A BRIEF LULL IN THE ACTION

“You will never be told when the next bit of education is coming or where it’s coming from or who the teacher will be. That information will only reveal itself after the fact. All that you can do is leave a little room there for the next lesson to come through. Someone will be carrying it. You just leave the door open a crack.” – Tom Petty

“Everyone that you fight is not your enemy and everyone who helps you is not your friend.”
Mike Tyson

I’m experiencing an interesting phenomenon today. As I sit down to write the early week edition of Dad Gone Wild, I realize that for the first time in three years, I have no hyper-pressing issue to cover. That’s not to say things are perfect, but they seem to be trending in the right direction.

We’ll take a deeper look in a bit, but in this weekend’s most of you gave the start of MNPS’s school year a “B” and I think that’s a fair grade. The jury seems to still be out on whether Dr. Battle will be the long term leader for the district, but for now, she is at minimum sucking the drama out of the room. Former Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse would be proud, her team is doing a decent job of controlling the noise, something he failed to accomplish.

That said, we do have some issues that need covering so let’s get to them. Per usual we’ll start with the top, the TNDOE, and work our way down.

STATE HIRES

Six months ago Sharon Griffin was the head of the Tennessee Achievement School District and Dr. Lisa Coons was the head of MNPS’s Priority Schools. Today, in a remarkable twist, Griffin leads MNPS’s Priority Schools and Coons to oversee curriculum and instruction as a director at the Tennessee Department of Education.

What’s makes the transition so remarkable is that neither was particularly successful in their former role. The ASD failed to make substantial academic progress under Griffin and she was facing an open rebellion from the charter school operators who make up the ASD.

As the head of priority schools for MNPS, Coons struggled to find a meaningful improvement plan for those schools. Both had had conflicts at some point with their respective bosses. Despite past issues, both seem to come out of their struggles with essentially a promotion and an increase in pay. Not bad work if you can get it.

Early accounts on Griffen paint a picture of an intense dedicated professional who just may have been in the wrong position, or at the very least, leading a doomed experiment regardless of her skill as a leader. Every report I’ve heard is of a positive nature. I know it’s August and things tend to be a lot more positive now than in February, but Griffin’s actions evoke a lot of optimism.

Dr. Coons hiring is going to bear watching. Over the summer the TNDOE undertook the construction of a list of approved ELA instructional materials. Word is that newly appointed State Education Superintendent Peggy Schwinn expects close adherence to the list by the state’s school districts. The list has supposedly been completed, publishers notified, but not released to the public.

Coons has a history of being a strong supporter of CKLA and its chief cheerleaders The New Teacher Project.  The TNDOE in the past has been a proponent of CKLA and TNTP, despite pushback from teachers. CKLA and its creator E.D. Hirsch have proven to be controversial. Which begs the question, Is CKLA on the list of TNDOE approved ELA instructional materials?

Under Coons, MNPS Priority Schools were forced to implement CKLA. Former Director of Schools Shawn Joseph contracted with Florida State University to include MNPS in a study on MNPS. A study that has already proven to be fraught with problems. IF CKLA is not on the list, how is MNPS affected?

Several years ago it was believed that organizations that supplied alternative licensing plans would help place highly qualified teachers in front of more students. Teach For America was born from this mindset,  as was it’s younger, and smaller sister, the Wendy Koop founded, Michelle Rhee led TNTP. A decade ago, both benefited from a depressed economy.

At the time, Wall Street and legal firms weren’t hiring. As a result, there was an ample crop of high-quality graduates willing to go into teaching for a couple of years while they waited for the economy to recover. The problem was that once the economy recovered, the supply of students willing to forego the start of their career to begin teaching dried up. This forced TFA and TNTP to reinvent themselves.

TFA became more of a social justice organization, they also focused on placing corp members in elected offices or supervisory positions – positions where they could influence policy. TNTP followed suit but focused more on training teachers and writing papers that called attention to perceived problems while offering no concrete solutions.

A central business of TNTP today is training principals through its Pathways to Leadership in Urban Schools (PLUS). They’ve undertaken this initiative despite a lack of qualifications and being led by a board whose members have limited classroom experience.

Prior to Dr. Coons assuming a leadership role with MNPS, TNTP was an organization with very little interaction with MNPS. They were an approved option for individual schools to utilize for professional development but no schools chose to use them.

Last year under Coons’s leadership the district approved multiple contracts with TNTP totaling roughly a million dollars. Those contracts facilitated the growth of CKLA throughout the district. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to anticipate her pursuing a similar strategy at the state level. That’s not a strategy that’s good for students.

We are trying not to jump to conclusions, but it’s safe to say, we are eagerly awaiting the state’s list for ELA instructional materials.

TENNESSEEAN REPORTING

Last week with great fan fair the Tennesean announced a new series focusing on Metro Nashville Public Schools. Per the Tennessean, the impetus to launch the series was to provide a public service to the citizens of Nashville,

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

The Tennessean further proposed that they would go “beyond the long-running debate over charter schools and vouchers, and focus on what we can do as a community to bridge the divide”. Great.

As part of this public service, they published an interactive map and database showing how your child’s public school stacks up. Great, I entered “Valor”. No data.

I entered “KIPP”. No data.

“Rocketship”

“Knowledge is Power”

“Nashville Classical”

“LEAD Academy”

All gave me the same information. None.

Why would you advertise a database on Nashville’s public schools and not include several of the supposed highest performing schools? Last I checked, all the charter schools in Nashville were public schools, so why the omission?  Why expect parents to make decisions with only partial data?

The Tennessean promises a conversation that “will go past the long-running debate on charter schools”, yet fails to include them in the opening salvo of the conversation. If this is what we can expect in the run-up to next year’s school board election, it’s going to be a hot summer next year and I’m not talking temperature. We got to do better.

QUICK HITS

Speaking of the school board, next month they will elect a new chair for the coming year. Current chair Sharon Gentry has served three terms, and I think by most people’s estimation…that’s sufficient. Former board chair Anna Shepherd has expressed interested in reassuming the mantle of leadership and that is potentially appealing. Vice-chair Christiane Buggs has also expressed some interest in taking the gavel, but I’m not sure how appealing that is.

There’s an old saying though, to the victor go the spoils. Agree, or disagree with their tactics, Jill Speering, Amy Frogge, and Fran Bush, all demonstrated the ability to see through the mist and exhibited a willingness to act in the public interest despite personal attacks. That’s kinda a description of leadership. Of the three, Frogge would appear to be the logical choice. Hopefully, she is interested.

Last night was Hillsboro High School’s annual Burro Bash. It’s a chance for families and educators of the school to come together for a night of fun and community building. This year was a bigger success than ever. Spotted in the crowd was my favorite shirt of the year. Kudo’s to the music teachers, not just at Hillsboro, but all across MNPS. We got some good ones.

Nashville students are participating in MAP testing this week. In case you are not familiar, MAP is a nationally normed test that is meant to GUIDE INSTRUCTION. When used properly it is a tremendous tool. However, we continue to insist on using it for purposes it wasn’t intended, i.e. a high stakes test.

I got a notice at my daughter’s school that results would influence admission to the Cambridge program. It’s also being used to diagnose learning disabilities and qualify for gifted education. We are also not giving it at the NWA recommended times. NWEA recommends Fall, Winter, and Spring with a minimum of 21 weeks between tests. MNPS does it twice in the Fall and once in the Winter, with no Spring test. This is due to purported “test fatigue” impacting TNReady results or vice versa. If I kept showing up with a hammer for that wthat required a screwdriver, would you not become frustrated with me?

Last Thursday was a count day for the district. Every 20 days going forth will be another one. On these days the number of students are counted and that number is placed against funding allotments. Rumor is that the district count numbers were a little short of projection numbers. Keep in mind though that students often show up unenrolled during the first week, Their paperwork needs to be completed and make its way through the system in order to be part of the official count. Expectations are that once that happens, actual numbers and projections will be a lot closer.

Every year MNPS receives a high number of ELL students coming from an individual country. This year it is a high influx of students from Honduras. Many of these students are from detention camps or are children unaccompanied by parents – usually, they live with an aunt, uncle, or some other member of the family. Further evidence that national immigration policies have a direct impact on MNPS schools. Luckily, MNPS has an incredible ELL program.

It’s open house time at Overton High School this week. Check it out.

Over at the TNEd Report, Andy Spears has collected the stories of how low pay affects teachers across the state. Let’s just say…The Struggle is Real.

Please join the Nashville Public Education Foundation in congratulating UniCycle and Restorative Students Leaders, this year’s incredible finalists for the Inspiring Innovation Award! Learn more about both of these impactful organizations, and how they are bettering the Metro Nashville Public Schools community here: https://bit.ly/2GYuejr

Over the last several years Bellevue Middle School has – to put it gently – struggled. This year they have a new principal in Seth Swihart and if early indications translate, it’s going to be a very successful year for the Owls. Swihart isn’t choosing to tiptoe around the past and inherited problems, instead, he’s attacking them head-on with plans to make sure that he does more than just address the issues, “Talk is cheap,” he said. “I know I have to win them over.” Read more about Swifert and his vision and you can’t help but be impressed.

POLL RESULTS

As always on Monday we look at the answers to the questions posed over the weekend. The first question asked you to grade the first week of school. As previously mentioned, 52% of you gave it a “B”. 20% awarded an “A” and 14% assigned the week a “C”. Not bad. Here are the write-ins,

200 school based teacher vacancies D- 1
We didn’t have A/C so in my book, they failed 1
Kids starting on Monday was exhausting 1
I agree teachers are tired,. 1
School Counselors working long days and weekends scheduling without pay. Ugly.

Question 2 asked at what age a child should get a cell phone. 67% of you indicated that it depends on the child and circumstances. The rest of you indicated between 12 – 14 years old. Here are the write-ins, some of which made me chuckle,

21 1
depends on needs of the family 1
Never! Is that possible. 1
circumstance & kid 1
When they can pay for it 1
depends on the kid and when he can pay for it

The last question asked at what age you felt children should receive the talk about sex. Again, most of you felt it was dependent on the child, though the number 2 answer was that it should be ongoing beginning before they started school. I was a little surprised that 15% of you said middle school. That feels a little late to me.

Here are the write-ins,

As soon as the child starts asking, answer. 1
Depends on so many factors. Parents pay attention. 1
Should be ongoing as you say and age appropriate re: detail

That’s a wrap. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive. Currently, 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.

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 and justifies to the family the time devoted to writing. The renewal is $350 and is due at the end of the week. I could use some help in making that number. As of date I’ve got about a half of it due to reader generosity.

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.

I’ve got another educator interview coming down the pick. You should like this one, as it went somewhere totally unexpected. That should be ready next week. So keep your eyes open.

Have a great week and we’ll have more soon.

 

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One thought

  1. I cannot stress enough how little I value CKLA. When I went to the initial “push,” I was grateful that it was optional for us. Highly scripted, using picture illustrations for the script, and no books in the students’ hands. I cannot imagine how this program can effectively engage students and allow the teacher to make the decisions needed for their learners. In my opinion, it is another example of how little our teachers are trusted as professionals. Let them teach!!

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