IT’S ABOUT TIME FOR THE CREAM TO START RISING TO THE TOP

“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity.”
Louis Pasteur

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
Primo Levi

 

The message that I’d been expecting to hear all week came late last night, MNPS Assistant Principal Jeff Davis shuffled off this mortal coil.

It’s a shame, not just because he leaves a loving wife and 2 beautiful children behind. It’s not just because he leaves behind a large number of friends who’s hearts will be left with gaping holes in the wake of his passing. It’s not just because the students he leaves behind will become bereft of a model of what a life well-lived looks like and how family means everything.

The truth is that in these turbulent times, we need more leaders like Jeff. Leaders that understand what planning and humility look like. Leaders who act in a selfless matter and put their charges before themselves. Leaders that understand the power of community.

I never had the opportunity to know Jeff before he was fighting brain cancer – and that’s a regret – but I’ve always said you can judge a person by the people that surround them because like attracts like. Over the last year, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve run into an old friend and it was soon revealed that they knew Jeff and his equally impressive wife. Or I met a stranger that I was impressed with, and it was soon revealed that they knew Jeff and admired him as well. Those are the testimonies that are hard to collect, and special is the man that has them in abundance. jeff was one of those people.

I leave you with one final anecdote before we attempt to move on. It’s one that reflects well on both participants.

Two weeks ago, as things started to head into their final stages, a visitor came to see Jeff. That visitor was Dr.Adrienne Battle and she brought along a hand full of central office folks to pay their final respects.

It’s testimony to Jeff’s goodness that she felt moved to come to see him despite the unprecedented challenges she was facing as MNPS’s leader. It’s a credit to Dr. Battle to recognize the only path forward for MNPS was through its people, and that it was important to stop and honor them. And so she came to honor Jeff.

She didn’t do it out of a sense of obligation or calculation, she did it because it was the right thing to do. She did it because has designs on leading an organization that uses doing the right thing as its North Star.

If you want to lead an organization that is centered on the principle of doing the right thing, you have to do the right thing. On that day two weeks ago that lesson was reiterated for two leaders – one who paid homage and one who received recognition for a life lived by principle.

Carry on Jeff, and know that you left an eternal mark of this world.

LEADERSHIP?

We are currently facing especially challenging times in our country. It’s in times like this that leadership becomes not just a luxury but a necessity. Times like these call for someone that’ll pull us together and offer a plan out of the turmoil based on short term and long term strategies. We look for someone we can believe in.

On Friday Superintendents across the state of Tennessee tuned in to a 2 pm conference call with the expectation that the DOE would be offering such leadership. If that was the case, then they were sorely disappointed when the call ended.

The message delivered by department leadership, both on the phone and in an accompanying memo, was one that outlined the plan as being, do what you got to do locally, just make sure if you close schools you are back here by testing time because that ain’t changing.

The letter outlined went to great lengths to outline the limitations provided to the state agency by the existing governing policy. Ironically enough, over the last month, the DOE has been attempting to seize power over local districts through proposed legislation that would commit the state to the teaching of reading via only one method. But now when local districts were looking to them for leadership, they hid behind government structure.

Legally they may be bound by the level of influence they can exert, but that does not prevent them from taking the reins through recommendation and advocacy. Legal powers did not prevent other state departments of education from pushing for universal dismissal of schools, assurance of pay, waiver of mandatory attendance, or asking for testing waivers.

Instead, the state advised schools not to close unless they had actual confirmed cases. And then only the schools directly affected.

The resulting backlash, led the governor to today “urge” schools to close. My mother used to “urge” me to eat my vegetables. I didn’t always follow her “urging.” Again this is another reaction move instead of an action step.

The limiting of powers didn’t prevent the states of TexasIndiana, or Washington from addressing upcoming standardized tests. Yet, here in Tennessee, the message from Schwinn and posse is that it’s all systems go full speed ahead. Apparently, the threat is extreme enough to limit the activities of small businesses, but not to suspend attendance requirements for students or even waive an unfair mandate.

In the wake of Tennessee’s colossal punt, local districts are taking matters into their own hands. Grainger County Director of Schools James Atkins posted the following to Facebook,

Never will I jeopardize the safety of our people! 

When I posted the message yesterday to Facebook, I was hopeful that the Tennessee Department of Education would take a lead role in dismissing schools or reducing the 180 day requirement. 

Yesterday afternoon, I received written correspondence from the Tennessee Department of Education stating they do not recommend school closure unless cases are confirmed in the school. 

They said, “If your school has a suspected case of COVID-19 that has not yet been lab-confirmed, school operations should continue as normal.” 

The Tennessee Department of Education went on to say, “Districts are not advised to close schools unless a school has been notified of a lab-confirmed COVID-19 illness in a student or staff member.”

 I respectfully disagree with the department of education, and I absolutely will not wait until we have a confirmed case before we close schools.

I intend to be proactive instead of reactive. 

Thank you, James Atkins. 

That’s what leadership looks like. It seems the best the TNDOE has to offer is pictures posted by HR Director David Donaldson of officials working hard on something…though I’m not sure what.

I guess before asking that they provide leadership for the state’s school district’s, we should ask that department leaders take care of their own people first.

In case you are wondering where – in the midst of a growing crisis – you’ll find employees of the Tennessee Department of Education this morning, I’ll let you know. Most will be at their desk working per email instructions sent out by Commissioner Schwinn on Friday. An email that runs counter to the orders of Tennessee Governor Lee who closed the Capitol to visitors and instructed all non-essential employees to work from home.

The reason DOE employees are working at the office, instead of at home per Governor Lee’s edict, is because TNDOE leadership has failed to develop and train employees on an Alternate Work Site (AWS) policy. So instead they are putting employees at risk by expecting they report to the office. It seems to me that some of that time Donaldson spends on social media could be better-used serving department employees. After all, the job is HR, not PR.

On Sunday, employees received a follow-up email, that provided a little more direction, but not much. Nothing like conducting training on a policy while simultaneously putting it into practice.

While the department of education’s lack of leadership is problematic, it doesn’t end with them. In regard to this current pandemic there seems to be a lack of leadership across the board, with the strategy de jour being – do something, anything, just so you can say you are doing something.

Per usual, when such a plan is implemented, it is those that can least afford it that will be asked to bear the highest cost.

Currently, citizens are being advised to practice social distancing – stay in as much as possible, work from home, don’t gather in large groups. Unarguably a valid strategy, unless you don’t have a savings account that can cover several months of expenses, a job where you can work from home, or limited personal expenses. If you fall into any of the aforementioned categories, shit just got very real. Add responsibilities for children to the mix and it becomes terrifying.

Still, it’s an edict that most service industry workers would comply with, after all it’s in their job title right?

But forgive them if they would like a little more of a plan, other than, “Shut her down indefinitely.” A little more acknowledgment of pending difficulty than, “It’s going to be hard but we got to do it.” They don’t need you to say its hard, you have no idea how hard it is every day. This goes beyond hard.

Perhaps a little insight into how they are going to make up for lost income, while they are out would be beneficial.

Freezing cutoffs and halting evictions is a very welcome step, but here’s a little common core math for you – if I owe $50 today and I don’t have it, a month later, when I haven’t worked, it’s doubtful that I’ll have a $100 to pay than either. Now if utility costs themselves were frozen until business resumed, with the government reimbursing utilities after the crisis, that would be helpful.

I’ve heard it proposed that the government could freeze rents and mortgages. That would be beneficial to some but again would create hardship for others. Being a landlord doesn’t mean you are wealthy. Frozen rents, might leave you on the hook for your own mortgage payments.

Self isolation when you have wine in the cabinet, Netflix on the television, and a refrigerator full of food is a minor annoyance. Without those items and no clear idea of how you are going to keep the roof over your head in the near future, it can be deliberating.

Many small businesses are going to fall prey to the virus, and we need to put thought into how we are going to stimulate the economy once the threat is waned. We are planning on surviving it, aren’t we? I find it unconscionable that in this day and age there are no established plans of actions ready for implementation. Nothing we are seeing is new, just the degree.

In the aftermath of this crisis, people are not going to suddenly start returning to prior practice just because officials suddenly give an all-clear. It’ll take several weeks, if not months for normalcy to return after the virus has been contained. That translates to more financial hardship for those that can least afford it.

There is some speculation that the government could implement some kind of wage replacement plan. The first problem with that is that many service industry employees only make minimum wage per payroll records when the reality is that they subside mainly on tips. Tips that these days are recorded with more fidelity than when I was a young bartender, but I doubt are an accurate reflection of actual earned income.

Even if a rate of reimbursement is established, that doesn’t even begin to recognize the issues with the actual process. If you’ve had to claim unemployment recently you realize what a form addled process it is. One of which leads to payment of funds often being delayed for weeks. Weeks that families can ill afford.

At the core of all of this is a fundamental problem that pundits have been calling attention to for decades – a lack of trust in our democratic institutions. Nobody trusts the court, the politicians, or our governing bodies. No longer do we believe that those elected to public office have our best interests at heart and so we tend to depend on our individuals strengths, often to the detriment of our whole.

That lack of trust is just acerbated when officials insist on acting as if they are just reacting. without taking the time to explain reason or overarching plan.

Yesterday, on the heels of social pictures depicting downtown bars as still being crowded, Nashville Mayor Cooper, working through the Metro Health Department, issued an edict closing all bars and limiting restaurants to half capacity.

It was an edict that came with no potential duration attached and ignored that malls and shopping centers were still open. In other words, it favored some businesses over others.

It ignored that bars and restaurants in neighboring counties were still open and thriving. It appeared as a knee jerk reaction to media images and social media calls, instead of a plank in a well thought out strategy.

It is amazing to me that in a country where untold thousands earn leadership degrees and an untold number of authors make millions from penning leadership instructional manuals, true leadership is in such short supply.

Doing something, just to appear to be doing something, is not leadership.

Failure to present a comprehensive plan with proposed timelines, even though they may only be estimations, is not leadership.

Failure to adequately acknowledge the sacrifice that you are asking for people to make without any offering of how that sacrifice will be rectified in the future is not leadership.

Leaving those with the loudest voice and deepest pockets to set themselves up as the presumed experts and to allow people to be pitted against each other in search of a strategy is not leadership.

Using the threat of “the public good” as a means to limit liberties, shut discussion, and exert control beyond normal protocols is not leadership.

We need leadership that will outline a plan with supporting evidence that recognizes the level of sacrifice required by individuals and lays out a flexible timeline. That’s been part of the recipe for strong leadership since the dawn of time, yet few are currently emulating it. That’s problematic and in the end will hurt all of us more than the current viral threat.

Plans offer reassurance and an air of calm that allows us to proceed in the best manner. Running around screaming, “We are all going to die!” and “Why are you not cooperating, you’re putting people at risk of death”, ain’t going to provide a climate for making prudent decisions. It is possible to be deeply concerned without being hyperbolic. There are no points awarded with the rending of garments.

Lack of a clear plan poses additional risks. Sans a plan, and strong communication attached to it, people will supply their own and theirs are guaranteed to have a greater element of self-interest attached to them.

Hopefully, leadership will soon emerge from somewhere, there are isolated elements already emerging. I’m oft reminded that in times of trouble the cream rises to the top. Let’s hope that adage holds true.

QUICK HITS

It didn’t take but a minute in the wake of school closings for teachers to start getting emails offering services to assist with distance learning. Parents, rightfully so, are concerned over the impact an extended absence from school will have on their child’s learning. The latest from education writer and former teacher, Peter Greene addresses some of those concerns. Greene writes,

Yes, some schools are going to try to remotely educate their students. I hope they aren’t going to try to hard, and I hope their students’ families aren’t going to feel too much pressure to keep up. I hope that parents spend some time with their children, that children slow down enough to do things they enjoy. I hope they read a book. I hope they grab onto the space and time and strength they need to deal with whatever they’re feeling and wrestling with in the midst of all this.

And I hope that those of you who are parents can turn off the voice in your head that keeps telling you you’d better get that kid in front of some sort of educational something right away or something terrible will happen. If it’s taking most of what you’ve got to help your kids keep it together, then know that you’re doing the important stuff, and your big color-coded home curriculum design plan can just wait.

The state capital may be closed to the general public but that doesn’t mean that legislators aren’t still trying to pass legislation. Today at 1:30 the reading bill will be the topic of conversation in the senate education committee meeting.  You can’t attend, but you can watch the proceedings online.

If you’d like to read a copy of the letter that State Superintendent sent to the states sprinter Andy Spears has it over at the TNEd Report.

Speaking of letters, State Representative Scott Cepicky has written one to Governor Lee requesting that he direct the Commissioner of Education to suspend testing for this year. (20200316075137586) I call that doing the right thing.

Last night, MNPS employees received a recorded call personally recorded by Dr. Battle. By all accounts, it was deeply appreciated, and maybe those attempting to lead should look to her for a model to adopt.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a quick look at the weekend’s poll results.

The first question asked if you thought MNPS’s suspension of the director search and subsequent appointment of Dr. Battle to the position was the right move. 74% of you gave it a ringing endorsement while only 2 of you answered with a negative. Here are the write-ins,

Yes, given the current situation, it was the right thing to do. 1
Sure. This is what was going to happen anyway. 1
Yes 1
Only time will tell. Wonder if she gets a four year million dollar contract !?!? 1
Correct given these circumstances! 1
Finally some common sense.

Question two asked if you thought closing until April 13th would be appropriate. 35% of you answered that until at least the end of the month would be appropriate with an additional 30% saying canceling TNReady would be appropriate action to take. 9% of you thought that would be a little overkill. Only one write in for this one,

It’s either all or none. Without a vaccine when will we draw the line.

The last question is one we ask semi-frequently, which board member do you have the most faith in. Per usual Amy Frogge wins in a landslide with 66% of respondents casting a vote for her. Jill Speering was next with 10% of the vote. Here are the write-ins,

Still None of the Above. 1
Jill and Amy equally 1
The puppet master controlling the board and city council!

That’s it for now, if you’ve got time and are looking for a smile, 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 and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy.

If you so desire to join the rank of donors, 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 my contracted work is a little slow. Not begging, just saying.

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

1 reply

  1. the TNDOE has shown an appalling lack of leadership through this COV-19 crisis. and I don’t expect them to do any better in the future.

    shows why decisions are better left close to home rather than in state or federal bureaucracy

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