A SERIES OF VIGNETTES

“I don’t think I could love you so much if you had nothing to complain of and nothing to regret. I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and of little value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.”
Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

“So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing.”
Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star

 

This time next week the state of Tennessee will be open and functioning at full-tilt boogie. At least that’s the supposition.

Yesterday Governor Lee announced that in some counties restaurants can start hosting dine-in options come Monday. Most retail facilities will be back open on Wednesday. Guidelines for both require adhering to half capacity. This morning he outlined more of his plan that he’s calling the Tennessee Pledge. Not everybody is buying what he’s selling and in the larger cities, things won’t kick back in quite as fast.

Nashville’s Mayor John Cooper unveiled his own restart program, Nashville’s Roadmap to Recovery, and it comes with a 4 part rollout, each dependent on specific criteria being met. As Cooper says, Nashville’s reopening will be contingent on data and not dates. A decidedly more deliberate approach as compared to Governor Lee’s, but the cynic in me can’t help but believe if the governor successfully opens surrounding counties, and people don’t start dying in mass, Nashville’s opening will become accelerated.

One of the major issues, despite the obvious, in opening the surrounding counties while Nashville remains locked down is the lack of medical facilities in those rural counties. If people are diagnosed and require hospitalization, they will need to be transferred to Nashville for treatment, thus putting Nashville’s medical facilities at risk for being overrun.

In other words, those willing to gamble on the coronavirus threat ain’t necessarily putting just their money on the table. Nashville has quite a bit of its own capital at risk. I always say gambling is a whole lot more fun when you are using other people’s money.

THE KIDS ARE DOOMED

With the easing of stay at home orders, naturally comes the further discussion about the plight of kids of Tennessee. If you read the word’s of pundits, especially those in the reformer or disruptor camp, you’ll believe that the poor urchins stopped learning the moment schools shuddered their doors. Tennessee’s students are now busy turning into piles of jello in the rooms where they’ve been quarantined. We must act quickly lest these children fall so far they never ever catch up and as a result, are doomed to a life of…I’m not sure, since their sentence is left more frightening when left undefined. Just know it’s going to be bad.

ChalkbeatTN recently added their voice to the growing clarion call,

Tennessee’s decision to close its school buildings the rest of the academic year means students will miss at least 50 days of classroom instruction — almost a third of the school year — because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Add in summer break, and most students will miss up to 19 consecutive weeks of in-person instruction. And they’ll be even further behind in the dozen or so districts that canceled up to a week of school this winter because of the flu season or bad weather.

The learning loss will challenge the state’s 147 school systems to take unprecedented steps to help students catch up — a conversation that’s also happening across the nation as leaders consider logistics, funding, and whether there’s the political will to pursue widespread recovery once schools reopen.

In their article, they start to build an argument for increased testing, additional hours of schooling in both the summer and when students return, and a possible adjustment to start times for the coming school year. There is already a task force being assembled, one that I’m sure will soon be attached to a foundation and will be proposing a survey and assembling some focus groups to combat this looming catastrophe.

Of course, all of this is about the kids and has nothing to do with the development of potential new revenue streams. Color me skeptical. Now more then ever it’s critical to follow the money.

MEMPHIS BLUES

Yesterday, I talked about the hiring of Tennessee’s chief voucher architect Amity Schuyler by Memphis Superintendent Joris Ray. The more I read the words of the key players the more I become convinced that this whole move is motivated more by adults wishing to throw the finger at each other than it is by student needs.

Schuyler has been in Tennessee a little less than a year, and by all accounts, it hasn’t been a joyful time. Her family, including her husband, still lives in Florida, though rumors are circulating that he’ll soon be relocating. She has long-standing ties with the Florida education community and very few with Tennessee’s education community. Her tenure while in Tennessee has been far from uneventful and the governor has not treated her well. The questions around the contracting of ClassWallet to administer voucher enrollments along with complaints surrounding the administration of existing special education vouchers have not exactly inspired confidence. In fact just the opposite, as evidenced by legislator questioning during the recently halted general assembly.

Joris Ray is an opponent of both vouchers and charter schools, the primary areas that Schuyler supervised while with the TNDOE. During Ray’s brief tenure, Memphis has joined Nashville in a lawsuit against the state over vouchers and reduced the number of charter schools operating in the district.  I think it’s safe to say Ray has benefited from Schuyler’s failings on the state level. Yet apparently he witnessed those failings and decided, “Gotta get me some of that. I got to have that on my team.”

In announcing her hiring, he goes so far as to say, “I consider Amity to be a steal.” While never clarifying if it’s stealing to the benefit of his team or the detriment of the governor’s team. Or is he referring to the inside information he now has access to and can use against the TNDOE?

Amity Schuyler could have resigned and gone home to Florida, however, the taint of failure would have followed her home. By taking the job in Memphis that taint is mitigated and an opportunity is offered to blacken the eye of a foe, Commissioner Schwinn.  It’s a win/win for all the adults in the conversation with little upside for students.

I suspect that by the end of next school year a South Florida school district will come along and offer a lucrative job to Ms. Schuyler and she will return back to her home state. Till then, all we can do is watch and be embarrassed for the parties involved.

A CAPTAIN WITHOUT A TEAM

Last week at a daily press conference, Governor Lee announced the appointment of Commissioner Schwinn as head of the COVID-19 Child Wellbeing Task Force, created to focus state and local leaders on the well-being of Tennessee’s children. Speculation immediately ran rampant on who would be asked to serve on the task force. Well, here we are a week later and membership still remains an unknown.

I would assume such a task force would need a medical representative on it. Unfortunately, Christie Butler, the former State School Nurse Consultant left her position a month ago and despite giving nearly a month’s notice, nothing was done to replace her. As far as I know, and per the website, a replacement hasn’t been named.

Butler had served in her role for several years prior to Schwinn’s arrival, but things apparently things soured under the new administration. Butler is not the only long term employee to leave the division in recent months. Just another chapter in a book that is reading awful repetitive.

I would think naming a replacement to the role of State School Nurse Consultant would be a priority during the middle of a pandemic, but what do I know?

ELA ADOPTION

On Wednesday I took a little time to participate in a Webinar for Wit and Wisdom. It was an informative presentation that allowed me to ask several questions about their textbooks and associated curriculum. Questions primarily around alignment with a Balanced Literacy philosophy.

There has been an argument put forth by Chief Academic Officer David Williams that the textbooks do lend themselves to a balanced literacy philosophy. However, according to Great Minds, the company that publishes Wit and Wisdom, they do not support guided reading, a primary tenet of Balanced Literacy.

I also took the opportunity to inquire about the level of scriptedness involved in the curriculum. Wit and Wisdom’s answer didn’t provide a whole of clarity.

On Tuesday the board will pick up the conversation over the proposed textbook and material adoption.

PRINCIPAL DEPARTURES

It’s that time of year where Principals start letting their intentions for next year be known. I suspect this year will be a little more stable than in previous years, but some news is already starting to trickle out.

Jobs at Oliver Middle School, Haywood ES, A.Z. Kelley ES, and Schwab ES, are already in the application/interview stage. Percy Priest’s Melinda Williams is retiring this year, so that job will be open as well.

This week Waverly-Belmont Principal Susan Blankenship notified her staff and parents that she would not be returning next year. Blankenship, a well-respected educator, is only the second that’s ever led the school which was opened by Kimberly Halliburton. She will be missed.

Over on the other side of town, long term McGavock High School principal Robin Wall has announced his intent to retire this year much to the community’s disappointment. Rumor has it that he may take a 120-day assignment at another district high school in order to serve as a mentor.

I’m sure these won’t be the last staffing changes throughout the district and I’ll try and keep you informed as more is revealed.

TECHNOLOGY WARNING

As part of MNPS’s Remote Learning 2.0, the district has been letting lower-income families without internet access know about a special deal that Xfinity is currently offering that allows 2 months of free internet. While this a very generous offer, families should be reminded that if they don’t want to be billed for month 3, they need to cancel before the end of the billing period for month 2. Failure to do so in a timely manner could result in a bill that a family is ill-prepared to pay.

I recently experienced such a situation when my deal for internet expired and I was charged an additional $30. Xfinity was kind enough to reinstate my deal, but I was still liable for the additional expenditure.

The bottom line is that if Nashville truly desires its kids to be able to participate in online learning, they need to find a way to provide equitable internet access to all kids. It’s time to put kids over corporations.

BUDGET NEWS

News of the MNPS budget for the 2020/2021 school year is starting to creep out. The state of Tennessee has a statue – Maintenence of Effort in Education – that requires a district budget for schools must equal that of monies allocated the previous year. Education is not the only area where this statute applies. County law enforcement, libraries, highways, and election commissions are all subject to similar statutes. Basically what this translates to is that MNPS’s budget next year will remain the same as it was last year. However, there is still a matter of sales taxes that needs to be collected.

The impact of COVID-19 on sales collections is anybody’s guess. Last year, MNPS received around $450 million dollars from sales revenue. That much will not be collected next year.

According to figures attached to the agenda for Tuesday’s MNPS School Board meeting revenue for March fell short of projections by $1,756,234.82. While not an unsubstantial number, the figure could have been much worse. Year to date figure for collections is $169,585,001.25, which is almost a million dollars over projections. It gives a little room for optimism. The figures released next month will be the scary ones.

All around Tennessee, southern states are bracing for a decline in revenue. In Florida, education funding could see a 25% drop. Georgia is estimating a loss of $4 billion in revenue over the next 15 months. The same is true for Mississippi where there was strong support to increase teacher compensation, as well as an increase in funding for early learning collaboratives, prior to the pandemic. That spending is now likely cut.

It’s definitely gird your loins time.

CUSTODIAN BLUES

As we mentioned earlier in the month, MNPS’s custodial contract with ABM comes to end on June 30th. There had been a hope to bring custodial services back under the umbrella of the district instead of outsourcing the contract. The current crisis made such a move unfeasible.  As a result an RFP was released to solicit vendors.

RFP 20-3, Custodial Services, was designed to be awarded by zone with six zones identified. The six zones would mirror current Maintenance zones for consistent oversight. It was also an attempt to encourage smaller, possibly diversity business enterprise (DBE) owners, to propose on a single zone and to encourage more participants. While DBE firms did propose as prime contractors, their proposed prices were well outside of the competitive range. As a result two larger firms, ABM and

I don’t know who is responsible for the increased transparency in the RFP process, but they deserve to be commended. Attached to the board’s agenda is a complete explanation of the process along with a listing of assignments. It’s impressive and leaves no room for uncertainty. Well done, Dr. Battle and team.

MNEA NEWS

MNEA knows y’all got questions and so they put together a brief FAQ to address some of the most pressing ones.

Q: If coaching a spring sport, will teachers receive their spring sport coaching stipend?
A: The current plan is to honor stipends for spring sports.
.

Q: Can the retirement notification date of February 28th be extended?
A: The extension date was before the tornado and COVID-19 so the date cannot be extended.
.

Q: Is the online WIDA training mandatory or optional?
A: The training is not for WIDA testing but contains strategies for ways to work with students for whom English is a second language.
.

Q: Can you clarify the hiring freeze?
A: The hiring freeze is only for positions for the current 2019-2020 school year. MNPS is currently hiring for the 2020-2021 school year.
.

Q: Can principals ask teachers to submit a letter of resignation in lieu of being non-renewed?
A: Teachers cannot be required to submit a letter of resignation. Non-renewal is based on teacher performance and budgetary concerns.
.

Q: Since the state is not generating LOE scores, can teachers be non-renewed and marked not eligible for rehire?
A: If a teacher is marked not eligible for rehire, there should be documented performance concerns that occurred prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.

Remember if you are not a member, now is a great time to join! You can join today and get all the benefits, except TEA legal representation, but not pay dues until September. You even qualify for a $50 rebate in September! Email info@mnea.com and request an online membership form.

VIRTUAL SCHOOL BLUES

Over at the TNEd Report, Andy Spears is keeping the spotlight on the virtual school vultures that are continually circling the state in the wake of the pandemic. Spears hits K-12 and Pearson hard, but don’t sleep on the Florida Virtual School. They already have a small footprint in the state – working with 9 different districts – and could easily set up shop like they did in Alaska. Constant vigilance is required, it never fails to amaze me that Americans will allow corporations to steal millions while fretting if an out of work service industry employee receives an extra $600.

That’s it for now, we’ll back with more tomorrow. If you’re 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. I urge you to read a current entry by Bellevue Middle School student Cossette Sullenberger.

 



Categories: Education

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: