“Don’t do what you want. Do what you don’t want. Do what you’re trained not to want. Do the things that scare you the most.”
“We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”
This week marked the beginning of actions that signify that MNPS’s Director search is now formally underway. Yesterday several meetings were held across the district under the auspices of gathering community input. I attended a meeting of influencers that was held at lunchtime at the Tennessee School Board Association(TSBA) building. TSBA is the organization charged with leading the search this go around.
At my meeting, we conducted the all-too-familiar exercise of collecting desirable traits of potential candidates. Predictably the picture of the ideal candidate that emerged felt very similar to Jesus Christ. One who was a good listener but decisive. A candidate who recognized the challenges of our neediest kids but served all kids. One who was innovative yet strengthened existing programs. An independent thinker but one who consulted with all parties. You get the picture.
While I certainly appreciate the opportunity to weigh in with my thoughts, isn’t this all information that should already be known? Over the last decade, there has been no shortage of focus groups, surveys, panel discussions, and solicitation of stakeholder input. At some point, the emerging picture can’t be defined anymore. It is what it is, and it’s time to act.
Nobody at my meeting asked for a secretive candidate. They didn’t ask for one that was duplicitous. No call for a savior was raised. The qualities listed were actually quite predictable.
So what does begin to emerge is a feeling that participants are merely actors in a scene that has already been written. That we are going through the motions merely to check off boxes. Placed ad in trade journals – check. Reviewed list of duties – check. Sought community input – check. Gathered candidate names and resumes – check.
I’d argue that solicitation of community input for the qualities desired in a director of schools is conducted every 2 years when school board elections are held. Who we vote for as a school board representative is a vote for what we’d like to see in a director of schools. The director of the schools is the one employee that the board oversees, and arguably their selection is the board’s most important job. Hopefully, when people voted they took that into account.
It’s like the presidential election, in voting for a candidate you do so with the knowledge that they will be the ones selecting court judges and justices. You want someone in that role that reflects your personal values.
When a supreme court position opens up you don’t see community meetings held across the country in order to solicit the qualities the country is looking for in the next justice. That solicitation was already done and all that’s left to do is evaluate the proposed candidate. A candidate that will likely assume the role unless some kind of gross maleficence can be revealed. Hence the saying, “Elections have consequences.”
The same needs to hold true with the selection of the Director of Schools. Board members have been empowered through an election, let’s get to it. In the end, there is nothing that is raised in these community meetings that will trump the criteria already held by board members or reveal new desires.
That said, I do believe that there needs to be a full vetting of proposed candidates by the public. Much like the hearings, a court justice must undergo before being approved for their position.
The biggest question I hear around this year’s search is, is it a real search or simply a coronation? It is a question that is continually fueled by board member’s social media posts. Some of which are more innocuous than others, but still send the wrong message, intentional or unintentional.
Board members have to understand that potential candidates are scouring district communication in order to get a perception of how open the search is. Applying for the job of director of schools is a lot more involved than sending in a resume and writing a cover letter. If there is even a hint of favoritism shown to the incumbent, potential candidates will not apply. That’s not a desirable outcome for anyone.
When it comes to communication, too often in the past, district leaders have reduced the process to what is said, with little attention paid to potential unintended interpretations and the possible repercussions of those misinterpretations. That has been to the detriment of the district. We have to do better.
Whoever becomes director is going to need to do so with the backing of a fair and transparent selection process. Yesterday, MNPS’s Director of Government Relations Mark North reminded that former Director of Schools Pedro Garcia’s tenure was haunted by a questionable selection process.
Garcia was not the first choice of the board but was selected after several other candidates removed themselves from consideration. Though he was by and large welcomed, it was the sense of a lack of legitimacy that constantly hounded him during his time at the helm. It’s imperative that we do not put another candidate in that same untenable position.
As a side note on how little progress has been made over the last decade, a Nashville Scene article from July 2001 outlines the paper’s priorities when it comes to schools,
This newspaper is more interested in other issues. We are interested in developing system-wide curricula, enhancing teacher training, reducing bus times, rescuing failing schools, implementing charter schools, and making schools strong partners with the neighborhoods that surround them. There’s always more, but those are the basics.
Two decades later and those same priorities arguably remain and will be the focus of the upcoming director search, and carry through to next year’s school board race. If that’s not sobering…we got to do better.
I firmly believe that the majority of board members are committed to a fair and transparent process. One that will reveal the best leader for the district. But they can’t take for granted that the public naturally makes the same determination and I urge them to be very deliberate in their actions and communications during the coming months. We have to get this right.
It’s too easy to think of MNPS’s bus drivers as just people who get our children from point A to point B. We forget the impact they make during that process. Traci Garrett is a driver for MNPS. She has been driving a Nashville school bus since 2015. Every day that school is in session, she picks up and drops off for students at Bellshire Elementary Design Center, Madison Middle, and Hunters Lane High School. She also does as much as she can to impact their lives in a positive manner during that time. Per the Tennessean,
She teaches her elementary school students to tie their shoes and cover their mouths when they cough.
She rewards her middle school students with $5 gift cards to the Dollar Tree and Walmart when they get As and Bs on their report cards.
She reminds her high school students to be selective of the company they keep and encourages them to follow a good path.
And, in the cold weather months, she buys hats and gloves for any child at her bus stops that may not have any of their own.
I’m willing to bet that she’s not the only bus driver going above and beyond daily. It’d behoove us during this time of reflection to be sure and thank all of those people that are responsible for our children every day.
Yesterday I got to peek inside the Tusculum ES Christmas wish room. A room filled with objects that community partners have made available to the kids of Tusculum in order to brighten their holiday. It was breathtaking. Thank you to all who made this possible.
Oliver Middle School’s production of Elf opened last night to rave reviews. If you get an opportunity to check it out, do so.
Having trouble getting in the Christmas spirit? Just take a gander at this picture of AZ Kelley elementary school students. Guaranteed to fill you with the holiday spirit.
The ongoing battle over what qualifies as high-quality instructional material continues to rage. This week a report came out of Fordham University decrying teacher use of sites like “teacher pay teacher”. Per usual, we turn to Peter Greene to decipher results and what he finds not surprisingly is a mixed bag. Though he does provide this caveat that I think it would serve us all well to remember,
One of the ongoing jobs of teaching is to make silk purses out of sows’ ears, and the ears don’t have enough material, so you’re always looking for some sows’ nose lining and cows’ liver casing and whatever else you can get your hands on, then modifying it for the students you have.
This is an ongoing process. No teacher worthy of the title teaches exactly the same stuff exactly the same way two years in a row (this is just one of the reasons that scripts and teacher-proof programs in a box are absolute junk). The dream is not supplemental material that does the work for you; it’s material that includes little gems that you can use. If teaching is house-hunting, teachers never expect to buy a place that’s move-in ready; they’re just looking for a place with good bones and a nice floor plan that they can renovate without too much trouble.
Much attention over the last several years has been focused on school discipline issues. Unfortunately little of that attention has been focused on the impact disruptive students have on fellow classmates. Luckily that’s starting to change. A recent article by Mark Eden cites a national poll that shows two-thirds of surveyed teachers at high-poverty schools reported that there is a student in their classroom who they believed shouldn’t be there, and 77 percent of surveyed teachers report that a small number of disruptive students cause other students to suffer. That should be alarming.
Over at the Tennessee Education Report, Andy Spears continues to keep track of the amount of federal and state money wasted on Charter School proliferation. Hint: it’s a lot.
If you haven’t watched Phil William’s special on juvenile crime, you need to. It’s among his best work ever and that’s like saying the new Bob Dylan work is among his best ever. His bar is already high and he continually exceeds it.
That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work to accentuate the positive.
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As promised, here is your opportunity to offer mid-year grades to the MNPS leadership team. This week, we focus on the top which means 4 questions. Next week, the next two rungs.