“Children should learn that reading is pleasure, not just something that teachers make you do in school.”
“It takes a busload of faith to get by.”
― Lou Reed’s New York
When I started this blog, I vowed to use it as a means to facilitate those educational conversations that people avoided having due to the subject matter being emotionally charged. When I shifted gears three years ago and increased the focus on MNPS, it was with a renewed commitment to serving as a vehicle for those difficult conversations.
While I think those conversations are essential, I believe it’s equally important that they are conducted in as humanely a manner as possible. We always have to be cognitive of the fact all of our views are shaped by our life experiences and none of our experiences are the same. At the root of every policy conversation is people. Data points are not just numbers on a page, and leadership is made up of actual people whose motivations can not arbitrarily be assigned. While we can’t be afraid of frank conversation because they involve actual people, we also need to be aware of the feelings of others.
I realize that by opening up these conversations, I run the risk of offending some people, and for that I’m truly sorry. My motivation springs from a desire for greater understanding and not personal gain. I would rather the subject be broached and people be angry with me as opposed to me having greater personal popularity and conversations remain unspoken. I do believe that Dr. Battle and some of her team members are truly trying to do what’s best for teachers, students, and families. It’s important to remember that criticisms are about policy and performance and not personalities.
With all that said, let’s wade into today’s subjects.
LEAVE TIME PLAN
Sometime in the next four weeks, MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Adrienne Battle will go out on maternity leave in order to give birth to her second child. This is a joyous occasion and should be celebrated. As best as I have been able to gather, she intends to remain out for 3-4 weeks before returning to work. My question is, what is the plan for while she is out?
What is the chain of command? What are the contingencies under certain emergencies? What are the initiatives assigned to each chief during the time she is out and how will progress be reviewed? God forbid anything happens, but the reality is childbirth is extremely dangerous and there is always a chance of complications, so what are the contingency plans if something happens? In essence, what does the blueprint and expectations for the next two months look like?
I understand that giving birth is an extremely personal moment, and I respect Dr. Battle’s desire for privacy. That desire, though, can not outweigh the fact that she is responsible for roughly 87k kids and 13k employees. They are looking to her for leadership and as the Director of Schools in MNPS, she owes it to them to communicate what the world will look like while she is out on leave. Instead, the unofficial message communicated is that people would be expected to just show up and do their job. If anything big arises, they could call her. Frankly, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Personally, I wish she would have used the opportunity of her pregnancy as a means to champion the need for family leave and self-care for teachers. Since the majority of the teaching population is made up of women, most are familiar with what she is now experiencing. Nobody understands more than teachers what it means to try to balance work and family expectations, and at times, failing at both. Had she been more transparent with her pregnancy, imagine the conversations that could have been held around the balancing of personal needs with work responsibilities? She would have also given all of us a chance to celebrate together this happy and life affirming moment.
As a leader, it is important to understand that those you lead take their cues from you, and those cues are both implicit and explicit. How many teachers will rush back to work knowing that the Director of Schools only took the minimum amount of leave time? How many teachers will try to work right up to the day of birth because, after all, that’s what the Director of Schools did? Leaders need to understand they are always modeling expectations and behaviors, wittingly or unwittingly. I firmly believe that an opportunity was lost, not only for Dr. Battle, but also to improve circumstances for all teachers.
Dr. Battle did acquiesce a bit and announced, on a limited scale, that once again Chris Henson would oversee things while she was out. Frankly, that’s not enough. Where are the expectations? Without any additional information, the natural assumption is that while Battle is out, everybody will just maintain what they are doing. Well, maintaining is not good enough. There are real issues throughout the district that need solving quickly.
We are still hemorrhaging teachers with no relief in sight. We still have issues with the discipline policy and its implementation. We still need an actual literacy plan. We still have a communications department that acts as a separate entity. We have an employee relations department that exacerbates more problems than it solves. We are undertaking an inquiry cycle initiative that is only serving to massively disrupt schools and alienate teachers. Solutions for these problems can’t wait. I don’t believe it is unreasonable to expect reassurances that these issues are being addressed during the Director’s absence.
Failure to share a plan for her absences also raises a few other questions. If the district can function for several weeks with no real plan during her absence, how much actual leading is she doing? Is the leadership team continually doing its own thing without running things past her, thus making her absence just a continuance of current day-to-day actions? I don’t know the answer to these questions.
I do know that when teachers take an extended leave, they over-plan. They create lesson plans for every day they’ll be out. They communicate with team members, conveying key information in case the sub needs assistance. They explain to the kids that they’ll be out for a number of days and they convey their expectations and reassurances. They don’t just lay out a vague timeline and say, “See you on the flipside. Call me at home if you need anything.”
My other question would be, if you are under-planning here, where else are you under-planning? Teacher recruitment and retention? Literacy? The inquiry cycle initiative? To be honest, all of the aforementioned share similarities with Dr. Battle’s leave plan. The biggest being a lack of detail. I would say that’s a problem.
I know the criticism sounds harsh, but I think it needs to be voiced. Leading on the scale Dr. Battle now finds herself serving on takes a bit to grow into. Nobody goes from leading a few principals to leading one of the largest districts in the country with their awareness and vision fully developed. That takes time, and unfortunately though, time is not something the job comes with. I raise these criticisms with the hope that she will increase her self-awareness going forth and have a greater sense of the influence she carries.
There is a little bit of time before Dr. Battle goes out to give birth. I would encourage her and her team to construct a document that clearly spells out the chain of command, expectations, contingencies, and responsibilities of everyone while she is gone. What’s the old saying, your emergency does not trump your inability to plan properly. She is about to experience one of the greatest joys life provides and it only happens for a limited amount of time. My hope is that she doesn’t miss out on any of that due to a failure to adequately prepare in her professional life.
VOUCHER, VOUCHER, WHO GETS A VOUCHER?
This week saw the release of early details for Governor Lee’s voucher plan to the State School Board. These details at this point are just proposals, but there are some problematic elements. Once again, proponents are trying to slip the policy through sans state accountability measures for participating private schools. Those schools use national accountability measures and don’t participate in the administration of TNReady. It’s been long argued that this creates an unfair advantage for participating voucher schools.
The legislation was passed with the stipulation that all students who utilize vouchers take the TNReady tests. Here we are revisiting the conversation in an effort at revision. It’s problematic.
Tip of the hat to board member Wendy Tucker for focusing in on teacher issues. Vouchers will mean more students for private schools, with that increase in students, more teachers will be required. Where will private schools find these teachers?
Under current legislation, private schools are not required to use licensed teachers. So how does the state ensure that those students who are awarded vouchers are guaranteed high-quality teachers? How does the state ensure that teachers who lose their license for inappropriate behavior don’t show up in the classrooms of private schools? Or are we not even supposed to mention that?
Yea, it is all a sticky wicket, and I predict it will only get stickier. Governor Lee is determined to begin offering vouchers for the 2020-2021 school year.
A DOG AND PONY SHOW TO TOP ALL DOG AND PONY SHOWS
Man if you think school board meetings are comedy gold, you need to watch some state Textbook Commission review meetings. That commission met today and lived up to its billing.
Six months ago, the process to select the list of state approved-ELA instructional materials was instigated. That process included many sessions with reviewers from across the state out of which a final list was curried. Lo and behold, rumor has it, CKLA was not on the list. That did not make our new State Commissioner very happy.
As a result, plans were made to revise the list and have failed submissions re-reviewed. A meeting was scheduled for September 6 to approve this new timeline. Some state legislators caught wind of some of the things Ms. Schwinn was attempting to do in other areas, and they weren’t happy. Plus, the state hadn’t given proper 15-day notice for the planned meeting. Meetings were canceled as a result. The textbook commision meeting was re-scheduled for today. I know 20 – 6 doesn’t equal 15, but let’s not get caught up in details.
Shockingly, at today’s meeting, there was only one person wanting to speak publicly. That was a representative from a textbook company who, like the rest of us, was confused by the process. I don’t think he got any clarification. References were made to a workshop that apparently had recently taken place. I don’t know any details about that workshop nor could I find any information.
After public commentary concluded, business moved on to the real purpose for this meeting. A timeline was being proposed to re-review those items that had failed initial review. Ready for this timeline?
Pending approval today of new appointed reviewers, textbook companies would be notified that they had until next Friday to submit a proposal. Reviews would take place early the following week, with the board approving selections by mid-October and going to the state board by mid-November. Now that’s some condensing. I would hate to accuse anybody of anything, but this is a recommendation of which the outcome feels pre-ordained.
What wasn’t talked about in this brief meeting was how the measurement tool had been changed and what the differences between the previous and the current tools were. There also appears to be some vacant seats on the commission. I’m not sure if those people were just absent or those seats need filling.
Now some of you may be worried. What happens if, with all these manipulations – I mean considerations – CKLA still fails to make the list of approved ELA materials? Don’t worry, the Commish and Dr. Coons have you covered. There is a webinar scheduled for next week to walk you through the waiver process. You know, in case you want to use materials not on the list. This webinar comes after early indications were that the commissioner would be taking a hard line on compliance with the list of approved materials.
After adoption of the list of reviewers and the new timeline were approved, today’s meeting was adjourned. Well played, Commissioner. Well played. All that’s left to do is practice my surprised look when CKLA makes the list.
Earlier in the week, I referred to Hamilton County Superintendent of Schools Bryan Johnson as being formerly with MNPS. I misspoke. While he received the majority of his secondary education at Belmont and Trevecca, his professional experience comes from time spent in the Clarksville Montgomery County School System. His wife Candi worked for the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. My bad.
National writer Jeff Bryant has a new piece out that those familiar with the tenure of Dr. Shawn Joseph should find intriguing. Regular readers of Dad Gone Wild will recognize a lot of the players. It is definitely not a pretty story, but one that needs telling. Bryant tells how companies bought up Superintendent search companies, professional development companies, and technology companies in order to maximize profits. As one former superintendent recently told me, one contract with a new superintendent could quickly become three contracts. Bryant lays out the details on how that happens.
Interesting note, MNPS has shuttered its Office of Equity and Diversity. They cited budgetary reasons for this move. Under former Director Shawn Joseph, the director of that department was one of the highest-paid employees in MNPS, making roughly $150K a year. Probably no correlation. A spokeswoman for MNPS says the district still employs two equity and diversity coaches, but their focus is on professional development and coaching schools around issues of diversity rather than broader desegregation strategies. I happen to know one of those educators and can attest she’s one of the hardest working women in show biz.
THE ZOMBIES ARE COMING! Come see “Attack of the Zombies,” put on by the Overton HS Bobcat Players, on September 26, 28, and 30 at 7:00 PM, and September 29 at 3:00 PM. Student tickets are $5 and adults are $10. They will also have a zombie photo booth where you can take a picture with their scariest monsters attacking you!
Good news for MNPS in regard to graduation rates. They jumped 2% points over last year, from 80.2% to 82.4%. That is something to be proud of.
Several high schools saw graduation rates exceed 90 percent, including:
East Nashville Magnet High School
Hillsboro High School
Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet School
Middle College High
Nashville School of the Arts
Hume-Fogg High School and Nashville Big Picture High School attained 100 percent graduation rates. Really good news.
Per MNPS School Board member Jill Speering,
Seven years ago Dr. Sue Kessler took a chance. She hired a first year teacher to become the band director at Hunters Lane Comprehensive High School. Dr. Kessler has not been disappointed with her excellent hire!
Mr. Brooks only had 17 students that first year. Seven years later, Mr. Brooks’ band has grown to 74 students. For the past six years all seniors in the band at Hunters Lane High School have received scholarships to college because of the leadership of Will Brooks!
Last week, Mr. Brooks and his students received a donations equaling $84K of instruments and greatly needed chairs to enhance and expand his musical program.
Our community is proud of Mr Brooks and his fabulously talented students in Madison! Much appreciation to StubHub’s #TicketForward program which partners with with Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.
Keep hearing that the Education Trust is considering establishing an outpost here in Nashville. Hmmmm… one year before the upcoming school board race that could have a huge impact on Metro Nashville Public Schools’ future. Good thing we’ve never seen anything like this before. In case you didn’t catch that, it was sarcasm. I’m not really sure what another education advocacy group has to offer a city that is already saturated with the like, but time will tell.
As of late, there seems to be a proliferation of social media posts with pictures depicting educators engaged in professional development. These are the kinds of posts you normally see in July, when teachers are preparing to start classes. I’m not sure who the intended audience is, as they do absolutely nothing for me. Seeing a group of adults huddled around a powerpoint fails to convey to me reassurances that children are receiving high quality intruction. You want to deliver inspiration? Show pictures of teachers teaching and students learning. Like the one above.
You know who is featured in Diane Ravitch’s forthcoming book Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance Against Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools (out January 21, 2020)? Our very own school board member Amy Frogge. In a piece out today, Ravitch gives a preview of what Frogge shares.
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.
Look, she’s a bit hampered by her interim status. Any permanent cavitation in any direction that she forces has to be more justified than for even a regular superintendent. That said, this is a tryout for permanent superintendent status here or somewhere else. The goal should be to minimize unforced errors. Fixable things involve communications, the amount of meeting time, and avoiding a budget meltdown. Big stuff like fixing HR, discipline, closing schools, changing feeder patterns—those have to wait until she exits caretaker status or is replaced. Just ask Henson. He’s been through that. More than once.