“You see, they think they’re saving you, and you think you’re saving them. That’s where the trouble starts. Someone says, ‘I saved you, now here’s what I want.’ And its the same with big countries and little ones, religious leaders and their followers, even husbands and wives. When things really work, though, it’s because people realize that this is a lie, that, really, we all save one another. It’s the way of the world. Things work out for the best when everyone makes it, together, when we manage to save each other.”
“If you help a person to get better by erasing that person, what kind of a job have you done?”
― I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir
When I started this blog, I made a promise to myself that I would never write angry. I’d never rush to the keyboard and fire off a missive while caught up in the emotions of the moment. Over the last 7 years, I’ve managed to mostly adhere to that vow and it has served me well. This week it’s more important than ever.
Before we get too deep into the news of the week, and there is a lot of it, I’d like to issue a public apology to the following people:
- Terri Clark Harris
- Lyn Hoyt
- Jai Sanders
- Rosa Ponce
Allow me to explain. Like everyone else, the last few months have been extremely difficult for me. Locked in the house with little control over income, movements, or the future, I’ve struggled to maintain my equilibrium, and as a result, I’ve clung a little tighter to the things I can control. The aforementioned are all people I’ve known for years and have seen them in their best light and sometimes in light that is not as flattering. The same can be said in reverse.
Terri’s views tend to fall to the far right, while the other three are on the other end of the political spectrum. Last week, they shared their experiences and views, ones that I did not agree with, and as a result, I did not want to hear them or even give them an audience. Their words and actions made me uncomfortable, and I was tired of being uncomfortable. So I lashed out.
I fell prey to a symptom that is inflicting many of us today – I reacted viscerally instead of intellectually. In an attempt to cancel them, I exiled them from my contacts on social media. After reflection, I realize that those actions are a betrayal of one of my core tenets.
I do not believe in a “cancel culture.” But unfortunately, I was participating in the very thing I loathe.
When I get things right, it is not because of superior intellect or the superiority of my experiences, but rather through the collection of voices that I continually seek out to arrive at my positions. I’ve never seen an issue solved by having fewer voices at a table, just like I’ve never seen a problem solved by placing certain voices beyond reproach. In order to have a solution that serves all, all must have an equal voice. I was raised with the belief that the only stupid questions are the ones that go unasked.
In talking to a multitude of people from a multitude of backgrounds over the course of my life, the only sure thing I know is that people are complex. I’ve seen some of the kindest people in public commit some of the most heinous acts in private and vice versa. It’s why the use of video and the rush to judgment based on a minimum amount of footage without any context scares me to death. Right now, it may be capturing those that deserve it, but that won’t always be the case.
Reductionism is something that should never be an attractive strategy. When we reduce people to a single element, we are robbing them of their humanity; we are also cutting ourselves off from potential lessons. In my life, lessons have come from all sources, some I never anticipated. If I close myself down, then those opportunities are lost, but when I open myself up – there is no telling what will walk through that door.
This morning I came across a tweet from author Jason Reynolds: “Crawl towards judgment. Sprint towards understanding.” Those words are serving to center me today, and I seek to further instill them in my daily practice.
POLICING AND SCHOOLS
This week has seen a lot of talk about police reform and what it should look like. Better training, body cameras, and such are good ideas. I’m still on the fence about an oversight board, but I think greater public involvement is essential. Unfortunately, there are several threads of the current conversation that should be familiar to educators.
There has been much talk about defunding police budgets. Like many of you, I’m deeply concerned about the militarization of police forces, but unfortunately the world we live in demands such.
Back in 1997 amid growing concerns over terrorism attacks – both foreign and domestic – President Clinton introduced the 1033 program that put military weapons in the hands of police at a fraction of the cost. The military can only be deployed on domestic soil in the most extreme circumstances, and the thinking was that police would be the primary defense in the event of an attack. In order to serve in that role, they would need to be properly equipped.
The argument was strengthened in the wake of a robbery in North Hollywood where police found themselves facing criminals armed with body armor and automatic weapons. Eleven officers were injured, and police were forced to hit up local gun shops in order to properly equip themselves in efforts to end the confrontation. An armored vehicle also had to be commandeered in order to evacuate the wounded. Over the next decade, attacks around the world – including Mumbai, where a 2008 attack lasted four days and resulted in 164 dead and another 300 wounded – served as justification for the policy.
President Barack Obama restricted the controversial program in 2015 following criticism that police forces had been too heavy-handed in their response to the Ferguson protests, triggered by the killing of Michael Brown. Evidence was also mounting that the increased weaponry wasn’t having the desired impact on crime rates.
I do believe that spending on military-grade weaponry needs to be curtailed, but we need to be careful that defunding the police budget doesn’t lead to a reduction in compensation for officers. When it comes to wages, if you’ll remember, it was only back in February that concerns were being raised over an officer shortage:
“At one point in time we were over 4000 applications a year and we’re down to about 2000,” said Sergeant Clifton Knight and Lieutenant Ryan Hampton who both work in Metro’s recruitment unit.”
Why, you ask? Well, it’s an issue that educators should be quite familiar with: increased scrutiny and responsibility while compensation doesn’t increase. When it comes to Nashville’s police:
Mayor Karl dean suspended pay raises for four years in the face of the 2008 financial crisis.
Mayor Megan Barry promised three years of raises then resigned because of a sex scandal.
Then came Mayor David Briley who cancelled a year’s worth of those promised annual raises.
“Well we never caught up from that,” said FOP president James Smallwood. Money is a major issue, but it’s not the only one.
We’ve seen how failing to adequately pay teachers has impacted our schools, so what would lead us to believe that police work would be any different? Seth Stoughton, a former police officer, and current associate law professor at the University of South Carolina has some words that should be even more familiar to educators:
“We over-rely on police to handle a range of social problems that they are simply incapable of addressing. They don’t have the expertise, the training, the equipment, the organizational capacity to deal effectively with mental illness or poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, school discipline ― a whole range of things that we socially have made police issues.”
It is obviously way past time to address how to best serve the unique needs of many of our citizens. Shoving the responsibility on the shoulders of those who are already overloaded doesn’t seem to be the answer. Neither is removing it from one under-compensated entity and assigning it to another to solve. We have got to designate resources to entities that have the capacity and training to do what is required and let civil servants focus on what they are trained to do.
Two of the officers involved in the George Floyd homicide were on the job less than a week. When veterans leave the profession because they can’t make a living, we are forced to rely on the inexperienced, who are then placed in positions they are ill-equipped to deal with, which leads to tragedy.
Yesterday’s events in Nashville opened another discussion that should be familiar to educators.
Early in the day, MNPD announced that a warrant against Nashville’s prominent civil-rights leaders Justin Bautista-Jones and Janeisha Harris had been issued for “felony aggravated rioting” for walking on a police car. The public response was swift; critics called the charges a gross overreach and seemed to argue that there was nothing unacceptable about the two striding to the top of a police cruiser.
As a result of the public reaction, the warrants were recalled. An action that further erodes public trust. Either there is enough evidence for a warrant or there is not. The burden of proof for issuance should be of such a high level that the need for recall doesn’t exist. Failure to recognize this and act in a fair and deliberate manner is inexcusable and benefits no one, only serving to foment greater distrust in the system.
Admittedly, the concept of walking on a police car is a foreign concept to me. One that I am ill-prepared to entertain. I can’t even wrap my head around it. Contemplating standing on a police car and not expecting consequences, for me, is akin to proposing a trip to Mars. Even in my punk rock anarchist youth, I wouldn’t have been able to contemplate such a concept.
The reality is the action needs to have consequences. While a felony seems to be an overreaction, a lack of consequence both undermines the power of the protesters’ actions and sets the stage for future actions with more dire consequences. In speaking to the latter, I would point out the challenges faced in the last several years by teachers in regard to student discipline.
In an effort toward a more permissive approach, an argument has been put forward that swearing at teachers is not viewed as severe an infraction as in the past. Teachers are encouraged to engage the student instead of punishing. In essence, overlooking the violation. I know that’s an oversimplification, and right now Matthew Portell’s head, if he’s reading this, is probably exploding. I mean no disrespect to him, and believe that he is doing incredible life-altering work, but presently – right, wrong, or indifferent- that’s how deemphasizing the offense has been interpreted. I would argue, based on my conversations with experienced educators, that this strategy has led to an increase in more severe behaviors that have, as a result, put teachers physically at risk.
By employing similar tactics on a societal level, we run the risk of repeating the same consequences, but on a larger scale.
Returning to the former of my aforementioned assertions, the real power of protest lies in the participant’s willingness to make their voice heard despite all consequences. Those two young leaders standing on a police car may not be something I can contemplate, but it damn sure got my attention. It conveys to me the depth of their conviction. But sans any consequence, it loses its power, and I assume standing on a police car is no different than standing on any other car. Symbols have power, power that can be used to evoke change, even as they are used to uphold order.
YOUTH STEPPING FORWARD
I want to give a shout out to the young people that are stepping to the forefront of last week’s events. Yesterday saw a well-organized, peaceful community rally that attracted close to 10K people staged downtown by Nashville students. It was impressive, and indications are that this is just the first of many actions these young ladies are planning. If yesterday’s event was any indication, change is on the way.
Not all of the events staged last week were on such a grand scale. Student-led rallies also took place in Franklin, Spring Hill, and other smaller communities. On the corner of Nolensville Road and Concord Road, a small group of students also gathered to make their voices heard. Like I said, it appears change is afoot.
If you’ll remember back to what seems like the distant past, but was only 6 weeks ago, Dr. Battle announced that the district would be undergoing a restructuring of the central office. At the time, I was confused. I couldn’t understand why an announcement of this magnitude was buried at the bottom of a Friday press release announcing graduation plans, where most stakeholders were sure to miss it. It made no sense that more was not being made out of this seemingly bold move.
Well, if word on the street is to be believed, I now have my answer. The reorganization is not going to be as bold as I interpeted it. There will be some pay cuts, but most of the people who previously held the executive director title will continue to hold that title. Including Karen DeSouza-Gallman, who will be getting her 5th assignment in 5 years. Fortunately for her, this assignment will lead to her qualification for the state’s retirement program with a robust 6-figure salary.
Dr. Williams, who was serving as CIO, will return to his previous position of Executive Director of Instruction. Since he was serving on an interim basis, he will not be forced to reapply for his ED position.
There are a handful of former leaders who will no longer be on the executive leadership team. I’ll allow you to draw your own common thread. They are:
- Robin Shumate
- Lily Moreno Leffler
- Damon Cathey
- Pippa Meriwether
- Sonia Stewart
All but Leffler have tenure, and since the decision came in after June 1, there is the likelihood that some will remain with MNPS in some capacity. Leffler previously worked in MNPS, and then worked in WCS before returning to MNPS. As a result, she does not have tenure, and so she will most likely not remain with the district.
Leffler’s departure is concerning on several levels. While it should not overshadow her qualifications and accomplishments, it can’t go unnoticed that she is the only Hispanic in an executive leadership role with MNPS at a time of increased focus on diversity. MNPS is currently made up of approximately 26% Hispanic students, a number that has grown by 5% over the last 5 years, and by all accounts, will continue to grow. Losing a skilled administrator who happens to also be representative of a growing portion of the MNPS student population is concerning at the least. As has happened way too often in the recent past, another school district will benefit from MNPS’s loss.
Perhaps the others could apply for one of MNPS’s open principal positions. Currently, there are openings at A.Z. Kelley ES, Waverly-Belmont ES, Julia Green ES, White’s Creek HS, McGavock HS, Haywood ES, Oliver MS, and probably even more schools have open AP positions. So there are plenty of options.
While having openings at this juncture is not unprecedented, the level of planning required for next year is. Currently, there is no clear indication of what next school year will even look like, and as a result, schools need more planning time than ever. Not having school leadership positions filled puts those schools at a disadvantage. For that matter, waiting this long to fill the executive leadership positions is not beneficial to anyone either.
Dr. Battle is certainly entitled to name who she wants to leadership positions, but if the intent all along was to just reshuffle deck chairs, people could have been left in their previous roles with slight modifications, and time could have been better spent focusing on the start of school next year. An area that doesn’t seem to hold priority, since Williams is driving teachers to participate in Wit and Wisdom training though the district lacks funding for textbooks, as opposed to training in skills they’ll need to call on to navigate the coming modified school year. The latter would appear more beneficial than the former.
On Monday, Mayor Cooper will be holding a press conference and as part of that conference, plans for next year will be revealed.
HOW DO THOSE GRAPES TASTE?
Many of you might have seen the Tweets circulating over the last couple of days that included video showing Senate Education Committee Chair Delores Grisham calling school districts “obsolete.” Invariably you reacted emotionally to it; Gresham is capable of provoking that kind of response. Here’s what you might not know.
Most of the original shares of this video snippet come from sympathizers of the TDOE, SCORE, and the LIFT districts who saw Gresham very quietly kill their beloved so-called literacy bill last week. A bill that would have robbed LEAs of local control and further empowered the department of education. Since SCORE currently serves as the de facto department of education, they would have benefited as well. The killing of the bill is impressive because it came with the blessing of the governor. But Gresham didn’t just kill the bill.
She also exposed the manner in which the aforementioned had manipulated this years’ ELA textbook adoption process by introducing and passing an amendment to SB 2342. The amendment reads as follows:
The commissioner shall grant an LEA a waiver for purposes of subsection (a) if the third grade ELA textbooks and instructional materials for which the LEA submits a waiver received a passing score in the initial review or re-review of the 2019 ELA textbook and instructional materials adoption cycle on at least as many indicators as other ELA textbooks and instructional materials that were approved for local adoption by the state board, or for which the commissioner granted a waiver.
In other words, if the bill passes the house, the HMH Into Reading grade 3 will be approved for use despite the efforts by TDOE’s Chief of Standards and Materials Lisa Coons to coerce districts into bypassing the curriculum and instead adopt the department’s preferred curriculum. That’s a lot of work being undone. But the amendment doesn’t stop there.
It further states:
The commissioner shall accept and consider waiver requests submitted by LEAs pursuant to this section through December 31, 2020, or a later date determined by Senate Education Committee.
Ouch. That has to hurt.
What you are seeing played out on social media now is sour grapes and an effort to discredit Gresham in hopes that they can stop SB 2342 from passing with the amendment in the House. The reality, despite any misgivings you may have about Gresham, is she’s done more to protect the power of local LEA’s than any other legislator this session. For that, she’s earned a debt of gratitude from me. Watch the whole Senate Education Committee meeting for a greater context.
We’ve got more to cover, but that will have to wait until Monday.
Til then, 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 deliver is always welcome.
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