A JOB FAIRLY WELL DONE

So forgive me all my anger
Forgive me all my faults
There’s no need to forgive me
For thinkin’ what I thought
I loved you from the get go
And I’ll love you till I die
I loved you on the Spanish Steps
The day you said goodbye – Guy Clark, “Dublin Blues”

Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out.
But you say it in a tweet, that’s a cop-out.
And I’m just like, “Hey!
Are you OK?” – Taylor Swift, “You Need To Calm Down”

The first week of school for MNPS students is now officially in the bag, and by all accounts, it was a pretty good one. Dr. Battle and her team deserve a tip of the hat for orchestrating a start to the school year that ran pretty smooth. That’s not always the case. In the past, the first day of school has been fraught with issues. That was not the case this year.

While I’m acknowledging Dr. Battle’s leadership, I must say the brunt of the credit for the smoothness of opening day lies with the principals and teachers in the individual buildings. That said, it should be noted that this year Dr. Battle increased the focus on getting day one right. Each day saw a central office person in each school conferring with principals on what their issues were. Those issues went on a spreadsheet that was reviewed by district leadership daily and assignments were made to fix each issue.

This is not a new strategy and is very similar to the one employed under Dr. Register. However, it is a strategy that wasn’t followed with fidelity over the past couple of years. It’s nice to see the renewed focus. Everybody deserves to take a slight bow for making things run as smooth as they did.

That’s not to say things were perfect. Bus runs remain troublesome with some middle school kids not arriving home until an hour after school ended, despite only living a few miles from school. The district is definitely facing a driver shortage.

Many schools saw more students than expected, and there was some questioning about the accuracy of student projections. Yesterday was a count day and that should bring some clarity.

Capital needs continue to be a pressing issue for MNPS schools. With some AC problems being reported at a few places across the district.

Staffing continues to be a challenge. The Tennessean reports that the school year began with the district 94 teachers short. I’m a little skeptical about that number.

The very same article names 6 schools that all have 5 openings or more. At the bare minimum that means 30 openings belong to those schools – all high schools – and the other 64 openings are scattered among the 156 MNPS schools. That defies logic unless those schools are doing something very wrong or the others are doing something very right.

To quote Mayor Briley, I do think it was bullshit for MNPS spokeswoman Dawn Rutledge to call out those individual schools by name. There are a plethora of reasons why a school may be understaffed  – including an influx of students, hard to fill positions, teachers quitting at the last minute. Naming them, without context, is not helpful.

The article also mentions that the district has employed 66 long term substitutes. That number shouldn’t be as alarming as it initially appears. District policy dictates that a teacher awaiting a license can not be paid as a certificated employee and so they are classified as a substitute. Once their license is in, they’ll continue their assignment but as a certificated employee. So most of those students being taught by these subs are in essence getting certificated teachers.

I will add here that in talking with teachers, most are already exhausted. It really would be beneficial if the district would ease into the year a little more. Give teachers the Friday before to focus on their room set up and individual prep. Start school with a half-day on Monday followed by a day for students. This would allow for class schedules to be adjusted and bus issues addressed sans students, instead of having to do it on the fly like we do it now. Yes, it is a little more burden on parents but we need our teachers to not start the year stressed and overworked.

These are just a few items bubbling under the surface and while it’s important for the district to address these issues, it is equally important not to let them overshadow a year that is starting off with a lot of promise. I understand that if you are a parent, teacher, or student directly impacted by these issues, that is easier said than done. I’m hopeful though that many of these issues will be alleviated quickly going forth.

A district this size is never going to run without issue. It’s why talk of splitting the district into 4 districts often bubbles up. It may be that the sheer size of MNPS serves as a deterrent to the success of every student. I don’t know the answer there, but I do know that it should be part of any conversation going forth about how we construct a school system that serves all students.

Before we go down that rabbit hole though, let me just say it one more time, thank you MNPS for a week that ran pretty smooth. Now let’s see if we can’t start a habit and make it better for everyone every week.

TENNESSEAN EDUCATION SERIES

This week the Tennessean kicked off what they promise will be a year-long series taking a deep look at MNPS and the issues the school district faces. You may ask, why now? According to the editors, it is because the schools are in transition after the departure of Shawn Joseph, and school financing dominated this year’s budget talks. In their own words,

The Tennessean is committed to this community, and we want to help inform the important public policy debates underway.

I’m hoping that this commitment includes conducting an honest self-evaluation of their role in the propping up of Dr. Joseph even after it had become apparent that his policies were proving detrimental to Nashville’s students. While Phil Williams at News 5 was filing award-winning stories showing MNPS’s mishandling of sexual harassment allegations, financial improprieties, low teacher morale and high levels of lead in the water, The Tennesean instead chose to defend Dr. Joseph and paint critics as being racially motivated.

In looking at the first installment of the series, it appears that they have no intention of looking at their role. Dr. Joseph is not mentioned one time in the entire article, instead, the paper just states,

After a turbulent year on the school board and the departure of the superintendent, there is a chance to explore how this dynamic developed and what can be done to ensure each child has an equal opportunity for a quality education.

What continues to go unnoted by the Tennessean is that the “turbulent year on the school board” came about as a direct result of some board members trying to get others to focus on Dr. Joseph’s policy fails, while the others insisted on playing identity politics. Those school board members who refused to acknowledge Joseph’s shortcomings in order to present a pleasant outlook, placed the image of Nashville’s first black superintendent, and themselves above the quality of instruction delivered to children. As a result, they are complicit in many of the issues that the Tennessean proposes to cover this year.

We often talk of focusing on children, but a leadership team that fails to adequately address sexual harassment charges is not looking out for student interests. An administration that fails to follow financial protocols is not looking out for the interests of children. An administration that fails to protect children against elevated levels of lead in schools’ drinking water, is not looking out for student interests. An administration that uses a successful literacy program as a vehicle for retribution against a critical school board member is not looking out for the interests of students. All these issues and more have been virtually ignored by the Tennessean over the past several years.

The first installment of their series focuses on Buena Vista ES, arguably the most challenging of schools in MNPS. In discussing those challenges, it goes unmentioned that a principal who was making progress was removed from her leadership position while on medical leave, thus creating more instability. Nowhere is it mentioned how the new principal ended leadership stipends for teachers that served as a tool for teacher retention.

Nowhere is it mentioned that Buena Vista serves a large homeless population that often doesn’t show up for school until after the weather outside turns cold. Despite warnings from the previous principal, Joseph’s team made cuts to staffing after the early counts which in turn resulted in overcrowded classrooms come October.

Nowhere in the article is the number of students at Buena Vista given. They are currently projected at 224 – a number that continues to dramatically decrease annually as the area becomes more gentrified.

I’ll be honest with you, I don’t believe that keeping 224 kids – all of but a handful who come from poverty – in a single school is in their best interest. Schools function best when they are diverse. If you never get the opportunity to interact with anyone but other kids in poverty as a child, how will you, as an adult,  interact with other adults of different socio-economic status? Reading and math are essential but so are navigating social corridors, and by limiting student experiences we are putting them at a disadvantage. Students need more than just the skills to secure employment, they need the skills required to advance to the highest levels of the job market.

The diversity street is one that runs both ways. If I never interact with people of different religious, ethnic, or socio-economic backgrounds, how will I ever understand their point of view as a member of the workforce, a community member, or a fellow citizen? It’s a recipe for an even more fractured society.

In a perfect world, we’d be able to redraw the school lines so that more students of mixed backgrounds attend Buena Vista. But remember that MNPS is a choice district and I’m willing to bet that if those boundaries were re-drawn, many families would exercise their option to enroll in a different school instead of sending their kids to Buena Vista. The end result would most likely be 300 poor kids in a school instead of 220.

There has been some effort in the past to create a “magnet” type school with specialized offerings in the hope of broadening appeal. Despite a few incidents, that has not proven to be a successful strategy.

This might offend some – and if so, so be it – but as a parent of 2 children who have spent 5 years in a high needs school, I find the elementary school choice process a little precious. I understand at times that there are special circumstances that require a k – 4 students to attend a school other than their zoned school, but for the most part, if you are a middle class and above family, your child attending a high needs school is not going to be detrimental to your child and it will be beneficial to the zoned school.

If you send your child to a high needs school, they are not going to fall 18 levels behind in reading. Your child will not fail to master basic math. Your home life has so many intrinsic advantages built-in that your child will do just fine. I know, fine isn’t good enough, you’re raising the next Einstein, still, the benefits will outweigh the risk.

Increasing the number of involved parents, increasing the resources available, the exposure to children of different backgrounds, have all shown to be beneficial to the education of ALL children. I know this requires parents being uncomfortable at times, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s unconscionable to me that Mayor Briley lives right next door to Buena Vista yet he’s failed to adequately invest in the school. His child is older now, but if he had sent his child, would not some of his neighbors followed?

In the five years, we’ve been enrolled in Tusculum ES, the school has been on an upward trajectory. A school that was previously on the cusp of being taken over by the state is now eagerly awaiting results from last year’s TNReady. The population is growing annually. Some would point to the new building as the impetus for that, but keep in mind that had I not spent 2 years haranguing people, we might still be waiting for that building. That’s what happens when you have people that can get involved and have the ability to navigate the system.

I’m not saying that my family’s enrollment alone accounts for the improvement at Tusculum. There are other families that also helped pave the way. The school’s leadership position has been a stable one for the last 5 years. This has allowed the attraction of more high-quality teachers and the development of a staff that ranks among the best in the city. Success begets success and it starts with families investing in our schools.

One last thing on the Tennessean article, they publish a whole bunch of interesting data – including chronic absenteeism, teacher attrition, and demographics. Those items are extremely informative but they lack context. The number of students at a school and the number of teachers are important factors that need to be included. A small impoverished ES that loses 18% of its staff is not the same as high school that loses 20%. Keep that in mind as you scroll through the data points.

I’m mildly interested to see where future articles go, but until the Tennessean proves itself an unbiased and agenda-free partner, I’ll continue to take their reporting with a grain of salt. For that matter, I’d encourage you to take everything I write with a grain of salt as well. One thing that the last several years has taught me is that education is a layered and complicated endeavor and the more voices involved the better the outcomes.

MAYOR GET DOWN AND DIRTY

Someone must have told the mayor that people perceive him as weak. They must have also told him that tough people use salty language. As a result, we get a story about a mayor calling “bullshit” on his opponent. Which is fair enough because I’ve called “bullshit” on this mayor bragging about an MOU with the school board that he failed to produce, a mayor who publicly defends a failing superintendent while undermining the school board, a mayor failing to address a growing teacher labor movement, and a mayor who only talks tough when surrounded by supporters. Briley continues to accuse Cooper of trying to buy the election while he meets with the richest people in Nashville. It’s mind-numbing.

Meanwhile, MNEA and the Central Labor Council remain very quiet about the upcoming Mayoral run-off vote. Both organizations endorsed John Ray Clemmons in the general election. Clemmons came in fourth, so a switch in allegiance is now in order. Will they go with the self-avowed progressive or get behind the evil developer and his greedy cronies. Making things even more complicated is the number of ed-reform types that have donated to Cooper’s campaign. This should be interesting. Just keep in mind that Cooper has promised all along to dramatically increase MNPS’s budget if elected.

QUICK HITS

This week MNPS kicked off HS Football season with its second annual media day. By all accounts, it was a huge success. Check out complete coverage in the award-winning student-run Hillsboro Globe. While your there you’ll find exceptional coverage on several other issues as well.

I recently mentioned that despite approval by the school board, MNPS will not be offering Kurdish language classes this year. News Channel 5 follows up on the story and attributes the lack of offering to budgetary issues. Hopefully, that’ll change in the future.

Former Director of Schools Shawn Joseph has a new gig. Per the Tennessee Tribune, Dr. Shawn Joseph, “Former Metro Nashville Director of Schools, will continue his fight for equity and excellence for all children as a newly appointed Visiting Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Fordham University.”

 Keep in mind this is a non-tenure track position and what exactly Joseph’s job responsibilities will be is unclear. When asked if he would be moving to New York or remaining in town, Dr. Joseph shared, “My family has grown to appreciate both the challenges and opportunities within this city.  Over the next year, I will develop a research agenda that allows me to keep Nashville as my primary residence.” 

Meanwhile, MNPS continues to be very good to long term Joseph associate Karen DeSouza-Gallman. This week she earned her doctorate degree from Trevecca, a degree of which half was paid for by MNPS. She’s also got a new position with the district and with that position a huge raise. Last year Gallman was an EDSSI making a mere $124K a year and this year she’s in charge of ensuring that everyone in MNPS adheres to the inquiry cycle at a salary of $140K.

Speaking of raises, today teachers receive their first paycheck reflective of the approved 3% pay raise. I’m assuming the raise is in there but since teachers no longer receive pay stubs unless they log on via a web portal, it’s hard to confirm. Teachers also receive a $100 stipend for setting up their classroom off company time.It’d be nice if teachers had easier access to those stubs.

Yong Zhao is an educational scholar that has frequently written on America’s fascination with the Achievement Gap. Last year he published a book called, Reach for Greatness. This week he posted the introduction to that book and education scholar Dianne Ravitch reprinted that intro with commentary. I urge you to read it, as they both raise some very salient points.

No, Will Pinkston has not honored his resignation yet. But thanks for checking in.

That’s a wrap. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive. This week it’s filled with pictures from the first days of schools. 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, and I’ve got costs. I don’t make much, but it helps offset some of the time invested in researching issues. The renewal is $350 and is due next week. I could use some help in making that number. So far you’ve generously helped with about a third of the cost and I am extremely grateful.

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.

Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions and once again a big shout out to everyone who helped make this year’s first week of school successful. Teachers and administrators, y’all rock.

 

5 thoughts

  1. Great job covering the first week of school. I particularly enjoyed all of the pictures you posted. I am shocked, though, about the Fordham appointment. Have they not read about any of Joseph’s poor job performance?

  2. Great coverage of the first week of school! I enjoyed all of the pictures you posted. I am shocked at the Fordham appointment. Have they not heard of Joseph’s past performance at his two positions?

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