NURTURING THE SEEDS

“CORY: You ain’t never gave me nothing! You ain’t never done nothing but hold me back. Afraid I was gonna be better than you. All you ever did was try and make me scared of you. I used to tremble every time you called my name. Every time I heard your footsteps in the house. Wondering all the time…what’s Papa gonna say if I do this?… What’s he gonna say if I do that?… What’s Papa gonna say if I turn on the radio? And Mama, too…she tries…but she’s scared of you.”
August Wilson, Fences

“Love me or hate me, both are in my favour. If you love me, I’ll always be in your heart… If you hate me, I’ll always be in your mind.”
William Shakespeare

It would be an understatement to say that the last several months have been besieged by tragedy. But out of tragedy sometimes arise beautiful life-affirming moments. Such is the case this Monday morning.

Late last week an eighth-grade student at Croft MS, Kyrie Cox,  went to sleep and never woke up again. Needless to say, her parents, teachers, and classmates are devastated. There is no recipe for healing when such moments befall us. But a strong community and the ability to lean on each other helps to ease some of the pain.

Over the weekend the family of the young lady sent a message to the Croft community via Principal Jeremy Lewis. By all accounts, Kyrie was a huge aficionado of the ’80s and her family requested that in honor of her, all show up to school in their best 80’s finary. What an unbelievable idea, and a tribute to the strength of a family in pain. I dare anyone to walk through the halls of Croft today and not smile a little bit despite the hole left by a young lady who left the dance way too early. RIP sweet angel.

ALWAYS REACTIVE, NEVER PROACTIVE

As promised, I want to dive a little deeper into the case of the Cane Ridge ELA teacher who was placed on administrative leave last week for teaching a lesson plan anchored by the text of the Pulitzer Award-winning play Fences and focusing on the word “nigger”. The teacher, a white male married to an African-American woman, returned back to class on Friday. Despite his return, 200 – 250 Cane Ridge students walked out of school on Friday in protest of his being placed on administrative leave.

I take exception to so much of this incident that I hardly know where to begin. Lost in the narrative is that the teacher in question didn’t come up with the lesson plan out of the blue, they were following the district’s scope and sequence. He didn’t plan the lesson on his own, it was done collaboratively with his team members. If what was delivered was unsatisfactory, perhaps the Curriculum and Instruction staff should be provided with the opportunity to help modify the plan.

When my son was 4 or 5 years old, he was very conflicted about the concept that words are either “good” or “bad”. We had many a conversation around this concept and how words are not inherently “bad” or “good” but rather the determining factor is in how you use them. How their usage reflects on you is also an important consideration. I’m not going to pretend that he fully grasped the concept, but I will argue that it laid the foundation for future exploration.

Banning a word from common usage is never effective. It only serves to empower it. Permitting its usage by some, but not others contributes to a divide.

Last week I wrestled with the usage of the word “fuck” and finally ended up using it because nothing else felt like it conveyed the strength of conviction I was looking for. The word itself though holds no power, it’s only because the many that find it offensive and that it is perceived in a base manner, that it derives any power.

“Nigger” is similar, except that it comes rooted in a vile historical context. That context is only fueled when we fail to talk about it. I firmly believe that young adults need to have a deep understanding of that historical context, why the word evokes the emotions that it does, and why some African-Americans choose, despite the painful connotations, to use the word themselves.

This is a topic infused in emotion and best discussed in an environment considered “safe”. In reacting the way the director did, and by extension the district, students are deprived of that opportunity and forced to learn about race out on the street, a location laced with a multitude of harmful elements. Ironically, that is not unlike how we oft force them to learn about sex.

By being reactive, instead of proactive, a vital opportunity was lost. An opportunity we as a society can ill afford to lose.

I would further ask, what was gained by placing a teacher who was following district provided curriculum on administrative leave? This teacher has never faced any disciplinary action in the past, so its quite likely that this incident will deeply affect them personally, and is unlikely to inspire future loyalty to MNPS. Furthermore, it sends an unintended message to fellow teachers to be careful, you only serve at the whim of district leadership.

And let’s not forget, MNPS has a substantial lack of available substitutes, so who taught the students while this teacher was unavailable? How did being taught by a substitute, or placed in another already overcrowded classroom, serve as beneficial to students? What was the leadership lesson that was unintentionally delivered to students? I don’t think we have a good answer to any of those questions.

Let’s also take a look at recent precedent. Last year as part of Black History Month a local high school labeled water fountains “black” and “white”, in order to give students a sense of historical context. The lesson was deemed racially insensitive and the signs were removed, but nobody was placed on administrative leave. So it begs the questions, why now and not then?

At the end of last year, parents at a local elementary school were unhappy with the behavior of an African-American office employee and as a result, brought their complaints to their area superintendent. When that superintendent, brought the parental complaints to the then head of HR, he responded, “Do you really think that the district is going to do anything because a bunch of white parents complained?”

How is that not offensive? Why did the color of parents even enter the conversation? Why was the HR director not put on administrative leave while an investigation was conducted? All very valid questions that the district to date has never answered.

It is indisputable that MNPS, and Nashville itself, needs a deeper conversation on race. It is a conversation that we can’t run from because aspects of it make us uncomfortable. it is a conversation that needs to be expanded beyond just Black and White and includes the growing Hispanic population as well.

In order to find solutions, we are going to have to put faith in and depend on both our teachers and the next generation. When we prevent them from having necessary conversations out of fear, we fail to adequately prepare students to bring about change.

As adults too often we bring our own baggage to the table and as a result we underestimate what kids are capable of. Our trepidation often works to send an unintended message to teachers as well. A message that says we don’t trust them to know what’s best for their students.

Districts can not fall into that trap. These times call for bold leadership and the actions taken by district leadership in this incident failed to qualify for such. It is possible to convey compassion while facilitating difficult conversations. Seeing as 250 students walked out of school in response to district leadership’s actions, I think it is safe to say that students were looking for more. Hopefully, this will be a learning experience and in the future, leadership will take less a hyperbolic stance and employ a more thoughtful tactic.

As for the teacher at Cane Ridge, thank you. Thank you for being willing to take on the hard work at the risk of personal detriment. Please don’t lose faith in MNPS. We’ll get there, but not without teachers like you. Stay the course.

ADVANCE ACADEMICS RESULTS

The one indisputably beneficial move that Dr. Joseph made during his tenure with MNPS was to establish that the district would pay for exams that were affiliated with advanced academic courses – IB, Cambridge, Advanced Placement. These exams can be quite costly and as a result, acted to limit the number of students who pursued these offerings.

As expected with increased access, initially there is a drop in achievement until students adapt to the increased rigor. Eventually, the belief is, there will be a rise in scores. Last year’s scores are now in.

Advanced Placement courses saw 2,943 students take 5,579 exams. MLK and Hume-Fogg students took most of those exams, but Hillwood HS with 336 tests was third. 41.5% of AP exams taken received a passing score of 3 or higher, which was down from 2 years ago when it was 47.5% but up from last year’s 39.8 %. The number of students participating in AP classes increased by 16.6 percent since 2016-2017.

Three MNPS high schools offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme: Antioch High School, Hillsboro High School, and Hunters Lane High School. The number of students participating since 2016-2017 dipped slightly, from 222 to 200 over the last 3 years, but the pass rate has risen by 1.7%.
Four MNPS high schools offer the Cambridge Advanced International Certification Education (AICE) Diploma: Cane Ridge High School, John Overton High School, McGavock High School, and Whites Creek High School. Their numbers are certainly a cause for optimism. The number of students participating in AICE classes increased by nearly 55% over the three-year period (from 388 students in 2016-17 to 600 students in 2018-19). As predicted the pass rate dropped from 66% to 47.7% but the number of students earning a passing score increased from 571 to 585.
These results are the product of a great deal of hard work and while not yet where we want them to be, are grounds for guarded optimism. I suspect we’ll see even better numbers this year. Hats off to all those who’ve worked so hard to produce these results and as a by-product increased equity throughout the district.
QUICK HITS
Have you been following the TNDOE’s recent process for the adoption of approved ELA materials? It’s a process that has been marked by a certain amount of…manipulation. Now comes a story out of  Texas that should be cause for even greater suspicion and concern.  In ruling that the Texas Education Agency must pay a former special education director more than $200,000 in damages for illegally firing her the court also noted that,
Less than a month after firing Kash, the TEA ended its no-bid special education contract — losing millions of dollars — and promised to review its own contracting processes. A year later, state auditors found the TEAhad failed to follow all the required steps before awarding the contract. It also had failed to identify the personal relationship between the subcontractor and the main decision-maker for the contract: Penny Schwinn, who was then the agency’s deputy commissioner of academics.
Not a pretty picture.
In October, MNEA presented the Board of Education with signatures of approximately 1400
teachers, more than the number required to initiate a vote to open negotiations on a contract,
called a “memorandum of understanding” under Tennessee law. In the next step, teachers vote
on opening negotiations (called “collaborative conferencing” in Tennessee) and the organization they want to represent them at the table.
The vote will start on Monday, November 25th and runs through Friday, December 6th. All eligible voters, including MNPS teachers, librarians, counselors, social workers, school psychologists, instructional coaches, speech-language pathologists, and any other “non-supervisory certificated employees,” will receive an email on Monday, November 25 containing a link that will take them to the ballot. To be successful, the teachers must get a yes vote of 50% + 1 of all eligible voters totaling
approximately 3000 votes. This is a big deal.
Scratching my head this morning trying to decide whether I’m a crank, nitwit, or charter zealot. This weekend I took exception via Twitter with education hero Diane Ravitch for giving Pinkston a national platform by reprinting his latest blog post. She claimed to not be aware of his bullying tactics and how he had tried to paint fellow board members as racist and teachers as moronic.
I don’t care how right Pinkston may be in his assertations, the end can not justify the means. If rejecting his tactics makes me a “charter zealot”, pass the t-shirt over here. If rejecting him as an ally in the fight against charter proliferation means an increase in charter schools, so be it. If my arguments are so weak that they demand the use of his tactics in order to “win”, I’ll gladly take the loss. At the end of the day, all we have is our personal integrity and save the safety of my family, no cause is worth its sacrifice.
In addition to working on collaborative conferencing, MNEA has also publically demanded that the Mayor put his funding promises in writing. Specifically in regard to the promised 3% raise. A press conference is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 8:30 to disclose the mayor’s intent in regard to that raise.
So much of the talk around teacher recruitment and retention is centered around compensation that I feel a need to offer a bit of a warning. Money is important, but its not the most significant contributor to teacher dissatisfaction. Discipline issues and micro-managing play equal roles in increased teacher attrition. In a recent post, David Didau addresses the later as it applies to teachers, “If you trust them to do a good job, don’t make them jump through hoops; if you don’t trust them, explain what will be needed for them to earn their autonomy. And then, once trust has been earned, do away with rigid constraints as quickly as possible.” 
As for the former, I give you this,

Dismiss at our peril. Magical directors of magical transformation.

POLL RESULTS

Time now for a review of this week’s poll results.

the first question asked if a candidate’s opinion on charter schools has an impact on your vote. 39.5% of you answered, absolutely. 28% of you said it was a factor hut not the biggest. Here are the write-in votes,

Charter & Vouchers the same different packaging. 1
My child goes to a charter and what I look for in a c’d is integrity and vision 1
Anyone but Trump 1
No 1
Yep. Charters educate only those they want making

The second question asked for whether or not you found the ELA lesson at Cane Ridge offensive. 33% of you felt that it was, concerning, but you’d have to see how it was presented. At 29%, the number 2 answer was “took no issue”. Only 3% found it beyond appropriate. Here are the write-in votes.

I found Adrienne battle’s response offensive. 1
It shows Dr. Battle is not prepared to be director 1
offended by Battle’s response – not sure she should be director 1
I’m more offended by our director’s response 1
Don’t bubblewrap kids. They don’t want it and it doesn’t work. 1
Need more info 1
The whole episode makes me sad. Prob. one of MNPS’s better t’rs. L’sn 2 students 1
Nothing wrong with the assignment. Yes. I am black!!!! 1
I’m hoping there was a robust discussion in class 1
Are we trying to run off the few teachers remainin 1
Context and delivery, Battle overreacted, impeding fair investigation. 1
compare/contrast public reaction with removal of Harry Potter from library

The last question asked for your impression of teacher attrition over the past month. 45% of you answered that you felt it had only worsened. While 36% of you indicated you didn’t have an opinion because you were too busy trying to hold on yourself. Not exactly a lot of cause for optimism to be found in these answers. I wonder if the subject will be brought up on the board floor anytime soon. Here are the write-ins,

Teachers are leaving MNPS every day 1
I know several leaving after the winter break. 1
We will see in January 1
Stayed the same – check back after Christmas 1
Not sure, but if I wasn’t at my sch, I’d leave MNP 1
Exploded. We lost our two best social studies tch! 1
Matches student attrition, HR becoming anemic, fat cats getting fatter 1
unknown where’s the data?

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.

Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience…send them on.

I leave you with this final graphic. while not indicative of all consultants, it does adeptly illustrate many teachers day to day reality.

 

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