THE PROCESS MATTERS

“And yet it was true: the responsibility was huge, but there is nothing about being a father that I don’t love. I even found the toddler tantrums weirdly charming. You think you’re being difficult, my little sausage? Have I ever told you about the time I drank eight vodka martinis, took all my clothes off in front of a film crew and then broke my manager’s nose?”
Elton John, Me

“When you’re happy you enjoy the music. When you’re sad, you understand the lyrics.”
George Jones

This blog sprung out of Nashville’s charter school wars back in 2014. Those of you who were there remember how brutal that time was. For those who weren’t, be thankful.

In 2016, a school board race raged in Nashville – and I do mean raged – over the summer, with charter school opponents on one side of the street and proponents on the other. No attack was considered too personal – dating habits, racism, classism, prior arrests, financial status – everything was fair game. It was all cloaked in the flag of “the kids.” Everybody cared for “the kids” more than everybody else.

People’s experiences were ignored if they didn’t align with ideological bents. Research and data were twisted or disregarded in order to fit the desired narrative. Talk to people who were there, and they’ll tell you it was all the people on the other side, but trust me it was folks on both sides. We were all caught up in the fever that comes with believing in absolutes. And we all thought we were absolutely right.

I can point to one distinct instance that helped me change my perception at that time. The first was when JC Bowman – yes, that JC Bowman – called me an “intellectual bully” on social media. My initial reaction was to give Bowman a middle finger salute and discard his input.

But I hate nothing more than bullies, especially intellectual bullies. Not graduating from college has left a chip on my shoulder, and as a result, few things increase my ire like someone trying to act as if they are the arbiter of the truth and hold all the answers. My inspiration for this blog comes from a man who used to write a blog called Crazy Crawfish, and he would always say, “I’m not the smartest person in the room, but my job is to get the smartest people in the same room so that they can develop sound policy.”

Bowman’s words made me think, had I inadvertently slipped on my cloak of self-righteousness and slowly evolved into the very monsters I was fighting? (Yes, that’s a Nietzsche reference.) Bowman made me think and shamefully admit that if I wasn’t there yet, I was on that path. Not a comforting thought.

We all create myths that we believe define our perception of ourselves. I’ve often joked in AA that I used to believe I was Keith Richards, but the reality was that I was much closer to Alan Alda. That was a painful realization. Nothing against Alan Alda, but Keith is much cooler. At least in my eyes.

When our myths don’t align with reality, we can either change – the myth or reality – or double down on our belief in the current myth of who we are by discarding any criticism. In response to Bowman’s words, I chose to alter my reality. I made a conscious effort to listen to other people’s experiences and as objectively as possible, look at their research. I worked on disagreeing with them without dismissing them.

In 2018, I did an interview with then-head of Nashville Rise and current candidate for school board Allison Simpson. In my world, Nashville Rise members were charter school proponents, so Simpson must live next door to the devil. But that’s not what I discovered after spending an enjoyable morning having coffee with her.

As I sat across from Simpson, I was struck by the differences in life experiences this intelligent young woman and I had been exposed to. Life experiences that had led us both to different conclusions. I could disagree with her conclusions, but I couldn’t dismiss them because to do so would be to dismiss her, and she deserved better.

No amount of badgering, bullying, or subjective data was going to allow us to align. If we were to find common ground, it would have to be through the path of validating both our lives and the impact our experiences have on our beliefs. There was no other way.

Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? And it is, but sometimes you just have to be confronted with reality in order to grasp the concept. My interview with Simpson re-opened my eyes to the humanity that is inherent in policy conversations.

Over the last several decades, we’ve reduced educational outcomes and challenges to a series of numbers. This reduction makes it easy to manipulate data in order to tell the story we want. It also makes it easy to forget that these numbers represent very real people facing very real challenges. Local educator Mary Holden and TN Ed Report writer Andy Spears do a good job outlining the dangers in that reduction in recent blog posts:

“Every time I’m in a meeting where we are discussing test data and data walls and data chats and data points and on and on and on, my soul dies a little. And it’s those days I go home and question my decision to come back to the classroom.”

Holden and Spears are not the only ones asking that question. Teacher attrition rates, as I’ve stated repeatedly, continue to grow. Maybe our acrimonious conversations aren’t contributing to the mass exodus, but they certainly are not helping, and teacher attrition has a direct effect on the success of any policy proposal. If you don’t have teachers in front of students, nothing else matters. No matter how sound your data, science, or intentions, without teachers in front of every student, there is no path to success.

Teaching kids is not a mathematical equation. It is hard work done by dedicated people at all ranges on the experience scale. It involves children who come to the table from different socio-economic statuses and who’ve been exposed at varying degrees to trauma. Trauma that affects the rate at which they can learn. It’s not that they can’t learn, but rather that society puts more impediments in front of some kids than in front of others. As a result, there is no one way to educate kids.

So where does this all come from, you might ask. I’ve just repeatedly watched policy debates unfold on social media, witnessed good people with the best intentions dismiss others’ experiences and research because it doesn’t align with theirs. And do it in a manner that is demeaning to those they disagree with.

I chuckle when people make the argument that social media isn’t real life. Au contraire, social media is where we drop our social masks. In public, most of us are scared of conflict, but behind a keyboard, we become empowered to share what’s truly on our minds. We derive deeper insight into people’s beliefs than we do upon meeting them at the grocery store. (Yes, Anna, I catch the irony again.)

I used to think that my cause was so righteous that other adults’ feelings didn’t matter. I’ve come to realize the fallacy of that. The kind of society we build is contingent upon how we interact with each other. We can’t expect others to listen to us if we don’t listen to others. We can’t expect others to value our experiences if we don’t value others’ life experiences. The end is never a justification for the means.

The rewards I’ve reaped through my interactions with both Simpson and Bowman – whom I often disagree with – are immeasurable, as are my interactions with Holden and Spears – whom I often agree with. We’ve got to look at things at 360 degrees and not just at 180. I wouldn’t call it hyperbolic to say that the existence of our democracy is dependent on it. There is not one of us who can’t do a little better, myself included.

All right, I’ll climb down from the pulpit now and share some news with you.

CHANGES COMING

There is no official announcement coming that I know of, but let me share what I’ve learned over the weekend. Dr. Battle is about to make some much-needed changes in MNPS.

First up is HR. You might have been hanging around the rumor mill this week and heard that HR Chief Tony Majors is heading back to his former role as head of Student Services because that department is in such disarray he has to straighten it back out. The first part of that rumor is true, but the second part is spin.

Majors is headed back to Student Services, not as a reward, but because as head of HR he has made very little progress, and in the eyes of many, the situation has deteriorated. In all fairness, when Majors was first promoted to the position, I felt that then-Director of Schools Joseph had purposely set him up for failure.

Both Majors and Joseph are the proverbial Alpha Dogs – I personally believe that Majors trumps Joseph in this department – and by assigning a responsibility to Majors which he had little experience or education was the ultimate threat neutralizer. The then-state of affairs in HR was a dumpster fire and didn’t add to the likelihood of his success. It was, in truth, a no-win situation for Majors.

In that light, I would feel sympathy for Majors over the position he was put in and his lack of success. But it’s the way he conducted himself and treated others while in power that makes that impossible for me. I have a hard time aligning the man who oversaw the largest department in MNPS while inspiring incredible loyalty with his troops with the man who became a common bully while overseeing HR.

Some may point out that those tendencies were always there, but I never saw them, and with the sheer volume of reports I’ve recently heard, it becomes impossible to ignore. Hopefully, a return to the job he has a deep passion for will restore Majors to his better angels. Under Joseph and his team, the district has suffered enough abuse from the bully pulpit. Turning the corner means changing behaviors. And when it comes to HR, some behaviors definitely need changing.

From what I gather, Majors will transition on January 1st, and a search for his replacement in HR is currently underway.

The second change is that Communications head honcho Rob Johnson and Public Information Officer Dawn Rutledge are out. This change is long overdue. The Communications department has been acting as a separate entity since Battle took control. They’ve prioritized their own initiatives, while not adequately serving those of either the Director or the district.

Case in point: the Tennessean’s recent article on student discipline numbers. When asked why the suspension gap between black and white students was widening instead of shrinking, MNPS responded, “At this time we cannot definitely say why the disparity rate has increased.” Surely a competent communications department is capable of constructing a better response.

Since assuming the role of interim Director of Schools, Battle has also been plagued by the school board receiving information either from the press or via social media before receiving it from the district. That couldn’t continue. I hear several names are under consideration for the Communications Executive Director position, and I assume whoever is hired will name their own PIO.

Change number 3, come on down. Phyllis Dyer in federal programs will be moved, possibly to assume the role as head of the Civil Rights division. I’m not as clear on this shift because to be frank, I’m just not as familiar with how this division works as compared to others. I do know, for what it’s worth, that Dyer had a front-row seat at Dr. Felder’s recent swearing-in as superintendent for the Orange County School District in North Carolina. Presumably, she was there conveying congratulations from Nashville.

The last change will be to open up the position of Chief Instructional Officer for a national search. The position is currently occupied by Dr. David Williams. Since he is being encouraged to apply, I don’t get as much of a sense that this is about dissatisfaction with his work as it is a desire to get the very best person in the position as possible. While in this position, Williams has been very transparent and has worked very hard to make sure all stakeholders have been heard. We’ll see how this all unfolds.

Props to Battle for making these changes. Some of them involve people she has long-standing personal relationships with, so it must have been difficult. These moves demonstrate that she’s acting not as interim Director of Schools for MNPS, but rather as the Director. We’ll see how they play out, but right now, I find them optimistic.

SHORTCUTS

Here’s a little paired text for you: a recent tweet from retired school board member Will Pinkston and a recent article out of North Carolina about Betsy DeVos dropping $36 million on North Carolina to lure children out of their public schools and into charter schools. The state is not sure it can spend the money. As always… follow the money.

Good article in today’s Tennessean about MNEA’s new leadership and their intended goals for the new year – get teachers more involved in the union, elevate the voice of teachers, push for better working conditions, and fight for increased pay. DGW wishes them much success. If anybody can get it done, they can.

Anybody hearing anything about who Mayor Cooper’s education advisor is going to be or when they’ll be named? It’s weird – names float to the top only to drift away.

Please, if you can find it in your heart, support Kevin Stacy for the vacant District 7 School board seat by emailing your Metro Councilperson. The board needs another professional educator on it. He truly is the best candidate.

Take the recent headline from the Tennesean – Nashville public schools board to wait until 2020 to detail superintendent search – with a grain of salt. I get the sense of a growing realization that the lack of a permanent superintendent is hindering the acquisition of talent that MNPS so desperately needs. Some have raised the idea of just removing the “interim” title from Battle, but I would guard against that because processes are important. I think it’s safe to say that Battle is the leading candidate, but let’s get on with the process.

For those of you favoring the idea of delaying the search until after the next board election, I’ll just leave this with you from the Seattle P-I:

Amazon has donated an additional $1 million to the campaign to “flip” the Seattle City Council, the money going to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

The Tennessee Department of Education, in an effort to support districts in recruiting and better preparing future teachers, has approved its first “GrowYour Own” partnership. Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS), in partnership with Austin Peay State University (APSU), has a cohort of 40 future teachers, who will earn a free bachelor’s degree in only three years, become dual certified in a critical shortage area plus special education, and participate in a multi-year residency experience while being a full-time employed paraprofessional, earning a salary, health insurance, and retirement contributions.

In addition, CMCSS plans to partner with Lipscomb University to offer up to 20 future teachers a licensure program that includes a one-year full-time paid residency and dual certification (K-5 and special education) at no cost to the teacher. Pretty interesting news and a great opportunity.

Local writer Vesia Hawkins continues her tireless advocacy towards literacy with the announcement of an upcoming event. Mark your calendars, it should prove educational, pun intended. In all seriousness, it’s a great lineup of education advocacy voices. Voices that we all should hear.

I stumbled across this blog post from author Katie Bingham-Smith who lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, a shoe addict who pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram. Her post, titled Why Are We Expecting Teens To Have It All Figured Out? is worth sharing and speaks to truth:

“But as the questions about what my kids were planning to do when they graduated rolled in, I realized I didn’t have a clue when I was their age (even though I kind of thought I did). It took me a long time to figure it out, and they need to hear the truth. It may take them some time and they may need to have some work experiences before they figure out their career path.”

POLL RESULTS

A lot of write-in votes this week. Let’s get to it.

The first question asked for your opinion of the best school in Nashville, a question inspired by the recent Nashville Scene Poll. 48% of you responded that you weren’t writing anyone down because it was too subjective. The second-most answers were write-ins, so here they are:

Norman Binkley 2
Stanford MDS 1
So many great teachers and great schools in MNPS 1
Norman Binkley Elementary 1
Smith Springs 1
The one that each family believes is the best fit for them. 1
Who cares. I know it isn’t the one I work at. 1
Madison 1
Overton HS 1
Pearl-Cohn. Jk, it’s a dumpster fire. Principal isn’t cut out for job 1
Ruby Major 1
Meigs 1
Depends on the needs of the student 1
Andrew Jackson Elementary 1
Dan Mills Elementary 1
Hume-Fogg hands down 1
The one that serves your child the best. 1
Lipscomb Academy 1
McGavock Elementary 1
Overton 1
What criteria would one use to judge “best”? 1
Meigs Academic Magnet 1
Sylvan Park 1
Smith Springs Elementary 1
Old Oliver Middle 1
Mt. View 1
poor question – is it just a slow news week? 1
Andrew Jackson Elementary 1
Stratford- Great leadership & eager to improve 1
Valor!!!

The second question asked for the best teacher prep program in the area. The number one answer was the write-ins. Lipscomb was number 2, with 19% of the vote. Here are those write-ins:

Trevecca 6
Belmont 5
Austin Peay 2
TNU 1
Lipscomb which is where all TFA go as well so not sure why people hate TFA 1
It doesn’t matter. Only time served truly makes a great teacher. 1
Doesn’t matter, experience and support matter 1
I have no idea 1
Just prep to work a second job if you want to be a teacher. Not a respected job. 1
Depends on the personality and capabilities of the teacher 1
Out-of-state universities 1
Where do long term subs go? So many without teachers!! 1
Trevecca 1
The one that you can afford. If you finish we have a place for you. 1
none 1
A stable, caring upbringing. 1
On the job training/mentor teachers 1
year 1 of actual teaching – nothing else really prepares you 1
OJT 1
WKU 1
None 1
UT Martin

The last question asked for what you thought of Mayor Cooper’s recent appointments. 43% of you indicated that you were withholding judgment until the education advisor position was named. 25% of you answered that time would tell. Only 2 of you were impressed with his appointments. Here are the write-ins:

Just get me the raise you promised. My bills are ‘developing’ 1
idk 1
Who cares? I better see that 3% on January 1st!!! 1
I only watch the news for the weather so I have no idea.

That’s a wrap. 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’ve lent your financial support this past month. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do.

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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