Exceptional Grace is

“Investigations, meditations, careers, relationships were much the same, he mused. They failed because no one thought to ask the right question.”
Eliot Pattison, The Skull Mantra

“Anything that just costs money is cheap.”
― John Steinbeck

 

There are times in life when you are exposed to people that live in such a manner of grace that you can’t help but be in awe. Two years ago Jeff Davis was the successful assistant principal of Litton MS. His children attended the school and his wife was an integral part of the school’s community and a successful fundraiser for Lurton. The love the Davis’s felt for Litton, the school’s community, and each other was palpable.

Since that time Jeff has found himself out of a job he loved, employed as an AP at DuPont Hadley, had storm damage to their home, and he is now facing a battle against a brain tumor. Any one of those situations would provide a huge challenge for a family. Shockingly though, the love for Litton, its community, and their family is still palpable. The only difference is that despite hearts that could already be considered full, the Davis’s have made room for the Dupont-Hadley community.

Eliot Pattison writes a series of mysteries featuring a Chinese detective in Tibet. Woven into these books is a great deal of Tibetan philosophy. I’ve always been struck by the Tibetan belief that hard times are to be almost celebrated as they present an opportunity to demonstrate faith. Anyone can have faith in the good times, but do you hold fast in the bad times? Challenges in life give us the opportunity to answer that question.

I’ve never seen anybody quite live that philosophy like the Davis family. I often hear people bemoan that social media ain’t real life, but some things you just can’t fake. Throughout Jeff’s whole ordeal. he and his wife Cara, along with their children, have continued to live each day in a manner that is nothing short of inspirational. I have found my self frequently reading Cara’s blog posts and thinking where does strength like this come from? They would tell you faith.

Last night Litton and Dupont-Hadley played a football game. It was one of those games where sports become more than just a distraction from the day to day mundanity of life. Communities from both schools came together to wrap their arms around the Davis’s and tell them just how much they mean. Jeff face-timed in for the coin flip. For one afternoon, those in attendance receive a reaffirmation of life itself.

The game provided an example of why public schools are just so important. It’s about more than just reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic. It’s about community and building stuff together. It’s about lifting each other up and in the end, it’s about love. Thank you, Litton, DuPont Hadley, and the Davis’ for reminding us all just how precious life really is. Y’all are some honest to god heroes. The kind that never goes out of style.

Get well soon Jeff. Take inspiration from the people you inspire.

THE HIGH COST OF A SCHOOL BOARD RACE

Right now Denver is in the midst of a school board race. You might be thinking, “Great, but why should I care.” You should care because of the money.

Denver shares a lot of similarities with Nashville. It’s a little bigger and has gone a little further down the reform road then Music City, but we share many of the same challenges – charter proliferation, chronic underfunding, teacher attrition. Over the last few years, many Denver families have grown weary of the education reform movement and voiced a desire to see many of so-called innovations stopped. They find themselves at a very similar crossroads as Nashville.

In all likelihood, next year’s Nashville school board election will decide who gets to decide who will be the permanent director of schools for Nashville. Conceivably the city could end up with 5 new faces in school board chairs at this time next year. We already know that recently retired school board member Will Pinkston’s seat will be up for grabs, and the early word on the street is that Dr. Gentry won’t be seeking re-election either. That leaves the seats of Buggs, Frogge, and Speering for challengers to target.

Nashville’s charter school crowd has gotten a lot quieter over the last several years, but now there is a new governor who is ready to embrace charter school growth. There is a new state charter commission that has the power to overrule those pesky local school boards. There have been no new charter schools approved in Nashville over the last 4 years and I can’t help but think that’s a fact that doesn’t sit well with some. Now would be a prime time to start making noise.

Charter school supporters aren’t the only folks in town who I would imagine would relish the opportunity to influence the direction of our schools. Amazon is establishing its footprint on the city by investing in MNPS,  while many parent groups have been vocal in their desire to have greater influence and the Scarlett Foundation is still out and about trying to influence the direction of schools. I suspect they’ll be no shortage of money involved in the race.

Denver’s election day is November 5th and at this juncture, 5 out of 8 candidates have raised 65k or more. Two independent expenditure committees, Students for Education Reform Action Committee and Better Schools for a Stronger Colorado, which is affiliated with the group Stand for Children, have already contributed in excess of $300k.

Yep, next years race is going to be an expensive proposition.

WHO NEEDS A PLAN?

When I pressed for Dr. Battle to have an extensive strategic plan for her leave of absence due to the birth of her child, many took exception. They accused me of being insensitive to Dr. Battle and countered that MNPS was staffed by professionals that would do their job just like if Dr. Battle was present. Well, one day was all it took to prove my point.

Dr. Battle gave birth in the morning on Wednesday and in the afternoon, MNPS Communication Department was writing their own policy. Less than a day and people were already starting to wander off the reservation.

Earlier in the week, it had been announced that Glencliff High School would be canceling their football program for the year due to a lack of players. That would be a story anywhere but in a city with a school in the SEC and also home to an NFL franchise, this was especially big news. Newspaper reporters, unsurprisingly, wanted to cover the story. Citing her own policy, and running counter to district policy, MNPS POI K. Dawn Rutledge told The Tennessean high school practices are closed to media and access is given at athletic events.

Access to MNPS sporting events has now been restored, but there are still four weeks remaining in Dr. Battle’s well-deserved maternity leave, let us see how many more personal policies get written.

AND ANOTHER ONE GONE

Earlier this week, Oliver Middle School staff and family learned that another talented educator would be exiting the district. Dr. Norwood has been a valuable member of the Oliver team since she began student teaching at the school 12 years ago. People familiar with Norwoods work put her on the level of former Tennessee Teacher of the Year Cicely Woodard.

To date this year, Oliver has lost 11 teachers and a bookkeeper. Among them a highly regarded STEAM instructor who is now employed by a local charter school. I’d like to say this issue is just an Oliver issue, but as I’ve reported, this is a problem plaguing schools all over the district.

At this juncture, losing any teacher is problematic for MNPS, but losing one of Norwood’s status is especially devastating. Families choose their schools based on the quality of staff and the assumption that they will remain employed with that school as students pass through. Losing a high-quality educator like Norwood means that families will consider other options. And unfortunately, based on recent legislation, they’ll have funding in the form of vouchers in order to make their decision. Decisions that will only lead to greater underfunding of the district.

I’m sure district officials will cite National statistics, maybe speculate that Dr. Norwoods decision is a personal one, or offer any number of the excuses that get offered to avoid addressing the teacher attrition crisis. There should be no acceptable excuses despite what they may say. No matter what the challenge, it is the responsibility of district leaders to put qualified educators in front of children. It’s a responsibility MNPS is currently repeatedly failing to uphold and it’s way past time to hold someone accountable.

If you’ve got concerns about teacher attrition, here are some good places to start asking questions. The last two are specific to Oliver, but hey, ask them anyways.

Dr. Adrienne Battle- directorofschools@mnps.org

Chris Henson (acting director while Dr. Battle is on maternity leave): Chris.henson@mnps.org

Tony.majors@mnps.org

Craig.Hammond@mnps.org

Michelle.Springer@mnps.org ( associate superintendent of middle schools)

SHORTCUTS

A reminder that for MNPS teachers October 18th is a planning day. Principals can not mandate that you attend any PD sessions. You are free to plan independently all day. I’m sure some of that planning will be taking place down on Jefferson Street as the 18th is also TSU Homecoming, annually the biggest day of the year for teacher absences. Probably just a coincidence.

MNPS is hiring more talented and dedicated support staff to join #TeamMNPS. They seek bus drivers, support and nutrition services staff. Join them at tomorrow’s Career Fair from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the MNPS Employee Wellness Center, 2694 Fessey Court. Tell a friend. 

I’m going to leave this here. It’s a quote from a report released on Monday by Stanford University’s Sean Reardon and a team of researchers, Is Separate Still Unequal? New Evidence on School Segregation and Racial Academic Achievement Gaps.  

“(W)e have no example of a school district where minority students disproportionately attend high poverty schools that does not have a large racial achievement gap. If it were possible to create equal educational opportunity under conditions of segregation and economic inequality, some community—among the thousands of districts in the country—would have done so… If we are serious about reducing racial inequality in educational opportunity, then, we must address racial segregation among schools.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

Every week, The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.

This week is an especially good one. She talks with two high schoolers who run a youth-literacy organization. After Sabine Wood read a newspaper article about Andrea Liao’s Book the Future project, which arranges book drives for local organizations in need, she reached out and found not only a new cause but also a new best friend. I suggest you give it a read.

The Pearl-Cohn High School Freshmen football team this week beat their opponents 40-14 to win the City Championship! Congratulations, Firebirds.

In anticipation of his new book “Finding the Joseph Within” I went over to Dr. Joseph’s website to find a release date. Assuming that the “Press” tab would most likely contain the information I was looking for, I clicked on it. I didn’t find the release date for the book but I did find links to articles that offered insight on several educational topics, including one titled, Renew Breakup Bootcamp Heals Your Asian Mail Order Wife Past. But What About Your Future? Hmmm…maybe I’ll head over to Amazon and see if I can’t find that date.

Y’all have yourself a great Fall Break and we’ll see you on the flip side.

Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive.  There are a lot of pictures from this week’s Walk To School Day this week.

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 may have ended, 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 is always greatly appreciated.

 

 

 

11 thoughts

  1. A bummer about Norwood. There can be many reasons for these things. Although if she turns up in Franklin Special it really is a conspiracy. We don’t know how to make this a manageable job at this point. All we know how to do is survive. Maybe.

  2. Staffing is complicated. The short version of the story is successful people gravitate toward successful people and you can’t do anything to stop that. Couple that with no appetite for discipline (a societal change that has good reasons for the lack of appetite), and there are very few remedies in sight to staffing.

    On one hand even if there were no tfa the avg yrs exp would be lower than desirable in virtually any urban district. Generally there is not enough support for emotional disturbance, diagnosed and undiagnosed special educ for it to be easy no matter what urban district you are in. There’s not enough pay differential possible, in basically any urban area, to deal with outflow of teachers to counties. It takes extreme measures to counter this, and the number of districts and building admins that can counter these system forces are very few, anywhere. Charters are exceptions because they can pick parents. Nothing written above makes Nashville unusual. Now, we certainly aren’t helping improve “working conditions” lately, but we are trending like you’d figure for the level of state/local funding we can expect. Teaching has become mobile and over the last 15-20 yrs. people migrate more to better working conditions because retirement benefits have stopped being enough of a factor. The cities are almost never able to stop the bleed. Any admin that promises otherwise is in a tiny minority if they are successful.

    1. Some of what you say I agree with, a lot of it is the same old, “Well it happens nationally so there is nothing we can do but slightly mitigate”. We have to stop hiding behind the idea that it just the way we would expect and start really thinking of solutions. I can think of about 10 off the top of my head that would at least start improvement

      1. Try we must. But there are few victories outright that can be truly claimed based on all that trying. It is important to be realistic about forces we are up against. Ideas are…. lovely. They are also a dime a dozen.

  3. Response to twitter

    Teachers leave For administration sometimes sure. doubt it accounts much %. can’t think of anyone that ever said gee I want to keep teaching but cannot grow professionally. when they go for administration it is for $$$ which is not a truly bad reason for some. those are not people that just say screw it all I’m leaving the field

  4. I get that pay and discipline are huge problems in MNPS and across the nation, but the fact that we refuse to even try and address them in a productive way is on us as a city. Both issues will take significant monetary investment to even begin to fix. We need daily support for students by trained professionals in trauma and mental health if we are serious about educating the whole child.
    What I find more frustrating though is the lack of respect for teachers and the devaluing of my chosen profession. Again – I get that this is across the nation – BUT MNPS could address this one
    easily. Treat teachers as professionals. Stop micromanaging us. Let us make instructional decisions based on our students needs not some forced scope and sequence document. And please stop making us justify every decision we make. Support us in front of students and parents. Let us be the creative and caring educators we chose to become because we want to make the world a better place by helping children become the best adults they can be. This would not take a significant monetary investment – it would just take trust and a willingness to release control back to the classroom teacher.

  5. isn’t Dawn Rutledge a Joseph-era hire? if so, she needs to be shown the door, along with any others from that long district nightmare time.

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