BLACK EYES AND BRUISED KNUCKLES

“But promises based on ignorance always prove disappointing.”
Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Keeper of Lost Causes

“Elsa decides that even if people she likes have been shits on earlier occasions, she has to learn to carry on liking them. You’d quickly run out of people if you had to disqualify all those who at some point have been shits.”
Fredrik Backman, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Another week and Titan’s fever continues to hold a firm grip on Nashville. Last week the team improbably defeated arguably the best team in football, the Baltimore Ravens. As a result, they will square off against the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend, The winner earns a trip to the Super Bowl. To put things in perspective, this is the first trip for the Titans to the Conference Championship in 17 years. That’s a long time between trips. It’d be nice to see a return trip to the Super Bowl as well.

In the arena of public education, this was a week for bruised knuckles and black eyes. The action in board rooms and classrooms was every bit as rough and tumble as what transpires on the gridiron and once again provided testimony that education advocacy is a full-contact endeavor.

Tuesday night was an MNPS Board Meeting. Several Maplewood HS students were on the agenda to speak – both as officially recognized ambassadors and as participants in the board’s public comment segment.

I believe that whenever students take it upon themselves to speak out about their experiences we need to honor them by listening. It was a little concerning that several students signed up and then chose not to speak if they did so out of fear of repercussions, that’s unacceptable. There has also been some talk that not all adults were comfortable with what those speaking had to say. I don’t know that that is a bad thing.

While I 100% support the right of students to speak out, I also think we need to ensure that young people fully understand what being an advocate actually means and the difference between successfully advocating and just stirring things up. Advocacy is hard and it can be very intimidating.

One of the phrases that have gained popularity over the last several years and always rubs me a little wrong is, “Speaking my truth.”

Yes, we all have our “truth” made up of our individual experiences and we need to be permitted to speak to those. But there is a “larger collective truth” that we have to each fit our individual truths into. It’s the only way democracy works. Unfortunately, we as a country have lost sight of that, so we tend to spend the majority of our time yelling at each other while our “collective truth” becomes more and more fractured.

Effective advocacy is contingent on building relationships, knowing when to use your soft voice as well as your loud voice, listening to others and searching for similarities that can be built upon. It requires at times talking to people you might not necessarily want to talk to.

It also comes with a price. Sometimes it’s a relatively low price – social ostracization – at other times it leads to fractured relationships with those you admire and in extreme situations, arrest. Like I said, it’s hard work. As a society, we tend to honor martyrs while seldom acknowledging the hardships they endured.

Take for instance the stories about Martin Luther King Jr’s letter from a Birmingham jail. We celebrate the writings that emerged but the stories are told in a manner that would suggest that he went away on a retreat and then through perseverance secured rudimentary writing utensils to provide inspiration phrases and then the world changed. The reality is he was rebuked by fellow activists while he served a week in jail.

Often lost in the telling are the conditions he faced in jail and what was sacrificed. The doubt he was most certainly challenged with, not to mention the harshness of his physical surroundings. The separation from his family and loved ones. The incredible level of support that he received from his wife.

If you are married, think about what the conversation would be like at your house if you informed your spouse that you would be embarking on actions that may lead to your incarceration for an extended period of time.

MLK Jr was a great man, but he wasn’t immune to the daily challenges of feeding and clothing his family, of honoring his spouse, of protecting his loved ones. Yet he strode into the arena and fought successfully to make the world better for all of us. That’s what advocates do and while their causes may not all be on the same scale as MLK’s, they still come with their daunting challenges.

When we encourage young people to speak out I think it’s essential that we fully educate them on what advocacy looks like and prepare them to be life long advocates. The world needs more, not fewer people fighting for a better world. In hindsight, it’s easy to know what the course of action is, in the midst of events unfolding we seldom know and as a result, are forced to depend on faith.

That said, the voices of the students who spoke on Tuesday were powerful and impactful. I challenge us to really listen to what they were saying. Boiled down to their essence they were calling for action on 2 particular issues – teacher attrition and discipline.

Almost every one of their criticisms centered around those two issues. There aren’t enough teachers in the building and they don’t feel safe in the halls. Two issues that unfortunately are not unique to Maplewood, but plague the whole district.

The impulse is to rush off and find solutions specifically for Maplewood. They are a school that faces enough inherent challenges, no reason to heap more on them. By all means, we need to get things right for these kids, but the reality is we need to get things right for all of the city’s kids.

That means we have to address the alarming rate of teachers leaving the district. We all have a tendency to focus on our individual schools and transfer that experience to the whole district.  Sure some schools are losing teachers at a slower rate than others. Some schools have fewer openings than others. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this isn’t a crisis though.

I speak to educators and parents across the entire district on a daily basis and teacher attrition continues to worsen. The reasons are numerous – building leadership, compensation, a perception of disrespect, an untenable workload, and discipline issues.

Which brings us to the other elephant in the room, the district discipline policy. It is not working and it’s long overdue for a reformation. Whether it’s the construction, the implementation, the interpretation, or the resourcing, it is immaterial because the bottom line is that it is failing teachers and students. It’s not working and as a result, teachers are exiting both stage left and stage right. It’s only a matter of time before the exiting of teachers leads to an exodus of families. An exodus the district can ill afford.

Refer back to what I said about the courage needed to be an effective advocate, we as a collective need to show the same courage that Maplewood’s students demonstrated on Tuesday in order to craft effective policy. A couple of years ago, when the policy shift was first made a teacher panel offered several recommendations. Inexplicably their suggestions were ignored. We need to revisit those recommendations.

We need to clean up the district’s data, One of the students speaking made reference to kids being suspended and not placed in the computer system. That’s been a long-rumored occurrence and if it is indeed happening, then it serves to corrupt the data that is being utilized to make policy decisions and its a practice that needs to cease immediately.  I would make it a priority to find out exactly where that student’s narrative comes from – self, classmate, teacher, or other.

These issues aren’t anything new. Teachers and advocates have been calling attention to them for a couple years now and things have only gotten progressively worse. Maybe student voices will finally be the impetus for us to take them seriously. But just in case those in the back row didn’t hear…

MNPS is facing a teacher attrition and discipline policy crisis that is doing more to negatively impact student outcomes than any other element. Failure to treat the situation as such will only lead to greater deterioration. If we fail to act, that’s on us, because we’ve been more than adequately warned.

Rectifying the damage down will not be a quick fix, however the longer we take to act, the longer it will take to rectify. We got to get to it, as adults, we owe the students of Nashville more and we owe it to them to demonstrate the same courage they showed by coming forth and speaking out.

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE THE MORE THINGS STAY THE SAME

This week Channel 5 News Reporter Jennifer Krause filed a story that raised some questions about a land deal between MNPS and Belmont University. The land deal is already a controversial subject with local residents, but there are also more questions involving the role of MNPS Chief Tony Majors and a non-profit organization – Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities(RBI) – that he has overseen for the last 3 years. Krause’s report raised more questions than it provided answers.

Brought into question was how both RBI and Majors himself benefited from the proposed land deal. According to emails put forth by Krause, Majors worked closely with Belmont in drawing up an agreement that would provide office space for MNPS and RBI coaches in the batting facility and a $35,000 annual payment from Belmont of which $20,000 would go to RBI.

Majors maintains that he was unaware of any financial benefit for RBI despite it being spelled out in an agreement that bears his signature.

“But you’re telling me that you didn’t know that the agreement said that RBI was getting $20,000?” we asked.

“To be honest with you, no, I didn’t. I didn’t,” Majors maintained.

Does anybody really believe that? An administrator with the level of experience that Majors possesses signs an agreement that gives $20K to an organization that he oversees and he fails to note it? Questionable at best.

The specter of a conflict of interest was raised last summer when community members sent an email to board member Amy Frogge that questioned both the deal and Major’s involvement. When confronted with the community members’ concerns Majors became highly defensive and offered to relinquish his leadership position with RBI. To date, he still holds that leadership position.

To me, one of the most concerning elements of the story is Major’s defensiveness over being questioned over his involvement or on any other subject. It’s eerily reminiscent of the defense utilized by former director Dr. Joseph when confronted with questionable contracts.

“I take offense to even having to do this interview even though I understand the perspective that you’re coming from. The simple fact of the matter is my record speaks for itself. I’ve always been involved with coaching and I’ve always been involved with trying to benefit kids,” he answered.

My response is, walk across that swimming pool. If you can do so without getting wet, we’ll refrain from questioning you. Otherwise, just like everyone else, you are fair game.

I’m sure there will be a follow-up report by Krause. Meanwhile, I’m of the understanding that MNPS will task an investigation into matters surrounding the land deal to a third party, possibly Metro HR. There is a lot about all of this that just doesn’t smell right.

QUICK HITS

As a public service, this week I read Dr. Joseph’s recently released book. It’s a quick read peppered with bible verses and personal anecdotes. The most interesting part to me was that some people and places got pseudonyms and some inexplicitly didn’t.

For example, Megan Barry remains Megan Barry and Nashville remains Nashville while Prince George County becomes King James County, Seaford County becomes Bedford County and former county CEO Rushern Baker becomes David L. Littlefield III. It all has a very “Chris Gaines” like feel to it, though I must say, the irony of the renaming of Dr. Gentry as Dr. Merchent is not lost on me. I suspect that the use of pseudonyms is an effort to make Google searches a little more difficult.

When evaluating the work of the TNDOE and it’s leader Penny Schwinn it’s important to take a holistic approach. Sure she may say some nice things about your pet causes, but pay close attention to the foxes she’s letting into the henhouse.  This week the department employed 3 new foxes with a history of support for vouchers and other privatization efforts.

  • Gillum Ferguson, recently communications director for the American Federation for Children in Tennessee, is Lee’s interim press secretary.
  • Charlie Bufalino, director of policy and strategy for TennesseeCAN, will become the Department of Education’s chief liaison to state lawmakers on legislation and policy.
  • Chelsea Crawford, who has served as TennesseeCAN’s media contact, will lead communications for the education department.

Remember when people show you who they are…believe them.

TNEd Report’s Andy Spears takes a deeper look at Hamilton County dropping its lawsuit over state funding of public schools and finds the state’s own Department of Education has provided information to the committee responsible for reviewing the state funding formula that indicates we’re at least $500 million behind where we should be in terms of current funding. Chew on that for a minute.

Apparently, Nashville has a brand new education blogger. School board quitter Will Pinkston made the announcement while tossing unsubstantiated bombs at serving board member Gini Pupo-Walker, who deftly deflected his attacks. While I offer a warm welcome to the blogosphere to Pinkston, I must admit to having some concern over rumors circulating that he has Mayor Cooper’s ear on education issues. The new Mayor has experienced a few missteps since assuming city leadership but listening to Pinkston would be akin to stepping on a rake.

Educator Gary Rubinstein has been closely following the Tennessee ASD since inception and has done a fantastic job chronicling their foibles. As things are starting to descend into their final unraveling he issues a warning,

I think, and I hope I’m wrong about this, that with the failure of the ASD there was no way that they could justify adding more schools to it.  But by ‘returning’ the 30 schools back to their districts, and probably keeping them as charters, there will now be room to add more schools in the bottom 5% to the re-booted ASD.  If this is what happens, the ASD won’t be disappearing or even shrinking, it will be expanding.  There will be the 30 schools that are still charters, but just operating as part of the district they have been returned to.  And then there will be another 20 schools, maybe, that are in the new ASD.  (They actually call it the ASD 2.0 in the state slide show)

Unfortunately, it’s a plan that is entirely feasible.

EVERYONE is invited to review ELA Instructional Materials & give feedback. Feedback will be shared w/MNPS TEACHER teams to make final decisions for adoption. NOW is the time – let YOUR voice be heard!

Time for a little bragging. Oliver Middle School Bandhas has done it again – National Band Association Blue Ribbon Program of Excellence! This year my daughter became a proud member. She’s a budding percussionist. On Monday we attended a percussion concert that ended with a performance by Overton percussionists. It was music to my ears when after performance my offspring declared that in 4 years she was going to be just like those high schoolers who performed and was anticipating becoming a member of the Overton Band.

MNPS’ Schools of Innovation are looking for hard-working educators who want to be a part of visionary reform strategies. Learn about the Schools of Innovation and how you can help shape a student’s future: ow.ly/kjrR50xWwZk.

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, especially this time of year when contracted work is a little slow.

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.

Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. I promise that they are better than last week.

 

 

 

 

 



Categories: Education

5 replies

  1. Why isn’t Majors on leave while he is investigated like so many others who are accused of wrong acts? What he has done is theft and he needs to be fired. Paying him twice as much as a teacher for diverting funds from mnps all while trying to sneak around others because he thinks he can. Majors has never been wise but now we know he’s dumb and a crook. If you want to retain this teacher stop employing people who steal funds from mnps kids.

  2. The issues plaguing MNPS right now are too numerous to count. Discipline issues are at the breaking point district-wide, and not just in the schools most would consider the “usual suspects”. Or, if one was interested, try asking around about the absolute DISASTER that the field trip office (including a six-figure salary admin. w/a doctorate and no less than three full-time assistants) and MNPS Transportation made of recent travel to the TN All Mid-State Band events, negatively impacting students and families who put in countless hours of hard work to earn much-deserved honors. Honors that not only reflect well on MNPS, but can and often do impact college scholarship opportunities. Or, you could look into the way MNPS is apparently allowing fire marshal employees to power-trip their way through schools, wreaking havoc on teaching and learning? How about the continued payroll issues related to the decision to move to the Oracle system in the middle of the school year?? Is it any wonder why so many want out of Metro?! Just wait until the wave of teachers and administrators from our “high-performing“ schools such as Hume-Fogg, Meigs, and MLK start heading for the exits this spring.

  3. Happy New Year and as always TC you are truly a trooper. I checked out long ago and while I have to return to Nashville a hostage of Vanderbilt Medical system I dread each return less about them and more about what I am walking into the supposed city of it now over 7 years old. Past the toddler stage and into the full tilt child where the truth of character emerges and frankly it is not welcome site in any way shape or form.

    Nashville was listed as in the top 50 (46th I believe) along with Chattanooga and Memphis as one of the worst run cities in America. As a former resident I can testify to that and have never seen a place in denial quite like Nashville when it comes to the nuts and bolts of a city which includes infrastructure, transit, schools, municipal and state facilities/departments, housing costs and the issues that seem to never end in the State Legislature with its endless cluster F of behavior. The Plumber is clearly avoiding this and seems preoccupied with laws that are all connected to faith based issues from education to sexuality and yet his legislature seems equally preoccupied with the same just on a whole different level. This fascination or behavior prognostication is something that you see everywhere but to the depth and level it exhibits itself in the general population is another issue entirely. It has exhibited itself in the extensive number of sexual assaults, harassment issues and overall violence in the city and its schools. It has demonstrated itself in the public arena with messy divorces and ugly exposes about how men in positions of power behave with regards to women all while working diligently to oppress women’s rights, equal rights and opportunities for those of color and sexual identity. No wonder there are discipline problems in the schools as there is no one to model or offer alternatives let alone resources to assist those who want better. I used to believe it was simply a matter of access versus availability and for those with connections or financial resources they could find the help needed but I was wrong as the persona of the Nashville native is that they neither need nor want it and reject it on all counts. The arrogance and ignorance I thought once the provenance of a few is in fact the character of the many, it is only about money and more money. The NFL Draft, the Titans Superbowl, the endless fake lists of success and designation of some type of moniker that does nothing but further excuse and exempt those in power from giving a flying f or actually doing something that is not about their own self interest. This Majors scandal seems to be another straw on that camel’s back that is one tough nut as it will never break.

    Having left and having to come back the reality is clear that you can have press and pr that promote the endless lies and myths that are peddled like a snake oil salesman at a revival and no one has the temerity or courage to do anything for if they do they are quickly marginalized or demoralized. Remember the Waffle House hero that did not take long to find his flaws. How about Phil Williams the one reporter with temerity to never stop reporting. I met him over the holidays in Hilton Head and he is a fine man who has skin tougher than any rock to put up with the endless name calling and bullshit that he faces doing his job. I could get into another Nashville “way” – Gaslighting as a means of ostracizing and denigrating anyone with the temerity of calling people out on their shit. God forgives apparently those who call the names and throw the stones but it was the fault of those who they threw them at as they made them have to. Ah forgiveness is a one way street filled with a lot of traffic so get out of the way.

    I return to Nashville wearing big waders to step over the shit that flies when the plane lands and it becomes exhausting having to always clean up after others so after awhile you bail and find less smelly gardens to grow. I did and I am so much happier. I wish for those that matter the same but funny I never met anyone who mattered during my term there as I was an outsider and not of the tribe and the tribe never let me forget that. That’s Nashville – a tribe and you are either a member or not. The Director never figured that out either.

  4. There is no ‘your truth’, ‘my truth’ or ‘their truth’. There is only THE truth. ‘your truth’ (shame on Oprah for popularizing this word garbage) is too often used as a way to substitute ‘how I feel about reality’ for actual reality.

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