OF SMEARS AND HALF TRUTHS

“It is not the brains that matter most, but that which guides them — the character, the heart, generous qualities, progressive ideas.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky

“False opinions are like false money, struck first of all by guilty men and thereafter circulated by honest people who perpetuate the crime without knowing what they are doing.” – Joseph de Maistre

 

Christmas Day was less than 24 hours past, yet Nashville’s Lil’ Trump – Will Pinkston – was already out peddling his poison via the TNED Report. For reason I’ll never understand, Andy Spears made his respected blog available to Lil T to do what he does best, create discord through half-truths and inuendos masquerading as modern journalism.

I used to think that Pinkston’s political career was ended because we as a collective had seen what his brand of politics looked like on the grand scale via President Trump and rejected it. But I’ve come to view him as a personification of the perfect politician to operate in today’s Trumpian political arena. In a Trumpian world politics is less about inspiration facts and more about manipulation, best practiced by those unhindered by moral obligations.

There are multiple parallels between President Trump and the former school board member in regard to social media usage. The manner in which the two bend facts to suit their desired narrative bears noting, as well as the inherent misogyny in their actions. But time has also revealed another similarity, the willingness of their supporters to continually make excuses for their abhorrent behavior simply because they appear to champion those supporters’ causes of choice.

Talk to any Trump supporter and you’ll hear them say things like,

“Yea, I don’t like his Twitter messages.”

“He can be blunt but he’s not as bad as people say he is.”

“I wish he wouldn’t talk the way he does but he’s right you know.”

“He only does what he does because his enemies force him to.”

The defenses offered are no different than the ones offered up by local acolytes of Nashville’s lil’ Trump. He continually plays to our worst angels because he’s perceived as a champion of public education, as a result, good people continually not only turn a deaf ear to his vitriol but offer him a microphone which he, in turn, uses to strike at his personal enemies under the guise of fighting for the defense of public education. It is a perception that comes devoid of any evidence.

While working for Governor Bredesen, he helped usher in the Race to the Top legislation. Legislation that is at the root of every major education battle currently being waged in Tennessee. Vouchers, charter schools, TFA. TVAAS – all were brought to the forefront by Tennessee’s RTTT application. Pinkston often offers the canard that the legislation was hijacked by conservatives, but the only people who believe that are those that have never read the application.

While on the board, Pinkston had ample opportunity to shore up MNPS’s traditional schools making them less susceptible to charter school attacks, but he failed to do so. He was unwilling to review district discipline policy that was negatively impacting district schools. He failed to support meaningful discussion on teacher retention and recruitment. He failed to openly question the spending habits of Superintendent Joseph. Choosing instead to turn his back on the very people who helped secure his seat on the board and then relinquishing that seat before his term was completed.

Someone with a greater understanding of psychology than I might argue that Pinkston is aware of how bad Bredesen’s legislation turned out and as a result is besieged by self-loathing. Absorbed with trying to defeat the very monsters he helped usher in the door. Or it could be a manifestation of his inherent narcissism that recognizes education policy as the perfect vehicle for him to use to strike at those who make his self-acknowledged enemy list.

It’s no secret that lil’ T hates MNPS’s interim director of schools Dr. Battle. It’s a hatred rooted in her hiring of Hank Clay as Chief of Staff. Clay has been a long-time target of Pinkston, and by hiring him Battle moved up in rank on Pinkston’s list. While Clay has taken some questionable positions in the past, he is by no means the black-clad mustache-twirling visage that Pinkston tries to paint him as any more than lil’ T is the manifestation of the square-jawed Canadian mountie riding to the rescue.

Keep in mind also that with Dr. Joseph, the director prior to Dr. Battle, Pinkston had a malleable property. Joseph had little interest in the battle over the charter school wars but was willing to use them to leverage players on both sides. He’d turn a deaf ear to the actions of charters in order to curry favor with Joe Scarlett while giving Pinkston access to the district’s charter school office in order to secure his backing. Access that allowed Pinkston to strike at his declared enemies.

This is not the first time Pinkston has allowed the lines between personal and professional to become blurred. Back in the early part of the decade, Pinkston was a supporter of charter schools, going as far as to work for SCORE and serve as a founding board member of Nashville Prep. At that time, he and Nashville Prep’s leader Ravi Gupta was known to enjoy a libation, or two, together. Local legend has it that their very public split grew out of a dispute over whose turn it was to pay a bar tab.

True or not true, something happened to cause Pinkston to alter course and embrace the anti-charter movement with the zeal of an evangelical. A zeal that gave cover for him to launch personal attacks on political enemies without reproach. A lack of reproach that only served to embolden Pinkston and cause him to act with even more impunity.

Over the past summer, he attempted to strike at Battle by repeatedly floating a rumor that she was conspiring with the TNDOE to take over some of Nashville’s priority schools. By late fall it was apparent that the state was barely able to cover its own daily functions and the whole takeover theory was simply an attempt to discredit Dr. Battle. That failure has apparently led to a new line of attack, painting Battle as a champion of charter school proliferation.

In his piece for the TNEd Report, Pinkston makes the accusation that “despite citywide fiscal austerity, Metro Nashville Public Schools officials are clinking champagne glasses in celebration of their latest plans to expand taxpayer-funded privately run charter schools.”

An accusation that begs the question of where is the evidence? There are no links supplied in the hit piece and if you Google, “Dr. Adrienne Battle support charter schools”, you come up empty, so as the restaurant chain Wendy’s asked in the ’80s, ‘Where is the beef?”

Pinkston goes on to claim that,

“During the past three months, MNPS Interim Director Adrienne Battle has quietly recommended that taxpayers fund an estimated $45.6 million in additional cash outlays for charter growth over the next five years. Battle not only pushed for a new charter school that will quickly grow to nearly 600 students but unveiled plans to expand three existing charter schools.”

Again, much like his political mentor, Lil’ Trump offers no support for his accusation and one can only conclude that he is distorting the facts of MNPS’s recent vote on Rocketship’s application and the enrollment expansion of 4 local charter schools. in both cases Dr. Battle took, as best I can tell, a neutral position. One that would be considered prudent for an interim-director of schools who hoped to become the permanent director of schools.

In the case of the Rocketship application, the district has elected to again deny chartering thus forcing the state to allow Rocketship to open up a new school under their umbrella. In regard to the 4 charter school expansion requests, 3 were approved and one was denied based on financial considerations. The denied application will be appealed to the state.

In the coverage of both events, I find no supporting quotes by Dr. Battle. Nor do I find her expressing remorse over the outcomes. It is true that the MNPS charter department recommended that all 4 expansions be approved, but should that be interpreted as Dr. Battles’ personal opinion and agenda? Sketchy at best.

The next paragraph is my personal favorite,

“Additional recommended charter growth is anticipated in the New Year — even though MNPS principals and teachers report that more charters are unneeded and unwanted, and siphon away resources from competitive teacher pay and adequate support in the classroom.”

WTF?!? The guy that ended his political career after engaging in an attack on Nashville’s teachers – referring to them as “nitwits” – is suddenly painting himself as their champion. Pure comedy gold.

Of course, Pinkston also fails to mention that this week at the behest of Dr. Battle Metro legal filed to have the state decision to reverse MNPS’s intent to close Knowledge Academy Charter School overturned. Dr. Battle addressed the legal action such,

Our staff and school board put a lot of thought and deliberation into the decision to revoke the Knowledge Academies’ charter. The State Board of Education’s reversal was contrary to the informed decision of our Metro School Board and the best interests of Nashville’s students. Metro Legal filed this lawsuit on behalf of Metro Schools to seek relief from the state’s actions and I hope the court finds in favor of Nashville and allows us to uphold higher standards for charter operators in Metro Nashville.

Spoken like a true charter zealot.

There are a lot of different opinions across the district on Dr. Battle. It’s a fair argument to question her accomplishments to date, her selections for leadership positions, and/or her qualifications for the job. However, it is deeply disingenuous to try and paint her as a charter school advocate sans evidence. It is also appalling to mask personal intentions in an ideological cloak and those who enable such behavior deserve rebuke as well.

Andy Spears is one of the most respected voices on educational issues across the state. I consider him a personal friend and deeply value his council, but by the same token, I’m deeply disappointed in his decision to allow Pinkston to use the TNEd platform to advance personal issues. It is one thing to wage war against charter school proliferation, it is quite another to wage war with little regard for collateral damage.

Nashville needs a deeper conversation on the issue of charter schools. While I would never support further expansion, I disagree with Pinkston’s assertion that “Charter families’ wish lists should not be prioritized ahead of basic municipal needs, including clean water and reliable sewer services to homes and businesses.”

Pinkston’s position is another thinly veiled attempt to villainize people that have done nothing wrong but take advantage of opportunities made available by district policy enacted while he served on the board. As such, they do not deserve to have their lives uprooted and disrupted at the whim of a political operative. One who stands to make financial gain through the continuation of the charter school wars.

Nashville’s lil’ Trump recently founded a company – Public School Partners – with the expressed purpose of helping school districts navigate charter school growth to protect the academic, fiscal, and operational integrity of our most important institution — public education. In other words, looking to him to look out for the interests of students and their families is like looking to Blackwater to look out for the citizens of the Middle East.

At this juncture, I think that the two top priorities on Dr. Battles’ agenda are serving the district’s families and removing the interim from her title. Engaging in an ideological battle over charter schools and attempting to privatize the district doesn’t serve to advance either of those items. I suspect that the “clinking of champaign glasses” will only come if Dr. Battle is named Director of Schools.

The playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” It’s important to remember those words. We have to hold both opponents and allies accountable to the truth. We can’t allow policy discussions to be hijacked by personal interests. The ends can never justify the means.

The fiscal challenges that Metro Nashville finds its self confronted with are very real. These challenges will directly impact Nashville’s public education system and as a direct result will influence what our future community looks like. These conversations will include, but not be limited to, discussions of increased taxes, school consolidations, and yes, charter school expansion. To ensure that we achieve the best outcomes it is imperative that our arguments are rooted in fact and not conjecture and political games.

That’s a tough, but imperative ask. I personally believe that we are coming to a crossroads in regard to the growth of Nashville. There is nothing less than the future of our city at stake in our pending decisions. Let’s look to our better angels for advice, and leave the others behind.

UPDATE: Given an opportunity to substantiate the allegations he made via the TNEd Report, lil’ T responded true to form in a manner that would bring a smile to his mentor’s face. Much like the big guy, Pinkston’s tweets speak for themselves.

I have to say that if I was a school district looking to employ the services of Public School Partners, I would ask if this would be considered a sample of the work I can expect them to perform on my behalf.

SPEAKING OF BAD CHOICES

Back in 2006, I sat on and later lead, the board charged with overseeing and reconfiguring Nashville’s public access stations – NECAT which consisted of channels 9,10, and 19. It was a tumultuous time and the reconfiguring process was an arduous one brought on by years of neglect. In order to carry out our charge, we relied on the council of Metro Governments IT head Keith Durbin.

Unfortunately, Durbin was often vague in the direction he envisioned the organization going, which was problematic since the organization’s existence was dependent on Metro government. We were eventually successful, but the process was often combative and acrimonious. More so then it needed to be.

Many of those tendencies that I witnessed in Durbin a decade ago are now being played out again in regard to the Metropolitan Nashville government’s a makeover of the city’s computer-based information and accounting system. According to an article in the Tennessee Tribune, the implementation has been costly and in the end, won’t function as well as the previous system.

Furthermore, according to the Tribune, The Oracle R12 system is not supposed to require any new employees. But MNPS has already hired two people and HR will put on additional workers, too. Durban didn’t tell the Council Budget and Finance Committee that and he didn’t provide a price list on the details of the contract either. Those details are key to understanding how Oracle monetizes its products by selling licenses, software updates, and support for its suite of products.

There have already been quite a few complaints about the functionality of the new system by MNPS users. Indications are that those complaints won’t abate any time soon. I encourage you to read the whole article, despite it being a deeply disturbing read.

QUICK HITS

Last week, the Oliver Middle School band was awarded the “National Programs of Excellence” award by the National Band Association Congratulations to their amazing Band Directors Susan Waters, Katie Harrah, and Kevin Jankowski. I can personally attest to their transformative work.

Over at the Nashville Scene, Bill Freeman has penned an appreciation letter to Nashville’s educators.

As 2019 draws to a close, it is of course a time reflect and to celebrate, and I cannot think of a group more deserving of our appreciation than our public school teachers. They have a tough job with high expectations from the kids under their tutelage, the students’ parents, their peers and administrators, and from the community they serve. I think our teachers are at the top of the class.”

Thank you, Mr. Freeman, Dad Gone Wild thinks you are top of the class as well.

Too often the words “college and career ready” are tossed around with little understanding of what that truly means. Education writer Mercedes Schneider has a Christmas tale that sheds a little needed illumination.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work 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 always 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.

If you so desire to join their ranks, 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’d love the opportunity to share them.

 



Categories: Education

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