STILL ASKING THE WRONG QUESTIONS

“Habit rules the unreflecting herd.”
William Wordsworth

“The moment we pulled up in front of her apartment she had the door open. She turned to me with the long, elegant, mournful face of her Puritan ancestors and held out her hand.

‘It’s been fun,’ she said.

‘Yes,’ I said, taking her hand.

She was wearing gloves.”
― T. C. Boyle

Colder weather has finally arrived in Nashville, just in time to greet kids return back to school from Fall Break. I hope everyone had an opportunity to recharge their batteries because we now make the sprint to Christmas time. Lots of news to cover from last week, so let’s not waste any time getting to it.

A SORTA SCHOOL BOARD RACE

As I reported last week, with Will Pinkston’s recent resignation from the MNPS School Board, Metro Council is now tasked with appointing someone to serve out the remainder of his term which ends next August. The more I look at this situation the more I realize that Pinkston really screwed the citizens of District 7.

Every other school district is represented by an individual of their choosing. One who is familiar with the needs of that specific district. This is important because, in a city as large as Nashville, each district has very specific needs. Had Pinkston honored his original resignation date, District 7 residents would have been afforded the opportunity to elect a replacement during August’s Mayoral election.

Because he didn’t, the people of District 7 will be represented by someone chosen by Metro Council. Odds are that someone will be chosen based on their ability to support the school system as a whole, and not on their ability to meet the unique needs of District 7. That flies in the face of the basic structure of the school board and leaves the families of District 7 at a disadvantage.

Press accounts have focused primarily on two candidates for the job – Freda Player and Kevin Stacey – but there are two other candidates who have also thrown their hats into the ring – Allison Simpson and Elizabeth Ukoli Hines. In the interest of fairness, I’d like to share a little information on them with you.

Allison Simpson is a mother of two beautiful girls, Ayanna and Malayah. She is an engaged parent that has stood by for way too long watching a system fail our children. Simpson has been volunteering at Second Harvest food bank in her community since 2007 and she is a reading clinic volunteer. She works in a priority school with an amazing team of teachers and administrators and was successful last year in decreasing the chronic absenteeism rate at that school from 22 to 18 to 13%. Allison Simpson has spent countless hours at IEP meetings acting as an advocate for parents with students who have disabilities. Allison advocated stopping an IEP meeting when a school refused to provide a parent an interpreter.

Allison Simpson served on the Mayor’s Parent Cabinet in 2017. She also hosts English classes at her house  After being employed at a priority school with a demographic of about 44% Latino(a) students, Simpson took a Spanish class to better communicate with students and families. She serves as the President of the parent organization at her daughter’s school and also volunteers to serve meals under the bridge in Nashville.  Allison Simpson empowers students, so much so one of those students took her skills to her school and advocated to get microwaves in her high school cafeteria. Allison Simpson is passionate about education, loves all kids like they are her own and will give the shirt off her back to help the next person. I’m supporting Kevin Stacey for the position but I’m a big fan of Allison’s. She is an incredible young lady.

Mrs. Elizabeth Ukoli Hines is a mother to two boys, Christopher, and Marshall, a wife to Dan, a daughter, and a sister. She is a substitute teacher at Metro Nashville Public Schools and an adjunct faculty at Nashville State Community College. She received her B.S. in civil engineering at the University of Virginia and worked for engineering, consulting and construction companies in Virginia. After 10 years in the construction industry, she exchanged her hardhat and steel toe boots for swaddle blankets and pacifiers when her twin boys arrived in August 2013. She started her math tutoring business in a neighborhood office space to provide tutoring to children in 3rd grade through 12th grade and adults pursuing a GED, degree or certificate.

In addition to operating a small company with one other employee, Mrs. Hines sat on the board of directors of her neighborhood HOA where she was a secretary and then president of the board. Mrs. Hines also worked as a substitute teacher at Fairfax County Public Schools. Her family relocated to Nashville in 2017 to live closer to her mother and siblings to provide a community for her boys. She started a new neighborhood math tutoring business, Mathville, with hopes to incorporate music with math. She and her family reside in South Nashville, a few minutes from the Nashville Zoo. When Mrs. Hines is not teaching or attending to her 3 fellows, you will see her gardening or attending community meetings or volunteering. Also a very impressive woman.

I’m struck by the fact that three of the four candidates have actual experience educating kids, but Council seems to be focusing on the one candidate who lacks that experience. Hopefully, people in District 7 will reach out to the council and let them know who they would like to represent them as opposed to allowing Metro Council to choose their representative for them.

MORE OF THE WRONG TALK ABOUT DISCIPLINE

Yesterday’s Tennessean had another installment in the paper’s year-long look at MNPS. This one focuses on suspension rates and the disparity between black and white students. Black students are still suspended at a rate of three to one versus white students. MNPS says they are not quite sure why that is and why the number refuses to budge despite their best efforts. The paper offers little reason either. In my opinion, we are still having the wrong conversation, so I’m not surprised that we are not making progress.

The article starts with a story,

A pencil. The seventh-grade teacher sent the 12-year-old boy to the principal’s office for taking a pencil from her desk.

It could have gone a different way — a discussion, a warning, a referral to a school counselor — but the boy’s mother said the principal at Haynes Middle School told her the pencil was the last straw. He’d already been written up for walking out of class, leaving his desk without permission and other misconduct.

The boy was suspended for a day.

The story implies that the boy was merely borrowing a pencil, nothing serious. We are then given a vague description that downplays past events with the implied conclusion that the boy was unfairly suspended. The overall implication is that serious infractions are not taking place in MNPS and that black students are just arbitrarily suspended. Which is not true.

Discipline issues have continued to grow in MNPs. I consistently hear from teachers who have been kicked, punched, bitten, or with regularity have had their classrooms physically disrupted with no real consequences for the offenders. The truth is that as MNPS has rewritten their discipline code, they have done little to provide teachers with additional supports. Commuting a goal without resources or a concrete plan is not the path to success.

I can express the desire that you drive from 0 – 60 in 6 seconds all I want, if all I’m providing you with is a Yugo, odds are that you won’t fulfill my desire. No matter how noble I tell you the goal is.

The Tennessean article talks about the district making a 2 million dollar investment in reform efforts, but two things need to be considered here. First, $2m sounds like a lot of money but if you break it up over 5 years, it is nothing but a drop in the bucket. You are talking less than 500k a year, which is nowhere near what is needed to transform practices that have been in place for decades.

Secondly, how much of that initiative went to offering supports at the local school level. What investments have we made per school and how have we provided resources to support the lowering of suspension rates? Adding more people and layers at the district level is not going to sufficiently impact individual schools. Look where an impact has been made. It’s on the local level with efforts like Glencliff High Schools’s Peace Team. But even their overall suspensions remain high.

The thing about this conversation that really drives me nuts, is that 90% of the focus is on 10% of the kids. We are willing to make all kinds of accommodations for kids who act our and we can cite all kinds of statistics about the impact of a suspension on those kids, but we make little accommodation for those that follow rules and I’ve yet to see statistics on how future outcomes for kids in a class that is regularly disrupted are impacted. We seem to think that if you go to class and behave than you somehow surrender your right to a stable learning environment. In essence, we are sending a message that says, “we don’t see you unless you act out.” I don’t think that is a message conducive to quality student outcomes.

The Tennessean offers throws out these statistics, “Children who are suspended or expelled are more than twice as likely to be arrested in the same month of their suspension or expulsion, according to one study. Kids who were suspended or expelled were three times more likely to have some brushes with the juvenile justice system within the next year.” But there is no clarification about whether that’s due to causation or correlation.

We know that many MNPS students live in impoverished homes and as a result have higher exposure to trauma. We know that exposure to trauma impacts behavior.  We know that kids bring the effects of that exposure to school. Nashville has seen incredible growth over the last decade, unfortunately not everyone has benefited from that growth. Instead of the mayor and the metro council addressing that fact and creating policies that result in more equity, the impetus is put on schools to mitigate the effects of trauma brought on by living in an impoverished home.

The paper tells us that last school year, black students were 40% of the population but accounted for 66% of the students suspended. Which is interesting for a number of reasons. Just 5 years ago, black students made up 47% of the population and 2 years ago it was 43%. My assumption here would be that this is another effect of the city’s rapid gentrification.

The comparison I would like to see is the total percentage of students from poverty and the percentage of suspensions they make up. I don’t think we’d like those numbers.

The Tennessean article also fails to mention the impact teacher attrition has on discipline issues. MNPS touts their investment in training, but how effective is that training if you have a constant teacher churn?

Implementing a policy sans the proper supports has the unintended consequence of negatively impacting teacher attrition. Teachers don’t feel supported, or safe in the classroom, and they leave. As a result, more kids are in classrooms led by substitute teachers or overextended teachers, which makes it even more difficult to implement desired discipline reforms. Which in turn leads to more discipline issues, which leads to greater teacher attrition.

I firmly believe that teacher attrition rates are the key to solving most of what plagues public education. Look at your more “successful” schools and you’ll find long-tenured satisfied teachers led by an equally established principal. The opposite of what you see in most so-called priority schools. Despite the evidence, instead of focusing on teachers we continue to chase the shiny object around town and then wear our shocked face when we fail to make any real progress.

In talking with an educator yesterday, it was expressed to me their belief that suspending students was absolutely the wrong strategy. I countered that I was agnostic about suspensions, and felt that the focus should be on getting kids the service they need. Suspending kids, not suspending kids, neither strategy is effective if students are not receiving the services they require. That’s what the conversation should be focused on, not location. They agreed.

There is a great deal of focus these days on how we impact kids’ self-esteem and how that impacts their development. It’s an important consideration, but it shouldn’t be the only one. All of us at times behave in a manner that requires us to suffer negative consequences. How we handle those negative consequences is a reflection of who we are.

I don’t punish a whole lot at home, but when I do, I go out of my way to establish with my children that it’s about the actions and not the individual. We shouldn’t be defined by our worst moments any more than we should be defined by our greatest moments. We are all made up of moments of triumph and by moments of failure.

Over the years I have come to realize that growth does not come without discomfort. I have yet to run into the person who is behaving badly without consequences who suddenly decides out of the blue to change their behavior. Getting sober for me was one of the most painful, humiliating, and humbling experiences of my life. I had to come to grips with the fact that for decades I’d been selfish,  deceitful, and unkind to those who loved me. To be honest, I felt like shit about myself for some time. But without that pain, nothing that I have today would be possible.

To often I’ve seen kids misbehave at 10 and suffer no consequences. Misbehave at 14 and suffer no tangible consequences. Misbehave at 16 and again no consequences. Misbehave at 18 and get the jailhouse dropped on them. Suddenly they are facing real-time in the penitentiary for crimes that appear to be not much different than the ones that have been excused for decades and they cannot comprehend why this time is different? When we allow this to happen, we are setting kids up for failure.

The Tennessean article is a fine start to the conversation, but only if we go deeper. Only if we look at all the other elements that impact student discipline rates. Only if we don’t fall for the shallow answers and force ourselves to go deeper. Only if we commit to meaningful investment in order to provide adequate resources to schools so that they can be dedicated to improving outcomes. The impetus isn’t just on our schools to do better, but rather it is on all of us.

EQUITY

Over the last couple of election cycles, the Equity Alliance has proven to be quite influential, both on the state and local level. They are a Nashville-based 501(c)3 nonpartisan, non-profit organization that seeks to equip citizens with tools and strategies to engage in the civic process and empower them to take action on issues affecting their daily lives. Current board members are Isaac Addae, Honorable Christiane Buggs, Tequila Johnson, Dustin Jones, Honorable Kyontzé Toombs, and Mariah Williams.

This week they announced that they will be adding four new board members including former MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. Joining Joseph on the list of new appointees is André Anderson, Jr., personal chief of staff to Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III, of the historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church; Kelby House Garner, Ed.D., dean of instruction for Metro Nashville Public Schools Virtual School; and Sylvia Rapoport, founding president of the Centennial Park Conservancy. Next year’s school board race just keeps getting more and more interesting.

POLL QUESTIONS

Per usual, on Mondays, we review the answers to the weekend poll questions. This week’s first question asked, “What’s your mindset as Fall Break comes to an end?” The number one answer with 44% of the vote was, “Let’s not talk about it”. 13% of you claimed to be refreshed and energized, Here are the write-in votes,

Wish one teacher wouldn’t return. Sorry, not sorry 1
If I didn’t work other jobs and actually relaxed I’d feel better. #liveablewage 1
Been out 1
Hope everybody makes it back 1
Glad to be retired. 1
Anticipating 1.5% attrition by Friday !!! 1
A week at Disney with my children. I need to return to get some rest. 1
Resigning at semester. Have a job in Wilco lined u

Question 2 asked for your opinion on MNPS’s gifted services offerings. 38% of you felt there was too much blurring between “really smart kids” and gifted, while 31% thought they were doing the best possible despite being under-resourced. Here are the write-ins,

My kids are 2nd gen MNPS “gifted” students. What has changed in 40 yrs? 1
The one good thing Joseph did was increase AART time with Encore kids 1
Lack of consistency in leadership negatively impacts programming. 1
Not talked about enough 1
Angela Patton at Oliver is an incredible Gifted teacher. 1
Just glad Pinkston quit. Scoundrel.

The last question asked for your favorite feel-good story about MNPS for the first quarter. For 44% of you it was Will Pinkston honoring his resignation notice, Second at 31% was that the majority of teachers were still showing up for work. Here are the write-ins,

Pearl-Cohn can’t find teachers” – only becasue it exposes its inept principal 1
The Tyese, Sharon and Joseph trust you eluded too one day🍿🍿🍿 1
No favorite. I hate my employer. Almost ready to work at McDonald’s. 1
3% raise in January. *fingers crossed*

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. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is also welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who lent your financial support this past month. I am eternally grateful for your generosity.

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.

 

 

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5 thoughts

  1. Pinkston had really screwed the families of District 7 long before he failed to honor his original resignation. Even before he resigned he had stopped listening to or caring about the voices of his constituents (assuming that he ever did care). He has been working from his own personal agenda and badmouthing or blocking on social media anyone who dared to disagree with him.

  2. Bulls eye. A fascinating lost factoid from the PASSAGE data gathering and community input phase, was that serious discipline referrals for African American students vs white at integrated schools were improved a bit – along the lines of 2.8x vs 3.5x.

    You are exactly right in questioning causation vs. correlation. We so often want to see our foregone conclusions in our data. And, when the only conclusion on the table at those community meetings was “teachers are racist”, when we neglect those PASSAGE data that tell us the North Nashville (much more predominantly African American in student composition, and likely faculty) has even higher-than-average rates…. we are blinded to better solutions right in front of us, solutions that entail _supporting_ our integrated schools – not incinerating them on the fire of school choice.

    Unsurprisingly, during the Great Charters charter discussion, many proponents said – when pressed – that the entire dream for the charter school was to get away from discipline problems. Parents of our score-segregated magnet schools will point to the same politically incorrect issue, when pressed, as well. On the Kipp charter tour, we heard from parents how the behavior was so much better vs. a force-attendance neighborhood school that the family fled.

    And, so we come back to square one – and the ultimate questions we would as if we dared confront the data head-on:

    Do we _FINALLY_ support teachers and classrooms as we promised when PASSAGE/restorative-justice was unveiled?

    Do we _FINALLY_ support integrated education by dialing back on the (ridiculous) score-segregated magnet schools and their long waitlists?

    Or, do we throw in the towel and just create a separate affluent micro-districts so we can move forward without all this endless worry over discipline in the schools “our kids” attend, the endless worry over lotteries for education, the search for real estate in neighboring counties? Micro-districts are exactly how the Memphis suburbs work to boost scores and reduce discipline infractions (recall the 95% to 5% vote to leave the urban district a few years back).

    My preference is that we double down on supporting our integrated schools here in Nashville. But, my candidate for mayor received only 19% of the vote on that platform….. My neighbors just don’t care about this.

    And so I assume we do nothing but blog on, again….

    BTW – Looks like Baton Rouge suburbs are working on an exit too.

    So sad…

  3. Longtime MNPS HS teacher here. We have a large mass of talented, otherwise unchallenged, low-income students who are suffering for years waiting to be taught b/c teachers have to spend a large amount if time regulating disruptive, often violent students who use the classroom as their attention stage or dating field but never do enough social damage (repeat violence or direct dysfunction in front of an admin) to be removed. The otherwise good kids or unchallenged kid becomes numb to the student and are used to having to wait for the student to be calmed or placated or distracted.

    We made a 5 on TVAAS one year in math when we moved most of our math classes to computer-based instruction with a teacher in the room for support. What we learned: we unlocked some of the potentials of our students when they had a path that they could follow without waiting on a teacher to quiet a class enough to “teach them.” It’s not a long-term solution b/c the students would then become more anti-social to gain attention, but this is the big key behind both retention and learning. Teachers are more than willing to help under-prepared or troubled students (or the ones that aren’t quit quickly in Year One) but are tired of being given low back-up and blamed for the impossible mix of the cohort of kids in the classroom who have been passed along through the system.

    Thus the kids learn to control work assigned through their own behavior and you see numbing worksheets or long PowerPoints b/c the teacher can’t get enough sustained order to do projects, discussions, or speeches, etc. The cycle becomes to teach quickly / repair order / teach quickly / repair order / burnout.

    The teachers either find some joy in the midst of this, lower their expectations, move into mostly Honors classes (which is mostly a refuge for kids seeking to escape the rough 10%, not necessarily those with advanced skills) if they have seniority, go find a less troubled school/district, or burnout/quit.

    You CAN get a good education in a zoned MNPS school, though. I’ve been in this district a long time, and I enjoy teaching in it, even my most troubled (sometimes), but this is the truth Bransford runs from. You need to deal with this to help education, but you can’t get a job with authority and actually work on this and keep it. Downtown sees discipline as a spreadsheet with genders, ethnicities, and statistics. Teachers know it is a core function of education.

  4. My big thing is if we look at the suspension rate, we are talking about the same handful of kids that get suspended multiple times. There was a boy at my school last year who got several one-day suspensions because he would assault adults in the building. If the school has 20 suspensions in a year and 6 are the same child, then it is not disproportionate. It is as you stated a lack of services. This child needed more help then he could get but he was simply put back in the classroom the next day to do it all again.

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