TIME TO EMBARK ON A SEARCH

“Well that’s very kind of you, but voices ought not be measured by how pretty they are. Instead, they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.”
Sam Cook

“Never confuse movement with action.”
― Ernest Hemingway

In two weeks Dr. Adrienne Battle will have been the interim-superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools for 6 months. She’s done a solid job, especially considering the circumstances. The post-Joseph world comes with all the normal responsibilities coupled with challenges created by the former superintendent  and his team during his tenure.

Policies need correction. Relationships need mending. Talent – both in the classroom and in the board room – needs retaining and recruiting. The further we get away from Dr. Joseph’s reign the more we get a clearer picture of the damage done. Dr. Battle and her team have navigated these turbulent waters as best as possible and in a manner that never casts blame. For those efforts, she deserves a hearty thank you and Nashville owes her a debt of gratitude.

I’ve always pictured the transition away from Dr. Joseph and into the hands of the next director as being a two-part function. The first job was one that required a calming presence, someone who could return the focus back to students, teachers, and classrooms. Someone who could take the reins and stem the bleeding. In that role, Dr. Battle has performed admirably.

The second role involves moving forward once the bleeding has been stemmed and actually leading the district into the future. Is Dr. Battle the person for that role? I don’t know. She has certainly performed at a level that demands that she be considered at the forefront of the conversation.

I’m a big believer that the process matters. The end does not justify the means. Nothing that begins corrupted purifies.

The process that resulted in Dr. Joseph being selected to lead the district was deeply flawed and manipulated and as result it ended in a predictable manner. Dr. Battle’s appointment too interim superintendent was not without elements of concern. It is inexcusable that she was introduced to then-Mayor Briley as interim superintendent before ever being brought before the school board as a candidate. Such incidents taint the whole process and only serve to undermine the role of leadership.

This brings us to the elephant in the room, when does the MNPS school board begin the search for the permanent director of schools and do they even start a search? I believe the latter is undebatable and on the former, the discussion needs to begin immediately.

It’s a common misconception that Battle is serving with a 2-year contract as director of schools. Her contract as interim-director has a duration of 2 years, but it allows the board to call a search and make a change at any point, sans a financial penalty. It’s worth noting that Speering and Frogge were both asking for a 6-month contract but were overruled.

It is imperative that the board does a search and that they conduct it as soon as possible. That’s no reflection on Battle’s performance and in actuality, her capabilities are being limited by the board’s inaction.

Anybody with any insight into the current state of affairs at central office is aware of just how much work is being required in order to fix a ship that’s been allowed to get off keel. I may not agree with all the decisions being made by leadership but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the amount of work being put in. They need help, both people to do the work, and people with a high-level skill set and a portfolio of experience.

The problem is, those people are not going to leave the security of their current positions without some assurance that current leadership will remain for a bit. Getting this right means working 60 -70 hour weeks, which translates into a sacrifice of family time. High-level administrators, like teachers, make those sacrifices on a regular basis, but they are not going to do it without some assurance that their sacrifice won’t be for naught. By not naming a permanent person to the director position we are limiting access to a desperately needed talent pool. A move that only sets the current occupant of the  leadership seat up for failure.

Obviously Dr. Battle will have the inside track on the permanent position. She’s had greater access to both district data and the desires of school board members than any other potential candidate. But a search would supply an opportunity for Dr. Battle to be properly vetted. What is her leadership philosophy? How does she envision the needs of the district? How does her philosophy on education align with the strategic plan of the district as laid out by the board? These and more are questions that need answering in order to ensure Nashville is getting the very best candidate for superintendent. And that above all should be the primary goal.

So when does the board conduct the search? There has been talk of waiting until next Fall, after the next school board election. In my mind that would be a grave mistake.

Despite last year’s school board race being a fairly civilized affair, I suspect next years will return to the contentious nature of previous years. First off, the front bench – Buggs, Speering, Frogge, Gentry, Pinkston – is up for re-election. All 5 have evoked strong emotional feelings among the electorate and all 5 have made enemies during their tenure. Enemies that would love to see them unseated. Doing the selection process after the election would basically raise the stakes even higher for those seats, by tying them to the selection of the next superintendent.

Rumors continue to swirl that the advocacy group Education Trust is coming to town. Don’t think for one second they’ll get here without their checkbook. Amazon already broke out their checkbook for the mayoral election. They just recently invested heavily in MNPS, it’s not a stretch to assume that they would want a say in who will oversee their investment. And, don’t think for a moment last week’s rejection of Rocketship Academy’s application went unnoticed by those in the charter school community. I’m sure they’d like a more sympathetic director. That’s a lot of revenue streams to contend with.

Another factor to consider is board leadership. Right now, the board is in good hands with Anna Shepherd and Amy Frogge at the helm. Next Fall there is no predicting who’ll be in the leadership seats. We’ve seen what a search under poor leadership looks like, it’s not an experience that bears repeating.

In order to complete a search before the next board election, it would have to be finalized by the end of May to comply with state law. With Dr. Battle getting ready to go out on maternity leave, I don’t think anybody wants to begin the process before the baby is born and everybody has had time to adjust. That would put us around December and smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. Not a good time for undertaking a search.

That means that the search would have to begin by late January/early February. A tight window but one I believe is doable. But in order for that to happen, conversations need to start happening almost immediately. The board has a couple of upcoming retreats in October and I suspect that the director search will be on the agenda. Let’s hope so, otherwise, everybody needs to break out their helmets for the next election season.

AND ONE MORE CRISIS

I have written – and will continue to write – extensively about the teacher crisis, but there is another crisis that is influencing it, the substitute crisis. Over the last several years the district has been combating a lack of substitutes. It’s a battle we seem to be losing as things have gotten even worse this year.

It is not uncommon for a school to be 5 or more subs short on any given day. What that means is that other teachers have to cover those classes. It means that planning time has to be sacrificed and/or teachers need to oversee larger classes. Neither of which is beneficial to student outcomes.

The stress that comes with overseeing larger classrooms and sacrificing planning time contributes to teacher dissatisfaction. On the flipside teachers that legitimately need a day off are sacrificing because of not wanting to put colleagues in a bad spot, also contributing to teacher dissatisfaction. Increased teacher dissatisfaction leads to increased teacher departures.

During my campaign, I offered a plan to increase pay but also proposed that if substitutes worked a certain amount of days a semester they would be eligible for benefits, including medical. They also would be eligible to participate in a certain amount of paid PD days dependent on the number of days they work. Hopefully, that would allow for closer alignment between the teacher and the subs.

Whether those proposals would help or not are debatable, what’s not, is that the strategies we are currently employing are not working and that the result of this failure is extremely detrimental to student outcomes.

SHORTCUTS

In the interest of fairness and accuracy, I need to point out that Dr. Gallman is getting paid 140K annually to oversee the implementation of the inquiry cycle, not 143K as I’ve previously reported.

Since MNPS first implemented MAP testing, correlation with TNReady has been touted as a benefit for administrating the testing. Unfortunately, that has not proven to be as accurate as advertised. In this past round of testing, there were schools that performed very well in MAP testing that did not score equally as well on TNReady. MAP testing, while it can prove extremely useful, does not reflect the Tennessee State Standards. Yet we continue to utilize MAP scores for entry into advanced curriculum and other uses it was never intended nor designed for.

Perhaps MNPS should follow the lead of Boston City Schools where Boston’s Superintendent of Schools Brenda Cassellius has announced a moratorium on district-mandated standardized tests, according to a Sept. 19 memo to school leaders. She did so in response to a note from a teacher in regard to MAP testing, “I do not want to be found insubordinate. However, I will refuse to do harm to kids,” wrote Colum Whyte, a teacher at the Lee K-8 School in Dorchester and parent of a BPS student. He included a photo of a girl crying over the test.

Did you know that Lockeland Design Center Elementary, a Nashville magnet school emphasizing literature and language, has been recognized nationally as a Blue Ribbon School? They sure have. Know how I know? I read it in an article in ChalkbeatTN article written about two Memphis Schools that had received that same designation. That’s the MNPS communication department for you, exceeding expectations everyday. Congratulations Lockeland Springs!

One of the most moving things you’ll ever read is the final piece written by journalist Heidi Hall, Finding a faith that is stronger than death — or my family’s rejection Hall passed away this week, succumbing to cancer. She’ll be missed and we all should aspire to live a life as full as hers.

Vesia Hawkins, a champion for parents, has a new piece out that envisions a world where parents have a greater impact on their child’s learning, Dreaming of A Pipeline of Parent Power from the Schoolhouse to the White House.

Some of you may remember former HR director, and Joseph enforcer, Sharon Pertiller. While she’s no longer employed by the district, she is still tied to several lawsuits facing MNPS. Apparently the court room is going to become even more familiar to Pertiller, as her husband is suing the city of Murfreesboro over being forced to resign. Let’s see where this one goes.

I need to give a quick shout out to Oliver Middle School and specifically its band program. My daughter started there this year and up until the school year began, swore she wasn’t going to be a part of the band. Last night at 9:45 as I passed by her closed door, I heard the sound of her drum sticks hitting her drum pad accompanied by the chorus of, “1 and 1 and  2 and 1 and…”.  Well done Oliver, you’ve won another one over. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that music education in the Music City is exemplary.

Teachers, Get a Jump Start on your National Board certification! TEA is going to host 3 training sessions in Nashville Oct. 25, 26  the MNEA building, 531 Fairground Court) & Nov. 9 (at TEA, 801 2nd Ave. North).

MNPS is hosting a job fair from 8 am. to 2 p.m. Oct. 5 at our Employee Wellness Center, 2694 Fessey Court. Details: ow.ly/tlZY50wsvcw

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 the poll questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts

  1. Yasss, a search this acad year and not next year is needed. I think the board will be split on whether to do a full search and we will get inaction. In that case go ahead and approve her as director until June 2021 so the whole ship doesn’t suffer in the meantime. But that’s probably too sane of logic for our board.

    No actions being taken now on hiring, literacy, or math strategies are going to take hold while we wait. And wait. A pending 1.5% bump in January will only get ya so far. I predict that will be the only actual action our board executes this academic year.

  2. Battle had her shot and decided to not separate from destructive patterns. Hiring Elissa Norris, hank clay, gallman retention -all bad moves. Inquiry cycle has no purpose except to create the illusion that highly paid central office personnel have any interest in schools. We can’t recruit or retain teachers.. Start the search and hire a real superintendent who is committed to stopping dysfunction.

  3. 1) PLEASE do not celebrate Blue Ribbon Awards, and especially when the state hands them to white schools.

    https://schools.mnps.org/lockeland-elementary-design-center

    We know that “affluent kids in=high scores out”. The Blue Ribbon Award, at Lockeland, at Percy PRiest, at Meigs, and half of Williamson County tells us nothing about the hard work (or lack of it) at any school that receives it. It is probably the most meaningless construct in the entire landscape of public education. More to the point, when we celebrate these meaningless awards, it only ads to the fire of the segregationists and privatizers.

    2) Thank you for pointing to the substitute crisis. We looked at that in depth ?6? years ago when we were serving on the Parent Advisory Council. We got deep data from H.R. at Bransford that confirmed our worst fears – and we learned that the vacancy rates at our integrated high schools ran 2x to 3x those of segregated magnet high schools Hume Fogg and MLK. It was another indicator that either the district is again clinging to the “two high schools is right for high school” model, or substitute teachers, and teachers generally, just strongly prefer to teach in schools where lower scoring kids (who also tend to higher rates of discipline referrals), are not allowed in the building. Whatever the reason, we need to fix this head on, with the kinds of discipline supports that have been promised since the PASSAGE initiaive, and which you have rightly lamented the absence of to this day….

    1. Agree:awards based on achievement alone=useless. Growth awards I can stomach, to a degree. Then again our secretary of Ed wants to make the A-F system be a “best of” system that devalues growth. Why? otherwise there will be plenty of affluent schools w/mid level ratings if growth is a factor.

      Once again no results are much of a surprise anywhere. The few exceptions have completely fixed their discipline. That’s what they have in common. But that’s usually happening by exclusion (charters, schools requiring applications).

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