INSUFFICIENT FACTS ALWAYS INVITE DANGER

“The source of our suffering has been our timidity. We have been afraid to think….Let us dare to read, think, speak, write.”
David McCullough, John Adams

“You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”
David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

 

Two years ago I had a breakfast meeting with then MNPS administrator and Dr. Joseph confidante, Mo Carrasco. The backdrop of the meeting was the ongoing budget talks for the approaching school year. A pay raise of 3% for teachers had originally been proposed, but  Dr. Joseph had scaled it back to 2% in response to then-Mayor Megan Barry dedicating less money to the MNPS budget. Teachers were fighting to keep the proposed raise of 3%.

“Why are you making teachers fight for an extra 1%”, I asked Carassco across a plate of pancakes.

“We have to fund our initiatives, don’t we? People want a quick improvement. Would you fund people over programs to improve outcomes?”

Incredulously, I looked at him and responded, “Absolutely.  Without investment in quality people, you could take the money you were planning to invest in programs out into the middle of the street and set it on fire. You’ll get  the same results.”

I’m not sure Carassco ever truly bought into that argument and evidence indicates that current leadership struggles with the equation as well.

Three weeks into the school year and MNPS is doing its best to stage yet another revival of The Leftovers. If you never saw the Leftovers, or read the book, it centers around the mysterious disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. They are simply there one minute and gone the next, much like teachers in MNPS. Only in MNPS’s case, the cause is not so mysterious.

This year’s unofficial count puts the number of teacher departures over the last 3 weeks at around 50. 50 teachers that showed up for work and then after a minimal number of days decided the grass was greener elsewhere and they were out the door. The number after Labor Day is sure to grow as several teachers gave Labor Day as a cut off point.

Some will say this is nothing new. Schools go through this every year. Part of that may be true, but every year the scale grows. Every year the district starts with more open positions and every year more teachers leave during the school year. Which means every year more students are taught by a digital platform, a long term sub, or some combination of the two.

Try to have an honest conversation about the issue of teacher staffing problems and you are sure to get a condescending response that dismisses this as a national issue and points to enrollment at teacher’s colleges being down. It’s for these reason’s and more that we’ve seen employment agencies like TNTP and TFA take root. The reality is both are culpable for the decline of the view of teaching as a profession which diminishes the attraction to teaching. This has severe consequences for school districts.

There is some truth to the argument that teacher shortages are primarily a national issue, but there is definitely a local component that comes into play. For years, we’ve hidden under the national story in an effort to avoid addressing the local issues.

It’s my personal belief that MNPS has been the victim of a perfect storm. Some of which results from their doing, some beyond their control.

Nashville has boomed as a city over the last decade. As a result of the rising cost of livings rates,  teachers and other public servants have been priced out of the metropolitan area. Many teachers have already moved their residence to outside of city limits.

It used to be that MNPS paid significantly more than the outlying areas, so a long commute was offset by increased pay and was considered justifiable. That’s no longer the case. Surrounding counties have repeatedly raised their rate of pay to a point where most are competitive with MNPS. Sumner County just gave its teachers an annual raise of $4K.

In 2018/2019 teachers were not only not given either a step-raise nor a percentage raise, but due to rising insurance costs, they saw a decrease in take-home pay. That’s right, teacher’s took home less money while being expected to do more without the necessary supports.

Under Dr. Joseph, MNPS saw a culture that was already unhealthy, become toxic. A new discipline policy was introduced without the needed supports and as a result teacher’s hands were further tied and the classroom became less safe. There has been some talk of modifying the policy, but to date, I’ve seen nothing concrete.

Joseph’s team also increased the reliance on scripted curriculum and the use of outside consultants. As a result, a perception was created that the district did not value nor trust, the skills of its teachers. Nobody likes to stay where they don’t feel appreciative, so teachers looked elsewhere to ply their craft.

This year provided an opportunity to address some of these issues. The school board led by Anna Shepherd, Jill Speering, Fran Bush, and Amy Frogge partnered with the Red4Ed movement and pushed for a 10% increase in compensation. Unfortunately, they were faced with an unsympathetic mayor and undermined by one of their own.

At the budget hearings, Mayor Briley asked, “Why 10%?” Based on the current circumstances it was a softball question that should have been driven out of the ball bark by sharing a narrative that would drive the initiative through to passage. Instead, Vice-Chair Christianne Buggs, lept to the mic and delivered what turned out to be the eulogy for teacher raises,

“Because they asked for it”, was her response.

The answer should have been because we are drowning out here. Too many of our kids are going to a class that is Not led by a qualified teacher. With out a qualified teacher we can not expect students to gain the skills in order to maintain the quality of life we enjoy here in Nashville. Too many of our teachers are seeking employment elsewhere.

I’m interested in seeing exact numbers – there hasn’t been a presentation on teacher recruitment and retention for two years – but I’d be willing to bet that the number of veteran teachers – those with over 5 years experience – has sharply declined over the last 3 years.

Couple that with mandating that every school have an LTDS and a AARTS, the number of veteran teachers in a classroom dwindles even further. As a result, you have a workforce largely populated by inexperienced teachers. Most of whom sadly are assigned to the hardest schools, because if I’m a veteran in a school with good leadership that is producing quality results, I’m more than likely staying.

I say that with a slight caveat, those attrition rates are changing as well. So many so-called “good schools” lost 20 or more teachers over the last summer that I think we have to now really question what is going on district-wide.

Teaching is hard work. Teaching in a high needs school is even more difficult. That can not be understated. When you don’t consider teaching your life calling it is hard to justify staying when you are placed physically at risk while being paid significantly less than your college-educated peers who chose other professions. That’s not a knock against new teachers, that’s an argument for common sense.

I believe teacher recruitment and retention is the number one issue determining the success of MNPS. It was the number one plank on my platform when I ran for school board. If we don’t address it and find both short and long term solutions, we are – pardon my french – fucked. There is no other way around it.

Recently MNPS Human Resources sent out an email telling principals that one of the strategies they would be employing was to reposition specialists as classroom teachers.

Phase 2: HR staff has provided a list of all non-instructional staff currently working in a school to the associate superintendents. (ie- Deans, LTDS, ART, Specialist, etc.)  Associate superintendents and EDS will work with principals to strategize on how to assign school-based specialist classroom teaching assignments to cover vacancies. Master schedules will be reviewed to identify opportunities to restructure classroom rotations, sizes, and/or course offerings. School-based specialists may serve in a teaching capacity full- or part-time dependent on the needs of the school. Once a candidate for hire is identified, that specialist will return to his or her previous role.

Holy cock-eyed camels, Batman! Do we ever learn anything? Way to tell a whole group of teammates that what they do is so unessential that they can drop what they are doing for a prolonged period of time to take up another more important task.

Two years ago, Dr. Joseph made a similar move when he discontinued Reading Recovery. With great fan fair, he announced that we would be re-positioning some of the most highly skilled teachers into classroom roles. In doing so, he ignored the fact that a teacher is not a teacher is not a teacher. Just because you are a great reading specialist is not indicative of you being a great classroom teacher, nor a desire to be such. The result was fairly predictable. Of the 80 plus Reading Recovery teachers that were displaced roughly 30 remain with the district.

The others have all found work with other districts that respect and value what they do. On a highly successful team – and this is a team initiative – everybody has a role to play and a job to do, the success of the team depends on everybody doing that job.

What would happen if Bill Bellichick asked his star wide receiver Josh Edelman to be a defensive back because he didn’t have one? You know, Edelman is fast and he’s a football player, why wouldn’t he leap at the opportunity? Because he’s a wide receiver and as such he wants to play for a coach that recognizes and values his skill set.

Until we have hard conversations around teacher recruitment and retention, this problem is only going to get worse. It’s not a problem that can be solved with parlor tricks and band-aids. It’s going to take thick skin and commitment. Two things that always seem to be in even shorter supply than secondary math teachers.

IT MAY NOT BE PRETTY, BUT it’s MOVING THE NEEDLE

In his latest Tip Sheet, Zac Barnes covers the ongoing saga that has become Knowledge Academies. He points out that school board member Fran Bush was employed on-site by a company that partnered with KA to provide ACT prep for at-risk students. When KA’s leader Art Fuller went MA, that partnership ended.

It seems that Barnes is trying to draw a narrative as being one where Bush was good with KA’s practice as long as she was getting paid. That’s a bit of a stretch. Bush was only elected last September, so while she may have observed questionable practices during her period of employment, I’m not sure she would have had the information she’s now privy to in order to properly evaluate those practices, and she certainly wouldn’t have had the means to hold KA accountable.

Barnes goes on to report that Bush was in court last Friday facing possible contempt charges. He provides court transcripts that are helpful in understanding the circumstances surrounding her appearance. What he focuses on very little is that neither Bush nor MNPS was found in contempt. Not only that but the judge cleared the way for MNPS to continue the process of shutting down the troubled charter school.

Later in his Tip Sheet, he mentions that the district has now reversed its policy on teachers using Donors Choose. That would not have happened without Bush. When she brought the companies executives to the board to explain how their company works, those executives were met with open hostility by board members Walker and Elrod. Elrod particularly tried to lecture the executives on how they need to conduct business, a lecture she was ill-equipped to give. Nowhere does Barnes mention Bush’s role in securing this valuable resource for teachers. Bush fought for teachers and won.

My point here is that board member Fran Bush does not always operate in the most…how should we say…palpable manner. She will never be accused of sacrificing substance for style. Her focus during her brief tenure has remained securely on what’s best for teachers and students. While others are occupied with playing political games and ensuring that they are perceived in the best light, she continually is willing to do whatever it takes to improve circumstances, even at the risk of harming her personal brand.  Hat’s off Ms. Bush, we could use a few more like you.

QUICK HITS

Many of you might have seen the story about Republic High Schools use of a substitute for a class attended by the brother of a man she’d slain. There is a rush to make this a story about a charter school, but there is more. The substitute in question was supplied by a company named EnRichEd that was founded to supply substitutes to charter schools. It’s a national company with clients in 13 different cities. Recently they were bought by a company called Education Solution Services. If you remember, ESS was employed by the district under Dr. Joseph. They were a company that failed to adequately address the shortage of substitutes and ran $250k over budget. It’s never simple.

The TNDOE released its annual Tennessee Educator Survey this week. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read it. Reportedly it says that 1 out of 3 Tennessee teachers wish they would have chosen a different profession. Ok. My issues come from a response rate of 62% and the assumption that you can ask people who don’t trust you their opinion and get an honest answer. But you are more than welcome to check it out or better yet, read Carie Wade Gervin’s take.

Funny side note, Gervin’s piece irked the powers that be at TNDOE because she published it before the “embargo” was lifted. Which begs the question, why embargo results from a teacher survey that is forgotten almost as fast as it’s published?

Keep your eyes on the TNDOE’s chief of curriculum and instruction and CKLA as it relates to the list of the state-approved ELA instructional materials. I promise, this is only going to get more interesting.

Early voting in the mayoral race begins today. Make sure you get out and vote. This week MNEA endorsed challenger John Cooper, who at this point should be considered the heavy favorite.

Despite the odds being stacked against Briley, the potential future school board leadership team of Walker and Buggs endorsed publically endorsed him this week. Hmmm…how do you spell that? B-U-G-G-S….W-A-L-K-E-R.

Did you know that Dr. Battle is not the only Overton HS grad leading a Tennessee school district? Hamilton Counties Bryan Johnson is also an alum. This week Johnson received a bonus of 15K from his bosses for Hamilton County Schools scoring all 5’s on the state evaluations. He promptly took that bonus and used it to create a scholarship fund. Well played Dr. Johnson. Well played.

Make sure you read Gayle Jaggers Op-ed in today’s Tennessean, Nashville Teachers Deserve Better.

Speaking of HSD, has anybody else noticed that everyone is being strangely quiet about the performance of the Partnership Schools performance on TNReady?

In stunning news today, it has been revealed that Doug the Pug is considering changing his endorsement. This could be a crippling blow for Mayor Briley’s re-election chances.

Apparently, the MNPS communication department has become so busy that they can no longer produce the series that highlighted a different MNPS employee every week, as I haven’t seen one for months. But hey, as long as Scoop Nashville and the News Channels are telling your story, you don’t have to, right?

Full disclosure, I’m listening to the new Taylor Swift as I write this. It’s good.

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 and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com.

A huge shout out to all of you who lent your financial support this past month. I am eternally grateful for your generosity.

The official begging is over, but you can still 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 all of MNPS’s Reward Schools. Teachers, students, and administrators, y’all rock.

 

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5 thoughts

  1. Tony Majors and his failed disciplinary policies have made schools unsafe and chased away many teachers and potential employees. The pay is an issue but teachers want to teach children and not referee fights! The fact that Battle ignores this and continues to listen to Majors is the reason we must #startthesearchnow .

  2. There’s a need to separate retention issues and recruitment issues. Money helps more with one than the other. I don’t have a problem with SharonG’s signing bonuses because they address the end of things where money helps the most. Hopefully she can direct more money to the retention but golly she been there like how many weeks? This plan is what got her results in izone and she was able to get retention money there too so honey wait a hot minute and see what she can do.

    1. It also got her shown the door at the ASD. And she’s the head of priority schools not the superintendent of the district. Problems come when you try to separate retention and recruitment

      1. No the bonuses are not what got her fired. And you are impossible to please. She takes the one weapon she has which are a tiny pot of state money and puts I into staff and yet you complain. Gimme a break.

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