“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.”
As the week comes to a close, I like many people in middle Tennessee am wrestling with the effects of a virus. I started feeling its ill effects last weekend and they have lingered throughout the week. Tired, achy and congested, has become my semi-permanent state.
If reports are to be believed I am not alone in my diagnosis. Maury and Wilson county schools are both closed today and I’ve gotten several reports of heavy absences in Davidson County. All I can say is, if you are not feeling well, rest and lots of fluids should be on your agenda. If you have yet to experience any ill-effects – I pray it stays that way.
I don’t have any overarching themes for today. There are several things I am in the process of investigating and once I have more clarity, I’ll share. There are some interesting things transpiring both locally and on a state level that I find more than a little concerning. Meanwhile, I do have a few observations I’d like to share today. Some things that are running through my mind.
THE POWER OF THE ARTS
This week I finished Blondie singer Deborah Harry’s book, Face It, A Memoir. I picked the book up on a whim, Blondie being one of my least favorite of the New York punk bands. My expectation was to hear a tale filled with debauchery and ambition, which is not what I got at all. Instead, I was reminded of what an artist’s life looks like.
Before forming Blondie, Deborah Harry spent a decade in New York doing what artists used to regularly due, create art with no eye towards commerce. She worked as a waitress and dabbled in photography, film, and fashion before exploring musical interests. When she and then-boyfriend Chris Stein formed Blondie, it seemed like a natural progression and not a means to become famous.
The success of the band was more a by-product than an end goal. Something that seems to happen less and less in the world as we continually try to assign a monetary value to every endeavor. If it doesn’t add to our bottom line, is it worthy of pursuing? This monetization of the arts influences how they are presented to students.
Rarely are arts taught based on their inherent value. We use them as bait to hook children on math and science. We create school productions that rival broadway shows. We create academies dedicated to preparing kids to possibly pursue the arts as a career path. While less and less time spent illustrating how they enrich life sans financial compensation or as a means to increased public notice.
Several years ago I had a friend – now a grammy award-winning producer – lament to me that we are losing the scenario where a group of kids retreats to the garage to play music, doing everything wrong, but it turns out so right. By listening to their own muse and refusing to follow common tenets they produce a new vision.
Blondie’s stage clothes were stitched together Goodwill finds. Their albums were made up of songs and thoughts influenced by their lives. They didn’t use top-shelf gear and the stage shows were often barren. Yet they managed to create art that has stood the test of time and resonated with people across the world. It’s a lesson that bears repeating to every student.
Writing a poem doesn’t have to be contingent on a grade. Appearing in a school production does not require an interest in acting as a career. Singing a song can just be reflective of what’s in your heart.
In order to create authentic art, all you need is the courage to give voice to what’s inside of you. And if it speaks to you, or even one other person it has value. Just like the world has need of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and public servants, it needs artist as well.
WHAT I’M NOT IN CHARGE ANYMORE?
Imagine if you would, that your boss quits his job, but then 6 months later he’s still calling you and telling you how things ought to be run. How receptive would you be to his meddling? How long would it take for you to say, “Hey man, you quit. I’ve got work to do.” or “If you wanted to keep bossing me around, why’d you quit?”
Those are questions that leap to mind with nearly every Tweet by retired board member Will Pinkston.
As has been well documented, back in September Pinkston finally went and honored a promise to resign that he’d made back in April. In his letter, Pinkston alleged that the board was inept and fostered racial inequities. He could no longer in good conscious continue to serve. Like Kiss and Motley Crue, the summer was to be his farewell tour and then he would leave the stage.
But much like the aforementioned acts, Pinkston is a creature driven by the need to endlessly command the spotlight. It didn’t take long for him to realize that devoid of his board seat, few had any interest in his endless drum beats.
From the sidelines, he helplessly watched as the director he’d worked so hard to install, Dr. Joseph, was replaced and his associates’ contracts terminated. Pinkston’s director of choice was forced to not only give up his leadership position but surrender his Tennessee teaching license as well. And slowly but surely lawsuits are being settled in a manner that casts even more negative light on the man that Pinkston staunchly defended.
While in place, Joseph had given Pinkston the ability to use the district’s Charter School Office as a platform to launch attacks against Nashville’s charter schools. Dr. Battle did not extend the same courtesy and instead chose to run the charter office without Pinkston’s influence. Above and beyond that, she hired people without securing his permission. A cardinal sin.
Deprived of any official standing, Pinkston has proceeded to continually attack Dr. Battle via social media, where he frequently uses Twitter to put forth half baked conspiracy theories. Earlier in the year, he was trying to convince folks that Battle was conspiring with the state to turn portions of the district over to state control. Charges that never bore fruit and he never provided evidence of, not to mention that the relationship between Battle and the state can best be described as…distant.
This week he was back at it again. The only thing that has changed with the latest tale was the players. Now the conspiracy was in South Nashville and instead of turning schools over to the state, Battle and team were looking to turn things over to KIPP charter schools. Again, the accusations come sans actual compelling evidence.
Is KIPP interested in establishing more schools in SE Nashville? I wouldn’t doubt that. Existing schools are operating at pretty close to capacity across the board with the population continually growing.
Performance-wise, none of the schools in the area, including the existing charter schools are over performing. TNReady proficiency scores for area schools range between 12% to 33% with math being slightly higher.
Attributing KIPP’s interest in SE Nashville to a conspiracy theory is like trying to craft one about me going into my home refrigerator. There is no secret behind it, I’m hungry and its where we keep the food.
It’s worth noting that Antioch HS was a level 5 school prior to Dr. Joseph’s arrival. Under the tutelage of his hand-picked building leader, those scores plummeted. Something Pinkston turned a blind eye to despite repeated cries for help from students, faculty members, and families. That Principal has since been replaced and the current principal has done much to stabilize the situation, but there remains a lot of work to be done. Something I’m sure factors into KIPP’s calculations.
We are quick to raise arms against supposed public school enemies while ignoring the damage done by our so-called allies. I’ve long argued that charter school growth is best mitigated by addressing demand instead of supply. Curtail demand and you’ll curtail growth. Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to stay in the trenches and do the heavy lifting than it is to sit behind a keyboard and hurl accusations.
Something that school board member Fran Bush can attest to. Seldom on social media, she is a constant presence in SE Nashville schools. Endlessly meeting with anybody who is willing to pitch in and make things better for all Nashville kids. She may be often frustrated or tired, there is no quit in her game.
Dr. Joseph was a self-proclaimed agnostic when it came to charter schools. However, his failed policies and practiced served to make the ground more fertile than ever for charter school expansion. As his direct supervisor while on the board, Pinkston had ample opportunity to address and correct policies behind the scenes. Instead of emulating Bush, he chose to disengage instead.
Here’s a head-scratcher though. Many of the city’s education advocates and professionals have openly wondered why newly elected Mayor John Cooper has yet to appoint anyone to the position of Mayoral Education Advisor. The general consensus seems to be that he is frustrated with the inability to find anyone that appeals to all sides. Rumors continue to circulate that as a result, he is leaning on people that he already has established relationships with to provide him with counsel. Pinkston being among those.
I find this a little troubling because if privately Pinkston is advising the mayor on the best way to unite the public around its school system, why is he publically working so hard to disrupt it? Rumors continue to swirl that Mayor Cooper plans to invest heavily in education with his first budget. If that is indeed the case, I would think stability would be a big caveat.
I expect that as long as Pinkston can find people to help sow his seeds of discord, he will continue to spread his half-truths and innuendos. All I can ask is that people do their homework before forming conclusions. This is a pivotal time in the history of MNPS and we can’t allow distractions to interfere with progress.
It looks like a long term MNPS administrator may be heading to a new gig. This week it was announced that administrator Sonia Stewart is a finalist for the Green Bay school district superintendent job. Stewart has long been recognized as a shining star in Nashville and while we would hate to lose her, she’d kick ass for Green Bay.
If you weren’t paying close attention to this past Tuesday’s MNPS school board meeting you might not know that another one of those sexual harassment lawsuits that came to light under Shawn Joseph was settled. The board agreed to a settlement of $425k for former administrator Vanessa Garcia, Keep in mind that number does not include attorney fees. The case was outsourced due to potential conflict of interest to the law firm Baker-Donaldson whom to date has run up fees over $400K. In light of recent developments, I urge you to re-read Dr. Joseph’s exit interview with the Tennessee Tribune. Still, one more lawsuit to be settled.
The MNPS, Dr. Majors, RBI story continues to unravel. Late this week Channel 5 News revealed that Boys Clubs CEO Dan Jernigan has abruptly resigned. Boys Club is the parent company of RBI Baseball and Jernigan’s resignation came just one day after Metro Schools Director Dr. Adrienne Battle called for an investigation into money MNPS had given the Boys and Girls Clubs: $15,000 in 2018 and another $15,000 in 2019. The money was supposed to go to summer baseball camps run by RBI but apparently, those camps were never held. This one is getting real ugly, real fast.
Red4Ed Tuesdays are back in full swing as we enter into budget season. If you are looking for something that states your position and you can wear it to both the state capital and to school, this snazzy t-shirt is just the thing. It’s only $12.50 but you have to order by February 7th.
I got to tell you, I haven’t met the new HR guy yet but advance word continues to impress. People who have met with him tell me he is all about culture and teacher retention. Every conversation is centered on the question of “how is that helping us keep teachers?” or “How is that producing a healthy environment at our schools that will help retain teachers.” His position seems to be one of retention first, followed by recruitment. If true, it’d be a game-changer.
School funding continues to be a major issue for this year’s state legislative session. Earlier in the week Democrat leaders raised a call for the state to invest $1.5 billion more in Tennessee’s public schools this year. Today TNEd Reports Andy Spears shows how a recent court ruling North Carolina gives increased credence to that demand.
While the actual numbers may be different, many of these items could easily be applied to Tennessee. Our state fails to fund initiatives like RTI and continues to underfund counselors, nurses, and other key support staff. Additionally, the Department of Education reports the state is failing to provide funding for 9000 teachers hired by districts.
Stay on them, Andy.
Out in Colorado, legislators are considering placing a cap on school board race campaign donations. This comes on the heels of a Denver School Board race that saw spending eclipse $2 million. The proposed legislation would limit individual donors to $2,500 per election cycle and small donor committees, such as that used by the Denver teachers union, to $25,000. Perhaps Tennessee should look at similar legislation.
The Tennessee Hollar did a little fact-checking this week. TNDOE Deputy Commish Amity Schuyler told Knoxville State Representative Gloria Johnson that “25%” of voucher-receiving schools offer special ed services The Hollar checked. Of the 47, ONE has a certified special ed teacher, ONE has a school psychologist, ZERO have OT, PT, Speech therapy, etc. Not 25%. Raise your hand if you are surprised.
How did Schuyler respond you ask? By blocking the Tennessee Hollar on Twitter of course, because that’s what you do when your facts don’t hold up.
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