THE SUN SETS ON AUGUST

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”
Oscar Wilde

“I suddenly leaned forward,bringing my face close to hers.catching her breath,stifling that laugh and pink tongue,she watched me wide-eyed.I removed the wallet from my back pocket and sat down casually again.
“What happened?” I asked idly.
“I thought…never mind”.She blinked.
Ha,gotcha”
Chetan Bhagat, Five Point Someone

 

The first month of the 2019-2020 school year for MNPS is now officially in the books. While things, for the most part, have run with rtelative smoothness, I think more than anything the month has revealed just how much work needs to be done. The tone of the district may be much improved, but it remains clear that Human Resources, Communications, and Literacy all remain areas in need of desperate improvement.

This past month a concerning number of teachers decided that this just wasn’t the gig for them and they split. Those of you who called it a day, I get it. Those of you still in the trenches fighting the good fight – thank you. All I can say is thank you.

This year as a family we officially kicked off the middle school years. I ‘m not going to say that we didn’t have fears, but to date, those fears have proven unfounded. Oliver Middle School has wrapped its arms around my daughter and she has embraced everything the school has to offer. For that, I can’t say thank you enough. I always heard that Oliver rocks, and y’all are proving it every day.

That said, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get to it.

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

There is a lot to unpack at this board meeting. Some good. Some bad. Some borderline comical.

Of particular interest on the consent agenda, is approval for a contract with the Woodway Fisher Group to provide services to advise, mentor, and coach the MNPS Director of Schools. Services include, introductions to the leading national authorities in the academic field and provide advice on leadership and best practices. Woodway Fisher is the company of former Williamson County and Houston Superintendent Terry B Greer.

During his career, Greer has worked for 8 different school districts and is a two time National Superintendent of the Year winner. His time in Houston was not without controversy but is considered successful by most measures. Under his watch, in 2015, Houston ISD became the first district in Texas to ban out of school suspensions in grades PreK-2; except in extreme cases. A policy that is now state law in Texas. Hopefully, he’ll be able to help MNPS get their discipline policy right.

Widely recognized as one of the best, it is safe to say that Greer is very familiar with the challenges of navigating an urban district and his advice to interim director of schools Adrienne Battle should prove invaluable.

After the consent agenda board took up the issue of closing the Knowledge Academies Charter Schools and the potential ramifications of doing so. The failings of KA are well documented. The vote was an easy one and unanimous. The biggest question was the timeline for closing.

Those students currently attending KA would have to be provided for by other area schools, many of which are already overcrowded. This year KA schools were budgeted for 951 students but per the Tennessean, roughly only 600 students remain. It’s unclear how many of those students will return to traditional schools and how many will enroll in other charter schools, private schools, home school or leave the district. Yea…that’s a lot of choices. Sorting through those choices is why the board elected to close the school after December 19th.

KA has indicated that they intend to appeal to the state to prevent the closing from happening. In all honesty, based on test scores, the state could intervene and give the school a stay. The reality is, how many parents are going to stick around and wait for the verdict before choosing other options. Losing more families will just add more financial burden to a school that is already cashed strapped. Sometimes you just have to rip the band aid off.

Nobody should take any joy in this outcome. Behind all of the accusations and political maneuvering are very real families. Families that have done nothing but take advantage of an opportunity provided to them by the district. Through no fault of their own, their lives are now thrown into turmoil, and for that, the district owes them a deep apology and a commitment to finding them new options that serve their needs,

After the KA vote, Paul Changus, MNPS’s Director of Assessment and Evaluation, presented on ACT testing. The presentation centered around the importance of preparing kids for ACT starting in the early years. It also provided an opportunity to make one of those ridiculous pledges to double the number of students in MNPS who score a minimum of a composite score of 21 by 2025. What that means is that by 2025 60% will be scoring a 21.

Over the last 3 years, the percentage scoring a 21 has been 31.3%, 31.1%, and 32.3%. Based on those numbers, I’m not sure what Changus sees that makes this pledge a potential reality though he does describe the goal as lofty. When questioned what incremental growth would look like in order to achieve this lofty goal, Changus couldn’t provide an answer.

It’s been my experience that administrators make such lofty goals – whether its the ASD, Literacy, or ACT – in order to distract from stagnant growth. We always see a big article announcing the establishment of these grandiose benchmarks, but by the time the allotted time period has elapsed, we’ve either moved on to other goals or everyone is hoping the grand statement has been forgotten. I’d prefer we leave the public posturing behind and instead focus on making the most growth possible.

The next item on Tuesday’s agenda was a report on the status of the staus of improvement to MNPS’s HR department. The subject of teacher recruitment and retention has been garnering more and more attention from the public as more and more students are finding themselves in classrooms sans a qualified teacher. It’s an area most recognize as entering a critical stage. In his presentation, HR Chief Tony Majors, offered some shiny objects but very little meat.

Majors began his presentation by handing out documentation to board members that detailed changes and then promptly reminding them that it contains client/attorney privileged information. At this point, continuing to hold up the Bone McCallester report as some top-secret dozier borders on the ludicrous and only serves to prevent scrutiny of the current HR director’s actions. The information in the report has been widely disseminated and most of those individuals who’s performances are reviewed in the report have left the district. Therefore those who cooperated shouldn’t fear reprisal unless it comes from the current leadership.

Majors begins his talk by laying out the shortcomings of other Tennessee school districts when it comes to staffing. I’m not sure where these numbers are derived from but a call to Shelbyville schools put their openings at approximately 60 – predominately in SpEd and Middle School. Williamson County is reportedly between 24 and 26.

Regardless of the veracity of the number, has anyone in the history of ever been appeased over your failure by a comparison to others’ failures? What parent is ok with their child not having a qualified teacher because children in Memphis also don’t have a qualified teacher? The scope of the problem is immaterial as long as the problem remains unresolved in MNPS.

Majors goes on to talk about revisioning the focus of HR and placing it squarely on attracting, inspiring, and retaining great employees. Huh? What was the old focus? Repairing the motor fleet? Preparing lunches for kids? I think the focus of HR as a profession has been pretty well established, it’s the execution that defines whether that focus produces results or not and right now I don’t think anyone thinks this department is producing results.

Among Majors “strategies” are the increased usage of Teach For America corps members despite their inability to produce candidates on the scale needed. Last year a contract was approved for them to supply 75 teachers, they only supplied 36. Don’t think TFA wouldn’t have supplied more teachers if they could, as each candidate represents a fee of several thousand dollars payable to TFA.

The continued usage of TFA flies in the face of overwhelming evidence of their role in the devaluing of teaching as a profession. Part of the reason we are in this boat is that they helped write the narrative that teaching is something that you do until you move on to your real job. The biggest issue with TFA is that they take money from the district and repurpose that money into promoting leaders that create policies that is detrimental to public education.

Majors also talks about paying high school teachers $9k to teach during their planning period at a middle school. He says they’ve built safeguards in to prevent burn ou,t but my question would be around safeguards built in to ensure that quality of instruction to the teachers assigned class load doesn’t suffer. Teachers have waged war over the last several years to secure adequate planning time, yet HR has no issue with asking for them to surrender it.

According to the HR data presented by Majors, the majority of teachers MNPS hired, 517, are ones that have never taught in Tennessee. That number seems a little high and I question it. That’s alot of teachers that will have to become familiar with Tennessee standards on short notice.

A comprehensive compensation plan was teased, but of course, that won’t be offered until a future board retreat. It’s worth noting that retreats are not televised so that the study will be unveiled far from the prying eyes of the public. It seems that one thing that hasn’t left the building with former superintendent Shawn Joseph is the idea of keeping every clouded in secrecy.

I’m really thinking of printing up t-shirts that say, “Everybody has two friends”, and passing them out to remind administrators that transparency really is the best policy.

The comical part of the conversation comes when Majors talks about “opportunities for internal leadership” and “incentisizing professional growth and development.” Frogge in response warns him of the dangers of merit pay. Major’s quickly backtracks saying, “That’s not what I was talking about.” But he most certainly was. Using different words does not hide the underlying theme and what he was talking about was…merit pay.

Yes, teacher recruitment and retention is a multi-faceted issue made up of elements that the district can control, and many they can’t. But in order to improve things, there has to be an honest conversation, one that includes pay along with district culture and the discipline policy. To her credit, Dr. Battle seems willing to have that conversation but HR continues to obfuscate things.

In closing, I find it deeply troubling that when Majors is asked the number of employees he supervises he is unable to readily provide an answer. How do you solve a problem if you don’t know the precise amount of resources you have at hand? Majors remarked several times that he would be submitting the HR budget this year, so hopefully by that time he has a better grasp on his current resources.

AN ODD EMAIL

On Wednesday I received an odd email from Connexion. Apparently it was one sent to all subscribers to their newsletter.

Dear TC,

I’m writing to you as Executive Director of Conexión Américas, the lead partner of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition. As valued members in this vital work, we wanted to share an important update. On Monday, Senior Director of Education Policy and Programs, Gini Pupo-Walker, transitioned out of her role at Conexión Américas.

Hmmm…the email goes on to mention an appreciation for the work that Walker has done and her contributions both as a board member and as a staff member. I found the email puzzling as Walker has been integrally connected with Conexion over the past several years and she made no mention of this transition at Tuesday’s board meeting. Nor is there any mention on her social media accounts.

Something tells me there is more to this story. The email makes no mention of what Gini Pupo-Walker will be doing in the future, nor does it wish her luck in future endeavors. There are rumors of her pending association with a new education advocacy group, but one has to wonder what questions of conflict of interest will arise there. Let’s see how this one unfolds.

QUICK HITS

News continues to seep out from the TNDOE and most of it ain’t great. There are reports of a mass exodus of employees over the last several months, which we shouldn’t be too surprised by,  considering the recent transition in leadership. What’s problematic is that most new hires seem to be falling into the catagory of young and inexperienced. Not really a great combination.

A couple weeks ago I reported that former MNPS Priority school director Lisa Coons had been hired as the Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. That was the position she originally applied for but instead she was named assistant superintendent of materials and supplies. A position that leads to even more intrigue around CKLA instructional programming.

Gower Principal Barbara Frazier this week demonstrated that she’s willing to supply lessons in and out of the classroom. This week she schooled a few ballers on the fine art of the round ball. If that doesn’t make your heart smile, nothing will.

If you thought the fight over vouchers has been settled, guess again. The Daily Memphian is reporting that both state and federal officials are probing into whether bribes were exchanged in order to ensure passage of the bill.  This really isn’t a good look for Governor Lee’s signature legislation.

Reports out of this week’s elementary principal meeting are initially positive. It seems the district may be getting closer to getting a better grasp on a comprehensive literacy plan. Though there still remain deep concerns around the emphasis on decodable texts and non-fiction when it comes to K-3. We got to get this right.

Now for a message from former Mayor Megan Barry…Please join me TOMORROW for International Overdose Awareness Day. Remember the ones we’ve lost – our bothers, sisters, daughters, sons, mothers, dads, husbands and wives. And sons. Let’s stop the shame.

Local Education Advocate Vesia Hawkins writes pieces that I don’t always agree with but bring a needed perspective to the conversation. Her latest is in response to a recent panel discussion on the role of black families in their children’s education, Advocating For Families Means Loving Them Enough To Hold Them Accountable. I encourage you to give it a read. You don’t have to like it, just think about it.

The Mayor’s race continues to plod towards the finish line. Apparently, there is no mud that Mayor Briley is afraid of slinging. This week he paints challenger John Cooper as someone who “inherited family money and land, and he used his inheritance along with public incentives to score major development deals that reshaped neighborhoods in Brentwood.” I know…can’t make this stuff up. All I can do is urge you to get out and vote. 

Long-time Slate writer Jeff Bryant dives into the issues around the hiring of school superintendents and the shortcomings of the search firms that provide candidates. It’s a lengthy read but one you won’t regret.

Please keep Fall-Hamilton AP and all-around great guy Jeff Davis in your prayers. Jeff was recently diagnosed with a mass on the right hemisphere of his brain. Luckily he is in good hands medically and has a amassed a serious good karma account, so he’s expected to recover. It’s going to be a tough journey though and the family could use all the support it can get.

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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