionable light. Getting literacy right, has to be the number one priority for the district, as it lays the groundwork for success in all other areas.

As a side note, I hope everyone realizes that CKLA and E.D. Hirsch are interconnected. Just saying. Not exactly the stuff of inspiration.

Communications is equally important. The quality of the district’s educational work is contingent on the ability to communicate a robust positive narrative to the public. A powerful narrative opens the door to more funding, increased enrollment, and the recruitment of better partners. Over the summer the communications department has become almost a seperate entity from MNPS. They communicate what they desire, how they desire, and when they desire with little consideration towards the impact on the district as a whole.

Case in point, aparently a decision has been made that MNPS will no longer adhere to open records laws. Under past administrations, the department may not have been pleased with me but I always received requests in a timely fashion. State laws require that requested information be delivered in a timely manner. The communications department is not adhering to that statute.

Since the beginning of July I have had requests pending for teacher attrition per individual schools, an updated org chart, and an updated list of district employee salaries, to date those requests remain unfilled.

A simple request for clarification on a email sent out explaining the new salary schedule recived a reply that the answering of the question would require 7 days. One question that did receive a timely answer – when would teachers see  their raise in their paycheck – was answeared incorrectly.

Here’s another example, for opening day Dr. Battle and Mayor Briley went to several schools, including Overton HS. A perfect photo op right? Nothing generates excitement like a superintendent and mayor surrounded by students. I think it’s an excercise covered in PR 101.

Well the MNPS communications department must have been absent that day because they used the oppotunity to show a superintendent and a mayor being ignored by virtualy everyone, including the Tennessean’s education reporter who is seen in the background interviewing students. Students who are walking by the two officials with nary a second look. That can’t be the best picture taken, yet it is the one shared. As such, what is the narrative it conveys?

Communications has long been a focus of semi-retired school board member Will Pinkston. When previous communication department leaders didn’t meet his standards – particularily Jenal Lacy and Joe Bass – he was brutal on them. Rumor on the street is that current leadership decisions were directly influenced by Pinkston and it’s also well known that he favors the use of surrogates to do his dirty work. It is also no secret that Pinkston is not enamored with Battle’s performance to date.

Based on Pinkston’s history, I think it’s a fair question to ask who the communications department is answering too. Because at the current level of performance they are doing more to advance Pinkston’s agenda than they are to advance the districts. That needs to stop immediately unless the goal is to start a superintendent search by the Spring.

In his article, Gonzales also mentions new Priority School Chief Sharon Griffin as one watch this year. Based on the early reports, I concure.

Those who have had the pleasure of interacting early on with Griffin report that she is a bundle of intensity that inspires confidence. She walks into a room and the excitement level instantly increases. Time will tell if that excitement translates into student success, but right now she’s winning hearts and minds and is proving too be a crafty hire by Battle.

This is going to be a challenging year filled with opportunity. That is true for students, teachers, and families. My prayer is that we overcome the challenges and sieze as many of the opportunities as possible.

RUN OFF TIME

As reported last Friday, Nashville’s mayoral race is heading to a run-off. Despite getting his clock cleaned by challenger John Cooper, Mayor Briley still clings to a glimmer of hope that he’ll be able to retain his job.

Some have speculated that Briley may go ahead and concede based on the number of votes needed to overcome his deficit. That’s not going to happen. Briley has taken the position that only a quarter of Nashville actually voted and that if he can just do a better job communicating his successes he can inspire more people to come out and vote – hopefully, for him.

Why is that when politicians’ policies are failing it’s always because constituents don’t understand those policies enough and never about the quality of the policies.” If they only understood more” is the insistent cry. Unfortunately for said politicians, constituents usually know all they need to know and as a result, they reject the politician, along with their policies.

Last spring Briley publically attacked the MNPS School Board, lecturing them on leadership.

Leadership also means working to build consensus, if not unanimous approval. And it means being willing to accept when you’ve been on the losing side, and being willing to move on, so that all sides can move forward together for the sake of bigger goals.

We haven’t seen enough of that from our elected school board members.

Hmmm…I would think that 75% of voters telling you they want someone else as mayor would qualify as being on the losing side, so…it’s easy to talk, harder to walk that talk.

QUICK HITS

Last year the idea of Nashville creating teacher housing was discussed. Let’s just say it was an idea that did not generate a lot of excitement. In Indianapolis, they went past discussion and created a teacher village. As predicted it hasn’t been very succesful in recruiting teachers. Out of 15 homes, only 7 are occupied by teachers some who teach in outside districts. The district will continue to explore other ways to address teacher recruitment and retention. Per Brandon Brown, CEO of the Mind Trust,

“It’s clear to me that robust teacher retention and recruitment strategy has to be multifaceted,” Brown said. “There have to be multiple strategies happening in tandem to each other…and [the Educators’ Village] is just one of the many solutions we should be pursuing to make sure we are able to recruit and retain high-quality teachers.”

Governor Lee has made no secret of his support of charter schools. Andy Spears at TNEd report warns us about why that support should be a matter of concern. Per Andy, a new report by the Network For Public Education reveals the high failure rate for charter schools.

The report examines funds distributed by the US Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program and finds an alarmingly high 40% failure rate. Tennessee, always a national leader in the wrong categories, exceeds the national average with a 49% failure rate. One hundred and twenty-one grants were given to open or expand charter schools in Tennessee from the federal charter schools program between 2006-2014. At this time, at least 59 (49%) of those charter schools are now closed or never opened at all. Fourty-three of the 59 grant recipients never opened at all.

How much money does that add up to? In total, $7,374,025.00 was awarded during the years 2006 – 2014 to Tennessee charter schools that either never opened or shut down. That’s alarming.

POLL RESULTS

Responses were down this week but still offer valuable insight, let’s take a look.

The first question asked for your assessment of this years district-wide PD. 42% of you responded that it was about the same as in the past but time could have been utilized better elsewhere. Here are the write-in votes.

Meigs PD was spot-on! 1
Least favorite than last 20 years ( PE) 1
Teachers read quotes from Hirsch-I thought we were 1
The heart is there but there’s no new ideas coming from the district 1
Secondary Literacy was a good day with good presentations 1
Para’s need 5 days PD before school starts, newbies have no clue 1
High school ELA was substantially worse this year, had little variety/planning 1
Terrible

Question 2 asked for feedback on the literacy portion of the districts PD. Most of you found it maddening with the rest of you giving it a collective, “meh”. Here are the write-ins,

Jill Petty interim need to end fast 1
very misleading info. about reading instruction/heavy edreform undertones 1
Same old thing with a different name. 1
Secondary literacy was focused and well presented 1
Can’t keep doing same thing and expect different results 1
Better than Thursday Friday fire code violating General Orientaion 1
What literacy presentation?

The last question asked if you thought Mayor Briley should concede the election to challenger John Cooper. 66% of you said stick a fork in it, he’s done. Only 7% of you feel he can still pull it out. Here are the write -ins.

I would think for his dignity’s sake, he would finish it out. But it’s over. 1
No, he has a right to a runoff. 1
Too heartbroken about Clemmons to care 😦 1
Nashville needs an entire political overhaul 1
They are both awful. 1
No, but not bc I necessarily want him to win. This is the process, a runoff. 1
Write in T.C. Weber! 1
Bye bye you sad sad little man.

That’s a wrap. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive. I’ll be posting first day of school pictures. 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, but now it’s time to do some shameless begging. The blogging platform I subscribe to allows me to run some ads in order to defray costs. I don’t make much, but it helps. The renewal is $350 and is due next week. I could use some help in making that number.

If you can, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help would be greatly appreciated.

 

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