WHATS THE PLAN STAN?

“I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.”
Raymond Chandler, Philip Marlowe’s Guide to Life

“Perhaps after all, for all our talk of change, redemption or personal growth, for all our dependence on therapists, religious faith or mood-altering drugs both legal and non, we’re doomed simply to go on repeating the same patterns over and over in our lives, dressing them up in different clothes like children at play so we can pretend we don’t recognize them when we look into mirrors.”
James Sallis, Moth

I hate the 2-hour school start delay. There I’ve said it. Sorry, but I’ve tried. It does nothing but serve to disrupt the entire day. I know many of you love it and are very happy to see it resurrected – I respect that – but don’t count me in that number.

That said, I do think the Dr. Battle and her team did a fine job handling the first weather challenge of the year. Notices were placed on social media informing people that weather protocols had begun and at 5AM – as promised – a verdict was delivered.

The inclement weather cancellation dance is a hard one to navigate. Often one is never sure who is leading. Early appearances are that MNPS pulled off a fine do-si-do this morning.

STATE EDUCATION BUDGET PROPOSAL

Details about Education Superintendent Penny Schwinn’s first budget are starting to become available and they may raise some eyebrows. As expected the budget proposes lots of funding for Education Savings Accounts. On top of the $24.7 million that is the recurring base, Schwinn proposes $12,858,600 as “Hold Harmless Funds.” This is the money that would replace any lost revenue by LEA’s due to families participating in the voucher program. The figures are based on the projection being a maximum of 5000 students who would receive an estimated $7500 per student.

Also included in the ESA funding projection is an additional $2,271,500 for administrative costs. The department plans to hire 20 more people in order to help oversee the program. I’m curious where these additional 20 people are going to come from since by all accounts the TNDOE is already woefully understaffed, but ok.

All together we are talking just shy of $40 million to a program that has no history of success. None. Nada. Zilch. Any way you slice the equation, there is no justification for spending 40 million dollars of taxpayer money on a wing and a prayer. Imagine what the accomplishments could be if that money was invested in afterschool programs, guidance counselors, or Read To Be Ready Camps.

While nothing about the popular and effective Read to Be Ready camps is mentioned specifically in the budget, he TNDOE is proposing to invest $15 million in early literacy supports. They even have a catchy mission statement to support the ask, “Invest in a proven, coherent, statewide literacy program that includes high quality-materials, coaching, and shared diagnostics for data review.”

What’s it mean? I have no earthly idea, but I’ve sat through enough mind-numbing mission statement crafting sessions to have no problem envisioning what this one looked like.

“Data. The word data has to be in there.”

“Coherent, that’s a good word! Much better than clear.”

And the TNTP rep in the back of the room, “Gotta use the phrase “high-quality materials” because that’ll tie back into our marketing push and further justify our participation.”

What I suspect is about to happen though is a little more dastardly.  Over the summer the TNDOE has pulled out all the stops to get their favored curriculum on the approved instructional material list. After rumors surfaced that Core Knowledge Language Arts hadn’t made the initial cut, the state brought in Dr. Lisa Coons – a TNTP and by extension, CKLA supporter – to lead the initiative.

Don’t be surprised when CKLA is on the soon to be released list of approved instructional materials. Don’t be surprised when some of the poorer districts in Tennessee find themselves in a financial bind to replace their current materials and the state offers them some assistance in making the switch, as long as they are going to choose CKLA. After all, they have a $15 million pot to dip into. Of course, that could just be the cynic in me talking, but bullet points put forth by the state in connection with the proposed initiative don’t exactly assuage those fears,

District Grants to Support:
  • Purchasing high-quality materials
  • Selecting implementation support from an approved vendor
  • Purchase, use, and report on a shared diagnostic
  • Family reading guides

There is also an extra 1.2 million dollars allocated to “character education” that makes me extremely leery. Based on the behavior of several elected officials during the last legislative session, I’m not sure the state is qualified to offer “character education.” Maybe we send legislators, mayors, and former school superintendents to class first, and then work our way down. Just a thought.

It will be interesting to see how this budget proposal gets altered before it gets absorbed into Governor Lee’s state budget. Rumors continue to swirl that he’s preparing to make a substantial investment in teacher salaries, though nobody is sure what that is going to look like. We’ll be watching.

CONTINUING TO INQUIRE

Last week I discussed the district’s ongoing initiative to utilize the “Inquiry Cycle”. After observing the process in action, I was able to have a deeper appreciation for the process. However, an element that is sorely missing is teacher involvement. In my humble opinion, it would behoove district officials to hold a pre- and post-meeting with the teachers who’s classes are observed. At the very least, these meetings could serve as a foundation to start building trust.

Every initiative that MNPS undertakes – grading changes, inquiry cycle, climate surveys – serves me to recall the words spoken after Dr. Joseph’s first year at a central office retreat by then STEAM Director Kris Elliot, “Are we going to talk about the elephant in the room? Nobody trusts anybody in this district.” As Elliot rightly pointed out, a lack of trust permeates MNPS. That is not a condition that has changed.

When you bring up trust, you’ll get school board officials and district leaders who will shrug and say, “It’s always been like that.”

While that may be true, it doesn’t change the impact that lack of trust has on district outcomes. The adoption of new discipline policies is rooted in trust. Teacher recruitment and retention success is a by-product of trust. Surveys conducted in an environment where trust is non-existent provide inaccurate data and thus hinder improvement efforts. In order for the inquiry cycle to be successful, stakeholders must first have a foundation of trust. Nothing is posible without trust.

Several years ago, I sat in a meeting with then-Mayor Karl Dean. At the time he was deeply embroiled in the fight over the Fairgrounds. My Woodbine neighborhood was particularly opposed to his plans. Mayor Dean was not exactly a master communicator and I told him, “You never communicate clearly what your actual plan is and the end. As a result, people default to being opposed to you, even though the proposal might be in their best interest.”

MNPS continually suffers the same malady. With adequate preparation and clear communications at the beginning at the end of the process, it’s quite likely that more people would embrace the proposed changes or initiatives. Instead, district leaders just plow ahead with little explanation muttering the mantra, “Change is hard. People hate change.”

I couldn’t disagree more. People don’t hate change. They hate change where their role and how the change will benefit them is not clearly defined. They hate change that doesn’t acknowledge previous accomplishments. They hate change that is under-resourced, under-planned and poorly executed. They hate change in an environment sans trust.

Until a true effort is made to establish trust, initiatives like the inquiry cycle are doomed for failure, or worse yet, half-hearted adoption. At some point, the elephant in the room has to be addressed. I believe that Dr. Battle has opened the door to that conversation, but now its imperative that her team walks through it.

And what about Kris Elliot? What’s he up to? He’s out in Oregon overseeing the state’s new outdoor education program. A program that has proven highly successful, serving over 42K students a year.

QUICK HITS

If you were going to pick a day to start a new job as Communications Director for a large urban school district, you probably wouldn’t want it to coincide with the first inclement weather day of the year. Unfortunately, that’s the fate that befalls new MNPS Communication Director Sean Braisted. Braisted, the former communications director for Mayor Barry, joins the team today amidst a baptism of fire. Despite the less than ideal starting conditions, I suspect we’ll see a great deal of improvement from the communications department in the next few months. Welcome aboard sir.

The second round of MAP testing began last week. MAP testing is administered three times a year and is designed to monitor student growth over the year. A growing concern of mine is that higher-performing students have caught on to the MAP game and realized that it has little consequence despite being a lengthy and tiresome process. Kid’s ain’t dumb, they’ve figured out that tanking a few questions early brings the process to an early end. If this phenomenon grows, and I suspect it will, it’ll have a not unsubstantial impact on the validity of MAP testing.

One additional note on MAP testing. Since we already use it for a plethora of purposes other then what it is designed for, I would like to see a growth comparison for kids in a class that is regularly disrupted by a student and a comparable class that is not disrupted. I suspect that is a comparison that would make us confront some things we don’t want to confront.

Looks like newly elected Mayor John Cooper was inspired by Penny Schwinn’s recent ASD listening tour or he’s channeling his inner David Briley because he’s committing to – say it with your serious voice – an expert study on teacher pay. This study will supposedly help us understand how we can attract and retain teachers. It’s almost like teachers haven’t been talking for the last 5 years. Once again proposing another study when times call for action. More and more it is starting to feel like Cooper’s version of change is, everybody, stand up and move over 2 seats.

Holly Korbey is an education journalist and author of the recently released book “Building Better Citizens”. She lives in Nashville and you can follow her on Twitter @hkorbey.In an editorial for this weekend she makes a strong case for why civics classes are so important, Want better political discourse? Teach civics for the 21st century. | Opinion.

Speaking of Op-Ed pieces, Tennessee State Representative Mark White from Memphis and Tennessee State Senator Deloris Gresham have a piece out today in which they describe a Tennessee I wish I lived in but unfortunately does not align with the current state of affairs, Improving K-12 education must remain Tennessee’s top priority | Opinion. Someday maybe we’ll actually have those hard conversations that politicians love to pay homage to. As the TNEd Report points out, we could start on the subject of poverty. Quoting a Facebook posting by Ellen Zinkiewicz, “Gov. Lee, until we help working families find some economic stability, nothing we do to the education system will transform test-readiness. Poverty is the enemy here, Sir. And I hope you can lead our State in focusing on the disruptive effort of eliminating it, if for no other reason than to see test scores go up.”

This one almost slipped through. If you look at the very bottom of today’s MNPS school board agenda you’ll notice several charter schools are asking to amend their enrollment capacity. The big one for me is Valor Academy, which is asking for an additional 400 seats for their High School. This is where I need you to hop back in the time machine with me and remember when Valor opened their high school.

South Nashville was was, and is, suffering from overcrowding. Valor was seen as a possible partner in alleviating that overcrowding. Permission was granted to open the high school contingent on them also opening an elementary school. Valor never opened that elementary, and some would argue they never intended to, as a result, they are now magnanimously willing to surrender those seats in exchange for the additional 400 high school seats. Speaking of trust…let’s see how this one turns out. I suspect this one needs a little more vetting before approval is granted.

Been kicking this idea around for a while. I know many students write blogs as part of school assignments and I’d like to share some of those writings. If you are a student or a teacher who knows a student and you’d like to share your/their writing…send it on. I’ll share as many and as often as possible.

The Antioch HS ROTC did a fine job representing at yesterday’s Veterans Day Parade. Nicely done.

POLL RESULTS

Let us now take a moment to review the results of this past week’s poll questions.

The first question asked for your opinion of the TNDOE’s recently released strategic plan. I think it’s safe to say, y’all ain’t impressed. 46% of you indicated that you weren’t even paying attention, while 37% of you indicated that you felt it was just more of the same old same old. None of you were impressed. I’d say that the TNDOE suffers from a credibility problem.

Here are the write-ins,

I’m NOT impressed. 1
Empty with no teeth 1
I have no faith in TNDOE! 1
No influence on day to day classroom 1
A pointless exercise. 1
The are understaffed so implementation of all facets will likely fail. 1
Garbage. Just fix teacher pay already. Money is there!!! 1
It’s a joke.

Every 3 months, I like to take a moment and gauge the public opinion of sitting school board members. Every time I do, the results are the same, Amy Frogge in a landslide followed by Jill Speering and then everybody else. Despite this repeated voicing of public support, Frogge has to fight tooth and nail to get her thoughts heard. You’d think a newly seated Mayor or newly elected council members would seek her out for insight, but nope, they dismiss her and continue to move down the wrong path. It makes no sense.

This time out she secured 60% followed by Speering at 11%. Here are the write-ins,

Frogge and Speering 1
Frogge and Speering as always 1
Bush, faith that she will continue to act like a Bravo TV reality show extra 1
Come visit a school. Talk to teachers. See what’s really going on.

Question 3 asked if you feel that MNPS does an adequate job of placing and supporting principals. Y’all clearly don’t think they do, as 41% answered “not in the least” and 16% indicated that this was an area that was getting worse. Only 1 person thought things were improving. Here are the write-ins,

t is not “transparent.” Local committees are used as a front for Dr. Stewart. 1
Match principals with schools that fit their personalities and abilities 1
Good Pr. Not supported. Bad Pr ignored/retention 1
Principal pay is lacking. Wilco makes way more and deals with far less problems. 1
Who would support them? Witty? LOL 1
Hell no! 1
They need to fire the incompetent ones. 1
nepotism and cronyism propping up de facto seperate and unequal education 1
Inquiry cycle will fix it 1
How do they place them? Ours is the worst 1
The problem is all of the principal meetings that take leaders away from schools 1
School-based leadership is MNPSs biggest problem! Fire all of them & start over! 1
Not at all-That’s why so many teachers are leaving 1
Terrible principals are being left in place and the problem is getting bigger. 1
No! McGavock Elementary has a terrible principal! 1
Only the ones they like 1
Akin to BMS, an appointment with a connection to a community helps.

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. 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.

 

 

One thought

  1. I’ll believe Lee will increase my salary bigly when I see it.

    Also you can game any benchmark system. MAP is not special in that respect.

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