“Coyotes have the gift of seldom being seen; they keep to the edge of vision and beyond, loping in and out of cover on the plains and highlands. And at night, when the whole world belongs to them, they parley at the river with the dogs, their higher, sharper voices full of authority and rebuke. They are an old council of clowns, and they are listened to.”
Nashville politics never ceases to be a source of disappointment for me. Earlier in the year, school board member Will Pinkston submitted a letter of resignation to the board. In his letter, he named a specific date that he would leave and proceeded to blast his fellow board member, referring to them as “impossibly inept”. In most of the civilized world where protocols and policies are valued over personalities, that would have been the end of it. Thank you for your service, please shut the door on your way out.
But Nashville continues to operate differently. Despite our ever-growing status as an “IT” city and becoming one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, it continues to operate like a small town where personalities trump competency. If you are liked, you are given free reign to operate with impunity, with the expectation that if roles are reversed you’ll reciprocate that permission. So when Pinkston pulled back his resignation and informed folks that’d he’d let us know when he was actually ready to go, nobody blinked an eye. Nobody raised an objection.
Instead, he was permitted to work his own agenda for 6 months while he set the table for the appointment of his hand-picked successor. A large part of that agenda was the undermining of current Superintendent of Schools Adrienne Battle, who had the audacity to make decisions he didn’t like. Anybody who has found themselves anywhere near Pinkston over the last 6 months has been subject to his litany of complaints about Battle, most rooted in the basis that she hired people he considered enemies. Yet while Nashville leaders have no problem getting up and publically castigating the school board, Pinkston’s disruptive behavior went unchecked and nobody publically called on him to cease his behavior.
Not CM Freddie O’Connel,l who purports to care so much about priority schools that he’d never send his children to. Not CM Bob Mendes, the de facto leader of the metro council. No one on the so-called Equity Alliance ever raised concerns that his undermining was having the effect of destabilizing the system responsible for educating the very kids they regularly voiced concern over. Not even newly elected Nashville Mayor John Cooper – a self-acknowledged friend of Pinkston – took any action to mitigate Pinkston’s undermining of Dr. Battle. He has continually been allowed to act as if he is above reproach.
Despite a body of evidence to the contrary, Pinkston is treated like an esteemed expert, liberally quoted in newspapers without question, and his advice sought by those who should know better. Not one of Nashville’s leaders came out and publically asked that he honor his commitment to resign. Instead, the narrative of a “dysfunctional” board was allowed to become even more entrenched, all while a primary source of that dysfunction was allowed to operate unchecked.
In September Anna Shepherd assumed the role of chair for the school board. Amy Frogge became the vice-chair. Two women that council members supposedly have a deep respect for, but that respect was inevident during the recent appointment process. Council members as a whole refused to show the same courtesy to board leadership that they would demand from the mayors office.
Shepherd and Frogge assumed their roles with a commitment to making the board more effective. Gone would be the snarky comments, the lengthy moral lectures, and the curtailing of discussion on unpleasant issues – all of which fueled board divisions. They are intent on fostering a streamlined board that focuses on supporting the director and facing issues head-on. Commitments that both have honored during their brief tenure to date. It was in the midst of this transition that Pinkston chose to honor his previous commitment to resign.
The decision to name his replacement was hypothetically in the hands of Metro Council. But let’s be honest here, this was a rigged game from the beginning and nobody had any intention of collaborating with board leadership on the outcome.
Pinkston’s choice for his replacement was a long time SIEU political operative who up until today was employed by the mayor’s office. In that role, she was given unfettered access to council members in order to cement her credentials for the vacant position. SIEU, a long-time collaborator with Pinkston, flexed its political muscle, as limited as it may be, and reminded CM’s of the organization’s help in getting them elected. I don’t know of a single council member in District 7 who put the vote for school board replacement before their constituents. On some neighborhood Facebook pages when constituents tried to open conversation around the appointment, they were openly ignored. Yes Ginny, I noticed.
The Mayor’s office and Metro Council like to make a lot of noise about the school board “getting its act together”. It makes for great political theater and gives the voters a false sense that they are actually doing something. But, when given the opportunity to help the school board actually meet that charge, council members once again chose self-interest over the interests of the school system.
As chair, Anna Shepherd made it clear whom she felt would best help the board meet its challenges. Vice-Chair Amy Frogge voiced the same preferences. Nashville’s teachers voiced the same opinion. All asked that the council appoint Kevin Stacey. In a move that can only be interpreted as a slap in the face to the aforementioned, the council made their choice based on likability and familiarity and not based on the obvious qualifications of Stacey.
Player has no children in the school system. She has never been employed by a school system. She’s never been an educator. For the past decade, she has been a political operative, albeit a popular one, but one none the less. Her appointment to the board is akin to Mike Vrable asking that the team procure Patrick Mahomes for QB and the general manager instead signs Marcus Mariota. If you want wins you have to listen to the people in the game, not the sideline reporters.
It is worth noting here that Councilman Rosenberg made a very passionate – albeit one that fell on deaf ears – in support of Stacey.
I’m not sure why the council feels that they know better than the board who would be best suited to serve. After all, this is a body that has inadequately failed to fully fund the school district for multiple years while raising questions from the state about the city’s fiscal acumen. This is a body under whose watch juvenile crime has flourished as more kids continually get fewer of the services they require. Like Pinkston, it’s an entity that has shown little evidence that they have any idea what the kids of Nashville need. And like Pinkston, they continually refuse to listen to people that have been elected by the community as their representative.
By ignoring the leadership of the MNPS school board, council and Mayor Cooper, in essence, ignored the citizens of Nashville’s voice. Ironically, it’s common belief that John Cooper is now Nashville’s Mayor because his predecessor David Briley too often ignored the voices of the community. Yet, here we go again.
Per usual when it comes to educational issues, I hope I am wrong. I hope that Freda Player does a fantastic job over the next 8 months and if it’s the will of District 7 voters, she wins another 4 years in August. District 7 was my home for a decade and the people that reside there now deserve the best representation possible.
However, it is been my experience that nothing that starts tainted suddenly turns pure and this process has been tainted by politics and self-interest. That is something that unfortunately will continue to haunt us as we go forth.
THE STATE”S FARCICAL SHOW
I am convinced if the bar for measuring the performance of the Tennessee Department of Education wasn’t already set so low, this week’s actions would have Tennesseans up in arms.
Early in the week, a report came out via Fox 17 showing the inflated salaries of department employees and raised concerns about preparations for upcoming TNReady testing. Another in an endless series of listening sessions on the state’s Achievement School District came to Nashville. And, the commissioner released a strategic plan – 6 weeks after it was due – that was disturbingly devoid of detail. Not exactly work that shows proficiency.
Rumors of deficiencies in the TNDOE under Penny Schwinn have long bubbled under the surface. The department reportedly is severely understaffed and those positions that are filled are held by the young and inexperienced. There are serious questions being raised in regard to the department’s competency. Schwinn herself has been publicly rebuked repeatedly by leaders of both the senate and house educational committees. It ain’t a pretty picture and almost makes one long for the days of McQueen.
While Scwinn’s including “whole child” education in the state’s strategic plan is to be lauded, a failure to include measurables in the plan should be a cause for concern, as should calls for “character education”. Per ChalkbeatTN Schwinn stated, “For every single one of the initiatives that we rolled out today, we have very clear metrics” to measure how we’re progressing, she said of goals that will be released early next year as part of the governor’s statewide strategic plan.
Joey Hassell, superintendent of Haywood County Schools and a former state assistant commissioner over special populations and student support, while supporting the “whole child” approach, raised concerns about costs associated with the initiative, “If we’re going to address things like mental and behavioral health, Tennessee will have to provide training and it will have to provide a lot of funding,” Hassell told Chalkbeat. “We could start by significantly increasing our ratios of social workers, school counselors, and nurses.”
Tennessee’s education challenges don’t all reside within the TNDOE either. The FBI handed down a number of indictments over the last week in regard to recent voucher legislation. Rumors continue to swirl that there were financial misappropriations used to get the controversial legislation passed. The recently delivered indictments are expected to be unsealed after the first of the year.
Furthermore, I keep hearing that there is legislation poised to be introduced that will address the BEP, teacher salaries, the repeal of vouchers, and perhaps even the ASD. Most of the proposed legislation would take the education policy in a different direction than that followed over the last several years.
Many folks are becoming more open in their that questioning of whether or not Schwinn will make it through her first legislative session. Not many people are impressed with her body of work to date and comparisons have been frequently drawn between her and former State Superintendent Kevin Huffman – not a flattering proposition.
SCHOOL BOARD RACES
Nashville’s education advocates are looking towards next summer’s school board race with trepidation. They’ll be five seats up for grabs – Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, Sharon Gentry, Christianne Buggs, Freda Player – and they are the marquee names. At this stage, all incumbents are said to be running, but only Christianne Buggs has made it official.
The high profile of the candidates, plus what is possibly at stake, leads many to believe that this is going to be a high dollar race. Many races across the country have borne out that fear. However, one of those races offers a reason for optimism.
The recently completed Denver school board race was among the most acrimonious and expensive in recent memory. Denver has long been a stronghold for the ed reform crowd, but things have started to shift since the teachers strike earlier in the year. Five candidates backed by the teachers were vying for seats against those who supported the path the city had been on. Over a million dollars was pumped into the race.
Despite being outspent, the candidates supported by the teacher’s union prevailed. Instead of five members backed by pro-reform organizations and two backed by the teachers union, the seven-member board will now feature five members backed by the teachers union: Jennifer Bacon and Carrie Olson, who won seats in 2017, and Tay Anderson, Scott Baldermann, and Brad Laurvick, who won seats this week. This is not insignificant.
Hopefully, those outside forces looking to try and financially influence Nashville’s School Board will look at these results and hesitate about investing in Nashville’s race. Not likely, but one can dream.
This week the Nashville Public Education Foundation unveiled a new initiative called “Thriving Schools“. I’m not quite sure how this effort differs from other efforts but their initial overview of Whitsett ES offers some very compelling reading.
I was looking at a milk carton earlier in the week and low and behold, there was a picture of the Blueprint For Early Childhood Literacy on it. Has anybody seen evidence of this initiative of late? The Blueprint was unveiled by NPEF 2 years under the leadership of then Executive Officer Shanon Hunt with great fanfare but has since gone dormant. Last year stewardship for the program was transferred to the United Way, but I still haven’t seen much evidence of accomplishment or action.
A meeting was held with the Oliver Middle School community this past week to address overcrowding, discipline issues, and the school’s recently vacated leadership position. District officials continue to hedge their bets when it comes to naming an interim principal despite the community’s overwhelming support of current AP Hawaya Wilson. I have never understood why the district so adamantly disregards teachers’ and stakeholders’ wishes in these decisions. Honor the community’s choices and give them who they want. If they fail, the district will replace them and point out that they were the community’s choice. It doesn’t have to be this hard.
Rumors continue to swirl that similar discussions may be coming soon to Maplewood HS as well. The district recently dispatched fixer Bill Warren over there to shore up leadership and hopefully solve some of the growing issues. For the sake of everyone, I hope he helps provide the solution.
Erin Anderson’s recent resignation from Oliver has not gone without notice. Anderson is regarded by many in the MNPS community as a quality person and a talented administrator. Her sudden resignation is forcing many to take a look at whether the district is putting people in positions where they can succeed and if they are offering enough supports to those young leaders they put in positions of authority. A conversation that is long overdue.
The Tennessean recently ran an article about Tennessee Titan cornerback Ty Smith visiting Buena Vista Elementary School and taking the kids out for pizza. It a commendable activity by the cornerback and he should be applauded, but we shouldn’t let this act of kindness obscure the things that are not being done for Buena Vista. The kids are still not benefitting from a diverse fully funded school that has adequate services to meet their heightened needs. So let’s celebrate Smith while not losing focus on what Buena Vista and many other schools in Nashville truly need.
Goodlettsville Elementary School held its 18th annual Veterans Day performance and honored a veteran who grew up in the neighborhood. This annual event holds a special place in the community’s heart.
The McGavock High School Marching Band took the Grand Champion Prize at the Contest of Champions held at MTSU this weekend! Big congratulations to the students, teachers, and families who support their hard work. The John Overton High School Marching band placed 7th!
Great work students!
There is a school board meeting this coming week. A look at the agenda shows that a contract with the Tennessee School Board Association is on the consent agenda. This contract will signify the start of the process to name a permanent director of schools as the board is choosing to utilize TSBA instead of an outside search firm. Hopefully, this will avoid the pitfalls of past searches. The move should not be interpreted as signifying dissatisfaction with Dr. Battles’ performance, but rather a recognition of the challenges faced by having the word “interim” attached to the director title. A preliminary timeline has the search being wrapped up by mid-April at the latest.
The subject of teachers’ BEP money continues to be unresolved. Teachers are given $200 each year as reimbursement for money they’ve spent setting up their classrooms. As of today, the money for 2019/2020 has still not been distributed. MNPS HR points to the recent conversion of a new employee management system as the reason for the delay. It would behoove the district the resolve this issue sooner rather than later.
HR is also in the process of replacing the previous application management program – AppliTrack – with a new system, Taleo. When fully operational Taleo should be a big upgrade. The system is scheduled to go live on December 2. Before that can happen though, the old system needs to be shut down and data transferred. This process will put a hold on hiring during the weeks at the end of November.
That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive.
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