FLEETING MOMENTS

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
Flannery O’Connor“

Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Life has a tendency to speed up as we get towards the end of a calendar year. This year is no exception. Before I had children I never imagined a calendar could be so packed. Now that I have one in middle school, it seems even more so. If we are not running to a baseball game, it’s a band recital. If it’s not a ballet rehearsal, it’s Jiu-Jitsu class. Or any other of a plethora of events meant to keep our children engaged and growing.

Often times I find myself willing things to slow down. To give me a moment to catch my breath, but then I remember the words of a man I met at an event not too long ago.

He had played sports growing up and made it as far as AA minor league baseball. As a parent, he had coached three boys to various levels. We were discussing the challenges of finding time for everything when he offered the advice that I should never forget to enjoy the moments because this will all end. All too soon a day will come when there will be no more events to race to.

Before you know it, there will be no more hits to shag. No more recitals to attend. No more projects to complete together. Those once small children will have grown and moved on to lives of their own. So savor each moment, because, like life itself, they are finite.

I try hard to remember those words, even as life seeks to overwhelm me. There are no feelings like the ones that I’m filled with when watching my son race around the base paths. Or the determination with which he squares off against an opponent on the gym mats. Watching my daughter finally execute a ballet move that she’d been struggling with for weeks fills me with pride that eclipses any that I’ve ever felt from my own accomplishments. Or even that moment when it’s just the two of us and over a lemonade frosty the boy asks, “Dada, who do you think is the best player on the Titans team?”

So as we hurtle towards the holidays and the chaos they bring, it is imperative that we don’t take for granted those moments that enrich our lives. Those moments that in their selves may appear minute and mundane, but in actuality are the true keepsakes. It is all fleeting and once those moments are gone, there is no reclaiming them.

Today’s blog post is also full of moments. Some good, some bad, and some to be determined. Let’s see if I can’t share as many as possible.

PRINCIPALS MEET

Thursday was an MNPS principals meeting. It was an all-day affair and reports are that it wasn’t great, but it was an improvement over past years. I’m not going to get too much into what transpired, but I think there are a couple moments that deserve commentary.

Sharon Griffin is MNPS’s Chief of Innovation. She comes to Nashville via Memphis where she was Chief of Innovation Schools for Shelby County and later oversaw the state’s Achievement School District. At yesterday’s meeting, she was charged with introducing Dr. Battle to the stage to address the gathered principals. She did so by extolling the principals to please welcome “MNPS’s Baby Mamma”.

Later she referred to Dr. Battle as a superstar but I would still question the appropriateness of the “Baby Mama” intro. In my estimation, it speaks to a lack of respect.

First of all, Dr. battle has shown throughout her recent pregnancy a reticence to discuss what is clearly for her a personal and private matter. Those boundaries should be respected. Making reference to her recent maternity in front of people whom she only marginally informed prior to said birth, doesn’t exactly honor those boundaries.

Secondly, in my experience, “Baby Mamma” is not considered a flattering term. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is a term used to describe a woman with a child who is not married. That is not an apt description of Dr. Battle.

I understand that this is probably a cultural issue and that Griffin most likely meant no disrespect, but it took place in a professional setting on a public stage and as such, it shouldn’t be acceptable. It is much like when the former director of schools, Dr. Joseph, played a snippet of the misogynistic rapper Too Short at a principal meeting last year. The intent is not clear to everyone in the room and therefore open to misinterpretation. In a professional setting, the goal should be to unite everyone in the room under a common umbrella, not culturally divide people. Words are important and nobody should know that more than a district leader addressing a room full of educators.

The second item that bears mentioning is a presentation by Conexion on the district’s immigrant students. By most reports, it was an informed balanced presentation. However there were times that biases in regard to the police snuck in. Last year, Dr. Joseph often spoke in a manner that could be deemed disrespectful to the police. This is problematic.

Regardless of your personal opinion, both public schools and the police are democratic institutions that serve as cornerstones of our society. As such it is essential that the two support each other. It is one thing to acknowledge certain issues a community may have with law enforcement, but it is another altogether to foster distrust. It is vital that there is a follow up reiterating that the vast majority of police officers are dedicated public servants who risk their lives daily in order to uphold the laws that make society function.

Imagine if the police department held a meeting with their officers and supervisors made a point of pointing out the failings of public schools and instilled in those officers a lack of faith in the public school system. It is a tone that is not beneficial to either entity and belies the symbiotic relationship the two often have. We have to be very careful about the message we are sending to our students.

MNEA ENDORSES

Come November 5, Metro Council will choose a replacement for retired school board member Will Pinkston’s recently vacated seat. Currently, there are 4 candidates in contention for that seat:

  • Elizabeth Hines, a parent and math tutor;
  • Freda Player-Peters, a city senior legislative liaison appointed under former Mayor David Briley;
  • Allison Simpson, a parent-teacher organization president and Communities in Schools coordinator;
  • Kevin Stacy, the former head of Nashville public schools Office of English Learners.

As an advisor to the mayor, Player is in a unique position to foster support with council members that is unavailable to other candidates. In her role with the mayor, she has free and ready access to council members and can solicit their support while promoting the mayor’s wishes, which doesn’t make for a level playing field. This is one more wrinkle in a process that continues to raise concerns.

Player is rightfully well respected among council members, with many having worked with her in her previous role as the political director for SIEU. By all accounts, she is a congenial, fair, and well-liked individual. However, this appointment shouldn’t be about her likability and established relationships, but rather whether or not she is the most qualified person for the position. That’s the question that needs to be asked

This week, MNEA – the teachers union – endorsed Kevin Stacey. In their eyes he is the most qualified individual for the job. In doing so they listed his lengthy list of experiences and accomplishments as an educator, not the least of which includes successfully leading the district’s English Learner’s Department. An experience that is especially relevant because District 7 is home to the most EL students in the city. In that position, he also played an integral role in crafting the district’s annual budget. I’m sure this was a factor in MNEA’s decision to endorse him.

If you are keeping score at home, MNEA’s endorsement joins the endorsement of both the school board’s Chair, Anna Shepherd, and its vice-chair, Amy Frogge. Those endorsements should carry a little clout and override the personal relationships between Player and members of the council.

It is a critical time in MNPS. There is a plan being formed to increase teacher salaries. The budget process for MNPS is beginning. There are discipline policies that need further review and literacy strategies are also under review. These are all areas that could benefit from the acquired knowledge of someone who has taught students, led MNPS departments, and helped formulate school budgets.

Player is a valuable labor rep and respected political advisor. Stacey is an experienced and respected  educator. With the endorsement of MNEA and the school board leadership, it should be a clear choice of who is the most qualified. Now it’s up to Metro Council to decide if its going to put politics over kids or choose the candidate that can best serve the needs of the district.

SHORTCUTS

School board member Christiane Buggs has recently aligned herself on social media with structured literacy advocates. A move that could be seen by some as a means to get back at fellow school board member Jill Speering. Speering and Buggs often found themselves at odds over Dr. Joseph’s performance and Speering now finds herself in the crosshairs of the structured literacy camp who don’t feel that 35 years of teaching kids to read amounts to much.

Buggs recently sent a tweet out directed at the structured literacy faction that had me scratching my head. In it, she describes herself as a non-literacy professional. Adding to the confusion is her frequent admissions on the board floor that she has no idea what the job of an MNPS literacy coach entails.

It was my understanding that Buggs was a project manager for the Blueprint for Early Childhood Literacy, the Nashville literacy initiative that was touted as the envy of school districts across the country. So her referencing herself as a non-literacy professional is understandably confusing. Fortunately, Buggs was able to clear up my confusion. She was previously a project manager for the Blueprint but now serves as the “Manager of Community Partnerships” for the Blueprint. But shouldn’t…never mind.

The Blueprint was previously housed under the Nashville Education Foundation but is now under the United Way umbrella.

Congratulations to McGavock High School teacher Derek Rowe who was honored this week as a second-place winner of the national Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. The honor comes with $50,000 and a trophy — in the form of a large rolling toolbox. Tip of the hat to Mr. Rowe.

Andy Spears over at the TNEd Report has an interesting look at Pearson lobbyist, lawyer Chuck Cagle. Cagle has carved out a lucrative career representing Tennessee school district superintendent while helping testing companies secure lucrative contracts. What’s not in Spears reporting, but deserves mentioning, is that Cagle represented both Dr. Joseph and Dr. Battle in their recent contract negotiations.

Speaking of Dr. Joseph, his book, inspired by his time at MNPS, is scheduled to be released next week and he’s out on the circuit promoting it. Recently he sat down with the Tennessee Tribune to discuss details. Teachers may be surprised to find out that they owe him a debt of gratitude, as he resigned  for their benefit, “I requested that we mutually separate because I didn’t want to be an impediment to teachers getting their raises and the funds,” Joseph has said, adding that it was the best thing to do for the city and children. I question the former but certainly concur with the latter.

Many thought it was all over but the crying for embattled MNPS Charter School Knowledge Academies after the school board voted last month to shut them down over multiple infractions. But not so fast. This week a review of the process by the TNDOE has returned a recommendation that the school not be shuttered but rather placed on probation. The review concluded that the evidence presented by MNPS is insufficient to warrant such drastic action as closure. Next week the state board will decide whether to make the recommendations official or not.

The Tennessean published an article this week about the disparity in funding between schools due to PTA groups. Once again, the argument is being put forth that all schools should and can have a robust PTA. Unfortunately, the topic is a bit more complex then what’s laid out by the Tennessean. Tusculum Es was never able to sustain a PTA but has been successful in holding monthly PAC meetings on Friday mornings. Other schools have successfully implemented other parental involvement models.

As former board member Mary Pierce points out in a recent Facebook post, “I’m struggling with the reporting on this piece because reporters chose to omit the fact that per-pupil spending via school-based budgeting is $8,182 at Bellshire plus another few hundred per pupil from Title 1; Julia Green receives $6,298/per pupil, and understandably, no Title 1. Title 1 and PTO funding basically cancel each other out, but this piece implies that school-level funding is equal at the start. It’s not.”

In my opinion, the Tennessean attempts to evoke feelings of guilt from the schools that receive large financial contributions from parents. That’s the wrong message to send. We need more participation, not less.

Students at HG Hill Middle had a unique experience last week as they had an opportunity to participate in “goat yoga”. Very interesting.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to check out the Dad Gone Wild interview with MNPS’s interim – Chief Academic Officer David Williams, I urge you to do so. I’m pretty proud of it.

Congratulations to Project Lit for being named an OMG Books Award winner. The award comes with $25k in books. Project Lit is thrilled with the opportunity to flood the district with quality books. When they win, the district wins.

A wish for quick healing goes out to MNPS Assistant Superintendent Pipa Meriweather. Meriweather recently suffered a serious fall and as a result, has ended up with a broken jaw. Ouch.

Don’t forget to weigh in on this week’s poll questions.

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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