THE WINDS OF CHANGE CONTINUE TO BLOW THROUGH

The Lines On My Face
They Weren’t There Before
But I’m Wiser
I’m Stronger From All Ofthe Life
I’ve Been Through
 (I’ve Been Through)
Oh And If One Things For Sure
I Don’t Want To Be 20 Anymore – Bebe Rexha, Not 20 Anymore

“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they are not on your road does not mean they have gotten lost.”
Jackson Browne

I’m writing on a Wednesday this week because it is Americana Festival week. That means over the next 3 days I’ll be bartending several shows a day, leaving no time to write. So you get my musings today instead of Friday. As luck would have it, there is plenty to muse about – some of it is even amusing.

A CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Last night was an MNPS school board meeting and if you watch only one meeting this year, I recommend this one. Outgoing board chair Dr. Sharon Gentry was in rare form.

Festivities were kicked off by the always amazing students from the Nashville School of the Arts. They continue to serve as a testament to the incredibly talented students of MNPS.

The centerpiece of this meeting was to elect new board leadership. The first position up for nominations was that of Tennessee Legislative Network Representative, a position of who’s existence Gentry seemed puzzled by. Several times she referred to the position as being part of new board policy that “just popped up.”

Disclaimer here, new board policies do not just “pop up”. There is a lengthy process that includes, writing, reviewing, and voting on. What Gentry is, in essence, saying, is that she voted on policy she never read. Apparently no one else on the board – save Ms. Frogge who has been fulfilling the duties for the last year – has familiarized themselves with the position either, as there was confusion about what the role entailed and a decided lack of willingness to assume the duties.

For the record, the TLN is part of the Tennessee School Board Association and focuses on education policy at the state level. Kinda important don’t you think?

At first, board member Buggs declined the nomination but when nobody else would take up the charge, she cited a recent read meme that warned against members of your team that only want to be captain, because they may sink your ship, as motivation to take the position. Keep in mind that up until very recently Buggs was under the impression that she would be the next chair of the board, so interpret her quote how you will.

Next on the agenda was nominations for board chair. After repeatedly calling for nominations, even after it was clear Shepherd’s name would be the only name put forth, Gentry called for a vote. Once votes were tallied, Shepherd won with the only vote in opposition being that of Christiane Buggs.

Vice-Chair nominations were next and it was clear that saying Amy Frogge’s name as a nomination was very difficult for Dr. Gentry. Again there were repeated calls for nominations when it was clear there would only be one name put forth.

When the vote was called, four hands – Shepherd, Bush, Speering, Frogge – instantly voted aye. There was a long pregnant pause until the wise old warrior and wannabe kingmaker slowly raised a grizzled paw and uttered, “I’m the fifth vote”. What a long strange trip it’s been, that the man who has ridden Frogge’s coattails for 7 years is almost too burdened to vote for her in a leadership position.

Buggs and Gentry both voted “no” for Frogge, while Pupo-Walker and Elrod abstained. And with that, any chance of future board mediation picked up its suitcase and walked out of the room. Had all 4, or at least 2 of the 4, voted for Frogge, the opportunity for mediation would still exist. As it stands, Pupo-Walker and Elrod signaled that they were still putting personalities before policy, and in that environment, mediation is a moot point.

Pupo-Walker’s actions are particularly puzzling because, by all indications, for her, the school board is just one step on the ladder to higher political aspirations, yet she doesn’t seem to have particularly good political instincts. She endorses Mayor Briley when it’s clear that Cooper has taken a commanding lead in the race and she has aspirations to be vice-chair. She abstains in the vote for vice-chair instead of swallowing the bitter pill and sending a message of being willing to work with Frogge. Very, very, very puzzling actions by a politician that should be better at the game.

Despite the vote being settled, Gentry still had some comedy gold to unleash. Upon completion of the vote, she offered the gavel to Shepherd for the continuance of the meeting. Shepherd graciously declined, but Gentry had to get her daughter to a dance class so the issue was forced. If there were grapes in the back room, I hope nobody ate them because the ones in the board room were definitely sour.

Personally, I’m very excited about Shepherd taking back the gavel. Meetings will become more efficient and sermons will disappear. I suspect an official director’s search will also surface. In my opinion, not because of any overarching dissatisfaction with Dr. Battle, but rather because Shepherd has always placed an emphasis on following processes and policies. Make no mistake, Battle is the preferred candidate but perhaps now she’ll have the opportunity to win the job based on a fair and transparent process, instead of an appointment haunted by backroom meetings with Mayor Briley.

MOVING TEACHERS

Later in yesterday’s board meeting, there is a short presentation on current attendance counts. Prior to the presentation, Dr. Battle made a welcome disclaimer that everyone needs to remember that in discussing attendance numbers, every one of those represents an actual student. It needs to be added that they also represent actual teachers as well.

Overall, the district is currently 519 students over projections which translates to 275 students more students than last year. Growth continues to be centered around area’s below I-440, with those above seeing diminishing numbers.

Board member Gini Pupo-Walker pointed out that the numbers on English Language Learners were not included in the presentation. District presenter, Ron Latimer, responded that we are seeing higher than ever growth with the ELL students, somewhere in the realm of 1200 kids. That’s a statement that demands some follow up. With that much growth, how is MNPS remaining in compliance with the state’s required teacher/student ratio? This is one area that I’m confident Pupo-Walker will follow up on.

New board chair Anna Shepherd asked about teachers suddenly having to change schools as a result of lower than expected projections at individual schools. Latimore, glossed over the question, rightfully attributing it to an annual process. Just because its annual doesn’t mean it is right.

Remember the call to realize each number represents a student? It also represents a teacher. A teacher who is having their lives and their families uprooted by an extremely tight prescribed schedule.

What school a teacher is assigned to directly affects the quality of life for their family. If a 15-minute commute becomes a 45-minute commute, children’s after school activities become curtailed. Time with spouses is impacted. Hours at a second job have to be adjusted. Teachers chose schools for a lot of reasons. Reasons that need to be respected.

To give teachers chosen for relocation a basic pack-your-shit-up-and-get-where-we- tell-you message doesn’t exactly have a positive impact on improving district culture. An initiative Battle has repeatedly voiced a commitment to.

I understand the need to adjust assignments due to student enrollment, what I don’t understand is a failure to recognize the possible devastation such an adjustment can have on a teacher’s life. I’m beginning to believe that a weakness of Battle’s team is that she doesn’t have a “detail person” on it. She has plenty of big thinkers but virtually nobody is paying attention to making sure actions match platitudes. That $143k that went to having somebody oversee the inquiry cycle could have probably been better spent paying someone to make sure that actions are matching platitudes.

Luckily in most buildings, principals get it and they tried to make the reassignment as painless as possible. But to a new principal, this is incredibly treacherous territory to tread. We have to do better.

STATE SOAP OPERA

Last week I told you about the two hearings that were scheduled to take place with the TNDOE and than canceled on September 6. One was on accountability and the other was on state-approved ELA materials. In talking with people, I’m told that no one can remember meetings of this stature being canceled in the manner these meetings were canceled. The ELA materials one was particularly egregious because the meeting started 25 minutes late only to be quickly canceled and re-scheduled for September 20, a date that again falls short of the required 15-day notice.

The state is in the process of revising its state-approved list of ELA materials. Early in the summer, it was leaked out that CKLA was not included on the list. A list that was compiled through a rigorous review process led by state educators.

Since that information leaked, the TNDOE has hired TNTP and CKLA supporter Lisa Coons – who was non-renewed as director of priority schools by MNPS – to oversee the process. Furthermore, the scoring instrument being used to evaluate potential curriculum and textbooks is currently being redone by…wait for it…TNTP, an organization that actively supports CKLA.

On Monday an employment post was put up advertising the opening of a reviewer position. That posting has since been removed, despite the application deadline being September 15th.

To be clear, I’m not accusing anybody of anything, but this isn’t exactly a process that breeds confidence.

Over on the accountability side of things, ChalkbeatTN finally got around to publishing an article on the canceled hearings. A welcome article, but one that doesn’t clear anything up, and in my opinion focuses on the wrong point of view. They focus on the impact the changed accountability model will have on equity.

“The commissioner’s plan would take us backward and no longer incentivize growth in learning for all students,” worried one knowledgeable source who declined to be identified amid a politically delicate discussion. “Why wouldn’t you want all your kids to grow?”

The new model allows schools to decide on whether to be rated on achievement scores or growth scores. This runs opposite of the message sent for decades by the state. Tennessee was an early adopter of the TVAAS model developed by former UT professor William Sanders. A model whose flaws have been pointed out for years, despite being clung to by the state. Schools needed to score well on both growth and achievement, not either/or.

The equity perspective is an important one, but Tennessee has a Republican majority and Republicans rarely get hopping mad about equity. And to request, the cancellation of a hearing requires some legislators to be pretty hopping mad.

It has been my experience that fiscal issues are generally at the root of Republican anger. Tennessee currently faces several high profile lawsuits hinging on the reliability of TVAAS. If someone was to start monkeying with the formula at this juncture, it’s not unfeasible that it could have a negative impact on those cases and as a result, lead to the writing of several large checks. Now that’s something legislators could get hopping mad about.

The new accountability model is similar to that used in Texas. The main architect of the Tennessee plan is Michael Hardy,  who followed Schwinn here from Texas and formerly worked at IDEA Charter Network. The same network that employs Schwinn’s husband. In Texas, this model has been fraught with issues.

In talking with people, another thread emerges. Tennesseans like collaboration, they don’t like being told what to do. That probably holds true in most states but in Tennessee, it is a trait that runs particularly deep. Apparently, Schwinn has decided to adopt former State Superintendent Kevin Huffman as a role model. Huffman was notorious for proposing policy without consulting anyone. It’s a practice that didn’t work out so well for him, and likely will lead to the same result for Schwinn despite her being a kinder gentler version.

This week both Schwinn and Governor Lee both appeared at the Tennessee State Superintendent meetings. Both failed to offer many compliments for the other and by most accounts, didn’t seem to be on the same page. By some estimations, Lee seemed to be distancing himself from the Commissioner.

We’ll continue watching, this one is sure to get more interesting in the coming months.

QUICK HITS

The Reading Wars continue to heat up, the chorus of all all you need is phonics increases in volume. A new article in Eduweek by Mia Hood – What the Reading Wars Get Wrong – should dampen that chorus a bit while calling for all of us to be a little better.

The recent skirmishes between phonics and whole-language advocates reflect several major problems with how the “reading wars” have been waged. The first problem is that phonics advocates rarely start where all of us who wish to enter into honest debate must: by defining our terms. In this case, what do we mean by reading?

“All of us must be at least as careful about how we argue as we are about what we argue.”
Often, the unstated and unexamined assumption in arguments in favor of phonics instruction is that reading is no more than a process of decoding printed words—seeing words printed on a page and then uttering those words. If we accept this assumption, it’s easy to accept claims about the primacy of phonics instruction. After all, phonics help young readers associate letters with sounds, which, in turn, helps them decode printed words.

But all of us who read—whether to stay informed of current events, to learn about our history, to encounter faraway minds in great essays or faraway worlds in great novels, or to conduct scientific research—must do much more than decode printed words. Literacy scholars in the whole-language tradition understand reading as a process of sense-making—one we engage in not for its own sake but for bigger real-world purposes.

I urge you to read it all.

Speaking of literacy and per MNEA,

There has been a lot of angst and confusion surrounding the text-based planning template that was rolled down to elementary schools this year. MNEA has worked with Jill Petty, Interim Executive Officer of Curriculum and Instruction, and Aliya Washington, Interim Director of Elementary Literacy, to clarify the purpose and expectations surrounding the template.

The following was shared with LTDSs at today’s LTDS Coach Meeting:

“We have made the following recommendations regarding text-based planning at the elementary tier:

It is suggested that text-based planning occur weekly. Some schools hold a quarterly planning day and are able to plan for a unit/across several lessons. When a quarterly planning day occurs and the team is able to plan for several lessons, they may not meet again that week for text-based planning.

The ELA Planning Resources are suggested resources for text-based planning and designed to provide teachers and schools with additional support when creating lessons. Schools are not required to use those templates or resources.

We do recommend that collaborative teams have some kind of work product as a result of their meeting time together. That could be lesson plans or another work product of their choosing.

We have not provided a particular text-based planning template. The format for lesson planning templates is a school-based decision.”

MNEA hopes this information is helpful in moving forward as you plan your ELA lessons.

News Channel 5 has a story out today that won’t make anyone happy. 15 years of teaching experience has less value today then it did 7 years ago. Remember how I said MNPS has to plug the holes in the bucket if they are ever going to become fully staffed? Step raises are one of those holes that need plugging.

Congratulations to Hume-Fogg Visual Artist SK Steen whose work is on display in the Brodsky Gallery of the Chauncy Conference Center in Princeton, NJ for the AP Art & Design Exhibition. 30 pieces were chosen from 66,000 portfolios!

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 me 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 if you live in Nashville…get out and vote. See you next Monday.

 

 

 

 

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