WHAT NEXT?

“She found it hard to believe that there would be any bold moves, because too many people had dirty flour in their bags, and people with filthy fingers are hardly enthusiastic about digging up the past.”
Sofi Oksanen, Puhdistus

“Through literacy you can begin to see the universe. Through music, you can reach anybody. Between the two, there is you, unstoppable.”
Grace Slick

 

This week got off to a really interesting start. Last night Nashville was hit by a storm that brought high winds along with the rain. As a result, trees and power lines are down throughout the city. Here at the Weber house, we’ve been without power for at least 15 hours. Another 3, and the refrigerator is likely a dump.

Those are the words I wrote 2 days ago. Just this morning, power was restored.

You don’t understand what electricity means to your life until it’s gone. The last two days found us sitting in cars charging up phones, finding alternatives to keep kids amused, and hitting fast-food restaurants for meals. Everything in the refrigerator had to be dumped and we were blessed that the clothes in the washer weren’t so damp when the power went out that mildew set in.

It was nice in the evening, as it grew dark in the house, the four of us would gather in the living room and we’d spend an evening interacting. It was an activity that we don’t engage in nearly enough. As I sat and listened to the kids, it struck home how fleeting time really is and how grown they’ve become. Hopefully, this time will serve as a reminder to slow down in the future.

Looking at friend’s social media pages and it’s clear that the storm has brought more challenges for residents that have reached their saturation level when it comes to being challenged. Y’all can go out and reimagine the future world, you can put your coping skills on grand display, you can flex your muscles and declare your willingness to tackle any challenge, myself, I’m about ready for some quiet time that I can claim instead of having forced upon me. I’m ready for a few days with no no new normal and no putting on a brave face. It’s about time for 2020 to leave the challenges behind and start bringing the blessings.

This is also the week that Tennessee as a state lifts its stay-at-home order. Nashville’s remains in place until May 8th. The lifting of the state mandate is creating division among Tennessee residents. Division fueled by fear – fear of economic collapse or fear of contracting a deadly virus. There are strong points being made upon both sides, and I’m not sure who is right, only that in discussing the future we retain empathy for both sides of the equation.

This week also marks Teacher appreciation week. I’m of a mixed bag on this occasion. Obviously, I believe every week should be considered teacher appreciation week, and by designating one week in which to pay lip service, hand out some JC Crew cards, and clear your conscience – you end up giving cover for the teacher bashing that goes on throughout the other 51 weeks. It’s kind of like going to confession but instead of 50 hail mary’s you have to deliver 50 “I love teachers and then you are free to go out and disrespect again.

This year though is different, teachers have been going above and beyond in trying to transition to remote learning practices. The amount of time and effort, not to mention the personal stress endured, invested in making this transition transpire shouldn’t go unnoticed. In that spirit, and since it doesn’t get said nearly often enough, thank you teachers! God bless each and every one of you.

MORE CURRICULUM DISCUSSION

There are a couple subjects from last week I think bear revisiting. The first is the vote taken by the MNPS School Board in regard to curriculum. If you’ll remember that the school board,  in approving the adoption of Wit and Wisdom for K-2 curriculum, reaffirmed that MNPS was governed by a balanced literacy philosophy of literacy instruction. Wit and Wisdom does not seamlessly align with a balanced literacy approach and thus there will need to be some adjustments made.

Furthermore, board members were reassured that training would be supplied by the district and not by the publisher. The stated plan was to use the new materials to support a balanced literacy approach. For the record, I do not believe for one second that MNPS has the capacity to train teachers effectively in the new curriculum while adhering to a cohesive philosophy. I hope I’m wrong, but color me skeptical.

The vote by the board was 9-0. A clear edict on direction.

Apparently not everybody watched the school board meeting, nor the board members edict clearly communicated, because at the end of the week the message from the literacy director to coaches delivered a different message.

While we are very excited about the new materials, we want to acknowledge that because of the challenges we’ve faced with the tornadoes and COVID-19, much of our roll-out is contingent on our district’s ability to purchase and deliver training on new materials.     We hope to have more information to share soon.     We are currently collaborating with the publisher to discuss professional development opportunities for MNPS educators.     If you would like to begin exploring Wit & Wisdom resources, more information is available through the   Wit & Wisdom Webinar Library . 

Hmmm…no mention of balanced literacy and an indication that training will be influenced by the publisher. Both components are problematic.

MNPS last undertook an ELA curriculum adoption back in 2014. Journey’s was the adopted textbook and boxes of the textbooks suddenly arrived at schools at the start of that year. They came with little instruction on how they were to be utilized. Some teachers looked through them, and due to already having a full plate, shelved them until further instruction arrived.

Other teachers, quickly dived into them and tried to incorporate them through self training. In those instances, some efforts were successful and some…not so much. By the time the district started formal implementation, opinions had been formed and opposition hardened.

When Dr.Joseph arrived, his CAO Monique Felder was not a fan of the curriculum, partially due to it being adopted prior to her arrival, and shoved it to the back burner. Her knowledge on literacy is still debated, what’s clear is she didn’t understand systems, and so nothing was adequately implemented to adequately substitute for Journeys. Felder then brought in Barara Lashley to head up literacy efforts.

Lashley may have understood systems but by all accounts, she didn’t understand literacy. Journeys was reduced to a resource material and a scope and sequence was created. Both had strong material, as well as some not so strong elements. Soon the scope and sequence was reduced to resource material as well.

As a result of this lack of clear direction, a patchwork quilt of literacy instruction has flourished through the district – each school employing a strategy of its own making. An example being, some schools use TLA’s some avoid them like the plague. Some may view this as the way it should be, maybe, but at the very least, it doesn’t contribute to a culture of equity.

Over the last several years the national education reform movement has begun to shift its focus to curriculum. The creation of a national curriculum was always an unstated goal of the implementation of Common Core, despite public denials by its proponents.

In 2017, the Chiefs for Change produced a brief that laid out a path for curriculum control. Scattered throughout the brief are elements that have been incorporated into the recently proposed Tennessee Reading Bill.

In their paper the Chiefs recognize an opportunity,

The clear disconnect, however, between research and reality also presents a clear opportunity for action. Higher expectations for students (the standards), along with new technologies that enable economies of scale and new policy structures (such as the emphasis on evidence of effectiveness in ESSA), present a window in time that state and district leaders can leverage to:

  • Develop content-rich, high-quality curricular frameworks and materials that match the new standards and are scalable; and
  • Develop a set of policies that incentivizes adoption by school districts, researches their impact on student learning, and scales the use of the materials statewide.

They go on to recognize the difficulty of the challenge. Little things like, “a dominant ideology in academe about the right way to prepare new teachers, the deep-rooted political controversy over how to interpret and teach subjects like social studies and science, and American norms that favor teacher autonomy and local control” will need to be overcome, but they’ve got a plan.

There’s a lot worth quoting out of this brief, but my favorite comes around messaging,

What might be the most effective frame for communicating about curricular reform? Anecdotal evidence from leaders in the field – EdReports.org and TNTP, in particular – suggests that educators identify the term “curriculum” with “textbook,” which can send a prescriptive, reductionist message.92 By contrast, focusing on “instructional materials” as opposed to “textbook adoption” is more capacious and invites educators’ participation around a core of curricular artifacts, which they can supplement and adapt as needed. District and state leaders may want to consider using this broader term. Districts and states might also consider a formal recognition of schools that use blue-ribbon or first-in-class instructional materials, rather than a penalty upon schools that do not – creating a positive, rather than punitive, message.

Barbara Davidson is the executive director of StandardsWork an organization that helped create the Knowledge Matters Campaign. A campaign that has partnered with the SCORE and TNDOE to promote its preferred curriculum. In 2018 she wrote a piece that was meant to serve as a call to action. She closed a follows,

The time for action has come. The evidence for use of better instructional materials as a lever for education reform may well be scant, but it is already greater than the evidence justifying other reforms that have commanded far more time and money. Let’s build the new curriculum-based education reform plane as we fly it, absolutely capturing as much data as we can about use of different textbooks and materials, but also recognizing that districts already adopting high-quality curriculum are excellent research subjects from which much can be learned.

The point is, there are forces working to dictate to school districts what and how they teach. The fact that Common Core was a colossal failure makes little difference to them. If districts are to maintain more than a semblance of local control, they are going to have to get serious about curriculum implementation. It’s not a conspiracy theory when they tell you they are conspiring against you.

Too much of the first stages of this round of ELA curriculum adoption resembles 2014. Teachers are being told to go out and explore Wit and Wisdom on their own before the district clearly defines its instructional philosophy. it’s a strategy that all but ensures different levels of adoption.

As I’ve previously stated, now is not the time for intense district training on literacy adoption – hands are already full transitioning to remote learning – but leaving adoption to self-instruction is not a viable option either. It’s equally paramount that the district has a clear idea of what adoption looks like before training is launched. At present, there appears little evidence that such a concept exists or if it does, it runs counter to the recent edict of the school board.

On Friday, Dr. Battle announced in an email – more on that in a minute – that central office was about to undergo a restructuring. The position of CAO was going to be rolled up into a larger role as Chief of Schools and Academics. Little additional information is given about that position or how it will impact the C&I department.

Regardless of what happens on the Chief level, I think its imperative that Dr.Battle also identify an executive director of literacy who has a deep understanding of both literacy and systems and is aligned with her vision, as shaped by the MNPS school board. Until that person is identified and put in place, we are doomed to continue the mistakes of the past and thus putting us at risk of allowing the state TNDOE to exert more control over the district.

The state already controls the establishment of charter schools. Starting this year they will provide provisions for students to enroll in private schools. If the state adds control of the curriculum and how instruction is delivered, what else left for LEA’s to decide?

A REORGANIZATION, RIGHT?

Late last week, rumors began trickling out about a reorganization of the central office. This was both expected and anticipated news. Budget circumstances demanded changes be made and under Dr. Joseph’s tutelage salaries and staffing at central office had ballooned. It was expected that Dr. Battle would correct.

As I heard of the pending changes, I must admit to feeling optimistic that some shortcomings were going to be addressed and some positive movement was coming. I looked forward to the Friday email that was supposed to lay it all out. Unfortunately, that email never came. Instead, a brief sketch of changes was buried in an email about high school graduation that was sure to anger quite a few parents. I’m curious about how many people even read to the bottom to realize a change was afoot.

I’ve always argued that it’s essential for you to tell your story because if you don’t, others will tell it for you and it won’t be the one you want to be told. Such is the case here.

Due to a lack of clarification, rumors have taken root that Karen DeSouza-Gallman will emerge as the new Chief of Schools. No offense and pun intended, but many people would find that very galling considering the lack of impact her office and initiative made last year. Quick, without looking at your notes… what’s the inquiry cycle?

People are looking closely to see where Carl Carter and Michelle Springer end up. Both are known to be confidents of Dr. Battle. Why is Elisa Norris untouched in all of this?

I’m not arguing that Dr. Battle shouldn’t have confidants on her team if qualified, but make sure it is about talent and not just friendship. I think Springer would be qualified for either the job of head of student services or principal at Mcgavock. Carter has proven to be an above-average executive director. Telling the story means making sure people understand a candidate’s qualifications before the narrative becomes cronyism. No one is served well by not fully communicating a move of this magnitude.

Furthermore, burying the lede gives the impression your hiding something. I get no indication that there is more to this reorg than meets the eye, but still if you’ve got nothing to hide, why are you hiding the announcement.

Wrapped up in this reorganization news, was the news that White’s Creek principal Dr. James Bailey would not be retained for next year. While it hasn’t been officially confirmed, the official unofficial word was that Bailey had been at the underperforming high school for over a decade without substantial improvement and thus it was time for a change. Throughout the year I’d heard quite a few stories about a school that was in a state of dysfunction. Without casting stones at anyone, I think it’s pretty clear that it was time for a change.

But what gotten lost in the conversation is the community that is served by White’s Creek High School. Bailey is one of them. He graduated from WCHS. He was a drum major at the school, a position almost akin to being the HS quarterback. As a deacon at a local church, he remains active in the community and is well respected for his efforts. That doesn’t mean that the community is blind to his failings, but it does mean they want to be included in the conversation and be sure that he is treated with respect.

What that means is that more outreach should have been made to the community. They should have been more informed and a plan forward shared. Especially in light of unfounded rumors that swirled earlier in the year about district leaders conspiring with the state to take over the cluster. The same for teachers at the school. more should have been done to communicate to them what was transpiring. Again, instead of writing their narrative, the district is leaving that to others.

The narrative that is taking hold is that Bailey is being ousted in retribution for Battle’s brother being disciplined while serving as the head basketball coach at White’s Creek a couple years ago. There is nothing to indicate any truth to that narrative, but why let it even take root?

What’s especially puzzling about these circumstances the failure to align with the marked improvement the MNPS communications department has made over the last several months. They have consistently been ahead of stories thus ensured that the administration avoided being in reactionary mode. Hopefully, this is just an outlier and clearer communication will be forthcoming.

News of a reorganization is welcome news for most. But, it’s a move that will be watched closely in an effort to determine whether change is really coming or if MNPS is still intent on being the same old MNPS. In order for MNPS to successfully navigate the challenges ahead, leadership is going to need all hands on deck and rowing in the same direction. A simple shuffling of the deck chairs will not serve to engage stakeholders sufficiently.

That’s it for today, but fear not, I’ll be back tomorrow to talk lawsuits.  I’ll also have poll results from the weekend.

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.



Categories: Education

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